Italian Business Etiquette

Benvenuti in Italia! (‘‘Welcome to Italy!“ in Italian)

Italy, the famously boot-shaped country centered in the Mediterranean Sea, is home to a slew of tourist sites – the Colosseum in Rome, the gondolas of Venice, and the Trevi Fountain.  A beautiful country with no shortage of architectural and historical wonders to entice visitors.

Italy also has the third-largest economy in Europe and maintains thought leadership in the wine, auto, and fashion industries.

Before you take a private jet to visit the runways of Milan, let’s learn about the dos and don’ts of Italian business etiquette.

The Lowdown 

  • The capital of Italy is Rome, and the government is a unitary parliamentary constitutional republic (the official title of the country is the “Italian Republic”).
  • Italian is the official language of Italy - 93% of Italians are native speakers of the language. However, English is often spoken in business situations.
  • Italy’s population is largely Catholic – 96%, to be precise. In fact, there are more Catholic churches per capita than in any other country.
  • Family is extremely important in Italian culture.

Dressing Sharp

  • Unsurprisingly, fashion is important in Italy – so dress to impress!
  • It is smart to dress in clothing by Italian designers when visiting Italy.
  • Men should wear expensive, designer suits and ties.
  • Women should wear expensive, designer outfits (dresses) and quality shoes.
  • Leather accessories will usually impress the Italian party.

Make or Break Meetings

  • It is common to greet others with a strong handshake and a “buongiorno” (good day) or “buonasera” (good evening).
  • Punctuality is extremely important for the visiting party, but less so for the Italian party.
  • Business cards are only exchanged at business gatherings, not at social events. Calling cards are given out at social gatherings.
  • Business cards are normally white with black print.
  • Appointments should be made a few weeks in advance and adhered to.

Dining Decorum

  • It is very common to have a business dinner, often times in a pre-selected restaurant.
  • Lunch is the main meal of the day, so often times the business meal will be in the evening.
  • Wine is often consumed with dinner, but beware – getting drunk at a business dinner is frowned upon.
  • Begin the meal with a “buon appetite” (enjoy) and toast with a “salute” (to your health).
  • Table etiquette is continental in Italy, and cheese should always be picked up with your knife.
  • Do not keep your hands in your lap or your elbows on the table.

Giving and Getting Gifts

  • Gifts are appropriate when invited into the home of an Italian. Acceptable gifts include: chocolates, flowers, or pastries.
  • If you give a bouquet of flowers, be certain it is in an even number (ie, 6 or 12), as this is considered good luck.
  • Do not give: chrysanthemums, red flowers, yellow flowers, gifts wrapped in black, gifts wrapped in purple, or gifts in quantities of 17.
  • Wine is held in high regard in Italy; so, if you give a gift of wine, make sure that the wine is of good quality and vintage.
  • Gifts are opened upon receipt.

Down to Business

  • Italians do not rush into deals and prefer to associate with people or businesses they know and trust.
  • Italians prefer face-to-face contact over phone and email contact.
  • First impressions are huge in Italian culture. If you make a bad first impression, prepare for a bumpy ride.
  • Be equipped for your presentations and hire an Italian interpreter, if necessary.
  • Hierarchy is strict in Italian business, so decisions will be made by the higher-ranking Italian business people.
  • As always, adhere to schedules and written agreements, and be patient! Italians are direct but slow negotiators.

Now that you’re well prepared for your next jet-setting business trip to Italy, don’t forget to stay tuned for our next Business Etiquette blurb! Arrivederci! (“Goodbye!” in Italian).