Italian Business Etiquette – The Essentials
The first time I had to fly to Italy on business I had completely lost track of time (enjoying the sites) and ended up being over 30 minutes late! Being an American I was so worried, that my business deal wasn’t going to go through or all the work we started on would have to start over. Fortunately, when I arrived, no one seemed overly alarmed! I was certainly taken by surprise.
Every country has its own set of customs and etiquette that may leave visitors taken aback. If you are traveling to Italy on business, you will need to be sure you’re not feeling over-sensitive. Don’t take everything too personally, and you should be fine. I know from personal recommendations that this language software was insanely helpful for friends of mine when they needed to learn Italian.
There are still things to watch out for, to make sure you make the best professional impression. Here is a list of Italian business etiquettes that can certainly come in handy when having a business meeting.
Doing Business – Italian Etiquette
Courtesy and good manners are much prized in Italy. Be polite and formal when introducing yourself and shaking hands is considered courteous.
Your conduct when doing business in Italy should be polished. Being considerate will win you points even if you are not familiar with all the behaviors of their business people.
When you meet and depart, shake hands. This is as applicable for individuals as it is for groups. If you have built a business relationship with an Italian, don’t be shocked if you are embraced when met. This is a good sign, and means that your relationship is at a level that is more intimate.
Italians do not leave much personal space between people when they interact. They are tactile, so do not insult them by keeping your distance or moving away. This will not make a good impression on your Italian hosts.
If you happen to know some Italian, even a little bit, before a relationship is fully established, use the polite ‘lei’ form. Then once the relationship has been built, feel free use the more informal ‘tu’ form.
Addressing people by there titles is well regarded in Italy. When addressing people, use ‘Signor’ (m) or ‘Signora’ (f) followed by their surname. ‘Dottore’ (m) or ‘Dottoressa’ (f) is used for those who have graduated.
Italian Business Etiquette – Hospitality
Hospitality is important in the business culture of Italy. Expect to be invited to lunch or dinner when you do business there. Small and exclusive groups are usually present. Each person attending has an interest in the reason for your visit. If you want to host a business meal, check with the most senior Italian contact to find out who should be invited.
Dining has its protocol when you are in Italy. However, you can worry so much about it that you don’t have a chance to enjoy the meal. Honored guests sit near the center of the table, and the host will always pay. You should not answer cell phone calls while you are eating with business associates.
Dress to Impress in Italy
Do the names Prada, Gucci and Versace sound familiar to you? It should come as no surprise that one dresses properly in Italy for business meetings and meals. Make an impression with your clothing, and be sure it’s a good impression – not a humorous one. The clothes you wear in Italy speak much about what type of person you are.
Italian Business Etiquette – Punctuality
Some business sites will tell you that Italians are very punctual, while others state that they are not as concerned about punctuality as people in other European countries. If you are consistently late, it is considered rude. There’s nothing wrong with being early and having to wait. It will make a better impression.
As my story above, I was very fortunate that my business partners were willing to forgive and it didn’t happen again. If you are late, but sure to give the real reason and almost ways your Italian counterparts will understand.
Meetings and Negotiations
Use networks and contacts to introduce yourself to the business people with whom you will be working. Italians would rather do business with people they know.
Negotiations in Italy can be quite slow. Do not show urgency, as we frequently do in the United States. It works well here, but is seen as being too rushed in Italy and can potentially backfire all your hard work. Avoid business talk when the meeting first starts, and begin with small talk. Safe topics include culture, wine and soccer (remember, they call it football).
Italian business people take proposals away and analyze them well. Give them as much information as you can. Stay firm in any area of business that is important to you. Italians sometimes like to make dramatic demand changes late in negotiations to test you.
These are some good guidelines to help understand Italian business etiquette. Italians love to learn about you, they can show a great interest in your own interests, so don’t be afraid to share or ask. And remember, you’re in Italy! There is great food, culture, history, and sites! Here’s a list of top 5 things to do if you’re short on time in Rome.