Eating in Italy is more than just a necessity or even a casual social activity. Eating in Italy is a religion, and like all religions, there are certain rules that need to be observed to avoid looking like a fool. Having visited my fair share of Italian restaurants back in the states, I felt as if I had a pretty good grip on navigating an Italian menu. As it turns out, I was quite, quite wrong. 

Inspired by some of my own more egregious food faux pas and laughably American mistakes, here are the 10 things that everyone should know about eating in Italy. 

1. Where's the Beef?

Traditional Italian food differs in many ways from American Italian food (looking at you, Olive Garden), but perhaps the most important is that in Italy, pasta and meat are never served in the same course. Yes, that's correct, in Italy spaghetti with meatballs does not exist (outside of restaurants designed specifically with American tourists in mind). Neither does chicken parmesan on top of pasta, or anything else you might order at the Cheesecake Factory. Thankfully, our professor's drilled this one into our heads before our first dinner, saving us from the embarrassment of being labeled as "those dumb Americans."

2. The Customer is NOT Always Correct

Disclaimer: I am a notoriously picky eater. As a general rule, I usually have to ask for some type of substitution every time I go out to eat in the US. When eating in Italy, however, there is an expectation that you eat the dish as the chef has created it for you and you do not make any fuss about swapping pesto for marinara sauce or holding the mushrooms.

At lunch one day I witnessed one of my friends get utterly shot down by the waiter when he asked to substitute the regular tagliatelle for the spinach tagliatelle. The only thing he achieved by his request was convincing the waiter that we were savage tourists who had no appreciation for Italian cuisine. When faced with an ingredient you don't like while eating in Italy you have 2 options: suck it up or order something different.

3. The Best Things in Life are Free, but Water Isn't

It's no secret that the best way to save money if you eat out a lot is to skip the soda and go for a free glass of water with lemon. As someone who doesn't like soda, it's a habit for me to not order a drink when the waiter comes around and just stick with the free water they pour for the whole table.

So there I was, at my first Italian dinner, waiting for the server to come out with the metal pitcher of water and pour me a glass. After 20 minutes and 2 baskets of free bread had passed, I finally asked our waiter if I could get a glass of iced water and was rewarded with an entire 2 euro bottle. As it turns out, Italian restaurants do not serve tap water (nor would they ever dream of putting ice in it). Instead, you have to buy it by the bottle. #TeamHydrationNation has really taken a hit in Italy. 

4. Finish your Food

4. Finish your Food

Everybody loves leftovers. There is honestly nothing better than coming home from a night out and finding a few slices of pizza in your fridge from dinner. One of my favorite parts about eating out is bringing home a box of delicious goodies for lunch the next day. Needless to say, the day I discovered that there's no such thing as a doggy bag in Italy was a sad day indeed. Since the portions here aren't nearly as large as those in the US, there is an expectation that you will finish your entire meal and asking to "box something up" is a major mistake. The plus side? In Italy, you'll never experience that soul-crushing sadness of realizing you left your to-go box on the table.

5. Take it Slow

We live in a world of instant gratification. We order our food and we expect it to appear on the table ten minutes later and if a meal lasts longer than an hour we start getting antsy. But as I mentioned earlier, eating in Italy is an entire affair and it's not uncommon for meals to last upwards of two hours. Particularly at fancier restaurants where you are served multiple courses, it sometimes feels as if you've been sitting in the restaurant for an eternity. Clear your schedule after 7:30 pm because like all good things, a true Italian dinner should never, ever be rushed.  

6. Two. Hours. Later.

Sometimes eating out in the States can be stressful. The second you finish your meal the waiter swoops in with the check and hovers over you until you get sufficiently uncomfortable and, cutting your conversations short, pay it and leave.

This never happens in Italy. Here the customer's dining experience is far more important than turning over tables quickly. Initially unaware of this, my friends and I once stayed at a restaurant for an extra hour after we finished our food, waiting for our waiter to automatically bring us the check. Half the kitchen staff had left, the waiters were stacking chairs on tables, we were the only group still in the restaurant, and we still didn't receive the check until we finally caved and asked for it. Turns out there are 2 things in life you should never sit back and wait to receive: a job and the check.

7. Here's a Tip: Don't Tip  

In the US, I would never dream of leaving a restaurant without giving my server at least a 20% tip. Italy is a different story though. Rather than hope for a bit of generosity from stingy tourists, Italian restaurants automatically build a service charge into your check. As a result, tipping is generally not a thing and you won't run the risk of being known in the restaurant as "that a**hole that never tips." Even still, old habits die hard I can't help but feel slightly horrible every time I take my change and leave.  

8. Dinner or Late Night Food?

I am a firm believer in the 6 pm dinner. 6:30 is usually pushing it for me, and by 7, I am quite hangry. The first night we ate at "Italian time" (a.k.a. 8:30 pm) I absolutely thought that I was going to die. Rather than be a smart tourist and partake in the typical 5:30/6 pm aperitivo, I had taken a nap that day, and thus showed up to our reservation feeling as if my stomach was digesting itself. Never skipped the snacks after that. 

9. So Long to "The Most Important Meal of the Day"

Brunch fiends be warned, there is no avocado toast in Italy for you to put on your Insta story. I always love to start my day with a plate of eggs and fruit, but restaurants that serve "breakfast" dishes are very rare indeed. The typical Italian breakfast consists of a pastry and an espresso, all of which can be bought for 2 euros at a cafe as you speed to school on your bicycle. As much as I appreciate how bank-account-friendly, breakfast is here, 6 weeks without a single omelet has truly been a struggle for me. 

10. CappucciNO 

One of the many things that made me excited to travel to Italy was how much coffee they drink here. Back home, hardly a day would go by in which I didn't drink at least 1 cappuccino. After lunch on our second day, I was beyond ready to order my very first Italian cappuccino. Immediately, our waiter started snickering as us poor, silly Americans all ordered cappuccinos at 1 pm. Chalking it up to my questionable Italian vocabulary, I didn't think anything of it until class the next day when our professor kindly informed us that cappuccinos are reserved exclusively for "breakfast." From then on out, its been macchiatos and espresso shots or nothing for me. 

Traveling to a foreign country can be stressful. There are connecting flights to worry about, language barriers and, worst of all, falling into the stereotype of an "obnoxious tourist." Follow these 10 tips for eating in Italy and you'll already be one step ahead of everyone combing the menu for chicken Alfredo.