Italians greet friends with a kiss, usually first on the right cheek, and then on the left. When you meet a new person, shake hands and say piacere (pee-ah-cher-ay).
Italy is teeming with churches, many with significant works of art in them. Because they are places of worship, care should be taken with appropriate dress. Shorts, cropped tops, miniskirts, and bare midriffs are taboo at St. Peter's in Rome, and in many other churches throughout Italy. When touring churches—especially in summer when it's hot and no sleeves are desirable—it's wise to carry a sweater, or scarf, to wrap around your shoulders before entering the church. Do not enter a church while eating or drinking—keep all food items in a bag. Avoid entering when a service is being held. All cell phones must be on silent. If there are signs saying no photography or no flash photography, abide by these rules.
Out on the Town
In Italy, almost nothing starts on time except for (sometimes) a theater, opera, or movie showing. Italians even joke about a "15-minute window" before actually being late somewhere.
You can always find someone who speaks at least a little English in Rome, albeit with a heavy accent. When you do encounter someone who speaks English, it’s polite to speak slowly and phonetically so the person can understand you better. Remember that the Italian language is pronounced exactly as it's written—many Italians try to speak English as it's written, with bewildering results.
You may run into a language barrier in the countryside, but a phrase book and close attention to the Italians' astonishing use of pantomime and expressive gestures will go a long way.
Try to master a few phrases for daily use, and familiarize yourself with the terms you'll need to decipher signs and museum labels. Some museums have exhibits labeled in both English and Italian, but this is the exception rather than the rule.
Most exhibitions have multi-language headphones you can rent, and English-language guidebooks are generally available at museum shops.
Many newsstands and bookstores stock a useful guide called Rome, Past & Present. It has photos of the most famous ancient monuments, together with drawings of what they originally looked like, and is particularly useful to get children interested in what seems (to them) just heaps of old stones.
A phrase book and language-CD set can help get you started. Fodor's Italian for Travelers (available at bookstores everywhere) is excellent.
Private language schools and U.S.– and U.K.–affiliated educational institutions offer a host of Italian language study programs in Rome.
American University of Rome (Via Pietro Rosselli 4, Rome, Latium, 00153. 06/58330919. www.aur.edu.)
Berlitz (Via Fabio Massimo 95, Prati, Rome, Latium, 00192. 06/6872561. www.berlitz.it.)
Centro Linguistico Italiano Dante Alighieri (Piazza Bologna 1, Rome, Latium, 00162. 06/44231490. www.clidante.it.)
Ciao Italia (Via delle Frasche 5, Repubblica, Rome, Latium, 00184. 06/4814084. www.ciao-italia.it.)
Dilit International House (Via Marghera 22, Termini, Rome, Latium, 00185. 06/4462593. www.dilit.it.)
Scuola Leonardo da Vinci (Piazza dell'Orologio 7, Piazza Navona, Rome, Latium, 00186. 06/68892513. www.scuolaleonardo.com.)