Do's and Don'ts
- Take the time to show some thoughtfulness and consideration regarding people’s lives, no matter your familiarity with them. For example, enquire about their well-being before getting to any point at hand. This is essential to fostering good relationships. It is thought to be brusque and blunt to skip small talk and immediately discuss your topic of interest.
- Dress smartly and make sure you present yourself neatly. Italians tend to take a lot of pride in their appearance and typically look dapper for any kind of public outing. One doesn’t need to dress conservatively (many Italians don’t), but casual attire (e.g. barefoot, beach wear) is generally inappropriate in public and can make one seem unsophisticated.
- Allow concessions for friends where possible. Italians are generous with favours and are slightly less tight about the use of their private property when it comes to those they have a good relationship with. They may borrow things or money and take a while to return the item or pay someone back. This is generally a non-issue as it is all done in light of trust and friendship. It is assumed that the person will be reimbursed later. Avoid appearing uptight or about this kind of behaviour.
- If you need an Italian to perform a task for you, ask for their help on a personal basis rather than emphasising their duty to do it as something they ‘owe’ you. Positioning favours as a form of reimbursement for previous actions that one is obligated to perform can seem impersonal or insensitive. Italians are typically more inclined to be motivated by appeals to their goodwill.
- Deliver sensitive news, feedback or information tactfully. Italians are generally quite open and receptive to constructive criticism. However, don’t let this lead you to think they are immune to offence.
- Avoid making generalised comments about Italian crime, corruption, the Mafia or Italy’s involvement in World War II.
- Do not joke about the Catholic Church or the Pope when in the company of older Italians. The younger generations are often quite relaxed about these topics and open to deprecating humour, but it can seriously offend the elderly.
- Do not critique Italian food or suggest ways it could be changed for improvement. Italians are deeply proud of their cuisine.
- Avoid criticising the Italian culture, people or nation. Though many Italians openly complain about their country or lament about how it is being ‘ruined’ by current politicians, remember that they are still very proud of their homeland (patria) and its cultural contributions to the world. Foreign criticism is unlikely to be appreciated.
- Do not assume all countries in the Mediterranean are the same. They may share cultural similarities, such as a strong family focus, but Italy is very different from neighbouring countries.
- Avoid drawing on stereotypical ideas of Italian culture when making conversation.
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