Ten common mistakes on Florence (and Italy in general)

Here I want to collect some common mistakes about Florence (and Italy in general), that, as a Florentine, I am used to see from expats and tourists (and sometimes from italians too). Hope it helps! :-)

1) Pecorino cheese, we just say pecorino, formaggio pecorino is redundant. It is as you’d say “I am going to buy a Ferrari car”. Ferrari alone just works. ;-)

2) Ciao tutti, we say “ciao a tutti”, the “a” in the italian grammar is a preposition, and it is fundamental to characterize the so called complemento di termine (that is “a tutti” => “to everyone”).

3) Bistecca alla Fiorentina, in Florence we just call it bistecca. Some years ago a friend of mine (who is not florentine), told me that he had a fantastic dinner with a fiorentina. I did understand later that he was referring to a bistecca. Yeah, bistecca just works, while Fiorentina (with capital F) is our beloved soccer team. ;-)

As a matter of fact, a genuine bistecca is two fingers thick and must have a filetto (a thinner steak is a braciola). It’s cooked on embers, preferably from olive woods. It’s salted and generously bedewed with olio extra vergine di oliva once cooked, not before.

Don’t trust restaurants that dish out a raw bistecca, that is only a trend diverging from tradition, maybe they want to make economy with energy costs. :-) We are not cats, we don’t eat completely raw meat. Seriously.

A real bistecca is obviously not well done and must be tender, though you can see the blood running in your plate when pressing it with a fork.

4) Florentines are somehow shy and not very sociable. Yes, that is true (I am speaking on average of course, there are exceptions). Joking (but not too much) we say “who has temperament does not have a good one” (chi ha carattere non ha un buon carattere). Don’t take this inner temperament as free badness, really it is not. Simply assimilate, and you’ll see that florentines can be very generous friends with people they know well.

5) Cappuccino please, you are free to order 5795 cappuccinos per day if you want, nobody stops you. But please, don’t order a cappuccino at the end of a lunch (or a dinner). Cappuccino is for breakfast (though you can order a coffee at the end of a meal). If you want to do that anyway, turn down your volume when asking. ;-)

6) Espresso, when you go to the bar just ask for a caffè and you’re done. If you want more “power” you can order a caffè corretto (corrected coffee), that is a normal espresso with some alcoholic drink of your choice added. The most common variant is a caffè corretto con grappa (corrected coffee with grappa). If you order a latte here you will get a glass of raw milk. If you order a caffè macchiato (literally, a spotted coffee) you will get a coffee with a few milk in it. If you order a caffellatte (less known as latte macchiato), you will get a milk with a few coffee in it. If you order a coffee and you get a 1 mm thin coffee, then that bar is trying to enhance its business, saving with water. A normal coffee should fill half of your tazzina. If you hate that 1 mm coffee (and you’re right) you can prevent this by ordering a caffè lungo (long coffee).

7) Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner (at home). It is true that depending on the zone of Italy you visit, you’ll find very different habits about meals. In Florence (again, this is on average, don’t take too literally), breakfast is scheduled on 07:00am – 09:00am, lunch on 12:00am – 02:00pm, dinner on 07:00pm – 09:00pm. Restaurants make exception, but restaurants just want to make money (whenever you go it is fine for them), and people going to the restaurant with friends like to delay a bit more with respect to the standard.

8) A Chianti please, while it is true that a bottle of Chianti Classico is expected to have a minimum standard quality (there is a consortium regulating the production of this wine, Consorzio del Vino Chianti Classico Gallo Nero), not all Chiantis are the same.

There are three types of Chianti Classico:

a) Chianti Classico Gran Selezione, grapes must be grown by the winery itself. Minimum aging requirement: 30 months, including 3 months of bottle aging.

b) Chianti Classico Riserva, minimum aging requirement: 24 months, including 3 months of bottle aging.

c) Chianti Classico Annata, that is probably the most common known.

Also, there are other types of Chianti (not Classico), for example Chianti Rufina, Chianti Colli Senesi, Chianti Colli Fiorentini, Chianti Montalbano, Chianti Montespertoli etc. Regulations and production methods of these other wines are sometimes very different from the standard Chianti Classico (and the results too).

Prefer bottles with at least an alcoholic gradation of 13%. If you are having a grigliata or arrosto (of meat of course), you should consider to buy a more expensive riserva bottle, since it has a more complex structure and flavor that best matches with this kind of plate.

Despite the fact that initially you can’t tell the difference between a bad and a good Chianti (don’t worry you’ll learn fast), don’t let the waiter choose for you, there are so many Chianti out there (and some of them not a marvelous thing in the world), ask for a Chianti Classico, minimum 13%. ;-)

9) Tip, you are not requested to give a tip to the waiter. Surely he/she would appreciate, but you don’t need to do that. Waiters have generally a fixed salary here.

10) Bravo, at theatre (but also in common life), we say bravo to an artist who made a great performance (of course from our point of view), but we say brava if the artist is a woman. Bravo is for male gender, brava for female. Bravi is the male plural, Brave is the femal plural.

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