Italian habits For Members

EXPLAINED: How late is it usual to be in Italy?

The Local Italy
The Local Italy - [email protected]
EXPLAINED: How late is it usual to be in Italy?
Being 15, 20 or, in some cases, even 30 minutes late is generally seen as acceptable behaviour in Italy. Photo by Andrea Natali on Unsplash

You've probably heard that Italians are habitually late and so you'll need to adjust your own arrival times accordingly. But is this always true - and how late are we talking?


There are plenty of unfair stereotypes about Italians, but when it comes to being chronically late for pretty much any type of social occasion, what you've heard is probably accurate.

Most Italians do have a peculiar notion of punctuality and being 15, 20 or even 30 minutes late for a social situation is generally seen as perfectly acceptable – much to the dismay of people from countries where lateness is viewed as rude or inconsiderate.


We might never know why so many Italians’ internal clocks are apparently running behind – the consensus seems to be that it’s a reflection of the relaxed Italian lifestyle – but this lateness is so ingrained in Italian culture that it's seen as normal and, as such, most will steer clear of giving precise meet-up times. 

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For instance, an Italian friend might ask you to meet them sulle 8 (around 8pm). Don't take this to mean you're meeting on the hour precisely - an Italian would be unlikely to ask you to meet them at 8pm.

Similarly, they'll avoid expressions like tra un’ora (in an hour) or tra mezz’ora (in half an hour) in favour of the more flexible tra un’oretta (in about an hour) or tra mezz’oretta (in about half an hour).

But knowing these phrases won't leave you any clearer about the actual time of your meeting. So how should you handle the situation?

There's no universal solution, but The Local's writers find that the most effective way to avoid a long wait is to always turn up 15 to 20 minutes after the agreed meeting time yourself.

Granted, you might still face ten or 15 minutes alone, but this will at the very least cut the waiting time by half.

It's worth stressing that this unwritten rule only applies to social occasions and not to formal meetings - which Italians, like anyone else, will at least try to arrive punctually for.

As such, you should always aim to be on time for any formal meeting you might have in Italy. That goes for work meetings as well as appointments with a doctor, lawyer, accountant and so on (even if it's not unusual to find yourself waiting long after your agreed appointment time.)

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Lastly, no matter how frustrating you might find Italians’ tardiness, you might not want to tell them so.

As being late for social occasions is a defining feature of Italian culture, and is seen as the norm rather than as an anomaly, many people in the country won’t even think it necessary to apologise - and won’t appreciate any negative observations about their timekeeping.

In Italy, the only real way to avoid excessive waiting around is to adapt to 'Italian time' yourself. Pazienza.

Do you agree or disagree with this advice? Do you have any more tips on Italian-style timekeeping? Please let us know in the comments section below.


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smithisabel 2023/02/23 05:48
I’ve lived in Milan for 10 years now and the Milanese are generally ontime for everything!

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