If you have chosen to live and work in Italy, you should be aware of the local business etiquette, while avoiding the pitfalls of national stereotypes. Whether you are an aspiring entrepreneur wanting to do business in Italy or just looking to expand your market and establish relationships with Italian partners, whether you are hoping to start a new company or simply looking for employment, it is important to be aware of local customs and what is considered appropriate in different situations. We covered this topic in a previous post, and our readers have been eager to learn more about it ever since. So here’s our ultimate guide to business etiquette in Italy!
The ultimate guide to business etiquette in Italy
Have you ever gone through that embarrassing conversation, when greeting someone with a peck on the chick, just to discover that you are aiming for the wrong side or that your counterpart is going for a second kiss and you are not? We have good news for you: you don’t need to worry about that when meeting with someone in a professional capacity. Not only hugs and kisses are not required, they are considered highly inappropriate, unless you are doing business with a close friend (in which case you might not need to worry about etiquette in the first place). A good old handshake is the only acceptable form of greeting, with men and women alike. An extra tip for the men out there (and this is a tip some Italian men might do well to follow too): if you are meeting a potential client, colleague, boss or business partner who also happens to be female, you should never, under any circumstance, assume it’s a good idea to kiss her hand. It’s not gallant, it doesn’t make you look like a gentleman and it will not be appreciated, as it shifts the formal terms of the interaction in a completely unacceptable way. It is equally unacceptable to compliment your counterpart’s appearance or comment on it in any way. If business is the purpose of your meeting, formal interactions and formal greetings are in order. Be polite and courteous, not mawkish.
Sharing a meal: who is paying and what you should order
It is not uncommon for business deals to be concluded over a shared meal. After all, business etiquette in Italy is but a section of general etiquette, and this means according food a special place within the context of human interaction. Inviting your client or potential business partners to dine with you is not considered inappropriate. Quite the contrary: it is a common and effective way of getting to know each other before doing business together, thus giving your future professional relationship a solid foundation. It is implicitly accepted that the person who makes the invitation will also pay for the meal. The counterpart is expected to offer to split the bill, but the other party is expected to refuse. This also dictates the pace of your interaction during the meal. If you are inviting your potential client, for instance, you should ask if they want wine with their meal and suggest a good vintage, whereas, if you are being invited, you should bear in mind that your host will be paying and avoid ordering the most expensive courses on the menu. This is not out of a genuine worry for their ability to foot the bill, but out of sheer politeness. The message you are sending is not “I don’t think you will be able to afford this” but “I acknowledge and appreciate your generosity, and don’t want to abuse it”.
Clothes do make the man
You know that one national stereotype about Italians as being fashion-obsessed and always ready to comment on what everyone is wearing? That’s actually true, particularly in a business environment. Unless you know for certain that you are meeting in a casual context, you should always dress formally. Business etiquette in Italy goes hand in hand with elegance and presentation. Being stylish and well-dressed conveys the message that someone is also wealthy, successful and reliable. Be aware that “elegant” in Italy doesn’t mean “flashy”, nor does it necessarily mean that you should buy expensive designer pieces. Classical elegance, based on quality fabrics and simple design will never let you down. Natural fibres such as wool, cotton and silk are highly preferred to synthetic ones (and yes, it will be noticed). Also, menswear made out of shiny fabrics or with overly-intricate patterns is considered in poor taste. A touch of levity and originality can be added through accessories. Depending on your role and the overall context, you might go for a colourful tie or handbag (within reason), an unusual watch or pair of cufflinks. If you usually wear makeup, don’t over-do it, particularly during the daytime. There is also a very limited number of people who are able to get away with wearing a suit and tie with trainers. If you are not one of them, just accept it and move on.