A Traveler’s Guide to Cultural Norms in Italy

Finally taking that long-dreamt-of trip to Italy? Bravissimi! The country is steeped in rich history, culture, and a vast palette of heart-stopping views. Stateside tourists, however, often find themselves out to sea when it comes to the mores and manners of the Italians. This won’t deal a fatal blow to the vacation, but nonetheless, it’s better to arrive prepared. Here’s a primer on some of the cultural norms of Italy to steer you down the right path.

Know the proper greetings. While ciao (“hello”) is often heard in movies, it’s a casual greeting used mainly among young people and close friends. When greeting strangers, it’s proper to extend a hand and say buonguorno (“good day”) instead. Similarly, when meeting your host for the first time, molto lieto (“pleased to meet you”) is customary and appreciated.

The kiss. Italians, like many Europeans, kiss one another on both cheeks upon greeting. It’s best to know this going in, or the situation might be awkward for both parties. Just go with the flow.

Il pisolino. The afternoon nap is not observed by all Italians, but its influence is such that it is best to avoid making telephone calls or social engagements between the hours of 2 and 4 pm.

Dinner invitations. It is customary for invited guests to offer a small token of appreciation, such as chocolates or flowers. Be sure to ask the local florist for advice, as certain flowers in Italy have connotations you may wish to avoid (i.e., chrysanthemums are associated largely with cemeteries).

Before digging in at the table, wait for the host to say buon appetito (“good eating”), as this signifies the official start of the meal. Similarly, if wine is offered, don’t take the first sip until the toast (salute). Be aware that guests who drink to excess or cannot handle their alcohol are unlikely to be invited back.

Dress appropriately. Italians place great value on clothing and appearance. Make a good impression by dressing in proper attire when out in public, particularly if you’re traveling for business. This usually means a suit for men (with or without a tie), and a simple dress or suit for women. Be careful not to go overboard, however—it’s just as inappropriate to dress too formally as it is to underdress.

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Content was originally published on my travel blog.

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