Business Etiquette in Italy
Top Tips for Doing Business in Italy
TJC Global understands that being fluent in a language also means being fluent in the subtleties and intricacies of the culture and business etiquette associated with it. To ensure that no embarrassing misunderstandings occur in a professional context, all our translators and interpreters are experts in the business culture and etiquette associated with the languages they work with.
Italy is divided into 20 regions, and contains two independent states, the Vatican City (in Rome) and San Marino (situated between the regions of Emilia Romagna and Marche). The regions differ greatly from one another in economic conditions, customs and language, which is a result of the fact that for centuries, before being made into one nation, the Italian peninsula and the main islands had been divided into separate states and dominions. After 1870, the introduction of compulsory elementary education and the migration of workers, normally from the poorer south to the wealthier north of Italy, helped the Italian language to become standardised and the people to develop a sense of belonging.
Italy is one of the world’s most beautiful countries, both in terms of landscape and culture, and as such provides an excellent environment for successful and enjoyable business operations. Read on to find out our top tips for doing business in Italy.
Situated in Southern Europe, Italy is the fifth most populous country in Europe with close to 61 million inhabitants. Surrounded on all sides by five different seas, the country is famous for its beautiful turquoise waters as well as narrow alleyways of old stone. It is known globally for its delicious cuisine including pizza, pasta, coffee and gelato.
Italy’s capital Rome (home to the smallest sovereign state in the world, the Vatican City) is considered the birthplace of Western civilisation as we know it. Founded in 753BC, it was the centre of the Roman Empire and is consequently one of the oldest continuously-occupied cities in Europe. Rome’s powerful influence spread throughout what we know today as ‘Italy’ and subsequently, Europe. The devastation caused by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 (see photo on the left) means that today, we are able to walk through the Roman streets of Pompeii and Herculaneum near Naples and still be overcome by a sense of unparalleled greatness.
Italy was also the birthplace of the Renaissance: a monumental flourishing of art, culture and modernity beginning in the 14th century which spread throughout Europe. Thanks to the patronage of the extremely wealthy and dominant families of the Italian merchant cities of Florence and Venice, Italian artists, intellectuals and polymaths became the champions of the early modern world. Dante, Petrarch, Leonardo da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Raphael, to name only a few, provided some of the finest contributions to art, literature, culture and thought the world has ever seen.
In 1861, Italy’s city-states were united under Victor Emmanuel II as the “Kingdom of Italy” and the country was renamed the “Italian Republic” in 1946. Today, it remains one of the largest global economies: ranking 8th in the world in 2018 in a survey by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) with a value of 2.18 trillion dollars.
In the past century, Italy has transformed from a largely agricultural economy into an industrialised one, although its agricultural sector remains competitive and robust. Its biggest exports in 2018 were machinery including computers (19.7% of total exports), vehicles (8.6%), electrical machinery and equipment (6%), pharmaceuticals (5.1%), plastics and plastic articles (4.1%), iron and steel, mineral fuels including oil, furniture, bedding, lighting, and clothing and accessories. It is also the world’s second largest exporter of wine after Spain.
The advent of radio and television after World War II, however, is considered by many the principal factor in the diffusion of the Italian language. Today, dialects are still spoken by a large number of people, and their differences are such that would make communication between Italians who do not share the same regional language very difficult, if they did not rely on the use of standard Italian.
Standard Italian is a Romance or Romanic language spoken by approximately 85 million people worldwide, but primarily in Italy, San Marino, and parts of Switzerland, Croatia, Slovenia, and France. It is also the primary language of the Vatican City. A derivation of Latin, Italy is perhaps the closest modern language to that of the Romans in terms of vocabulary and stress.
Dante is partially responsible for standardising the Italian language, after his collection of epic poems were read throughout Italy and his Florentine dialect evolved into Italy’s standard form. Despite its literary heritage, the Italian alphabet technically has only 21 letters. It excludes the j, k, w, x, y used in other European tongues – although these letters do appear in loan words such as ‘taxi’ and ‘jeans’.
- Si – Yes.
- No – No.
- Per favore – Please.
- Grazie – Thank you.
- Prego – You’re welcome.
- Mi scusi – Excuse me.
- Mi dispiace – I am sorry.
- Buon giorno – Good morning.
Business Etiquette in Italy
The image of Italian business people in their fashionable designer clothes has led many to believe that to succeed in business in Italy first impression and appearance are most important. If you are amongst those people who think that wearing Gucci accessories and Valentino suits will immediately turn a meeting into a success, your opinions may need to be readjusted. Italians do pay great attention to appearance but they are even more attentive to communication, ideas, and products. Another widely held preconception is that Italians have no time for punctuality. They are known to be genial and relaxed, to such an extent that they are supposed to disregard formality and punctuality. In fact, most Italians value punctuality as much as any other people do. There are many fallacies in these cliches. To achieve success in a business meeting in Italy, it would be useful to bear in mind the following tips:
- Appointments should be made preferably in writing and well in advance, and be reconfirmed near the time.
- Do not show urgency or impatience, as these are considered signs of weakness.
- Background information about the company and its representatives ought to be gathered in preparation for the meeting.
- Projects, plans or calling cards ought to have a classic font and a tasteful design.
- A spruce formal attire should be preferred.
- If one’s command of the Italian language is not good, the assistance of an interpreter is essential. Nevertheless, one should still try and learn how to greet in a formal situation. Different dialects are spoken in the various Italian regions, and they are all quite dissimilar from the official language; however, business and official meetings are conducted in Italian.
- “Buongiorno/buonasera” is the correct form of greeting when meeting somebody for the first time, and, on leaving “arrivederci”. If the relationship becomes less formal, then “salve” is a more appropriate greeting, whereas “ciao”, both on arrival and when taking leave, is the most informal salutation.
- Introduce yourself with both name and surname and address your interlocutors by their title and surname. The use of a professional title, instead of the generic “Signor/Signora”, is to be preferred. This will reflect the speaker’s familiarity with, and respect for, his/her interlocutors’ achievements. The title of “Doctor” (“Dottore/Dottoressa”) is awarded to any university graduate, but law or engineering graduates, for instance, should be addressed as “Avvocato” or “Ingegnere”.
- On arrival and when taking leave, hands are shaken firmly and eye contact is maintained.
- During a conversation, self-confidence and interest are displayed by keeping eye contact.
Not all assumptions about the Italian people are wrong, however. Their conviviality, for instance, is no myth, and during business transactions there will be recurrent occasions to adjourn to a bar or a restaurant. Work lunches and dinners are organized with the purpose not only of discussing business-related issues, but also of establishing good relationships with clients and collaborators. Over protracted lunches formal dealings lose some of their initial ceremoniousness and the use of first names is often introduced. Personal contacts are extremely important and social meetings are a way to create new ones or consolidate older ones. If one is invited to a private function, flowers should be sent or gifts should be offered.
Opening times and public holidays
Normal business hours are from 9.00 to 18.00, with an hour for lunch between 13.00 and 15.00. Shops, except for the large department stores, normally close at 13.00 and re-open at 17.00, until 20.00. Banks open at 8.30 and close at 14.00, but some will re-open for a couple of hours in the afternoon – business times tend to vary slightly from town to town. Most businesses close in August, when the great majority of Italians take their summer holidays.
Most of the Italian people are Catholic, and even if regular church attendance is very low, the majority of Italians still observes and take part in religious festivals and rituals. Every day of the year is dedicated to a saint and in the past many were the public holidays marked for religious celebrations. Today Italy retains only a few of these vacations. However, every town and village has a patron saint, and in his/her honour processions and festivities are organised, and shops, banks and offices are closed, even if it is not a national holiday. Therefore, it is wise to gather some information on the region one is about to visit to avoid inconvenience.
List of public holidays:
- 1 January (New Year’s Day)
- 6 January (Epiphany)
- Easter Monday
- 25 April (Liberation Day)
- 1 May (Labour Day)
- 2 June (Republic Day)
- 15 August (Assumption)
- 1 November (All Saints)
- 8 December (Immaculate Conception)
- 25 December (Christmas Day)
- 26 December (Boxing Day)
What forms of interpreter services can TJC Global provide?
Video/videoconference interpreting: (also Video Remote Interpreting is available) TJC provides language interpreting services to support events such as business discussions, conferences, legal/court/arbitration/litigation, and other online business interactions in the industry during these challenging times.
Participants can communicate via video, or voice calls using laptops, smartphones, tablets etc. These can be recorded should you wish to take minutes. Our professionally qualified interpreters can join your online virtual meeting, event, or proceeding, for example, and interpret remotely in the language pairing you require to facilitate smooth communication between all parties.
Telephone/teleconference interpreting is a practical way to bridge any language barriers. The interpreter is either located remotely (away from either party) or is with one of the parties. In both cases, they deliver interpreting services through telephone conferencing.
Telephone interpretation is helpful for clients who cannot travel to their counterparts’ countries but still wish, for example, to hold business discussions or communicate progress updates. At TJC Global, we are pleased to provide professionally qualified interpreters in almost any selected language combination.
Simultaneous interpreting (also available with Video Remote Interpretation (VRI))
is used for international conferences, critical business discussions, seminars & symposiums. In this case, two to three interpreters are usually situated in a booth, away from the audience, and take turns to interpret at high speed, changing over every 15-20 minutes to avoid fatigue.
The interpreters use headsets to listen to the speaker’s message and repeat it immediately (practically “simultaneously”) in the target language to benefit relevant audience members.
Consecutive interpreting (also available with Video Remote Interpretation (VRI)) is the most common type. It is used for business discussions, negotiations, contract exchanges, commercial, legal and technical meetings, medical or court hearings, or onsite inspections. The interpreter listens to the speaker, often making notes, and later delivers the meaning in the target language.
The interpreter may wait until a pause or the end, at which point they deliver a translation relatively quickly. Consecutive interpreting may also be used at conferences for panel discussions, Q&A sessions or private discussions between parties – at a stand or elsewhere.
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Our language specialists utilise their knowledge of subject-specific terminology to deliver precise, unambiguous translations, whatever the context – enabling you to communicate effectively with the rest of the world. We are also able to adapt to almost any type of project.
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