24 Tips for Visiting an Italian Family

Posted on
Dec 19, 2012

Sometimes, I take for granted how much my husband puts up with.

Indeed, that might be the understatement of the year. If my beloved is reading this, he’s probably done a spit take all over his computer while sputtering, “YOU THINK?”

My poor, maligned love. He puts up with a lot. From me. And during the holidays, from his in-laws, too. Which I argue is his fault.

I mean, I was born into them. I had no choice. He walked right into this situation, mostly sober. THE FOOL.

Don’t get me wrong: my family can be delightful, and they seem to really like Rand. But they are all, each and every one of them, certifiably insane. Absolutely mental.

There are a few exceptions – dear women who, for reasons I can’t quite articulate, decide to throw a crazy wrench into the machinery of their normal lives, and married into my family.

Other than this glaring lack of judgement, they seem rather sane. It’s only a matter of time, though, before they become as nuts as the rest. As any medical professional will tell you, being bonkers is highly contagious.

In the meantime, Rand has them with whom to commiserate, to look at with wide eyes and shake his head, or shrug and say, “Eh. The in-laws … am I right?”

This post is for them – it’s advice for people who are about to visit an Italian household (whether it be in Italy, or in the U.S.). Rand and those poor souls who married into my family learned most of this stuff already, the hard way.

It might be helpful to the rest of you, too. Especially if you have managed to fall in love with some hirsute Italian boy or girl, and are planning on spending time with their family this holiday season. (I’m not sure whether to congratulate you on your luck, or pray for your soul. I might do a bit of both.)

And with that, here are my 24 tips for visiting an Italian household during the holidays … or any time, really.

  1. If you are staying in someone’s home, note that bathrooms will likely not contain trash cans, nor will any of the bedrooms. In fact, it’s incredibly hard to find any sort of garbage receptacle anywhere, and you will likely need to make your own. After collecting refuse for several days, and then presenting it to your hostess, she will be mortified that you have been hoarding trash, and will likely clutch her heart and may possibly faint. Be prepared for this.
  2. If you say you are not hungry, know that the comment will be perceived in any of these ways:

    “You are a terrible cook.”

    “You have failed as a mother/grandmother/aunt/provider.”

    “I don’t love you.”

    (This goes ditto for not consuming seconds.)
    – – 
  3. Note that saying that you are hungry can be equally disastrous. This is tantamount to claiming that you are near death from starvation, and may expire at any moment. Large quantities of food will be presented to you, and must be eaten in a frenzy. Instead, even if you are famished, state that you “could have a little snack.” Understand that said snack will be a banquet.

    Your starter will be pasta. Your main will also be pasta. And for dessert? Pasta.

  4. Though appearances might suggest otherwise, the house was not decorated by an aspiring club promoter circa 1986 (probably). Despite being abreast of most fashion trends, the majority of Italians seem about twenty years behind when it comes to interior design. A framed poster of the Colosseum? Sure. A few dozen Patrick Nagel prints? YES.
  5. The woman wearing knee-high boots and a leopard print top is someone’s grandmother. Don’t think about this too much.
  6. “What do you mean you aren’t Catholic? … Methodist? What the hell is that?”
  7. Espresso will be offered to you in the morning. Also at 10am, noon, 3pm, 5pm, and 8pm. You will be expected to partake in at least half of these opportunities.
  8. Should you get the shakes after consuming half a gallon of coffee, expect several people to gently squeeze your shoulder and tell you to calm down. They will blame your nerves on “city life”, “working too much,” or simply “being American.” But obviously not the coffee.
  9. “You paid how much for that bottle of wine? You know Carlo Rossi is two gallons for $7 and it’s just as good.”
  10. The greatest contributions to society have been made by Italians. Mostly by Galileo, Da Vinci, and DeNiro.

    Also, all art and history and culture and language and good things come from Italy and nowhere else.

  11. You will inevitably share a meal with someone who is dressed in only a shirt and bikini briefs. 90% of the time, said individual will be a male. Roughly 50% of the time, he will be over the age of 50. DO NOT BREAK THE HORIZONTAL PLANE.

  12. At some point, you will see a 100-pound, middle-aged woman demolish a plate of pasta roughly the size of a pile of laundry, along with a loaf of bread and maybe some salad. She will then skip dessert because “that stuff makes you fat.” Resist the urge to punch her, as she is probably my mother. (And all her goddamn genes are recessive.)
  13. If you are a vegetarian, you will be offered prosciutto as an alternative to meat. If you are gluten-free … please get over that, or leave the house immediately.
  14. Andy Garcia is Italian, as is evidenced by his role in The Godfather, Part III. It is best if you do not argue this point, despite glaring evidence to the contrary.
  15. Jon Stewart is Italian, too.
  16. Obviously Colbert is as well. (Your failure to know this stuff is just evidence of the media’s rampant anti-Italianism.)
  17. Unless you have been specifically instructed by the host to sit at the head of the table, do not even think of doing so. Ditto for the foot of the table.
  18. High decibel yelling and screaming, standing up and waving limbs, hysterical crying and slamming of fists on the table are all part of standard conversation and should not be misconstrued as signs of actual conflict.
  19. The same can be said of the brandishing of weapons and/or rosary beads.
  20. If you are dating a woman in the family, expect to sleep on the couch, or in a twin bed in her little brother’s room, or possibly outside.

    If you are dating a man in the family, you can totally sleep in his bedroom, but note that the hushed conversations, disapproving looks, and head-shaking are totally about you.

    (Note: I’m presuming heterosexual relationships here. I don’t know how Italian chauvinism translates to gay and lesbian culture, but I suspect it would be a fascinating study.)
  21. If you give someone a gift, you will find that gratitude is often expressed through guilt and tears. For some reason, simply saying “thank you” and being happy isn’t appropriate. But serious grief and distress over the bracelet you bought them totally is.
  22. Do not, under any circumstances, attempt to rise from, or remove the dishes from, the dinner table within the two hours immediately following a meal. Your unwillingness to sit and talk to your hosts for 120 minutes is a clear sign that you hate them.
  23. At any given time, someone will be running around in a state of hysterical panic. It’s cool. Just let them do their thing.
  24. “What are you wearing? You’re going to catch cold in that.”

Man, I should have written this for my husband years ago. Eh, better late than never.

Happy Chrismukkah, baby.


Note: I know that stereotyping is lame. I realize that not all Italian families are the same. Hell, not even all crazy families are the same. I’m just sharing what I’ve learned from my family (a family that happens to be Italian. And crazy.) So if you are tempted to write me some hate mail, may I kindly suggest you take your anger and direct it back to Instagram, where it belongs? Apparently they are stealing your IP and setting fire to puppies, or something.

Leave a Comment

  • Melanie

    I told you this once before and i’ll tell you again…in my next life, I want to be you (esp the being a great writer part – the family, eh, mine has so many crazies I don’t know where to start!). Have a great New Year

  • Janet T

    “18.High decibel yelling and screaming, standing up and waving limbs, hysterical crying and slamming of fists on the table are all part of standard conversation and should not be misconstrued as signs of actual conflict.”

    My mother-in-law was first generation Italian. Your #18 (above) was what threw me the most- I was raised, well I guess, very quietly and was in no way prepared for all the loudness in my new family. And it would start out loud and just get louder as everyone tried to talk over each other. The Thanksgiving and Christmas decibel levels threatened permanent hearing damage

    • Leah

      Funny, #18 is what I love *most* about italian life… I LOVE it!
      My Aussie friends panic when I chat with tham freshly back from Italy 🙂
      It’s what I miss most when I’m away…. *sigh*

      • Leah

        *them 😉

  • Scott True

    Great post! My wife is from Italy. She came here about 5 years ago. We go to Italy to visit her family from time to time. I like just about every single one of your points. I tell ya, it’s really funny, but on a more serious note, it’s not easy! Number 18 is especially true!

  • Mark

    Can I offer you some espresso? And cake?

  • Jelena

    I totally agree with #1!! It happened to me the first time I went to meet my future in-laws..
    And now, after three years, I have to say that I love spending holidays with them and of course, with a huge amount of panettone 🙂

    Happy holidays!

  • I want your family 🙂

  • This was twice as hysterically funny for me as it was a complete reminder of my in-laws…well, ex in-laws from several years. Thank you for the great laughs (and recollection of funny memories)!!

  • englishcan

    The photo at the top of this post is amazing. It harks back to the Urban Outfitters photos from a few days ago, but without the loathesomeness and mullets.

  • Tommaso

    What a nice pile of utter rubbish – no wonder you’re American. And yes, most contributions to humanity and western civilizations came from Italy. It’s a fact and it’s valid for ancient and recent inventions. Thank Italy if your nation of warmongering morons prevailed by getting its hands on atomic fission theory (it was invented by Enrico Fermi, does the name ring a bell?). Sadly all this stuff is nothing your bigoted, average American mind could even aspire to understand. And by the way: get yourself checked-up because Carlo Rossi wine is undrinkable. Only pretentious, unrefined Yankees can call it “wine”.

    • Everywhereist



      Oh, for fuck’s sake. I need to go lie down now. A dopo.

    • Jess

      Tommaso- You clearly missed the point of this (totally awesome and hilarious) post. And I agree with Suzanne; get a life.

      Keep up the great work everywhereist! Don’t let the bastards get you down.

      oh, and one more thing…


  • Drew

    Nice post (as usual)!

    3. Our major first mistake – we forgot that even for lunch they often have several courses. That first dish of pasta? Yeah, that’s the FIRST course. Be prepared to eat.

    21. Even us British have trouble with the epic “nice-offs” that occur when giving gifts with Italian friends.

    We have a major problem when visiting friends in Italy – we both don’t drink coffee OR wine. It’s nothing compared to the question of religion…. years later, we still feel ‘guilty’ about it somehow…


  • Wow, some of this rings REALLY true to me! Especially #22. I’ll never forget the first Thanksgiving I ate at the home of my non-Italian husband’s parents home. I could not understand what was happening when people started clearing the table after everyone stopped eating. I thought we were supposed to stay at the table for at least another hour drinking jug wine. Weirdos.

    • Melissa

      Growing up Italian this one is still tough for me – my husband’s British family has eaten and has the table cleared, leftovers put away, within 20 minutes of starting the meal! I couldn’t put a finger on why precisely this always bothered me until now – I love those ridiculous post dinner conversations (and of course by the end of them you’re ready to snack some more on the food left on the table)

  • All of this could be applied to visiting a Spanish family!

  • Ha! This post cracked me up – thank you!

  • Dan

    Ha ha! Nice post. At least a dozen of those things are true of any family from India too! Especially point # 21 on gifts is bullseye.

    • jaya

      totally agree. being an indian i was thinking the same thing while reading this hilarious post. point no 18 is also very true esp of south india.

      • Adithi

        Another Indian here, high five on that one. Silent lunches and dinners almost never exist in our families.. Personally, I feel they are far more enjoyable than the quiet, well mannered, don’t talk while eating- meal times!

        And gifts are always followed by drama. Be it your siblings or parents..

  • As a loyal husband to an Italian-American, I can confirm that all of these tips are valid and true.

  • Joeyb

    I wish I had read this before my first visit to the in-laws in Lecce. As an example, when the 3 hour lunch finally ended, I insisted on helping load the dishwasher (which was only used for special occasions). I had to fight for the honor. Later that day I went to add a glass to the load and found it had been completely reorganized, everything taken out and put back in. They don’t let me cook (that’s probably just plain smart) , clean, do my own laundry or make my bed.

  • Tommaso clearly needs therapy for his anger issues. And while he’s there, he might as well get a life.

  • You just described my family perfectly, and after forwarding to my husband he wants to know why this wasn’t given to him a few years. He’s a quiet Jewish boy from the mid-Atlantic and was in NO WAY prepared for the loudness that comes from my family whenever we get together. He has also learned that turning down food is equal to declaring war and will now have “a bite” of everything for fear of becoming part of a dish. Some of the other fun things along the way – “Kosher? You mean you don’t eat pork?!?!” (grasping chest) “What do you mean a Judge performed your ceremony? Are you really married?” “What do you mean ‘waiting’ to have children? You’re using *whispered* BC?” (grasp chest)
    My family might be loud, boisterous, and fill a small stadium at reunion times but even my hubby admits that the holidays with my family tend to win out!!!

  • Squire McGuire

    bapppity bappity bappity bappity!


  • Thank you, your tips were very helpful.
    If I needed them.
    I learnt all of that myself.
    Yes.. the hard way.
    30-something years of hard way.
    Ora ne sono uscito.

  • RiderWriter

    Ah, yes, I do not come from an Italian family myself BUT… I grew up amidst many, many fine Italians and the culture most definitely rubbed off. Along with Jewish culture (I’m from New Jersey, you know). My grandmother in particular, though being born 100% French Catholic, was a hybrid of Italian/Jewish grandma. “Eat, eat, mangia!” was a common refrain. “If you don’t finish that dish the weather will be bad tomorrow!”

    So even though I’m a Catholic French/Danish/British person, I totally get this whole list and agree with each and every point. In fact, it’s making me rather sad, because my little family of four will be all on its own for Christmas this year so I’m missing the noise and chaos and kids running around…

    One thing is for sure, my family could give any Italian one a run for the money in the high-decibel conversation department! ESPECIALLY after dinner after liberal spirits have been consumed. I get pretty bummed out when we go to my in-laws, and not only does no one speak much during the meal, they get up and start clearing the dishes while OTHERS ARE STILL EATING. And the TV is always on…. *sigh* Needless to say, I can’t say anything about it as that is just the way things are done…

    So treasure your crazy family, and YES, you are SOOOOO lucky to have a spouse willing to put up with it all! (We already knew he was a saint, LOL)

  • Ha ha ha! This cracked me up so much! Thanks for a brilliant post once again 😀

  • Nabhaswati

    Geraldine!Yet another piece of lovely writing. Hehe. You have a lovely family. And you are so lovely yourselfy7ui8r4f.And i follow your blog.Every .single. day.It makes me happy.Also i get to see places, your adventures …sitting here at my office table.Thank You.

  • there are very few things that make getting out of a warm bed on a cold madrid morning worthwhile– thankfully, reading this hilarious post is one of them!
    preparing to lose a lot of time on your site today 🙂

  • I want your family! Hang on .. I think I HAVE your family. Coming over for Boxing Day. And what kind of name is ‘Tommaso’ anyhoo?

  • Keri Morgret

    Let Rand know that my husband and I are having nobody over for Christmas, and he is welcome to come escape into a spare room and enjoy the quiet and our wifi! Before he leaves, he’ll need to log in to FB on your phone, so that you can take pictures of the gatherings and post them to FB from his account — his alibi later if people try to claim he wasn’t there. It does sound like quite the interesting event. Happy Holidays!

  • Atiya Abbas

    You have totally described Pakistanis as well. Well except for copious amounts of coffee we consume chai…

    If you say you are not hungry, know that the comment will be perceived in any of these ways:

    “You are a terrible cook.”

    “You have failed as a mother/grandmother/aunt/provider.”

    “I don’t love you.”

    (This goes ditto for not consuming seconds.)
    – – CHECK

    Note that saying that you are hungry can be equally disastrous. This is tantamount to claiming that you are near death from starvation, and may expire at any moment. Large quantities of food will be presented to you, and must be eaten in a frenzy. Instead, even if you are famished, state that you “could have a little snack.” Understand that said snack will be a banquet. CHECK

    “You paid how much for that bottle of wine? You know Carlo Rossi is two gallons for $7 and it’s just as good.” DOUBLE CHECK (No matter what it is Pakistanis will find a cheaper alternative for everything)

  • I loved this post even if I only found out about its existence after almost a year after you wrote it. I’m Italian too and I know how Italian families are, you made an amazing list, well done 🙂

  • with a few cultural alterations (food, alcohol, dress) this could apply to a Pakistan family as well. It will be everyone’s business what your husband is eating or not, they watch him and giggle at each other that he eats just “like us” . The temperaments can be met there too. The most bigoted person will tell you how open minded they are, but how imperfect a person converted into a religion will always be and more, This is worth writing a blogpost 😉

  • Pauline Costianes

    LOVE it!! Greek families do the same thing.
    I married a Sicilian (who I swear is a WASP wannabe) and I’m Greek.
    I finagled us over to visit his Sicilian relatives, as the link with them was broken when his dad died.
    Sweetest danged folks ever!!!
    I had taken 6 semesters of adult ed Italian – thank God as my Sicilian husband doesn’t speak any – his father forbade his parents to speak Italian to him when he was a young one.
    I kiddingly told the Sicilian rellies they were half-Greek since the ancient Greeks colonized Sicily, so that we were all “cugini” anyway.
    Bawled like a baby – came on without warning – the night we were saying goodbye – as our plane left the next morning for Rome. I LOVE ITALIANS and the language – e come la musica!

  • 2nd generation italian american

    You lost all credibility when I read Andy Garcia and Jon Stewart are Italian. THEY ARE NOT, YOU FRAUD! Andy Garcia is Cuban American, and Jon Stewart’s family is from Poland…jews!

    • Everywhereist

      Um, yeah, that’s part of the joke. My family thinks everyone is Italian, even people who aren’t. Sigh.

  • Natalie

    Ai, ai, ai, as we South Africans say. Some people need to get a life – especially 2nd generation Italian America above. Really enjoy this post – love Italy and Italians – they are so real!

  • Connie

    >If you are gluten-free … please get over that, or leave the house immediately.

    Hey, we Italians are better at gluten-free than anyone else in the world. If anything, it would be all about how much more pasta and good food that you can have now that you’ve stopped by an Italian house and not those ::shudder:: crazy dieters houses that don’t eat pasta. Do NOT diss the Italian gluten free people or you will get your behind kicked in my household, my mother’s household, and all of the other Italians that I know.

    In fact, you’re more likely to see regular pasta, gluten free pasta, regular bread, gluten free bread, AND regular cannoli and gluten free cannoli for dessert. It just makes the banquet better!

    >High decibel yelling and screaming, standing up and waving limbs, hysterical crying and slamming of fists on the table are all part of standard conversation.

    And then five seconds later, everything is totally cool. That threw my husband for a long time…

  • Maria Delamain

    I really like your post. My mom was first generation American, I totally get what you’re saying, except for the guy in shirt and bikinis, I don’t remember that 🙂 I do remeber no foul laguage allowed unless you’re an adult and then only in Italian so the kids won’t understand. Not to mention the card game where you can cheat as long as you don’t get caught, and then….

  • Sarah Louise Bagg

    I totally agree. I myself am not Italian and am English through and through. My boyfriend is Italian and every year I am subjected to a holiday in Italy which feels like a prison sentence. I vow this time never to go again.
    On arrival we have about 20 of his family greeting us and for the 10 days which we stay it is pretty much the same every day. Dinners are at a set time and we have to show otherwise we won’t hear the last of it. To me this is not a holiday where we are free to do and go where we want. We are both grown adults. My bf approaching 50 and me in my early 40s. Me being English is used to a life where I choose what I want to do and not have family dictating to me all the time.
    If you want a fun filled holiday don’t choose to be with an Italian as this will never happen.

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