When doing business in Italy having cross cultural skills should improve the potential of your business trip. In order to prepare yourself and also to ensure that your business proposal is well tailored to the target audience, leading to a successful meeting with your Italian counterpart, you should demonstrate and understand Italian culture and etiquette.
Courtesy is a quality that is very much appreciated in Italy, so ensure your conduct is always polished. There are specific etiquettes and protocols for individual social and business situations however, you should remember that Italian codes of behaviour are less important than consideration.
Corporate social responsibility
Environmental issues have rapidly taken centre stage over the last two decades and specific legislation has been developed, according to European and International Standards (ISO – EMAS).
In Italy, safeguarding and protecting the country’s natural heritage is very important. Restrictions are currently in place in 47% of the territory with an environmental protection system of:
- 20 national parks;
- 142 state natural reserves;
- 89 regional parks;
- 197 regional natural reserves;
- 106 other protected areas;
- 16 state marine reserves.
However, the importance of enforcing environmental legislation is not always fully supported by public opinion. A common example of a rather generalised abuse is the building of houses, etc., without the required permits.
Italian law has gradually included many principles of European law to protect consumers, securing them the right to form associations in this field. Product Safety is protected by law (L.281/98).
The activities that SMEs usually undertake under the umbrella of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) are focussed on employees and local communities. CSR and ethical values are not seen to be as important for small businesses as are other values, such as security, innovation and quality.
SME’s of Italy still don’t consider CSR and social values as being part of their strategic goals that could have a positive influence all aspects of their business.
Punctuality is not a priority for Italians. Be patient and be prepared for some delay when you start working with a new Italian partner. In particular, do not take a small delay as a sign of lack of respect.
As a general guideline, work plans are often not taken too strictly, so that some flexibility can be built into a deadline. Where a deadline must be firmly met, be sure to make it very clear to your Italian partner.
Italians tend to ”multitask”, since they like to do many things at once, shifting their priorities as new demands arise but being unruffled by interruptions. As a consequence, you might experience differing reaction times from your Italian contact as he/she is probably following several other projects at once.
In Italian business culture, gift giving is not particularly common; only after a tried and trusted familiar relationship has been established, might it appear natural to give a small and not obviously expensive gift as a sign of friendship.
A small gift may also be appropriate as a token of appreciation for Italian hospitality. In such a case, the choice of gift may include liquors, delicacies or crafts from the visitors’ country.
When invited for a family lunch or dinner (see Entertaining), small presents can be given in an informal way as typically such an invitation would indicate a high level of familiarity. Pastries, chocolates or flowers are appropriate on such occasions. Never give an even number of flowers (especially roses) and avoid chrysanthemums as they are used for funerals.
Business dress code
Dress and presentation plays an important role in Italian culture. Fashionable style is considered a sign of wealthy social status and success. Milan is one of the Wold’s four main centres of fashion and Italian design and craftsmanship is valued, respected and coveted the world over. Anything that is ‘made in Italy’ has a tremendous cachet and respect. Prada, Marni, Max Mara, Armani, Dolce and Gabbana. Missoni and Gucci are just some high fashion Italian brands.
In general, the characteristics of elegance are quality fabric dresses, such as lightweight wools and silk. Quite often, great attention is given to fashionable brand clothing and accessories.
Formal attire is generally expected for business meetings, for the most part dark colours for businessmen. Businesswomen tend to wear elegant and modest pant or skirt suits, accessorised with simple jewellery and makeup.
While a conservative style is always accepted, more informal clothing is also common, especially outside of large companies and financial circles., To be on the safe side it is recommended to adopt tasteful coordinated clothes and to refrain from “competing” on fashion details if you are not particularly interested in such things.
Keep in mind that Italy is a major centre of European fashion design and production. Even casual clothes are smart and chic.
Bribery and corruption
The OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions was signed by Italy on 21 November 1997. The Convention has been ratified and implemented through Act No. 300 of 29.9.2000 and entered into force in Italy on 26 October 2000.
The Act integrated the Criminal Code, introducing Article 322-bis which provides for the criminal responsibility of anyone who bribes or attempts to bribe a foreign public official receiving and/or procuring an undue benefit for himself or others.
However, Italians continue to perceive that political and business sectors are the most affected by corrupt practices and that Government efforts to combat corruption are largely ineffective.
The Global Coalition against Corruption Transparency International provides quantitative tools about levels of transparency and corruption in Italy.
For more information please see:
- COUNTRY BRIEF 2012 Report