Next up and the second stop on my business culture blog series is Italy. A country rich in culture and once home to an empire that stretched from Scotland to Syria, Italy has its name firmly etched in the history books. Look no further than the countries capital city Rome, a city that legend has it was founded by twin brothers, Romulus and Remus, sons of the Roman god Mars! Inspirational architecture throughout the land and exquisite cuisine, Italy is unique and wonderful and definitely worthy of a place in this blog series. As before, in our analysis of their business culture we will examine four key categories – communication, ice breakers, general business etiquette and a selection of recommended do’s & don’ts.
Italians are very expressive people and in fact, love to use gestures to emphasise their speech. According to popular joke, to stop an Italian talking, simply block the use of his/her hands. This is no different for them when conducting meetings, negotiations or interviews. It is just the way they are. Although this level of passion and enthusiasm may not be as common in your country, it should not be a concern. However, despite this level of passion and openness, it is important not to overstep the mark when talking to new associates and be careful of sensitive or stereotypical topics like politics, the family environments or the mafia. This could have an implication on the success of your meeting/interview or negotiations.
Another factor to consider when going to Italy is language. 90% of companies would prefer to speak Italian during any meeting or business exchange. It’s important to make sure that they have translator for you, to facilitate any meeting and to avoid ant interruptions or topics becoming ‘lost in translation’. Global companies will have a less concerns about using English, but make sure you email them to clarify beforehand what language is required from you. English language is now an essential subject in schools, so this is likely to become less and less of a problem in coming years. As always though, it is nice (if you can) to have a little knowledge of the Italian language prepared. It will be easier for you to start the conversation, and efforts to learn simple phrases and introductions, well received.
In terms of channels of communication Italian people like to hold meetings face to face rather than using phone, skype or other technology. However in recent years, there is a slow transition from most organisations that sees them moving towards technology as a viable form of communication. When addressing each other, it is common to address them in the third person. You should not use the first names unless invited and should use Sir/madam, Mr and Mrs, initially! Be very careful as Italian people could get offended when you call them by first name.
The Italians are incredibly warm and friendly people who will try hard to communicate with you, so ice braking should not be hard at all. They are very open-minded, so throwing some jokes at the first meeting particularly if aimed at yourself is never a bad idea. Another way to keep your Italian colleague smiling could be a little gift from your culture. For example chocolates, wine or flowers, just remember it is not really about the present itself, it is about how you going to wrap it up. Strange? Well the same case appeared in French culture. Do not wrap your gifts in black or gold, as these colours are reserved for funerals.
In line with my comments above, there are few things that you cannot use in order to break the ice. Firstly do not make jokes about mafia or politics, also keep the conversation, light and bias free until you get to know them better.
Greeting in Italy in general are very similar to the French culture outlined in my first blog. It is common to expect kisses to both cheeks and maybe a hug. Like France, it is not recommended to kiss or hug someone at an initial business meeting, interview or negotiation. Hand-shakes will normally do and convey enough professionalism. However, if you know your counterpart better or feel you have built a decent bond with them, then I see no harm in trying the more traditional greeting on a second or third time meeting. They might love it! Another thing to understand is that many Italian people are relationship-orientated; they usually prefer to establish direct relationships, even superficially, before ‘getting down’ to business. So who knows maybe at the next meeting, introduce the popular “La Bise” when greeting your Italian counterpart.
If you are going to negotiate something in Italy, be prepared, as Italians tend to carefully evaluate advantages and disadvantages, which could take some time. However be patient, it is important to give time to your Italian colleague, once they made decision they will strongly believe it is the best options for their company.
Dress code is another notable factor of etiquette, dress “formally” to make a serious and clean impression. Many of the greatest designers in the world are Italian; expensive add-ons to your outfit will be something extra in your Italian colleague’s eyes. ‘Bella figura’ (good impression) is something very important, and you can easily show that by wearing smart cloths which will express appreciation for the hospitality offered.
Be patient and be prepared for some delays at the meetings, punctuality is not really treated seriously in Italian culture. They tend to multitask, preferring to do many things at once; therefore if you expect your Italian colleagues to meet strict deadlines make sure they clearly know about this.
- Do wear stylish clothing; Italians take pride in their appearance. Dark suit, with expensive ties, cuff links and watches. Women should dress stylishly with make-up and jewellery.
- Do carry cash that is only enough for the day, and leave the rest in the hotel safe.
- Do use public transportation, which is usually capillary and fast.
- Do not use first names in Italian business. Personal and professional titles are used repetitively in either causal conversation.
- Do not enter a taxi without a meter (from my own experience, you will pay much more)
- Do not show up ten minutes early, You Italian colleagues will be late anyway, be prepared to wait 10-45 minutes before meeting starts.
Overall, the Italian culture is very exciting, and worth to explore. Italians are very explosive, passionate people that will strive to know you better on your meeting. They like to talk a lot which I believe will help with ice breaking at your first meeting. Remember Patience, patience and patience again… ‘Benvenuti in Italia’!