So You Want to Go Shopping in Italy
Photo by Flickr user Dajan
Besides enjoying the scenery, the food, the arts, and the people, shopping in Italy is one of our favorite activities.
What You Need to Know: The Basics
First and foremost, prepare at home to spend abroad. Call your banks and credit card companies to confirm your travel dates and avoid getting your accounts locked for fraud.
Once in Italy, you may find that intriguing shop you’ve got your eye on always looks closed. Shops in Italy often close for a long break for lunch at 1 PM. So while you’re often out of luck at 2 PM, late afternoon openings mean you can shop more or less from 4 PM until dinnertime at 8 PM.
Photo by Flickr user Roboppy
In the shop, start off with a “buongiorno” (good day) or a “buonasera” (good evening) if it’s afternoon to the shopkeeper to get things going on the right foot. Shopping in Italy is a rather collaborative experience; often, the customer isn’t even supposed to touch things.
Discuss, point, or otherwise indicate what you are looking for, and your salesperson will take care of you. In the more popular tourist destinations, the shop personnel generally speak English. In smaller towns or off the beaten track destinations, try out your charade skills.
If you’re making a substantial purchase (more than 155 euros in one shop), consider getting a partial refund on your 21% value-added tax (IVA) payment. You’ll need to start the paperwork at the time of purchase and then visit the customs desk at the airport before leaving Italy.
What Should You Shop For?
If only there were enough time and luggage space. These are some of our favorite things to bring home:
Photo by Flickr user Sifu Renka
Look up how your usual size translates into European measurements for both clothing and shoes (Italy is simply the best place for fine leather goods), but don’t be surprised if you need a larger size. Italian clothing is cut slim. Try everything on before purchasing, as returns are often not possible.
Food & Wine
Photo by Flickr user Gashwin
Food stores are where the “look but don’t touch” ethos is most paramount. Let the salesperson give you samples and guide you to something special. But be forewarned: anything fresh – and to U.S. Customs that includes cured meats – can’t come home. Enjoy it while you’re there! Aged cheeses can be brought back so if you want to bring a small wheel of Pecorino from Pienza back home, just ask them to vacuum pack it (sotto vuoto in Italian). Olive oil and wine are ok as well. If you do plan to do some food shopping in Italy, be sure to bring a few ziplock bags with you from home - they are great for keeping any breakage during travel under control.
Photo by Flickr user Bart Hanlon
With access to stunning handmade linens like those at Brozzetti (highlighted earlier this month), it’s impossible to resist bringing one of a kind household linens home. Linens make great gifts - they don’t take up a lot of space and aren’t breakable. Brian’s mother advised us long ago to never leave home without a notebook of all of our table measurements. We pass along her wise words.
Pottery & Glassware
Photo by Flickr user Andrew Batram
If you love painted pottery, you’ll be in heaven. But before you fall in love, ask about shipping. Some of our favorite shops charge (thankfully) by box size not weight, but usually international shipping rates apply and they aren’t “cheap”. You may also receive a bill from US Customs for duty on shipped ceramic items.