Shopping in Rome, (well in most of Europe) there are different social norms and customs that patrons are expected to know. In the United States, people paw the merchandise, carry it around and then usually leave it somewhere it doesn’t belong.
This. Does Not. Happen. In. Italy.
Entering into a shop is like entering into someone’s home. (While the larger mall like stores are more lax in this custom, for this article, I am addressing the small shops.) When you enter into someone’s home, you immediately greet them. This is expected in an Italian shop as well.
Vendors are ready to wait on you. They want to serve and they are attentive. When you walk in, say, “buon giorno” and smile. They will greet you as well and may ask something along the lines of “Che cose’?” This means loosely, “what would you like?” It is expected that you do not touch the wares. Italians are very meticulous in their belongings and they frown upon the idea of someone else trying it on and touching it. In fact, if you are choosing to try it on, it is almost an unspoken expectation that you plan to purchase said garment.
Wha????? How do I know I like it? How do I know it will fit? Trust me. The salesperson will have sized you up correctly the moment you darkened their doorstep. They will know precisely what size you need. (An aside here is it may not be the size you want. Sorry. Their sizes are different anyway, so it doesn’t matter.)
If you are looking for a particular color, they will be happy to help. When you walk into a shop, the first thing you may notice is that it is very sparse. There may be one or two mannequins dressed in an ensemble, but that will be it. The wall are usually lined with drawers or doors that host the goods. Italians do not like to be overwhelmed with too much at once. Much in the way they prefer their meals to be presented in unadorned sequence, they use the same principles for clothing stores.
You may like the scarf or the skirt on the mannequins so you can point to it and say, “Lo mi piace.” This means “I like it.” Suddenly, before your very eyes, there will appear a bevy of this particular skirt or scarf or shirt in an array of colors and patterns and sizes.
If there is a certain color you are looking for, it would be a good idea to learn how to say it in Italian. (Most of the shops are housed with salespeople who can in fact, speak English, but they are so happy and proud of you when you attempt the native language, it’s adorable.)
Once you have decided what you will purchase, you can say something like, “Lo prendo.” This means, “I’ll take it.” This is the best part. The salesperson will whirl you up to the cash register and prepare your new belongings for their journey home. They use tissue wraps and ribbons and beautiful reusable bags with zippers. It is a treat in itself to watch them. The excitement overtakes you as you make your lovely purchase.
Try and maintain your dignity when you leave. At least go around the corner before you begin squealing in delight. Once, I purchased a scarf (well I made my husband purchase a scarf for me) on the via Condotti and I was so proud of myself for not tearing the package open and rolling around the streets on my new treasure. That kind of behavior is an entirely different article.