Italy People And Culture

Italians on the whole believe in living life to the fullest. They laugh, shout, cry and argue at the top of their voices in public. They are always blasting their horns if you drive too slow. However they never take themselves too seriously and the Italian sense of humour is ever present.


Italians are passionate about their culture and the Italian language. Italian is a musical language that Italians sing with a joyful cadence. Italian descriptions are much more beautiful and flowery, and long winded than those in English. They will take two sentences to say what we can say in one. They love their Italian way of life and Italian traditions and stubbornly refuse to change it. They consider their Italian food to be the best in the world, their Italian wine the nectar of the Gods and their siesta the only way to live your day.

Life is Italy is a dichotomy. On one hand it is a European nation with all the modern inventions of 21st century life but on the other hand life is unchanged in the small villages and moves at the slow pace that it always has.

The traditions that have been lived for hundreds of years are still maintained with regional pride. A home cooked meal at lunch time has priority over any work appointment and rightly so. The quality of Italian food is valued highly and only the freshest ingredients will serve your average Italian cook. Mamma's cooking is supreme over some of the finest restaurants where you cannot trust what has been put into the dish. Food is to be shared, with friends, family and neighbours and to be endlessly discussed and is almost what you could call a national obsession. To be able to cook well is a source of pride and is widely acknowledged by all and sundry.

Italians identify first with their village, this is known as "Campanilismo" - that area visible from the bell tower of the church in their village. "Campanile" meaning bell tower. But first and foremost Italians give priority to themselves, then their families, the village, province, region, and finally the country.

Italians on the whole believe in living life to the fullest. They laugh, shout, cry and argue at the top of their voices in public. They are always blasting their horns if you drive too slow. However they never take themselves too seriously and the Italian sense of humour is ever present.

They will not tolerate slow wit and will take advantage of the innocent tourist with money but will also be most generous and kind if you are sick or in trouble. In general Italians could be classified as a warm people.


Italian Customs and way of life differs to other Western Cultures in many ways.

Work Hours 

Their hours of business for shops are usually from 9.30 to 13.30, after which most shops shut for siesta time then reopen from 16.30 to 19.30. However many large companies have their set work hours 8.30 to 16.30 with lunch provided for the workers from 13.00 ? 14.00. Most commercial offices and services also close for the siesta e.g. banks, post offices and museums and churches. So when travelling, make allowances for the fact that if you arrive at a town at lunch time, 13.30, the only places that will be open will be the restaurants.

La Passeggiata

La Passeggiata ( the stroll) normally commences around 18.00 for those who do not work shop hours and the aim of La Passeggiata is to see and be seen, especially in your latest gear before having dinner. This is most popular on a Sunday afternoon. La bella figura is to be shown off. This is the time for socializing and catching up with your friends and all the young ones (giovani) are cruising on their bikes, stopping at bars for a café or generally slouching on their parked bikes or poised like young models against walls on the footpath. The aim is to check out the passers-by and to eye off and eyeball the opposite sex. Make sure you take off your sunglasses so this is possible.

Eating and Drinking 

Italians are not big breakfast eaters. They usually have a cappuccino and a croissant or bun for breakfast and they have this standing up at the bar counter. It is usually the tourists who are seated paying double price for the coffee. Cappuccino is a breakfast drink only, as Italians usually have the short expresso through the day. Coffee making is an art in Italy, especially in the south. Napoli could be said to be the home of the great café, where everyone has their favourite bar and the barista makes it with his own particular flair and if you return often, he will remember how many sugars you take and maybe even after a year if he particularly warms to you.

The large meal of the day is saved for lunch because lunch is followed by the civilised siesta and then after, walk off your meal with a passeggiata!! Italians do not eat lunch before 13.30 so if you arrive at a restaurant before this, the waiters might not be ready. The same at night, Italians eat usually at 21.00 in the evening so if you are hungry at 6.00, you might like to have a quick snack otherwise you will only be accompanied by other tourists in the restaurants.

After Dinner (Dopo Cena)

Italians do not sit around at restaurants and drink the rest of the bottle like other cultures. They also usually have their children with them as babysitting is also not in their culture. Everything is a family affair. Drinking without eating is frowned upon and seen as senseless to the Italians. Wine is to accompany food not to make one drunk, and maybe a small digestivo is taken after a meal.

If the restaurant puts a bottle of Lemoncello (lemon liqueur) or Amaro (red almond liqueur) on your table, one is meant to only have a thimble full, not the whole bottle. If you do attempt to drink the whole bottle, you will be very sick as it is pure alcohol. Sicily and the Amalfi coast are famous for their Lemoncello. In the north, Turin, Venice, Milano, there are many different types of grappa on offer, particularly in winter, these can also be put in your coffee to warm the cockles of your soul when there is snow outside.

Once the meal is over, In summer, it is time to do another passeggiata perhaps to find a buon gelato (icecream). In all the large cities, the streets are still pulsating at midnight. The summer is too exciting and hot to be wasted on sleep, so do not attempt to go to bed early as the beeping and the shouting below your windows, will only wake you up. There is nothing worse than trying to sleep on a hot steamy night when everyone else is outside having fun. Especially do not try to sleep in Napoli on New Year's Eve, the firecrackers, the rockets and the car beeping go all night!!

How to Communicate in Italy

The Italian way of communicating is very direct. They are much more open and demonstrative than our English, Australian or American ways. They are not afraid to call a spade, a spade. They look you straight in the eye and challenge you up front and ask you questions that the English would never dare to ask. They seem to be so much more at ease in their bodies, comfortable in their skins, their flair for fashion, a style that comes naturally. If you see two Italians shouting in the street at each other, this does not necessarily mean that they are angry, it means that they are having an animated discussion.

Greeting Italians

The use of Tu/Lei and Introductions 

When one first is introduced to a person, one always uses the formal lei, until the Italian says to you diamoci del tu, which means, that you are now on informal terms but the standard code is to wait until they say it, unless you really know the social codes of Italy.

The degree of intimacy also determines the form of greeting one uses on greeting. On introduction, in formal and informal situations one says Piacere, pleased to meet you, and in only strictly informal situations, with young people for example, would one use ciao. On subsequent meeting, you use, good morning, good afternoon, good evening to say hello, and arriverderci/arriverderla (the latter is more polite) to say goodbye. Only if you are on informal terms do you say ciao of which salve is a more formal version.

If you are under 40 years of age (and thus still a ragazzo) you must use the lei form with older people even though they use the tu form with you. Italians tend to greet strangers far more than Anglo-saxons do, e.g. people passed in the palazzo/apartment building or lifts etc.

Physical Greetings

For social occasions, it is normal to shake hands with people whom you do not know well, particularly for men and mixed couples. Women usually kiss, as from the farewell of their first meeting. On subsequent meetings, if they are more than acquaintances by now, they will usually kiss you hello and goodbye.

In central and Southern Italy, it is normal for men to kiss each other as much as they do women. This is often more a ritual than a display of genuine affection. However the degree of warmth of greeting is also subject to the occasion especially if you have not seen them for a long time. For Business appointments please keep your kisses to yourself.

Social Appointments

The terms in Italian ci vediamo/ci sentiamo, let's see/speak to each other soon, really means a casual 'see you around' so do not take it literally even if they say stasera, domain/this evening, tomorrow, it could mean to the Italian a couple of days. If you wish to make sure it is going to happen, you need to confirm it by a telephone call and even then do not get outraged if they stand you up or are outrageously late as in Italy, this is not a reason to get annoyed. They please themselves and as they say When in Rome...

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