Italy-flag-140Italian business culture

Did you know about business culture in Italy? Watch this video animation to find out some interesting facts:

Business Culture in Italy is characterised by: business communication, business etiquette, business meeting etiquette, internship and student placements, cost of living, work-life-balance and social media guide in Italy.

Learn about Italy:

Italy is a peninsula covering 301,401 km2, and surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea. The population is about 59.5 million in 2022, which is the same as the decade previous, according to Report ISTAT Census 2011. The climate is mainly Mediterranean: in the north of the country winters are cold and summers are warm. In Central Regions the climate is milder and in the South and in the islands winters are never particularly harsh, and Spring and Autumn temperatures are approximately equal to those reached in the summer in other areas of Italy. Italy is in the time zone of UTC+1, but during the period from March to October the clock changes  to UTC+2.

Over the past 3,000 years Italy has seen many migrations and invasions and has been influenced by many civilisations including the Etruscans, the Greeks and the Romans. After the fall of the Roman Empire in AD 476, for many years, Italy remained fragmented into a large number of city-states. In the Early Modern period, it was annexed to the Spanish Kingdom, the Austrians and also to Napoleon’s empire. During the restoration period (1815–1835), there were popular uprisings throughout the peninsula. At the end of this period, the Italian Wars of Independence began. All this led to the unification of Italy under Victor Emmanuel II in 1861 and this status quo continued until 1946 through 20 years of Fascist Dictatorship until the end of the Second World War, when the Italians opted for a republican constitution.

Italy jointly with Germany, France, Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg founded the European Economic Community. The Italian Peninsula is divided into 20 Regions; each divided into Provinces which in turn are divided into Municipalities.

Italy is a Democratic Republic based on a system of civil law. The Chief of State (“Presidente della Repubblica”) represents national unity and has an important role in the political arena as a mediator and guarantor. The Prime Minister (“Primo Ministro”) is the head of the government, being president of the Council of the Ministers (“Consiglio dei Ministri”). Italy has a bicameral Parliament (“Parlamento”) consisting of the Senate (“Senato della Repubblica”) and the Chamber of Deputies (“Camera dei Deputati”).

Italy has a diversified industrial economy: the Northern regions are the industrial “engines” for the Italian economy. The main sectors are: food, textiles, machinery, iron and steel, clothing, footwear and ceramics. The Southern Regions, on the contrary, are much less prosperous and there is a clear economic gap between north and south, where the economy is based on small enterprises mainly agricultural and manufacturing, and the tourism sector (the south of Italy is incredibly beautiful). There is high unemployment, especially among women and young people.

The main exports of the south are engineering products, food, especially olive oil, wine, beverages, textiles and clothing, production machinery, motor vehicles, transport equipment, chemicals; minerals and nonferrous metals.

General information about geographical, historical and political facts on: 

Economical and statistical data on:

Xenophobia: being a foreigner in Italy

Italians are very pleasant with foreigners, probably because Italy is a favourite place for tourists who are often captivated by the country’s history, natural beauty and culture.
For a long time, Italy was a country of emigrants, especially during the last century, when millions of Italians moved to other European countries (mostly Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, UK), Latin America, the United States and Australia. Recently, however, Italian society has been facing racial issues precipitated by the growth of large immigrant communities, some illegal, from nearby areas in the Balkans (Albania, etc.) and north African countries as well as from Oriental countries (Chinese, Indian, Philippine communities are growing in many large Italian cities).

Generally, there are no major prejudices even if subtle forms of racism can be perceived and the role and rights of immigrants in Italian society (i.e. the right to vote for non-residents, annual limitation of migratory flows, etc.) are currently the subject of an extensive political debate.

International business in Italy

Cross cultural awareness should improve the potential of having business relations in Italy.
Before starting doing business in Italy, it could be very important to look at the way in which meetings are conducted and Italian negotiation styles.

General education

Education is compulsory for 10 years in the first cycle (primary and lower secondary education) and the first two years of the second cycle (from 6 to 16 years of age). Therefore, the last two years from 14 to 16 years of age, can be completed either in upper secondary schools or within the three-year vocational education and training courses (falling under the competence of the Regions).
Universities are  divided into different faculties and provide a degree (“Laurea”).
The former system provided a university degree after four or five years, eventually followed by a PhD. A new regulation (1999) has introduced three levels of university degrees: a basic three year degree; a specialist two year degree; and a PhD degree.
Higher education is completed by a large number of private and public postgraduate courses, generically called “Master”. The actual level of qualification and the official ministerial backing of such supplementary courses have yet to be assessed specifically.
The number of people taking advanced secondary school and University courses is slightly below the OECD average but is constantly increasing.
Education still varies with age and sex, although this gap is being reduced.
IT and foreign language competencies are generally lacking among the older generations but this situation is improving with the younger generations as IT and foreign language courses have been compulsorily introduced at all levels, starting with primary schools.
Young people are more interested in travelling abroad and are very interested in European exchanges. Many Italian students join mobility projects within EU countries, often to complete their academic studies or to carry out research projects in other European Universities.
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Educational standards

Over the last twenty years the education system in Italy has seen a series of transformations. A recent education reform has been implemented from the 1st of September 2010 regarding the organisation of the High Schools (two categories: Licei and Technical and Professional Institutes) and the University system (the presence of an ethics code, amendments to academic professors and researchers evaluation methodologies and recruitment procedures, reduction of disciplines, etc).

In September 2009, the Minister of Work, Health and Social Policies jointly with the Minister of Education, Universities and Research, presented project “Italy 2020”: a plan of action to support youth employment by integrating learning and working”. The actions are tailored towards re-launching technical-vocational education, to enhance apprentice contracts and focus on the need to reform the university offer, by reducing mismatches between demand and offers of work.

Other issues

Smoking etiquette. In Italy, smoking in restaurants, bars, offices, factories and  any public place without special non-smoking areas, is illegal. The law is applied quite extensively in public places and in most offices.

Mobile etiquette. Mobile phones are widely used by Italians of all ages, cultures and social status to communicate and socialise. Generally, “mobile etiquette” is based on concepts of courtesy and respect, but it is not unusual, in public conferences or during business meetings, to hear mobiles ringing. In fact, the use of mobile phones can be rather intrusive in Italy:  conversations can be loud even in public places (restaurants, public transport, etc. and incoming mobile calls can be given precedence over a face-to-face conversation.

Religion. Italians are mostly raised as Roman Catholics even if the influence of the Church is decreasing and large sectors of society are open to civil rights issues (e.g. divorce and abortion were made legal in the 1970s opposing Catholic principles; artificial insemination and unconventional families are current issues).

Women. The presence of women in technical and business positions is increasing, although it is still relatively unusual to find them in the highest position of an organisation.

Only 38% of Italian women under 65 are in the labour market – one of the lowest percentages in Western Europe. Nonetheless, the Italians are generally not inhibited when working together with the opposite sex and foreign women can do business in Italy without great difficulty.

Sense of humour. Italians are generally not easily offended  and you can criticize them and joke with them  indeed, your sense of humour may well be appreciated by Italians.

Regionalism. Italian regions should be grouped into three “macro-regions”,  usually indicated by: the South, the Centre and the North of the Country. This distinction reflects a series of linguistic, geographic, and socio-economic regional differences.

There are many tradition-related differences that  exist between Northern and Southern regions. Some of them make Northern people appear  more reserved and Southern people more open and relationship oriented.

From a linguistic point of view, Italy has a large number of dialects and linguistic inflections that characterise all regions, towns, and even small villages.

Gestures. Sign language is rich in  “expressions”. Two of the most popular signs you may  see are:

  • grouping all fingers’ tips together against the thumb and waving the hand back and forth is to say “what do you want?” or “what is it?”.
  • pointing the index and little fingers downwards to shape two “horns” is a sign to protect against bad luck, whereas the “horns” pointed upwards are a sign of offence.

Cultural taboos

While it is difficult to pinpoint a specific “taboo”, it should be considered that a number of topics are sensitive, e.g. politics, the mafia, private family issues, private income.

Also, Italians are usually uncomfortable if their acquaintances start telling graphic jokes.

Finally, even when your host is being explicitly negative about some aspects of the Italian situation, avoid expressing additional criticism of your own. On the contrary, movies, sport, arts, travel, fashion etc. can be good topics for discussion.

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