The Latest! Cultural Clues, Do’s & Taboos – A Series of Cultural Tips for Countries from A to Z: ITALY
In the Italian business culture, punctuality is not as much of a priority as in some places. However, it’s best to arrive on time and be prepared to wait.
In many cities there is a long lunch break from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Business may be discussed during lunch.
Be aware of summer vacations in August, as most companies are closed.
You will usually be introduced to older people and women first. When introducing yourself, it’s best to follow this protocol.
Frequent, warm and enthusiastic handshakes are common for both business and social occasions. Italians will also greet people they know well with an embrace.
It’s not unusual to see Italians walking arm in arm or even holding hands in public (men with women, men with men, and women with women).
Italians can be very demonstrative and like to gesture with their arms and hands while talking. There are rare moments of silence and interruptions are common.
Italians have many physical gestures that have very specific meanings. Because of this, avoid hand gestures where fingers are pointed or singled out in a descriptive way so you don’t offend anyone.
In the Italian culture, people are traditionally expected to behave with a sense of decorum and formality. This concept is known as ‘bella figura’ (beautiful figure).
In business, avoid chewing gum, leaning on things, or slouching. Good posture and direct eye contact is important
It’s advisable to wait to be seated at meetings, meals, or gatherings. Take these opportunities to cultivate feelings of respect and trust with your Italian counterparts.
Any presentation materials should be aesthetically pleasing. It’s essential that things look good as appearance is very important.
Hierarchy in business and “cordata” (chain of command) cannot be underestimated. A belief in status and hierarchy permeates all aspects of Italian society. There is tremendous respect for power, authority and age.
Decision making is rather slow and protracted, so be patient since rushing the process will only be an affront to the Italian business protocol.
Honor and personal pride are critical. Never insult an Italian, their family, their town, their friends, or their church (which is predominantly Roman Catholic).
5 Key Conversation or Gesture Tips
- Italian architecture and landscape
- Anything related to Italian art, opera and films
- Sports, especially soccer
- The warm Italian hospitality
- Current events, as long as they are not derogatory to Italy
5 Key Conversation or Gesture Taboos
- Religion, the Vatican and its policies
- Politics, taxes, the Mafia and World War II
- Criticizing the Italian culture, even if your Italian counterparts are doing so
- Overly personal questions about job and family when you have just met
- Negative comments about the local soccer team!
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