Expanding your business internationally is an appealing prospect, but it will require you to employ a different skill set than you might be used to at home. There’s more to it than learning about local laws and regulations: having international clients or partners will require you to adapt your business etiquette and use your cross-cultural skills in order to maintain relationships, close deals and get leads. It is surprising how the smallest gestures, like greeting someone or presenting them with your business card, can differ remarkably from Country to Country. Not being aware of such differences can make your interactions with foreign counterparts uncomfortable, to the point of making you appear unintentionally discourteous to the people you are trying to impress. Even between Countries that, broadly speaking, share customs and a way of life, the tiniest detail can cause embarrassment or result in misunderstandings. If you are thinking of expanding your business to Italy, make sure you acquaint yourself with the finer points of Italian business etiquette. We have already provided you with a basic guide to planning a business in Italy. Here are a few more tips you might find handy when negotiating with Italian partners
Scheduling meetings and engagements
Even though religion plays a smaller role in Italian culture than you might imagine, the official school and business calendar is organised around catholic festivities. You might be familiar with some of them, like Sundays, Christmas and Easter, but others might be entirely new to you. There are also other public holidays, that are connected with Italian history and politics, such as Liberation day (April 25th) and Republic Day (June 2nd). In Italy, it is customary, whenever a holiday falls within two days of a weekend, to take a day off in between, so as to have a long festive weekend. When scheduling a meeting, you should always make sure that there are no national festivities in sight.
Introductions and titles
When introducing yourself, you are expected to use your full name. Titles are only required in very specific situations. On the other hand, if you are aware of someone’s title you are to use it when addressing them. If your counterpart has not been introduced by their title, you should call them by their surname, with a generic Signore or Signora (Mr, Ms). When you are introduced to a group of people, remember that there is no such thing as a group wave in Italy: shake hands with everyone individually when you meet and when you leave. If you have mastered the basics of the Italian language, you will know that there are two ways of addressing someone, a formal one (lei) and an informal one (tu): it goes without saying that a business meeting requires the latter, unless you know your partners well and have a personal relationship with them.
The fine art of gift giving – a business etiquette pitfall
The misconception that Italians like to exchange expensive gifts on business meetings has resulted in many an awkward encounter over the years. You are not expected to give – and should not be expecting to receive – a gift every time you meet someone for the first, second or third time. A gift is meant to mark a special occasion, like the closing of a deal. It is acceptable to give a gift to a business partner if they have been providing hospitality for you or to thank them for supporting or facilitating your business interactions. Gifts should be tasteful and not obviously expensive and they should not be branded with your logo – which would be considered tacky.
Business etiquette in Italy has much in common with the majority of western Countries, but there are a few quirks that some business travellers might not be aware of. While concessions will be made for international visitors, being familiars with these customs will impress your partners and strengthen your business relationships in Italy.