Travel & Expat Lifestyle Magazine

Learning the Social Customs of Italy


Italy is a family-based society, where individuals consider their families as the base of their social life, and also as a personal support structure. In Northern Italy, it is typical for nuclear families to reside together. In Southern Italy, it is more common to have extended families living together.

Italians take appearance and style seriously. It is expected for people to keep their appearances up. Many Italians believe that dress reflect an individual’s social status, family background and educational experience. Be sure to make good first impressions, as Italians take those seriously, and they may have preconceived notions about new people based on how they are dressed. The totality of clothing, accessories, shoes and personal appearance are important factors for Italians, and these are complimented by personal confidence and personality. If you wear sneakers in Rome, you will probably look like a tourist.

Italians also abide by the Roman Catholic religion, and the country has more Catholic churches per capita than any country in the world. Though there are many churches, and their influence on society is great, church attendance itself is somehow low. You will see crosses everywhere, and every day is a saint’s day of some sort. Children are all named after saints, and celebrate saint’s day.

If you give flowers to an Italian, pay attention to what type your are giving them. Chrysanthemums are reserved for funerals; red flowers are associated with a secret; yellow flowers are associated with jealousy. If you give wine as a gift, then it should be of good quality. Do not wrap gifts in black or in purple.

If you are invited to dinner at an Italian home, make sure to dress fashionably, even if they say that the dinner is informal. You do not need to be nervous about arriving on time, as Italy is not a punctual society, and being 15-30 minutes late is acceptable. You should wait to be seated, as there may be a particular seating order.

Usually, the hostess initiates dining actions, such as eating first, getting up first and ending the meal. The host will initiate the first toast, and then the guest of honor should make a toast later on. When eating, you should take small portions of food because you will be offered second helpings. It is fine to leave a small amount of food on your plate when you finish your meal. Wine glasses are also refilled, so if you do not want more, then you should leave it nearly full. If they offer cheese, you should pick it up with your knife instead of your fingers.

In terms of greetings, they are formal, but still enthusiastic. Italians will shake hands and smile with strangers, but may start air kissing when they begin to know each other better. Many Italians use calling cards, which are like business cards for social situations. Calling cards include the person’s name, address, title, academic credits, and telephone number. You should get a calling card made if you plan to be in Italy for a long time.


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