10 Business Etiquette Rules in Italy

Business Etiquette in Italy
Italian business culture revolves around making personal relationships with your business partners. Hospitality plays a large part in negotiations but don't rush the early meetings. Expect your Italian counterparts to be expressive, and don’t be shocked by people talking over each other during meetings. It’s part of the communication style.

1. Relaxed Timekeepers

Like Saudi Arabia business culture, the attitude towards punctuality and timekeeping in Italy is quite relaxed. Interfacing with Italian business culture requires patience – you may have to wait longer than you are used to, but this should not be taken as a sign of disrespect.

Italians tend to multitask across many projects. Due to this, be prepared for things to take longer than expected. They have a fluid relationship towards deadlines. If something has a crucial end date, be sure to make this very clear.

2. The Fashion Capital

Fashion is king in Italian society, be sure to dress well to impress your Italian colleagues! How one dresses is an important part of making a good impression, so be sure to brush up on your style.

Italy is one of the fashion capitals of the world, with Milan being one of the four main centres of fashion worldwide. Clothes made by Italian brands such as Dolce, Prada, or Armani will likely earn you respect.

Suits are the dress code of choice for most business people. Businesswomen should wear pant or skirt suits along with modest jewely.

3. Saying Hi

When greeting Italians, the custom is to shake hands. It is traditional to be introduced to older people and woman first, so it is best to follow this same pattern.

‘Ciao’ is an informal greeting, so avoid this during first meetings, stick to formal measures. When greeting high ranking people, use signore and signora with their surnames. Only use given names if you are invited to do so.

4. Meeting Etiquette

Forming personal relationships with your Italian business partners is an important part of doing business in Italy. At your first meeting, do not expect many decisions to be made – the initial conversations are about beginning to form that close relationship.

Small talk is common at the start of meetings. Good topics are Italian culture and sport.

It is uncommon to have a designated note taker or too strict an agenda. Let the meeting flow naturally from topic to topic.

5. Business Cards

Business cards are still commonly exchanged in Italy. Make sure you have cards that have been translated into Italian. It is a good idea to have any qualifications and titles present on both sides of the card.

6. A Loose Structure

Italian business etiquette does not have a strong authority hierarchy. It will be common to see your counterparts disagreeing with their superiors and making their thoughts known.

Open discussions in Italian business
Open discussions in Italian workplace

7. How to Negotiate

It is considered rude to talk about money straight away. Instead, discuss other parts of the business negotiations. This is important for first impressions so as not to come across as greedy or rude.

It is very important to ensure that your Italian counterparts like you as a person and respect you as a businessperson. Try not to be too forceful or attempt to rush the decision making process. Be friendly and communicative, and this will put you in good stead.

8. The Social Side

Hospitality is a very important part of forming a business relationship in Italy. Business lunches and dinners are very common, and are crucial to forming a relationship and making deals.

Turning down invitations is considered rude. Equally, do not expect to speed through the process; meals will usually take between one and three hours and should not be rushed.

Tipping is not essential but is appreciated. 10% will do absolutely fine as a gesture of thanks for good service.

9. Giving Gifts

Gift giving is not expected in business relationships. The best practice is not to offer a gift unless you are given one first. Try to avoid gifts with the company logo, as people in Italian companies will not view this favorably.

10. Passionate Communicators

Italians are expressive, communicative, and passionate. It is very common for people to talk over each other during meetings. Do not be offended if you are cut off while speaking.

They will likely be very expressive with their physicality. They may also stand closer than you expect, as personal space is less of a sticking point in Italian culture.

Keep direct eye contact during a conversation. It is used to show engagement. Avoid slouching or leaning while out in public.

Work culture

The country has a lot of public holidays due to Catholic festivities. Most large industries are almost entirely closed during the month of August. Sunday is a holy day.

A typical working week is 9am – 6pm, Monday to Friday, though many higher ranking workers will still be found in the office during the evenings if they have work to finish.

However, private sector have very long hours. They work six days a week, but have the afternoons off. They will typically work 8am – 2pm, Monday to Saturday.

The country has more corruption than many other major European countries. The Corruption Perceptions Index ranked it as the 41st least corrupt country with a score of 56/100, making it more corrupt than the Scandinavian countries, the UK, Germany, France, Austria, and Spain.

Italy is slightly less equal for women in business than other European countries. According to the Gender Equality Index, Italy ranks below average on most equality metrics compared to the rest of the EU.

Faux Pas in Italy

  • Don’t drink cappuccino after 11am. If you want a coffee in the afternoons, go for a simple espresso.
  • Don’t touch produce or merchandise while browsing. This is considered very rude.
  • Don’t greet someone with ‘ciao’ unless you are on a first name basis.
  • Try not to put your hands in your lap or elbows on the table when sitting. Try to avoid stretching your arms while at the table as well.

Jack Fairey

Jack is a writer based in west London, England. He is a keen traveler, and has a particular interest in the fascinating differences in etiquette across the world. When not writing, he can be found dreaming up his next trip to far off places.

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