Ultimate Traveler’s Guide to Italian Customs and Etiquette: 30 Things You Need to Know

Are you planning a trip to Italy? Whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure, it’s important to be well prepared. And we’re not just talking about making sure you have your passport and an extra pair of comfy shoes.

Besides learning how to speak Italian, it’s important that you familiarize yourself with Italian customs and etiquette. After all, you don’t want to unknowingly offend anyone or get yourself into a sticky situation.

Every country, including Italy, has its fair share of unique customs. Below are 30 Italian customs and etiquette tips you need to know before packing your bags and heading abroad.

  1. When you’re first introduced to an Italian native, it’s best to say “buongiorno” rather than “ciao,” as the latter is used only amongst close friends and the younger generation.
  2. After lunch around 1:00 p.m., it’s customary to say “buonasera” or “good evening”.
  3. When meeting a new person, you should shake his or her hand. Only greet someone with a kiss on either side of the cheek if you’re friends.
  4. Be sure to maintain eye contact while speaking, or else Italians may think that you’re trying to hide something.
  5. “When starting a conversation with someone in Italy, abandon the idea of ‘getting right to the point,’ whether you’re speaking in Italian or English. Italians don’t like this way of conversing, and in fact are a bit put off by a person who forgets to say “good day” or “how are you?” before launching into his or her series of questions and demands,” says Rick Zullo, creator of Italian travel blog, Rick’s Rome.
  6. Italians tend to communicate with gestures and facial expressions, so don’t be alarmed when you see someone waving their hands or speaking effusively.
  1. Fashion is important in the Italian culture, so be sure to dress appropriately at all times. Torn or worn clothing are a big no-no.
  2. When in doubt, go more formal. Men should wear jackets and ties, and ditch the shorts. Women should opt for a dress or a more formal, feminine outfit.
  3. “If you are planning on visiting a church or religious site, your shoulders and knees need to be covered. Secondly, flip flops are only worn at the beach (if at all)…leave them at home. And if you’re headed to the theater, making an effort to fare la bella figura (roughly translated as “to make a good impression”) will be appreciated,” suggests Select Italy, a full-service Italian travel company.
  1. Keep both of your hands above the table at all times—never on your lap.
  2. In Italy, the person who does the inviting pays for the meal.
  3. Don’t ask for salad dressing or other condiments. Olive oil is the only acceptable “condiment” that you’ll need during a meal.
  4. Bread is not meant to be an appetizer. Rather, it should be used to wipe the remaining sauce off your plate.
  5. If you don’t want more wine, leave your glass half full. Drinking excessively is highly frowned upon.
  6. “The early bird special does not exist in Italy. Show up at the restaurant at 5:00 p.m., and you’re marking yourself as an old American. Show up at 6:30, and you’re marking yourself as American. Show up at 7:30, and you’re marketing yourself as an old Italian. After 8:00 p.m. you’re one with the Italian culture and a non-tourist. The later the better, for most Italians, especially the farther south you go,” say the folks at Select Italy.
  1. While Italians are known for being late, they take punctuality for business meetings very seriously—so be on time!
  2. Dress to impress. Formal attire is expected for business meetings. Men should opt for a tailored, dark colored suit, while women should wear a feminine, but modest pant or skirt suit.
  3. Gift giving is not common in Italy. Only after you’ve established a trusted relationship is it appropriate to give a small gift.
  4. Try not to schedule any business meetings during the month of August, as many companies are closed and/or employees are on vacation.
  5. Italians prefer doing business with people they trust, so spend some time developing a personal relationship with your constituents.
  1. Always stand when an elder person enters the room.
  2. Unlike in America where the host sits at the head of the table, in Italy the host will sit in the middle of the table.
  3. “Try to be aware of who you’re talking to and what strata of society that they belong to. Overdosing on courtesy forms and titles can still be very flattering to many Italians, whether it’s your boss or a beautiful woman (or her mother, if you get that far),” says Zullo.
  4. Men should always remove their hats when entering an establishment.
  5. When invited to someone’s home, always bring a small gift for the host—chocolates, flowers, and pastries are all acceptable.
  6. If invited to a party or dinner, arrive between 15 to 30 minutes late to ensure the host has enough time to prepare.
  1. Family is extremely important to Italians. In the south, extended families often live in one house; however, this has become less common over the years.
  2. It’s not uncommon for young adults to live with their parents until their late 20’s.
  3. When children leave the home, they are expected to live close to their families and visit them weekly.
  4. Grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins play an important role in the everyday life of Italians. Most Italians have been brought up by their grandparents in addition to their parents.

Most Italians will forgive you if you make an honest mistake. However, it’s always a good idea to review Italian customs and etiquette before traveling abroad. Do you have any helpful tips for fellow travelers?