Business etiquette

How to keep in line with Italian business culture

Every company should be aware of cultural differences in business communication. What might be very common and normal in Scandinavia might not have the same meaning in Italy. Also, knowing the cultural customs of the country you wish to do business with shows great respect towards their culture and is the best way to earn the trust and respect of your future business partners.

How to behave at a business lunch/dinner

With the aim of socializing and establishing friendly relationships, it is very common for business meetings to lead to an invitation to dine out in a fine restaurant. Here it is recommended to keep the business discussions limited.

Usually the lunch in a business sense is very brief and informal, consisting of simple sandwiches or single dishes in a restaurant. Traditionally lunch begins after 1 PM. Dinner time is usually around 8 PM, however, in some southern regions it is delayed, starting at 9 PM or even 10 PM.

Be prepared to consume a moderate amount of wine to get into the mood of socialising but you should avoid drinking too much. Women in Italy tend to drink very little. Most importantly, the person who invites is also the one who is expected to pay. The most common expression to start the lunch or dinner is “buon appetito” (“enjoy your lunch”) and when saying “cheers” Italians say “salute”.

Some tips to keep in mind:

Greetings

Is there a hierarchy when it comes to shaking hands? Is it the norm to shake hands with business women in Italy?

During business meetings it is common to shake hands with everyone present upon introduction and to bid farewell. Women should always extend their hand first to men. Once you have developed a friendly relationship with a person you may greet each other with a kiss on both cheeks and/or an embrace. The term “kissing” means simply pressing the sides of the face together.

While being introduced, respond with “it is a pleasure”, which translated into Italian is “piacere”. Also, a common greeting for “good morning” (“buongiorno”) or “good evening” (“buonasera”) is used when you enter the office. Before leaving you can use the term “arrivederci” (“see you”) or “a presto” (“see you soon”).

How to set up a business meeting

Before setting up a business meeting, you must be aware that it is mandatory to make an appointment request in writing (in Italian) approximately 2 to 3 weeks in advance. Most importantly, confirm the meeting by phone or fax, again in Italian. Avoid scheduling appointments in August since most Italian companies are closed during the summer months.

Before the meeting

Make sure you prepare all printed material both in English and Italian to avoid misunderstandings and save time on translating in the meeting itself. If you are not fluent in Italian, you can hire an interpreter to help you. This means that you can guarantee that your presentation is communicated and understood by everyone present in the meeting.

During the meeting Do not be surprised if you are interrupted while speaking. In Italy it is very common for everyone to speak at once. As Italians also tend to be quite loud, do not take it as a sign of anger but rather the need to be heard over other speakers in the room.

After the meeting

Meetings are usually held for the purpose of sharing ideas and putting forward opinions. This means that you cannot always expect to reach a decision by the end of the meeting. Negotiations are managed slowly as Italians take their time evaluating advantages and risks and the hierarchical decision making process. It’s important not to rush the process as Italians may interpret this as a weakness on your part.

Addressing people

As a general rule, you should use the last names and appropriate titles in a meeting scenario until invited to use that person’s first name. In business environments, women often maintain their maiden names.

Dress like you mean business

Since Italy is considered to be one of the fashion capitals of Europe, you need to try and find the right balance between an elegant and conservative style. Generally a formal dress code is a must, especially for the first meetings in order to give a serious yet positive impression. First impressions are lasting impressions in Italy!

Men should wear dark coloured, conservative suits and ties, while women tend to wear conservative dresses or business suits. Embodying the notion of “bella figura” is not only based on your outward appearance and style, but also the way you hold yourself, your demeanour and general aura - no pressure at all!

Business cards

Business cards are usually exchanged after a formal introductory meeting. Make sure you have a close look at the business card before you put it away, as this shows respect towards the other person.

Translating your business cards into Italian will give a good impression as it shows that you are embracing your new culture.Since businessmen in Italy prefer to know what position you hold within your organisation, you should include your graduate degree and current title on the card. It’s common practice to hand out your business card at the end of a meeting but try to avoid giving your card to the same person twice.


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