Six tips for Italian business etiquette

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Food and business go hand in hand in Italy, according to Italian etiquette expert Alberto Presutti. Photo: psd/Flickr
17:15 CET+01:00
If you're used to starting meetings on time and following protocol to the letter then chances are you're not familiar with the Italian way of doing business, according to Italian business etiquette expert Alberto Presutti. Here he offers The Local some insider tips.

Congratulations, you’ve just been offered the role of your dreams in an Italian company.

Now for the hard part: adjusting to a new form of business etiquette.

To help you along the way, we spoke to Alberto Presutti, a Florence-based Italian etiquette expert who offers courses on anything etiquette-related from doing business to dining.

Throughout his career Presutti – who is also a poet – has made numerous television appearances on RAI and Sky and is often interviewed by the Italian press.

Ever since the Italian writer Monsignor Giovanni Della Casa published his treatise on polite behavior in the 16th century, etiquette has become an important part of Italian society.

Centuries later, Presutti is convinced that etiquette still holds the key to "an effective communication between each one of us".

Here are his six tips for Italian business etiquette:

1. Punctuality. While Presutti accepts that being on time is one of the first rules of global business etiquette he admits that Italy has fallen victim to a “slapdash attitude” towards punctuality, even among professionals. “Meetings begin punctually late: they start late and they finish late,” he says.

2. Watch your language. In Italy it’s very important to use the right language with your superiors, warns Presutti. Above all, you should remember the difference between the polite you (“Lei”) and the informal “Tu”. “There are very precise rules, according to hierarchical relationships, and in business etiquette, the rule of ‘Lei’ applies.” However, he acknowledges that there are moments and situations in business when these rules are relaxed.

3. Kiss or handshake? You may be used to greeting your Italian chums with a traditional peck on both cheeks but in the workplace this kind of behaviour should be strictly avoided. “In terms of business etiquette at a place of work, mawkishness, hugs and kisses are anything but acceptable,” warns Presutti. Business etiquette provides a code of behaviour that recalls the correct rules of an honest and genuine professional relationship." A good old-fashioned handshake will do just fine, he says. 

4. It's all about the food. It will probably come as no surprise that food and business go hand in hand in Italy. “Often in Italy the most important business is concluded at table over a glass of wine or good food,” says Presutti. “Dining with a client or a supplier is the best way to make their acquaintance and strike up a fruitful and useful business relationship.”

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5. Be spontaneous. While in England, formality and following protocol are paramount, in Italy business meetings are more spontaneous and emotions tend to come to the fore, according to Presutti. “In Italian business meetings, space is also given to improvisation and to ideas that are formed on the spot.”

6. Dress to impress. “L’abito non farebbe il monaco” (The habit doesn’t make the priest), according to an Italian proverb – but this is incorrect, according to Presutti. “Because whoever is equipped with a good knowledge of manners and business etiquette knows that elegance and style are fundamental elements." 

To find out more about Alberto Presutti's etiquette courses you can visit his personal website here.

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