At the time of this post I am still in Rome, and I have to say that one of the most persistent factoids about Italians is in my experience demonstrably false.
The factoid is commonly found in travel guides which provide sage advice for foreigners in Italy. It is commonly stated in a passage similar to this:
If the traveller attempts to speak a little Italian (no matter how poor or ineffectual), his or her Italian interlocutor will be pleased, and will bend over backwards to help answer queries, provide advice etc in English.
This claim is a pack of lies and I can prove it. Today, when I approached museum guards, transport officials, banking officials and tourist guides, I first spoke Italian to them before asking my question in English. I can provide the exact passage: "Al fresco, spagetti bolognese, lamborghini, al dente, cappuccino". When this smattering of Italian had no effect, I poked them in the chest and shouted thus: "I SAID, AL FRESCO, SPAGHETTI BOLOGNESE, LAMBORGINI, AL DENTE, CAPPUCHINO - NOW SPEAK TO ME IN ENGLISH!"
Not only did they ignore me after this thoroughgoing attempt to establish a productive relationship, some of them even became aggressive.