Italian Culture

Etiquette

Primary Author
Nina Evason,

Basic Etiquette

  • It is common for Italian friends and families to kiss on the cheek when they meet, irrespective of their gender.
  • Stand up out of respect when an older person enters the room.
  • It is important to dress neatly and respectfully.
  • Cover your mouth when yawning or sneezing.
  • Hats should be removed indoors.
  • It is impolite to remove one’s shoes in front of others.
  • Punctuality is not tight in social situations. In Italy, ‘on time’ can mean 20, 30 or even 45 minutes late.
  • Open doors for the elderly. Men often open doors for women.
  • Stand to greet any senior person that walks into the room.

Visiting

  • It is common to visit friends, especially on Sundays and holidays.
  • Italians from villages may visit each other unannounced; however in the cities, people plan most social engagements to fit within schedules.
  • Some Italians find it rude to take off one’s shoes in front of others.
  • Punctuality is not mandatory. It is acceptable to arrive 15 to 30 minutes after the designated time.
  • Dinner guests often bring a gift of wine, chocolates or flowers.
  • Offering compliments about the host’s home or provided meal is a good way to break the ice.
  • Typically, elders enter a room first.
  • It is common for men to stand when a woman first enters a room. This is the same for children when an adult first enters a room.
  • If you are visiting somebody’s house just before dinner time, it is expected you will stay for the meal.
  • Make sure to compliment the cleanliness and decor of someone’s home. Italian women often take great pride in the appearance of their houses.

Eating

  • Italians generally wait for their host to sit before they do so and wait for them to indicate it is time to eat.
  • Some Italians may pray and say ‘grace’ before eating a meal.
  • Guests are invited to start eating when the host or head of the table says “Buon appetito” (Enjoy your meal).
  • If bread is on the table, try not to fill up on it before the main course begins. Use it to absorb the sauce at the end of the meal.
  • Some meals on special occasions can take hours to finish as conversation continues.
  • It is improper to put one’s hands on one’s lap, or to stretch one’s arms while at the table.
  • Resting one’s elbows on the table is also considered to be poor manners.
  • Do not leave the table until everyone has finished eating.
  • Drinking beverages other than water or wine with a meal is quite uncommon.
  • If someone does not want more wine, the typical custom is to leave the wine glass nearly full.
  • It is generally impolite to eat whilst walking.
  • Guests are not expected to help the host clean up after a meal.
  • Breakfast is not a big meal in Italian culture and is sometimes skipped.
  • Traditionally, Italians eat lunch together as a family. However, this is not always practised in the fast-paced environment of the modern day.
  • Outdoor (al fresco) dining is very popular in the summer months.

Gift Giving

  • Gifts are often open in front of the giver when received.
  • It is common for Italians to wrap gifts in decorative and beautiful wrapping. However, avoid wrapping a gift in black or purple. These colours symbolise mourning/grief and bad luck respectively.
  • Avoid giving knives or scissors as gifts. These are considered bad luck.
  • With the exception of alcohol, giving specialty foods from one’s country may not be well received by your Italian counterpart.
  • It is considered bad taste to clearly showcase how much was spent for a gift. Take care to remove or cover the sticker price.
  • If giving flowers, be aware that chrysanthemums symbolise death and are used at funerals. Yellow flowers can indicate jealousy whilst red flowers may indicate love, passion or secrecy.

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