For all its sparkling Italian charm, chic fashion, gastronomic heaven, scintillating art, fascinating architecture and breathtaking countryside, Italy is home to many cultural quirks. For instance, were you aware that it is taboo to order a cappuccino in the afternoon in Italy? Apart from being bad etiquette, it does not play well with the digestion and Italians are all about good digestion with aperitifs before a meal, salads to start and digestifs to finish a meal. Apologies to cappuccino lovers who love it any time of day or night!
On the other hand, how does Italy stand out from the crowd when it comes to business? What makes this country a savvy international investment? For one, it stands among seven of the most industrialised countries across the globe with a particularly developed production industry, whereby its economy is boosted by the likes of the car, electronic, machinery and fashion industries. Secondly it is rich in agricultural exports, thanks to its world-renowned wine industry, as well as its reputable olive oil production. Cheese and pasta products are also a huge component of Italian exports. Thirdly, its tourism industry invites a wealth of investment. So if you are looking to expand your business horizons, the interesting boot-shaped country of Italy looks to be a good venture. However, if you want to make sure you don’t lose the bet, it would serve you well to understand how Italians undertake business and embrace their culture across the board. Below you will find an antipasto platter of business and cultural etiquette tips to help you digest the Italian way!
Play the Italian part
Just as Italians are hot on fashion in and out of business, where elegance and style are priority, they are also sticklers for courtesy, so be sure to polish up your conduct to make a good impression.
“Patience is the art of concealing your impatience”
Similar to Latin Americans punctuality is not high up on their list, which means patience is a required virtue! Business meetings tend to start and finish late. However, not all Italians follow this protocol, therefore it is better to err on the side of caution by being on time. Better that you wait for them, rather than the other way round.
To decide or not to decide that is the question?
Decision-making can be a slow process and often the initial meeting is nothing more than an informal get-together where your potential Italian counterparts are basically sizing you up. It all boils down to trustworthiness. It would be advisable therefore to take your foot off the pressure pedal, as this will cause you to crash and burn before you’ve even turned the corner.
It’s not what’s on the inside, but the outside!
In Italy appearance is everything. Alongside playing the Italian part in dress and behaviour, ensuring you make a worthwhile impression also comes down to what you offer in the form of business presentations, i.e. aesthetically pleasing handouts. The same goes for your business cards, which should show off your academic achievements i.e. stating your advanced educational degrees and full titles and be translated on the reverse.
Be respectful of your elders and appreciate women
It is a well-known fact that family is very important in Italy where elders demand complete respect. The same applies in business; hierarchy and status play an important role. Impress your colleagues by greeting women and elders first, as well as introducing your team in the same way. Plus, don’t forget to use the polite form of you, ‘lei’ instead of the informal ‘tu’.
Handshakes all round
Everyone in the room will expect to receive a handshake, so don’t be shy, they won’t bite! Just be sure to use your right hand (sorry lefties) and shake hands standing up.
It’s all in the greeting and body language
Make your greeting as warm as the Italian sunshine with a lively ‘Buongiorno’ (good morning) and ‘Buonasera’ (good afternoon/evening), addressing your colleagues with the correct address of ‘Signor’ (Mr.) or ‘Signora’ (Mrs.) plus their surname. Don’t worry if you’re expressive when you talk, using your hands in conjunction with your mouth, you will fit right in; Italians play the lead role in expansive gestures!
The art of conversation
Multi-task your listening and talking skills as Italians are known for talking simultaneously and interrupting one another. Don’t mistake it for rudeness or arrogance, traits which they abhor. Learn to embrace Italian culture in conversation, as this will help your counterparts warm to you, as will learning a few essential Italian phrases, such as ‘Piacere’ (Pleased to meet you), even if you do have an interpreter attending your business meeting.
Italians are all about food and wine, so business will more than likely involve hospitality in the form of dinner at a restaurant, which if refused will be taken as an insult. Think of it as an icebreaker and a way for each party to get to know one another, which will go a long way to helping solidify the business relationship. It’s also a chance to sample some fine Italian cuisine!
All things said and done, if you want to navigate your way effectively through the world of Italian business, follow the simplest of rules; “When in Rome, do as the Italians do”!
By Madeline Prusmann, Project Manager, April 2017