Observing business etiquette in Italy is important, as they are very socially protocol-oriented. From the introduction to attire and food, Italians tend to follow a strict cultural line. American businesspeople should be as aware as possible of this line. This lays the groundwork for the success of an American professional in a multicultural world.
When first being introduced to an Italian businessperson, always make eye contact while shaking hands. Looking away or failing to make eye contact is rude, and that one may be hiding something (Martin and Chaney, 69). There are also several gestures to avoid using when first meeting and developing relationships with Italians. Thumbing one’s nose is considered obscene and pointing the first and pinky finger at a person is a sign of bad luck (Martin and Chaney, 69). Italian businessmen will most likely kiss a woman’s hand upon introduction (Sabath, 133). If being reintroduced to an Italian with whom one has had dealings with in the past, be prepared for an embrace and kissed cheeks (Sabath, 132).
Fashion is extremely important in Italy. Businessmen should dress in dark suits, but not necessarily silk suits. For businesswomen, dressing in suits is appropriate, and accessories are encouraged; jewelry, scarves, and, of course, shoes should be high-quality (Sabath, 130).
For Italians, lunch is generally the most important meal of the day. Business lunches can last more than two hours, so all businesspeople should be prepared for the length of one of these functions. Generally, business dealings do not happen during lunch, so bringing up such topics is discouraged (Sabath, 130). Also, Italians’ small “personal bubble” may be uncomfortable at first, but trying to move away from an Italian is considered rude (Martin and Chaney, 69). If invited to the home, a businessperson should arrive at least a quarter of an hour later than the invitation stated. Bring a small gift to show appreciation. Candy or an uneven number of flowers (without chrysanthemums, since they are considered funerary) are acceptable gifts (Sabath, 136).
When giving gifts in Italy, the general rule is that Italian businesspeople do not exchange gifts upon introduction. However, it is good form to have a small gift on hand just in case there is a gift exchange. If a businessperson receives a gift, open it immediately and in front of the gift-giver, showing appreciation. If a businessperson is unsure of what gift to give, a good rule of thumb is the higher quality the presents, such as bottles of fine liquors or books, the better. A gift-giver should never use the colors black or gold for wrapping presents, as they are considered mourning colors (Sabath, 132).
Finally, be advised that position and hierarchy within Italian businesses are very important. Observing the way Italians defer to their bosses or superiors should be the way an American businessperson defers to them as well. Italians will ask questions about family and regional relations (Gioseffi, 49). This may, at first, seem a bit strange, but Italians mean no offense when asking. As a family-oriented society, family ties and where one is from regionally are very important when considering a business deal.
From the introduction to a new business relation to dressing for success, gift-giving and observing hierarchical superiors, understanding these customs will help American businesspeople achieve greater success in Italy. Following protocol and respecting culture and ethics in international business will establish great relations and allow both sides of the deal to thrive.
Gioseffi, Claudia. Passport Italy: Your Pocket Guide to Italian Business, Customs & Etiquette. San Rafael: World Trade Press. 1997. Web. 16 Oct. 2013.
Martin, Jeanette S. and Lillian H. Chaney. Global Business Etiquette. Santa Barbara: Praeger. 2012. Web. 16 Oct. 2013.
Sabath, Ann Marie. International Business Etiquette: Europe. Lincoln, Nebraska: Authors Choice Press, 2004. Web. 16 Oct. 2013.