Living in a high tourist area such as Florence, I have noticed that a few things go a long way in making your visit to Italy a fun and memorable experience. Making friends with the local Italians wherever you may be is a guaranteed way to have the most authentic experience.
I know a lot of us have the attitude that "I am spending money in their establishment so they need to have the best customer service regardless of how I behave." I used to think that until I visited another country for the first time. I just assumed that everywhere was like the U.S and everyone was like Americans. I quickly found that my attitude did not open doors for me in this particular city ( it wasn't in Italy, btw), nor did it make me any friends.
But Italians really do want to go above and beyond to help tourists in their area have the best experiences. I have been witness to this for over twenty years. You just have to put yourself out there. Here are a few things that really make locals happy and want to help you like they do their friends.
1. Using the word please "per favore" (pronounced pear-fa-VORE-ray) with a smile is the best way to make friends with Italians. Using per favore after every request will for sure make your experience with that locals a better one and may even win you a cheaper price or an add-on to show their appreciation. Here are three requests you will probably use every day:
-Dov'è il bagno per favore? (Where is the bathroom, please?)
-Quanto costa per favore? (How much does it cost please?)
-Vorrei un caffè americano per favore. (I would like an American coffee, please)
2. Don't use the word "Caio" (Hello) to an Italian you do not know. Ciao is reserved for acquaintances. Instead, use “Buon Giorno” (good morning) or “Buona Sera” (good afternoon/evening reserved for after 4 PM). Once an Italian says Caio to you, smile for you can consider yourself a friend of theirs. Most likely if you have had a good experience with an Italian, you were kind and considerate, they will use the term with you when you leave.
3. Once you sit down at a restaurant (and unless told otherwise), the table is yours for the rest of the evening. Please don't think they are ignoring you. This is one of the biggest cultural differences that make Americans mad. They really aren't being rude, it's just the way they eat in establishments. The server respects the customer's dining experience and stays out of the way until the customer says otherwise.
You MUST ask for the check "Il conto per favore." ( "the bill please, pronounced eel count-toe pear-fa-VORE-ray) or they will leave you at your table all night.
So there you have it. In my humble opinion, it only takes a few words and a smile to start a conversation on a positive note. Who knows, that one conversation might lead to a lifelong friendship. It's what every Italian strives for in friends and family...making people happy.