I’m a Texan living abroad in Italy—in the city of Vicenza, the Fort Worth to Venice’s Dallas—and I swear by Nolan Ryan that if I have my good reputation ruined by another rowdy tourist, I will start telling people I’m an Arkansan.

A record number of travelers flocked to Italy this summer, with more coming from the U.S. than any other nation. Incidents of misbehavior have abounded. UNESCO wants to declare Venice endangered by tourists, who have vandalized churches and skinny-dipped in canals. Morons marred Rome’s nearly-two-thousand-year-old Colosseum with graffiti at least four times this year. Last year, two Americans were fined after shoving a scooter down the Spanish Steps in Rome. Others have left trash on the steps of medieval cathedrals. A woman even climbed into the Trevi Fountain to fill a water bottle. The disrespect has been so chronic and severe that Italy’s tourism minister recently vowed to increase penalties for vandalism.

Of course, most travelers aren’t quite so bad. Far more common is a general sort of bumbling cluelessness. If a trip to Italy is in your future, it behooves you to learn a little local etiquette. So if you have it in your head to come over to the land of marble and barley, I’ve got some words if you’d hear them. Some of them may surprise you.

Beverages here run three ways: wine, coffee, and miscellaneous. Wine is usually red, except when it’s not. There is only one kind of coffee: espresso. Miscellaneous can mean soda and juice but never water. Abandon your love of water. We don’t believe in it here—you might find it in restaurants or when you wash your hands. But in the private home, water is something that you put in wine and that you combine with coffee to make espresso. Drinking water neat, without any junk in it, is crass. Please leave your 32-ounce Yeti jug at home.

One bright spot of much comfort to a homesick Texan is the beer. Italians do drink beer, but it is all German beer, and if you pick up a shaker to sprinkle in a little dash of salt, à la Texano, the waiter will hurl himself at you and you will cause an international incident. 

Speaking of waiters, abandon your expectations. This ain’t El Fenix, with its doting, vigilant staff lavishing diners with iced tea and tortilla chips like frankincense and myrrh. I am in constant conflict with Italian waiters. They have to be wooed like a cat. In Texas, when you enter a restaurant, a bubbly employee greets you. The only thing bubbly here is the wine. The staff acts surprised that you’ve come in, as though you just walked into their living room. Everyone else I’ve met has been kind, warmhearted, generous, and welcoming—except for the waiters. People talk about the difference in tipping customs, but it’s really very simple. You don’t tip here because none of the waiters deserve it. They get paid better here anyway and don’t need your tips to survive, and they make sure that you know it.

If you think I am being too harsh on the service, you can think that. Texas is a free country, after all. But think it fast, because Italian restaurants are only open for skimpy hours—often just a couple of hours for lunch and a couple of hours for dinner. Everything shuts down for about two hours smack-dab in the middle of the day. Arrive too late and you’ll find the staff drinking wine on the portico. And the only thing more unresponsive than a waiter is a waiter off duty. When your stomach is full, this is a marvelous practice. It’s like a siesta, and I don’t begrudge anyone their afternoon catnap. Unless I’m hungry, and then I begrudge everyone everything.

Suppose you’ve already dehydrated yourself and steeled your heart for the abusive service. You’re ready to go out on the town. What do you wear? This may seem like an all-important question. Italy is the land of style and panache. Maserati, Giorgio Armani, Gucci, Prada. Compound nouns like “dinner wear” and “sport coat” are bandied about by so-called fashion experts. If that is your thing, go for it. But this is Europe, cousin. Someone is always dressed goofier than you.

I’m talking about jorts, tank tops, even socks with sandals. You can wear anything you want. I’ve seen a man peacocking along a cobbled street while clad in jeans with an embroidered cartoon panda crawling up his left leg. The panda had a suspicious leer and seemed to have a tough time navigating the fashionable rips installed in the pants. The man’s head was so high he’d drown in a rainstorm. If he’s not ashamed, you shouldn’t be either.

You can giggle, but don’t go talking about it. The booming Texan voice is fashioned for prairies and vistas. Here, when one of us whispers, the consonants ricochet around the piazzas, snatching hats and cutting off fanny packs with a twang. A Texan mumble is a European shout. It’s impossible for me to keep a secret in Italy. I holler it in my mind and they overhear my thoughts.

Which isn’t hard when everything is within an inch away. You could fit about two Italys in Texas, if you had the notion. From Venice to Rome is about the same distance as Dallas to Galveston. All of Tuscany could fit comfortably inside the greater Houston area. The Piazza del Duomo, where the Leaning Tower of Pisa peeks out from behind the celestial cathedral, is smaller than the parking lot for AT&T Stadium, in Arlington. This smaller scale can lead to a harsh adjustment period for those used to wide-open spaces and a plumb horizon. Most of Italy is covered with mountains and hills. The rest is crisscrossed by cobbled medieval streets where the buildings lean over like tents. Charming to most, claustrophobic to Texans. You can’t quite shake the feeling that the mountains will fall over on top of you.

Driving here is a jangled adventure. I find the drivers more akin to those in California than in Texas. In the Lone Star State, we funnel our insanity into the far left lane. In California, the insanity is general. That’s similar to in Italy, where the streets still follow the old gladiator spirit. The key is confidence. Don’t get rattled by the roundabouts and the imaginary lanes. Don’t pay attention to other drivers’ blinkers—they’re bluffing. The roads operate on the logic of nonsense, and if you try to impose sense on them, you’ll lose. That’s how you cause an accident.

Traffic cameras have been illegal in most parts of Texas since 2019. In a great democratic 1836 spirit that Sam Houston would’ve been proud of, we hurled that cursed practice out of the state. Not so in Italy. The entire country is plastered with cameras to catch you. Italians are a joyful and fun-loving people who take a broad and tolerant view of things—until they catch you speeding. The rule to follow, in the car or afoot, is to smile because you are on camera.

Another thing: don’t any of you let on that we Texans are anything other than the rootinest, tootinest buckaroos who ever walked on two bootheels. The Italians share our passion for boots. They understand these things. I’ve been putting in work regaling the Europeans with stories about wagon trails to the supermarket and stopping off at the chuck wagon for breakfast. In fact, don’t even mention that we have electricity. I also might’ve made some claims about high noon duels and accelerated the timing of the Alamo into our modern day. If any of you second-say me, I’ll denounce you as an Oklahoman.

When it comes to barbecue, you’re not out of luck. The Veneto region, where I live, is famed for its barbecue and smoked meat. Finding a smoker is easy, as they’re available anywhere grills are sold. But an outdoor grill is still a bit of an anachronism here. Older Italian homes have something called a camino, which looks like a fireplace in the kitchen with a grate installed. In Tuscany (Italy’s version of the Hill Country), you can order a hefty fiorentina steak, just like a filleted T-bone at home. Fish is more common than smoked meat, though. Remember that the coastline is nearly five thousand miles long, and the cheap part of the menu is the seafood section, the exact opposite of in Texas.

For all the small annoyances that come with a trip abroad, you’ll stumble into a moment that makes it worth it. It might arrive when you’re listening to the jingle of a fountain or the rustle of pigeons in a campanile bell tower, or maybe the sluicing of water in a Venetian canal. In this moment, your dimensions will stretch.

Maybe you’ve felt like this at home in Texas, looking up at the endless blue sky and vast expanses. Your chest opens and your heart quickens and you could swallow the entire world: prairies, deserts, canyons, and the sky for a chaser. The same thing happens here, except the instinct turns inward. You feel an antique touch seeping through time, through the comfortable worn stone, and you see the film that separates centuries and sense that it is made of flimsier stuff than you thought. You intuit that the years crowd close together and that your time stands shoulder to shoulder, in parallel with the others. It’s an odd sensation, but it’s what pulls travelers back here again and again. They feel it and bring it back home like a souvenir. But I am still here, and I want you to take my advice to heart, so that when I am asked if I am an American, I can proudly say, “No, I’m a Texan.”