September 4, 2015 | Rome, Italy | Sunny 27°C

Can I expect the euro-dollar exchange to reach parity?


Can I expect the euro-dollar exchange to reach parity?


Europe's ongoing woes make this a tough question to answer. The euro managed to hold its own despite the Greek fiasco before tumbling backward as the U.S. economy picked up steam. The 1.30-to-1.40 range, the norm for years, has suddenly receded by 20 percent, with the European currency seeming to show signs of descending to parity, which hasn't happened since its inception. The 1.39 rate of mid-2014 is certainly thing of the past. Parity, however, seems unlikely.

U.S. manufacturers are now able to purchased European goods more readily, but hurt when it comes to exports, which cost more. Parity would hurt the U.S. economy. In tourism terms, Europe can suddenly seem a lot more appealing when your dollar gets you nearly a euro in return. At the same time, airlines are adjusting to the drop, as are some hotels and business in Europe itself.

What are Italian property taxes like?


What are property taxes like for Italian homeowners?


For decades, Italy's first home property taxes were well below the European norm and laughably low compared to rates in big American cities. Under Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, first home property taxes were briefly abolished. That changed dramatically with the 2008 financial crisis. Both state and local taxes soared.

Now, annual first home taxes in cities such as Rome and Milan varies between 0.4 and 0.7 percent of the assessed value, depending on size, location, age, and type (apartment, villa, historic venue, etc.) and socio-economic bracket (working class and "refined" are among the categories). Local service fees (including garbage collection) are factored in.

What that means in practice is that a family of four in a 150 square meter owned apartment located in a non-prized area of Rome will usually pay between €200 and €600 annually (there's June and December installment). Upscale first homes can bump up against the €800-1,000 mark. Rental prices will reflect these costs.

Woe to those who own several urban properties, however. That's where real estate taxes can bite hard. The owner of prized second home in Rome's or Milan's city center may pay as much as €5,000 a year. Though these costs still fall far short of rates in cities such as Paris, New York or London, they're in constant flux, meaning that all potential buyers need to check with accountants regarding their ongoing tax bills.

How much should I tip at restaurants?


How much should I tip at restaurants?


People will tell you (accurately) that most Italian restaurants include a service charge (15 percent) and a coperte (or place-setting) charge, usually €2-€4. That said, the service charge is often never seen by the waiter. Good owners divvy up the spoils, frugal ones don’t. That’s why you can’t add your tip to a credit card bill — no one knows where those funds really ends up.

Since there’s so much going on between the lines it’s a good idea to look at it in North American terms, which is to say 15 to 20 percent on top of the bill. Italians will think you’re crazy, but generally they’re cheap (some leave one percent or less, or nothing). If you’ve been treated well, give back.

No one’s going to grouse at you if you don’t — not to your face, at least — and if you’re on a tight budget you can choose to leave little. But do leave something. And don’t sit around with pen and calculator trying to figure it out. Not kosher.

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