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Some of the most obvious cultural differences between Italy and other countries include public holidays, school schedules, and hours of operation for stores and banks. This page documents the differences, and because we couldn't figure out where else to put it, also describes French electrical service!
On national public holidays most businesses, schools, and banks close and people will have the day off in Italy. They may even close in the afternoon of the day before. When a holiday falls on a Tuesday or a Thursday, many Italians will fare il ponte (make the bridge) by taking off the day between the holiday and the weekend. If a holiday is coming, be sure to get enough cash while the banks are open. Some service stations will also close, so if driving is in your holiday plans, especially in the countryside, a full tank of gas is recommended.
Here are the major public holidays and the dates on which they occur:
The Italian school year begins in September and ends in June. The academic year is divided into either two or three terms, depending on the region: September-January and January-June, or September-January, January-March, and March-June. The school calendar is determined each year at a regional level. Schools are closed during Christmas and Easter breaks, as well as for local and national holidays. Tourist destinations are more crowded at these times. You can search for the current school calendar here.
All of Italy keeps the same time. During the winter months this is one hour later than Universal Time (UT, formerly Greenwich Mean Time or GMT). Italy also observes daylight saving time. It begins on the last Sunday in March and ends on the last Sunday in October. Daylight saving time in Italy is two hours later than Universal Time. Here are some times around the world, relative to Rome time:
Banks in Rome are typically open Monday through Friday from 08h30 to 13h30 and from 14h30 to 16h00, although afternoon hours may vary. ATM machines will be available 24 hours a day.
Shops and stores are generally open Monday through Friday from 09h00 or 09h30 to 13h00 and from 16h00 or 17h00 to about 20h00. Saturdays they are usually open from 10h00 to 20h00. In the center of Rome quite a few shops stay open as late as 22h00 on weekdays and 20h00 on Sundays.
Rome supermarkets are open Tuesday through Saturday from 10h00 to 20h00. Mondays they commonly open at 13h00. Central Rome stores will often have longer hours, sometimes including Sundays.
Italy has 220-volt 50-hertz electrical service. Before you leave, check whether your electric shavers, travel irons, hair dryers, or other personal appliances will operate at the higher voltage. If not, you must buy new appliances or bring a voltage converter, also called a transformer. Dual-voltage hair dryers are quite easy to find, and electric shavers are often dual-voltage, so you may not need a transformer.
Remember that outlet prongs are shaped differently. Italy uses European-style plugs, having two round pins and requiring the use of mechanical plug adapters for most foreign appliances. These are inexpensive and available from many sources, including hardware stores. Keep in mind, however, that plug adapters are not electrical converters; they merely adapt the plug so it can be connected.
Finally, since current alternates at 50 cycles, not 60 as in the U.S. and some other countries, expect your dual-voltage hair dryer, for example, to run a little slower.