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Italians typically take cooking and eating very seriously, which is demonstrated in the richness and diversity of the food throughout the Italian peninsula, from the risottos of the north to the pastas of the south. The protocols followed in cooking Italian food are designed to enhance the flavor of the food, and the rules of etiquette prescribed for its consumption encourage diners to savor the experience of eating and communing with friends.

Preparation and Greetings

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It’s customary in Italian culture to offer a greeting when meeting someone, even if you’ve met that person before. Say “Buongiorno” during the day to wish the person a good day and “Buonosera” during the night to wish him a good night. Shake hands firmly, maintain eye contact, and offer the person the traditional kiss on both cheeks. If the other person has invited you over for a meal, it’s considered proper to bring a small gift of some kind such as flowers or wine.

Cooking and Eating Pasta

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If you're preparing pasta with long noodles like spaghetti, take care never to break the strands into pieces to fit them into a pot. In Italy, long pasta is typically twisted slightly prior to being placed in the pot, and then the parts that don’t fit are slowly stirred in with a cooking utensil as the food softens. This enhances the natural flavor of the pasta. When you're eating pasta, never cut it with a knife and avoid using a spoon to scoop it into your mouth. Instead, slowly ease the noodles onto your fork using bite-sized portions.

Cheese Etiquette

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Don’t place cheese on a sauce containing fish or other forms of seafood; instead, use breadcrumbs, if any are available. Avoid adding more cheese to a sauce that already contains it. Specific rules exist as to which cheeses go on specific dishes in Italy, rules that many Italians grow up knowing but which can seem bewildering to foreigners. Parmesan is not eaten with most dishes, and using it on pizza is highly frowned upon.

Dining Rules

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When the table is prepared, a fork is placed on the left side of the plate and a knife on the right side. Proper etiquette dictates that the utensils remain on their respective sides of the plate throughout the meal. The fork and spoon at the top of the plate are provided for dessert. Wait until everyone is served and seated before beginning to eat. Eat with a napkin on your lap and keep your hands visible at all times. However, don’t use your hands for eating and never place your elbows on the table.