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Italy is rich in culture, history and traditions. Italians are very proud of their past and therefore fond of their identity (and their family, too). Although foreigners do assume otherwise, Italians tend to be very patriotic and are united under the same language - spoken with different accents and dialects - the same religion (90% is Catholic), the same passions... fashion, food, and sport (soccer, of course). Northern and Central Italy tend to be more industrious and educated, while the Southern part of the country is more rural and laid back. You can breathe history everywhere you go and that shows the respect this country pays to its artistic and historical heritage. Their keen eye for artistic beauty makes the Italian people very aware of their look. Things to like about Italians are their natural inclination to socialize with all kinds of people and their sense of humor!
Italians are usually friendly, although the visitors should always remember they are guests in a foreign country and can't expect Italians to be at their beck and call. If some places are very touristy, it doesn't mean that all people there can be regarded as employees of tourist offices, always ready to solve all your problems or to answer all your questions... You have to beware of gypsies in big cities (such as Rome), theft is very common, especially in Naples and Rome.
It is definitely worthwhile to learn a few Italian phrases. If you absolutely want to use just English, a rule of politeness would require you to ask "Do you speak English?" and to wait for "yes" or "no" when addressing an unknown person.
Ask the locals where to eat, your best meals will be discovered this way.