Manners in Italy: Italian Etiquette Rules for Travelers

Manners in Italy: etiquette rules for travelers

Buongiorno, cultural explorers! Max here, your guide to all things Italian. I am here to help you navigate the intricate dance of manners in Italy.

Dive into this guide as we decode customs and etiquette for tourists, bridging cultural differences to ensure your journey through Italy is as smooth and enjoyable as possible.

Cultural Significance of Manners in Italy

Italians take manners seriously. While visiting, you’ll notice a strong emphasis on ‘cordialità‘ (cordiality) and ‘educazione‘ (good manners).

Respect is paramount and reflects deeply on family values instilled from a young age. Traditional Italian greetings involve a handshake, and close friends may exchange a friendly hug or kiss on the cheek.

Family gatherings showcase the Italian attention to manners, with mealtime taking center stage. Here, they also express their love and respect for one another.

The classic Italian meal is often a lengthy affair where conversation flows and eating hastily is discouraged. 

Your demeanor in public should be poised and understated, and it’s wise to observe and mirror the comportment of those around you. They say, “When in Rome, do as Romans do.”

In your interactions, maintain direct eye contact, which is a sign of trust and respect—both essential in Italian culture.

Basic Etiquette and Customs

Understanding basic Italian etiquette is key to navigating social and professional situations gracefully and respectfully. Acknowledge these customs as you engage with the vibrant Italian culture.

Greetings and Introductions

Watch this cool short video to learn how to cheek-kiss

When meeting someone in Italy, it’s common to say “buongiorno” (good morning) or “buonasera” (good evening), depending on the time of day.

First introductions typically involve a firm handshake, but once you’re familiar, a cheek kiss—two, starting with your left—is standard. Maintain direct eye contact as it conveys honesty and interest.

Dress and Appearance

Italians value appearances highly, subscribing to the idea of “bella figura,” or looking one’s best.

The norm is to dress neatly and stylishly, even in casual settings. Clothes should fit well and be appropriate for the occasion, with business attire leaning towards the formal side.

Suggested Read: How to Dress Like an Italian: The Effortless Italian Style

During the summer months, wearing flip-flops and revealing attire away from the beach breaches etiquette in Italy and will quickly identify you as a tourist, contrasting sharply with the locals’ polished style.

Family and Social Situations

Manners in Italy: family and social situations

Family is central in Italy, and social situations often revolve around large gatherings and meals. When meeting elders or someone for the first time, please wait to be introduced rather than approaching them directly.

Address them formally and wait for permission before using their first name. Let the older person initiate handshakes or any form of greeting is a sign of respect.

Gift-Giving Practices

Whenever you’re invited to an Italian friend’s home, it’s appropriate to bring a thoughtful gift such as flowers or chocolates.

Ensure that your gifts are nicely wrapped—presentation matters. If you choose flowers, avoid chrysanthemums, as they are associated with mourning.

Understanding Time and Punctuality in Italy

In Italy, strict punctuality isn’t always essential, especially compared to other countries. In the North, it’s wise to be on time, but arriving 10–15 minutes late to social events is common in the South.

Nonetheless, being on time is advisable for medical appointments or job interviews.

Suggested Read: Common Italian Stereotypes: True or False?

Business and Formal Settings

Italian business culture emphasizes formality. Until invited to use first names, colleagues are addressed as “signora” or “signore” followed by their surname. Meetings start with handshakes and may include exchanging business cards. 

Public Behavior

Public decorum is important. Always smile, be polite, respect personal space, and be mindful of hand gestures. It’s courteous to cover your mouth if you sneeze and to remove your hat indoors.

Expect animated conversations, but be aware that loud and boisterous behavior is generally frowned upon in public spaces.

Communication and Language

Parli Italiano? (Italian basic words)

You first need to remember that Italians appreciate tourists who try to speak Italian. So, learning basic Italian phrases will go a long way in connecting with the locals.

In Italy, understanding the nuances of Italian etiquette is crucial, particularly in conversation. The Italian language is a means of communication and an expression of culture.

In Italy, verbal exchanges are often animated and accompanied by expressive hand gestures.

Being direct is less common; Italians tend to communicate in a high-context manner, meaning they rely on body language and implication as much as the spoken word.

Suggested Read: Learn Italian for Beginners: Essential Starter Guide

The key elements of conversation include:

  • Formality: Address others formally using ‘Lei’ unless invited to use the informal ‘tu.’
  • Greetings: A simple ‘Buongiorno’ (good morning in Italian) or ‘Buonasera’ (good evening) is appreciated.
  • Politeness: Always say ‘per favore’ (please) and ‘grazie’ (thank you).
TermMeaningContext
LeiFormal ‘you’When addressing someone you don’t know well or in formal situations.
TuInformal ‘you’With friends, family, or people your age.
GrazieThank youTo show appreciation.
Per FavorePleaseWhen requesting something.

Non-verbal communication speaks volumes in Italy. Your posture, facial expressions, and tone are integral to your message. Italians may stand closer and maintain eye contact longer than you may be accustomed to.

It’s important to be aware of your volume when engaging in conversations. Many Italians generally speak louder in social settings, but this does not indicate anger or hostility; it signifies a vibrant conversation.

Moreover, interruptions are more tolerated in Italian dialogue, seen as a sign of engagement rather than rudeness.

Italian Dining Etiquette

Understanding the subtleties of dining etiquette is crucial when in Italy. Whether dining in an Italian restaurant or at home, respect for tradition and adherence to social norms will make your experience more enjoyable.

Bringing a Gift

Bringing a small gift, such as a bottle of wine or a bouquet, is polite if you are invited to someone’s home for a meal.

Table Manners

Good table manners in Italy show respect to your host and companions. Always wait until the host says “Buon appetito” before eating.

Suggested Read: How to Say Eat in Italian: Your Guide to Mangiare

Rest your wrists on the table’s edge to keep your elbows off the table and your hands visible.

Take cues from the hostess; she initiates seating, starts eating, and is the first to rise at the end of the meal.

Meal Structure and Courses

Italian food on the table

An Italian meal typically consists of several courses served in a specific order.

Lunch and dinner usually commence with an appetizer, followed by the first course, or primo, which often features pasta or risotto.

The second course, or secondo, is a meat or fish dish. Meals may include a side dish (contorno) and conclude with dessert (dolce).

If invited to dinner in Italy, prepare to be sitting at a table for an extended period, enjoying a leisurely and sociable dining experience.

Dining Hours in Italy: When Locals Eat

Italians eat dinner late; non-tourist restaurants open around 7:00 p.m. While tourists in touristy places might dine earlier, a genuine Italian dining experience sees locals starting their meals at restaurants around 9 p.m. or as late as 10 p.m.

Alcohol and Wine Culture

Italian wine is a fundamental component of the country’s cuisine and is typically consumed with meals. When pouring wine, fill the glass just over half to allow the wine to breathe.

Participating in a toast is customary; make eye contact with your companions when clinking glasses. Beer and other forms of alcohol are more common in informal settings.

Cappuccino Etiquette: When Not to Order

Avoid ordering a cappuccino after noon; it’s strictly a morning delight for Italians. While tourists often enjoy a cappuccino post-meal, locals stick to this morning ritual—ordering one later is a surefire way to spotlight yourself as a visitor!

Tipping and Payment

restaurant bill with coperto

Tipping at restaurants in Italy is not as customary as it is in some other countries. Usually, a service charge, or coperto, is included in the bill.

Suggested Read: What is Coperto in Italy?

Leaving a small tip, about 5-10%, is acceptable for exceptional service. A 10-15% tip may be expected in more upscale establishments. Always pay your bill to the host or waiter at the table.

Religious Observances and Ceremonies

Italy is steeped in tradition, and this is especially evident in its religious observances and ceremonies. Understanding and respecting these manners in Italy is crucial when participating in religious events.

Church Etiquette

When you enter any of the Italian churches, modesty in attire is expected. Cover your shoulders, chest, and legs as a sign of respect. It is customary to greet the clergy if they are present and pray quietly or reflect in silence if you wish. 

Weddings and Funerals

a wedding reception in Italy

Italian weddings and funerals are deeply traditional and often held in churches. At weddings, it’s considered bad luck for the groom to see the bride before the ceremony.

During funerals, wearing black signifies mourning and respect for the deceased. Remember to offer your condolences to the family in person or through a sympathy card.

National and Local Holidays

Italy celebrates numerous holidays with religious significance, such as Christmas and Easter, and unique local festivities like Saint’s Day processions.

Pay attention to the decor—often steeped in regional tradition—and participate in local customs, which may include ceremonial dances, songs, and the sharing of communal feasts.

Do’s and Don’ts in Italy FAQ

Understanding local etiquette can greatly enhance your experience in Italy. Let’s explore some common questions to ensure you appreciate and adhere to Italian customs.

What are the essential etiquette tips for tourists visiting Italy?

Greetings are important in Italy; a simple “Buongiorno” or “Buonasera” can go a long way. It’s also polite to say “permesso” when passing through crowded spaces and “grazie” to express gratitude.

Remember, the best etiquette advice for any visitor comes from a well-known saying: “When in Rome, do as Romans do.”

This adage should guide you in observing and adapting to local customs for a truly respectful and immersive Italian experience.

What key Italian customs and traditions should visitors be aware of?

Expect closures and lively celebrations on Italy’s national and religious holidays, often with processions and festivals.

Also, be aware of the Italian tradition of “passeggiata,” the evening walk taken by locals, particularly in smaller towns. 

How should one behave at the dining table while visiting Italy?

At the dining table, follow Italian table manners: wait for the host to start, don’t cut your pasta with a knife, and refrain from requesting variations to the dishes served, as altering the chef’s intended presentation and flavors is generally frowned upon.

What actions are considered impolite in Italian culture?

Speaking loudly in public, gesturing wildly, or putting your feet up on furniture is considered rude.

While being a few minutes late is often acceptable in Italian culture, it’s best to aim for punctuality, especially for dinner invitations. However, arriving too early is also not advisable.

Can you list cultural behaviors that are important to respect in Italy?

Acknowledge people when entering small shops with a greeting and wait to be invited before you sit during social occasions. Public spaces are highly valued, so keep them clean.

What are the Italian norms regarding showing respect to others?

Show respect by addressing people with their proper titles, such as “Signore” or “Signora,” and by using the formal “Lei” rather than the informal “tu” unless invited to do otherwise.

Respecting personal space is also important. Italians may use touch during conversation, but waiting for them to initiate is best.

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