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Business culture

The Fundamental Principles of Business Culture
Italian business culture is very relationship oriented: Italians are known for their sense of family and this approach has been taken into the business realm. The ability to communicate, using the right language and the right gestures, is very important.

Italian companies tend to have a pyramidal hierarchy. The decision-making process is generally centralised, with the persons positioned in the upper levels of the pyramid making the final decisions. Smaller businesses and start-ups may also opt for a flat hierarchy. In family-owned companies – even those of larger size – the decision-making power is concentrated in the hands of the family members. Power and age are respected.

In general, it is important to develop a personal relationship in order to establish a lasting and successful business relationship. Though always interested mainly in your product, service or project, in Italy personal relations can play a big role. As a result, always adhere to your verbal agreements: failing to follow through on a commitment may destroy a business relationship.

First Contact
Usually the first contact with an Italian business partner should be formal, either by e-mail, a phone call or a fax or letter. In any case, it can be very useful to be introduced by somebody who knows you already, as Italians often prefer to do business with people they know and trust. After the first contact, Italians generally like to do business on a face-to-face basis rather than by phone, fax or e-mail.
Time Management
Italians are very lax about time-keeping. However, you should not keep people waiting, as this could be considered to be a lack of respect and as laziness, especially in a phase in which you have not yet earned the full trust of your partner. This is especially true in the northern part of the country, while in the southern part the attitude towards time and punctuality is more relaxed. In any case, being on time is considered a sign of professionalism.
Appointments are mandatory and should be made in writing in Italian 2 to 3 weeks in advance. It can be useful to reconfirm the meeting by telephone or fax a few days before the set date. Avoid organising meetings in August and during Catholic festivities. Meeting schedules are not really strict: although written agendas are frequently provided, they may not be followed, as they serve as a jumping-off point for further discussions.
Greetings and Titles
When you meet people, always shake hands firmly. When you have met several times and have established closer relations, do not be surprised if people embrace you when you meet, as it means that your relationship has become more personal. When it comes to addressing business partners or professionals, a certain formality is still common and appreciated. The use of professional titles is required, especially in writing. Initially, you should address people by their title and last name and wait to be explicitly invited to use other forms (first name or last name coupled with the Italian “tu”). However, depending on the company culture and personal attitudes, the switch to the colloquial forms of address can be adopted quite rapidly.
Gift Policy
In Italian business culture, gift giving is not particularly common. After a personal relationship has been established, it may be more appropriate to give small gifts. In any case, it is better not give a business gift until you receive one first. The choice of gift usually includes liquors, delicacies or crafts from the visitors’ country.
Dress Code
First impressions are really important in Italy so it is advisable to pay attention to the dress code, as it may represent your lifestyle, your status and your skills. Generally, men should wear dark coloured, conservative business suits, while women should wear either business suits or conservative dresses.  Elegant accessories are equally important for men and women. Nevertheless, more and more companies are adopting a smart-casual dress code.
Business Cards
There is no specific protocol for the exchange of business cards, though usually they are exchanged at the beginning of the meeting. Looking closely at the other party’s business card before putting it in your card holder is seen as a sign of respect. It is advisable to have your card translated into Italian. Business cards should always include your title as well as your graduate degree (if any).
Meetings Management
Meetings in Italy often start with a talk on a light subject – such as sports, travel conditions, etc. - before getting to business matters, in order to create a comfortable environment. Initial meetings are usually meant to develop a sense of respect and trust with your Italian business partners and colleagues. When the actual meeting starts, discussions can be very lively.

It is always preferable to back up your points with the appropriate data or documents (like statistics, legislation, etc.). Italians often do not hold back and it is common for them to express disagreement and display constructive conflict during meetings and negotiations. Negotiations are often lengthy (both because Italians tend to carefully evaluate advantages and risks, and because of the hierarchical decision-making process of Italian companies), so using high-pressure sales tactics is not recommended.

Communication may differ according to who you are dealing with and the type of relationship you have with your counterparts. However it can be said that Italians may appreciate the use of humour, as it facilitates openness in business and personal relations. It is common to be interrupted while speaking or for several people to speak at once. People often raise their voice to be heard over other speakers, however it is better not to use expressions that are too direct and not to raise your voice too much, although silence is also not appreciated. During negotiations, Italians give importance to verbal commitments and the final contract is certainly based on previous informal agreements. After a meeting, it is good practice to prepare minutes of the meeting with the conclusions and send them to your Italian partner for confirmation and mutual approval.

Being invited to a business lunch or dinner often indicates that the business relation has reached a higher grade of familiarity. Suppers can be very long (up to 3 hours). Follow the lead of the host – he/she sits at the table first, starts eating first, and is the first to get up at the end of the meal. The host gives the first toast. Drinking a small amount of wine is also common. According to Italian etiquette, the host always pays the bill. Though the person invited may offer to pay the bill, the host will usually decline.

Sources for Further Information
Commisceo
World Business Culture
BusinessCulture.org
 
 

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Opening Hours

Opening Hours and Days
Saturday and Sunday closed, or only Sunday and Monday morning for trade.
 

Public Holidays

New Year's Day 1 January
Epiphany 6 January
Easter Sunday and Monday First Sunday after the first full moon of spring
Liberation Day (National Holiday) 25 April
Workers' Day 1 May
Funding of the Republic 2 June
Assumption 15 August
All Saints 1 November
Immaculate Conception 8 December
Christmas and St. Stephen's Day 25 and 26 December
Summer Holidays Second and third week of August
 
Holiday Compensation
When a public holiday falls on a Sunday, some shops are closed the Monday after.
 
For Further Information
See the list of public holidays in Italy

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Latest Update: November 2022