Shopping in Rome, Florence, Venice, Italy: Etiquette You Need To Know About European Shops

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.

 

Souvenir Ideas: Books

Book of Tuscan Proverbs

For me, shopping on vacation is part of the fun.  I love looking for little trinkets and mementoes to bring back and squirrel into my little nest.  I think there’s really a physiological benefit.  I can feel my heart soar and my respiration change….pretty shiny objects can do that.  🙂  I love bringing back little presents for those whom I left behind.  I can imagine their joy in receiving a special present from so far away.

A particularly good gift idea is a book.

Book of Tuscan Proverbs

Book of Tuscan Proverbs

The beauty of a book, for a traveler, is that it is easy to slip into a suitcase, it isn’t breakable, and it’s a unique treasure that you can’t just pick up in your own local bookstore.

In Florence, FirenziLibri is a wonderful place to find not only new books, but vintage and out of print volumes as well.  The store is located at Via dei Servi, 52.  It’s  a lovely little side street that has lots of other unique shops.  There is something so special about finding a beloved fairy tale from own childhood written in Italian.  This is where you will find locals and won’t be over run by tourists, such as yourselves.  🙂

In Milan, immediately to the right of the Duomo, there is a huge book store.  In Mondadori Bookstore is  filled with a plethora of books and other little book store trinkets.  This could be your perfect one stop shopping.  This store is akin to the giant bookstores we have here in the states.  In addition to books, there are maps and stuffed animals and mugs….just like home, but Italian.

There’s something magical about a bookstore.   Each volume holds possibility.  To find a lovely edition of a classic, written in Italian, or German or whatever the local language may be is something unique and special.

 

Buying Gold and Silver Jewelry on The Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio Over The Arno River, Florence

The Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy

 

One of the lovely shops on the Ponte Vecchio

The Ponte Vecchio, (or The Old Bridge) is one of the most famous sites in the world to purchase gold and silver jewelry.  Founded hundreds of years ago, this trading post was the centerpiece of Florence, Italy with vendors and customers coming from all over.  Italian gold and silver is the finest in the world, and buying a little trinket, (or two) on a trip to Italy is a wonderful remembrance to bring home.  It’s something you’ll actually use because let’s face it, what do you do with a tiny Leaning Tower of Pisa after you’re home?

There is plenty of debate as to whether or not you are getting the best deal or if the jewelry is overpriced on the bridge.

This is something you have to decide for yourself.  Perhaps you pay a bit more.  Maybe it is a bit less.  Either way, all of the shops on the bridge are accredited vendors, so you know you have genuine materials.  Remember, you’ll also be paying for the experience.  Believe me when I tell you that in itself, that makes it worth the price.  You’ll remember it forever.

Italian gold is made as 18kt.  It will say 750 on it instead.  True Italian gold will also have a tiny stamp on it with usually a star and some small letters or numbers.  These are the identification numbers of the area in Italy in which the jewelry was made.  Each region has its own stamps and numbers.  When you are shopping for gold in Italy, look for this marking to insure you are getting Italian gold made in Italy.

When you shop in Italy, is is different than here in the States.  As I’ve mentioned before, there are some unspoken rules that are followed.  When you are on the Ponte Vecchio, you are truly marked as a tourist. (Or at least as someone with cash or credit cards to spend.)  You want to be alert and aware of your surroundings, so your adventure on the bridge is pleasurable.

One thing to know when you are on the bridge is that vendors are everywhere.  They aren’t selling jewelry, but they have scarves and wooden Pinocchio dolls and such.  They will attempt to distract you, so be prepared and keep walking.  Keep your hand on your purse.  If you need to, say, “Va Via!”  (This means, “Go Away!”)  While they won’t suddenly think you’re a native, they will at least know you’ve done your homework and will move on.

Shopping on the bridge, everything is there for your perusal.  When you spot something that’s caught your eyes, you knock on the door of the shop.  They only allow one party in at a time.  The vendor comes out and you can literally point to something in the window, or you can say, “posso?”  This means, “Can I?” to have entrance to the shop.  They will escort you in and lock the door behind you.  For real.  Be ready.

They are very gracious and it’s intimate.  Once you make the purchase, you will need to give information for customs as there are forms you will need to return when you arrive at the airport heading home.  You’ll receive your papers from the vendor and your purchase will be wrapped like the precious trinket that it is, in velvet bags and tissue wrap.

Honestly, the safest place for jewelry is on your person.  Wearing a gold chain or a bracelet will not make you a target, and you will be infinitely more secure than if you tuck the bag into your purse. Thieves and pickpockets will be watching to see who comes out of a store with some tiny bag in ribbons.  The important thing, again,  is to be aware and alert.   If you decide to wear the jewelry out of the store, (even if it isn’t for you, remember safety) tell them.  They will assist you and they’ll still give you all the lovely wrappings and bags.

They are used to tourists and they are so accommodating and gracious.  Every time you look at your beautiful piece of jewelry it will make you smile to know you bought it at the most famous jewelry location on the planet.

Follow Up Review of The Downeaster Sport Small Canvas Bag at L.L. Bean Signature

So, I bought the  L.L. Bean Downeaster bag a week ago, and as promised, I am doing a review.  This bag has tons of pockets.  The front one is the perfect size for a cell phone or a passport.Image It is definitely designed for being out and about all day.  There are two side pockets on the exterior of either side.  They zip and keep keys, etc. easy to find as well as secure.  There is another pocket in the front behind the zippered one, this can hold a work I.D. or such.  Inside, I was able to keep a ton of stuff!  I switched out from my usual work bag and everything fit into this!  I didn’t think it could do it, but it did.

Inside, there’s only one pocket, which would be one of my draw backs.  It would be really easy for L.L. Bean to add a line of interior pockets in the front….just a suggestion.  My other issue is that the strap is about two inches too short to be a perfect cross body.  I can use it as such, but it really is designed as a shoulder strap.  For women taller than average height, it might be a bigger problem.

It wasn’t heavy and it looked much cuter than my old bag. I love the classic colors, sailcloth, blue and red.  Each season, they update color trends, so there’s something for every taste.   I absolutely love the shape of a Speedy satchel.  It looks and feels stylish.

This bag would be perfect for a trip.  It has enough of a street chic look to it that you don’t scream out “American Tourist” but also has enough zippers and gadgets to keep your belongings secure and easy to reach.  You could easily use this as a carry-on.  It could hold a pair of shoes and a change of clothes along with all the other paraphernalia we need.

Right now, it’s on sale for $44.99.  Regular price is $59.00.  I used L.L. Bean coupons, but I don’t think I would pay the full price.  (However, I don’t pay the full price for ANYTHING so I’m not a good judge for that.)

Overall, I’d give this bag a 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.  It really is beautiful.  I love the feel of the canvas, and it makes a pair of jeans and a simple shirt look Yacht Ready.

Bouquet of Memories: Signature Accessories

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ImageSignature accessories are always a source of interest to me.  How about you?  I love the idea of having something that no one else has.  It doesn’t have to be expensive, just meaningful.   Here’s an interesting and unique way to Make A Memory.  Choose a beautiful, long 36-inch chain.  Get one that is sturdy and wear it without a pendant….until you get see one that speaks to you.  Birthstones of your children, your husband’s initials, a feather, a cross, a quote, these are just the beginning of ideas….there’s millions of options.

If you are taking a vacation, buy a charm in each city that you visit.  Visit the local artisan fairs that are literally EVERYWHERE now.   You’ll be amazed at the unique and beautiful pieces that are made by local artists.  You can feel the effort and the energy in each piece they make.

Another idea is to try collecting all the same type of charm.  Buy something you love, like ducks, your initial, angels or even shoes.  Imagine a chain of only four-leaf clovers or stars.  Whatever makes you smile is what you should choose. See how many different ones you can find.

It will be one of a kind.  It will become a signature accessory.  When you’re wearing it, you’ll Feel Dressed.  Polished.  Special.  It will make you smile to hear it jingle when you walk.  You’ll miss it when you aren’t wearing it.

It may take you years to finish this necklace.  You may never declare it to be done.  There may always be another piece to add.  The more you wear it, the more It Will Become You.  It is like your life on a string.  Literally.

 

Sonserae Designs: Jewelry Review and Bracelet Giveaways!!

My Very Own Beautiful Sonserae Designs Original

 

Image One of the best parts of being on vacation, (or not,) is shopping for something fabulous!!  In Los Angeles, there is a genius among them!  Sonserae Designs has all the newest fashions hot off the red carpet.  Her work is peppered throughout specialty shops in Los Angeles, so you know it’s cool.

Designing jewelry for about four years, Sonserae  enjoys all sorts of hobbies. She can knit, crochet, sew, paint, and cook.  All of these hobbies help in the design process because she is able to combine different textiles and materials in new and creative ways.

“Living in Los Angeles” says Sonserae,  “And being a visual effects artist, I have the great advantage of being on the cutting edge of the next fashion and celebrity trends. I often head downtown to the Fashion District and see what’s the next big thing and what’s the rage. My jewelry and designs reflect the latest in SoCal fashion trends which leads the way for the rest of America.”

Her designs are both earthy and organic as well as urbane and chic.  Sonserae Designs pieces are perfect for the boardroom, the classroom, and the ballroom.  Classic and easy to wear, they will soon become favorite pieces.

Her pieces are inspired by many things.  She says, “my design inspirations usually come to me in the middle of the night or early morning while I wake. Some idea pops in my head and I usually work out all the details as I think and ponder on it during the day…sometimes while walking the dog or at the gym. I find that I’m more prepared to use the materials if I just think about them for a few days beforehand. I use the same process when I am figuring out a solution to a problem in visual effects…but jewelry design is way more creative.”

All of her work is made here in America by Sonserae herself.  She does custom orders and can even create the perfect bridal party pieces.  I love these pieces, not only because they are gorgeous in themselves, but each one arrives beautifully gift wrapped.  She has been a go-to girl for birthdays and care packages for me!!

I feel it is so important to support our local American artisans and small business shops.   I wanted to share this little gem of a designer with you…..and now Sonserae is sharing something with YOU.   She has honored me with  not one, but TWO jewelry giveaways for Scrivo readers!!!

 

 

It isn’t difficult to win.  Here’s what you need to do…

1-Click to subscribe to Scrivo, maybe write a comment below to say hello!

2- Visit her fantastic Etsy shop at Sonserae Designs.  You can contact her directly through her Etsy page or you can like her on Facebook.  Take a minute to say hello and tell her  you’re a Scrivo fan.

Sonserae will choose two winners at random, but you can’t win it, if you aren’t in it.  So hop to it!!

The two lucky winners will be notified via Scrivo and we will post the winner’s first name and state here on Scrivo, as well as Sonserae’s Facebook. Good luck!

 

Siena: A Shopping Secret

Siena: Neighborhood flag guarding its territory
Window sills overlooking Siena

Window sills overlooking Siena

Siena is The Quintessential Medieval City.  Shouldered between Florence and Rome, she is the quiet, elegant sister who needs no introduction.  Each year, thousands of people shimmy themselves into her walls to get a glimpse at the famous horse race, Il Palio.  Two days a year, July 2nd and August 16th, she is like a rock star, and then the rest of the year, she is a monarch, perched upon her hilly throne, regal and beautiful.  She beckons you to discover her secrets, because once you think you have discovered her, there is something else that you never knew.  Each alleyway brings you to an entirely new section of the town.  At once, it is crowded and deserted.  There are times when you literally will not see another soul.

Window display in Siena

Window display in Siena

This is when you are able to find the most unique Things To Buy.  On the Via Della Sapienza, there is a tiny little wine shop, La Cantina Del Brunello.  It sells the most amazing…

 

Cycling Jerseys.

It’s true.  You would never expect to see this, but there it is.  The jerseys have the Gallo Nero (Black Rooster) on them, indicating a true Chianti.

If you are a cycling fan, then Italy is your long lost home.  If you are a wine lover, well, Italy is your long lost home, too.  So there we were, a cyclist and a wine lover.  We had to go in.  The most adorable, quintessential little old Italian man was at the register.  We greeted him, (remember what I said about shopping in Italy.)  He was about 5 feet even.  My husband is 6’3″.  As this beautiful man flitted about him like a tiny bird trying to find the correct size jersey, my husband begged me not to take his picture.  I obliged him out of love, but can I tell you, it was a spectacular moment.  We had found The Most Beautiful Cycling Jersey….in a wine shop!

The man spoke very little English, but we knew from his mumbling that he could not find an XL.  His face lit up as he lifted his finger to us, and took the jersey right off the mannequin.  We purchased the jersey, of course, but honestly, I can’t remember if we even bought any wine.  He was so gracious and kind to this oversized giant American with a heart for cycling as big as his own.  He smiled and smiled  and took both of my hands.  Then he offered us some olive oil in tiny precious bottles.  “Un assaggio” he advised me.  (A taste.)  We took the tiny bottle with us and savored it with some bread after we had returned home to the States.  Long after the olive oil was gone, the memory is still so rich.

That’s the way it is window shopping in Siena.  You feel as if you are browsing for a new long lost friend.  They are so gracious, and they are thrilled when you try to speak a bit of Italian to them.  You feel comfortable trying because they are so encouraging and delighted.  It’s like taking your first steps or something the way they cheer you on with each phrase.  Of course, some things cross language barriers; handshakes and smiles, of course, but eye contact, and knowing that “Il Campionissimo”  was Fausto Coppi.  If you are a cycling lover, you know what I’m talking about.

Neighborhood flag guarding its territory

Neighborhood flag guarding its territory

 

Sirni Pelletteria, Roma, Italia: Part Two of a Zillion on Shopping

The author with her newest treasure.
The Author and Her New Sirni Bag

The Author and Her New Sirni Bag

I’ve talked before about the dizzying choices of goods to purchase when you are in Italy.  In the heart of the historic center of Rome, it is no different.  You will see goods that range from the sublime, to the ridiculously stupid.  I know.  I’ve bought them both.  I don’t know if you have the same sickness I have on vacation, but I have to confess, I feel like I’m on a hunt and I want to Bag Something Fab…so there is no pun intended when I tell you one of the best things to buy in Rome is a handbag.  The leather in all of Italy is like nothing I’ve ever seen.  My dear Great-Uncle Augusto wears the most beautiful shoes I have ever seen.  They are so beautiful and elegant.  I know they are soft.  I stop myself at throwing myself on the floor to rub my face on them, so I’m making an assumption here, but you can tell….

Famiglia Sirni

Famiglia Sirni

I’m pausing here for a moment to reminisce about those shoes……..

OK.  Back to shopping in Rome.  As I’ve said, it  offers as many choices as there are cobblestones.  You could always decide to choose something cheesy (which let’s face it, they’re funny to buy, especially that gross apron of “The David”) or buy your self  “Un Tipico Romano Regalo. ”    Leather. Handbags.

At Via Della Stelletta 33, you will find the most beautiful leather goods in Rome.  I am speaking of, none other than the world famous Sirni Pelletteria.  This beautiful little shop has been family owned and operated for over 50 years.  The current proprietors, Andrea and Rita, are a brother and sister duo who have inherited the gift of creating gorgeous handbags from their father.

The Mural of Andrea and Rita's Father over the work station

The Mural of Andrea and Rita’s Father over the work station

The inside of the shop is as sleek and beautiful as the bags.  Each piece is seated much like a monarch on a throne.  They just know they’re special.  Rita works the front of the store, managing the customers and the vast choices of bags.  She is an artist in every sense of the word, beautiful inside and out.  She welcomes people from all over the world.  Movie stars, celebrities and locals alike, recognize these bags for the treasures that they are.  Andrea is a genius sculptor.  His medium is leather and he painstakingly coaxes these pieces of leather into a spectacular monument.  Like I’ve written about before, when you are shopping in Rome, the store vendors wish to serve you.  Rita magically conjures any color or style bag you can imagine.  They also make custom designs.  People return to them year after year to custom order pieces like nothing else in Europe, or the world, for that matter.

The Work Room at Sirni Pelletteria

The Work Room at Sirni Pelletteria

more Famiglia Sirni

more Famiglia Sirni

 

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Signature Accessories….Jewelry

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea that a woman could own some piece of jewelry that became a part of her.  I think there is something so sentimental and personal about wearing the same piece of jewelry each day.   I always notice the jewelry other women are wearing.  I wonder who gave it to them, why they chose it, what it means. I think it’s important to have something with meaning.  I’ve never been able to just go into a store and buy a piece of jewelry.  I need to think.  What will it reflect about me?  Does it send a message at all?  What kinds of feelings do I have when I wear it?  What does it represent?

I think now there is a special intimacy in wearing handmade gold or  silver.  A handmade piece holds such a warmth to it.  I like to choose things that represent what I love…my husband, my daughters, my God. My faith is central to my being.  I am drawn to any kind of symbol or icon that will identify me as a Christian.  That narrows the scope a bit.

I love the idea of wearing something that can become so connected to you that it transfers energy somehow. When I travel, I am always drawn to the local artisan jewelry.  Handmade rings or bracelets that tell a story about a culture are palpable memories.  Each time I wear a piece, I will remember the sensuous parts of the moments It Became Mine.  The heat.  The smells.  The sounds.  The touch.  The music.  All of this becomes a sentimental part of wearing your history (and your heart) on your sleeve. Do you have a piece you wear all the time?  What do you think it says? I’d love to hear about it.