Spotlight on Italy
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Cultural achievement is Italy’s greatest
source of pride. Inventiveness, imagination, intelligence
and education are prized. Personal relations are scrupulously
maintained with loyalty highly valued, especially in families.
The family is the most important affiliation in Italy.
Meeting and Greeting
- When being introduced during a business
or social meeting, shake hands with everyone present --
men, women and children. Shake hands again when leaving.
- Ladies should extend their hand first
- Friends may greet each other with a kiss
on both cheeks.
Names and Titles
- Use last names and appropriate titles
until specifically invited by your Italian host or colleagues
to use their first names.
- Females almost always use their maiden
name, especially in business and on legal documents. They
generally use their married names or a combination of
their married names and maiden names outside of business.
- Maintain eye contact while talking. Otherwise
Italians might think you are hiding something.
- To beckon a waiter or waitress raise
your index finger and make eye contact.
- Italians are known for using the most
body language of all European nations.
- Italians take punctuality for business
meetings very seriously and expect that you will do likewise;
call with an explanation if you are delayed. Deliberate
lateness in business is viewed as sloppy.
- Business cards are used only in business,
not socially, unless requested.
- Business cards are exchanged only at
the first meeting and should be handed to recipients,
not tossed at them. Do not give a business card to the
same person more than once.
- Present a business card to each person
attending a meeting.
- When receiving a business card, look
at the name and title carefully, then set it on the table
in front of you or in your briefcase.
- English is quite common in business,
but check ahead of time to find out if an interpreter
- Generally, business discussions begin
after a few minutes of small talk.
- Establish personal relationships with
Italians. Italians like to deal with people they know
and trust. They also tend to believe that work should
not be a burden or taken too seriously.
- Relationships must be profitable and
mutually beneficial to gain total cooperation.
- Pragmatism and talent for improvisation
are considered keys to success. Protocol, rules and organization
are often ignored.
- Negotiations usually take time and patience.
Don’t rush them. Italians may misinterpret this as a weakness.
- Italian companies are fast to identify
and exploit a niche without doing an in-depth study. Strategic
plans are rarely written and are never long term.
- Meeting style is unstructured and informal.
Formal presentations are not common.
- Business decisions are often made and
agreed to privately before meetings. The purpose of a
meeting is often to evaluate the mood, sense support and
test water -- not to make decisions.
- Meetings may be staged to exhibit eloquence,
personality and status.
- Decisions that are made and agreed to
may never be implemented.
- Do not call an Italian business person
at home unless it is an emergency.
Dining and Entertainment
- Business entertainment is generally done
at lunch or dinner in a restaurant.
- Dinner entertainment is more of a social
occasion to get to know people. Business discussions are
usually very limited.
- If you invite, you pay for the meal.
- Business may be discussed at a breakfast
meeting, but it is not common.
- Cocktails are not common in Italy. Drinking
without eating is rare. Hard drinking is unusual and not
appreciated. Even mild intoxication is considered ill-mannered.
Women drink very little in Italy.
- At formal occasions, women generally
do not propose toasts.
- Italians do not use bread plates. Break
bread and place it next to your plate on the table.
- Ask for your check when you are finished
eating. It may not be brought to you until you ask.
- Do not leave the table until everyone
- Roll pasta with your fork on the sides
of your pasta plate. Don’t roll pasta on your spoon.
- Keep both hands above the table during
dinner -- never on your lap. Do not put your elbows on
- Use your knife (not your fingers) to
pick up pieces of cheese to put them on your bread or
- Eat fruit with a fruit knife and fork,
except for grapes and cherries.
- When finished eating, place knife and
fork (tines up) side by side on the plate at the 5:25
position. The fork should be on the left and the knife
should be on the right with the blade of the knife facing
- Keep your wineglass almost full if you
don’t want a refill.
- Burping is considered extremely vulgar.
- When invited to a home, guests arrive
15 to 30 minutes after the stated time.
- Allow hostess to begin eating before
- Wait for hostess to offer second helping.
- Italians are proud of their homes and
love to give tours. Feel free to ask for a tour when invited
into someone’s home.
- Italy is a major center of European fashion.
Italians are chic. Even people in small towns spend a
great deal of money on their wardrobes and dress well
at all times.
- Dress elegantly but conservatively.
- Jackets and ties are required in better
- Old, torn, dirty clothing are seldom
seen and not appreciated.
- Men and women dress conservatively and
formally for business (men: suits and ties; women: dresses
or suits). Women should wear feminine clothing.
- Italians are very generous gift givers.
You may be very embarrassed if you give a “cheap” or practical
- Gifts should be beautifully wrapped.
- Gifts are opened in front of the giver
- Gifts are generally not exchanged at
initial business meetings, however, having a gift in your
briefcase in case your Italian hosts give you one is recommended.
- Gifts may be exchanged at the end of
negotiations, but not necessarily.
- High quality liquor, gifts with company
logos, desk accessories, music and books are appreciated.
- When invited to someone’s home, always
bring a small gift for the host or hostess.
- Send flowers or a gift to the host's
home the day of or the day after a party.
- Give chocolates, flowers (an uneven number)
- Chrysanthemums are a symbol of death,
red roses are symbols of love or passion.
- Don’t give knives or scissors, which
are considered bad luck.
- Do not wrap a gift in black with gold
ribbon, which symbolizes mourning.
- Italians are open, curious and tolerant
of others’ uniqueness and manners. They will tolerate
lateness, inefficiency and sincere mistakes, but dislike
arrogance and rudeness.
- Italians enjoy a lot of good humor and
can be self-deprecating.
- Send a thank you note after being entertained
or given a gift.
- Stand when an older person enters the
- Give attention to or bring a small gift
- Cover your mouth if you must yawn, but
try not to yawn.
- Men should always remove their hats when
entering a building.
- Don’t remove your shoes in public.
- Refrain from asking personal questions.
Especially for Women
- Foreign women can do business without
great difficulty in Italy. Being a woman may even be considered
an advantage in some circumstances.
- Only 38% of Italian women under 65 are
in the labor market -- one of the lowest percentages in
Western Europe. Few Italian women hold managerial positions.
- The Italians are generally not inhibited
when interacting with the opposite sex. Flirtation is
part of the spirit of life in Italy.
- Do not pour wine if you are a guest.
This is considered “unfeminine” by Italians.
-- Excerpted from the “Put Your Best Foot
Forward” series by Mary Murray Bosrock. These publications
are available for the U.S., Asia, Mexico/Canada, Russia,
Europe and South America.
International Education Systems
1814 Hillcrest Avenue, Suite 300
St. Paul, MN 55116
Visit our web sites at
to Do Business in Italy
by Injung Choi,
Marketing Automation Specialist
Currently doing business in Italy, or plan to in the near
future? Consider this…
- Italy is the world’s 10th largest economy, yet it has
the third largest bond market!
- Italy's major industries include tourism, machinery,
iron and steel, chemicals, food processing, textiles,
motor vehicles, clothing, footwear, and ceramics.
- With almost 40 million visitors and more hotel rooms
than any other nation in Europe, Italy is the fourth most
visited country in the world.
- New York City is farther south than Rome, with the
same latitude as Naples. However, it only snows briefly
once every several years in Rome and Naples, while in
New York it frequently snows in the winter.
Long a world-renowned destination for tourists, Italy also
holds abundant opportunities for business travelers. However,
it also has many social and workplace customs that are quite
different than what you find in the United States. By highlighting
some of these key differences, let's look at ways to prepare
you for your next Italian business trip.
- Do not give gifts that are obviously a vehicle for
you company’s logo. Instead, items such as liquor, delicacies,
or crafts from your country are appreciated. It also doesn’t
hurt to bring flowers or chocolates to your Italian associate’s
- Italians consider wine as a food to be sipped, not
as a form of relaxation. Drinking too much in public can
be considered rude.
- Everyone tends to speak at once at Italian gatherings.
It is possible to conduct a more orderly meeting, but
do not be offended if you are interrupted.
- Corporations have a horizontal chain of authority,
called a cordata, which can be confusing to North Americans.
This parallel channel is based on levels of personal,
reciprocal concern, and should never be taken lightly.
- Be prompt and expect business to be conducted with
pressure and efficiency, especially in the industrial
north. High-ranking businesspeople may be late, but typically
people are quite punctual.
- Italians prefer to deal with people they know, even
if they are only mildly acquainted. Find a way to be introduced
to your prospect, be it at an event or through a mutual
- When making an appointment, it is best to write an
e-mail request in Italian, and then follow up with a phone
call. Your will receive a response much more quickly if
the request is in their native language.
- The best time for a business meeting is between 10:00
and 11:00 a.m. or after 3 p.m. Be aware of summer vacation
periods and public holidays; most firms are closed during
the month of August.
- Understanding the chain of command within the business
is crucial to success. Decisions are made only by the
highest level of authority, but it may not be clear who
that is by title alone. When looking for someone to facilitate
business, use a contact who is knowledgeable about the
internal company structure.
- Refrain from showing a sense of urgency in the negotiation
process; this is thought to weaken your bargaining power.
- As a bargaining tactic, your Italian counterpart may
make dramatic changes to the contract at the 11th hour.
- Business cards are to be exchanged at business functions
only; not social events. You will find that the more important
the person is, the less information he or she will have
on a card.
- Hospitality is important in the business culture; turning
down an invitation to dine is considered rude.
- Do not extend an invitation to your Italian host without
some help. Business dinners should include a small number
of people, and you will likely not know the intricacies
of who should and should not be invited. Your client’s
secretary/assistant should be able to help you with this,
as well as choosing a location.
- Picking up the check is considered a sign of prestige.
At times, Italians will go so far as to provide the waitstaff
with a generous tip prior to dinner, to ensure that you
do not get the bill. Female executives may find it extremely
difficult to pay.
- Keep the receipt for the restaurant bill; “tax police”
occasionally check restaurant bills outside for adherence
to tax laws.
For your business document translation needs in Italy,
McElroy Translation. Visit our
website to learn more about how we can help you and
your company become successful in your international business
Morrison, Terri, and Wayne A. Conaway (2006). Kiss, Bow,
or Shake Hands, 2nd edition. Massachusetts: Adams Media
Published - February 2012
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