Etiquette & Customs (in short)
The Italians have a formal attitude to practices and attitudes.
Try to learn as much Italian you can before you arrive, or at least so many simple words you can, like “Hello”: Salve (sAH-lveh) or Ciao (chow), “Thank you”: Grazie (GRAHT-tsyeh) and “Goodbye”: Arrivederci (ahr-ree-veh-DEHR-chee) or Ciao (chow).
This shows, that you are willing to learn their language. You can learn more here.
- The usual handshake with direct eye contact and a smile suffices between strangers
- Once a relationship develops, air-kissing on both cheeks, starting with the left is often added as well as a pat on the back between men
- Italians are guided by first impressions, so it is important that you demonstrate propriety and respect when greeting people, especially when meeting them for the first time
- Many Italians use calling cards in social situations. These are slightly larger than traditional business cards and include the person’s name, address, title or academic honours, and their telephone number
Gift Giving Etiquette:
- Do not give chrysanthemums as they are used at funerals
- Do not give red flowers as they indicate secrecy
- Do not give yellow flowers as they indicate jealousy
- If you bring wine, make sure it is a good vintage. Quality, rather than quantity, is important
- Do not wrap gifts in black, as is traditionally a mourning colour
- Do not wrap gifts in purple, as it is a symbol of bad luck
- If an invitation says the dress is informal, wear stylish clothes that are still rather formal, i.e. jacket and tie for men and an elegant dress for women
- Punctuality is not mandatory. You may arrive between 15 minutes late if invited to dinner and up to 30 minutes late if invited to a party
- If you are invited to a meal, bring a gift-wrapped present such as wine or chocolates
- If you are invited for dinner and want to send flowers, have them delivered that day
Should you leave a tip in restaurants or bars?
You can leave a tip, but you don’t have to.
As in many European countries, the bill includes a service charge. So make sure to check the bill itself; there is no need to leave any extra tip in addition to this amount. A service charge is not the same as a tip.
People sometimes give 5 to 10% of the bill as a tip or round up to an even number. It depends on how happy you were with the service.
Italy is generally a very peaceful country, but there can always happen thefts of mobile phones, cameras and other valuable things. Be aware of pickpockets around various sights – especially around cathedrals and other places where tourists gather.
Most travellers will not experience any issues or problems on their holiday in Italy. It can happen, but it can also be prevented by some simple precautions as:
- Do not “flash” cash or expensive items
- Visit only the cash machines during the day or early evening
- Do not leave expensive items visible in the car
Places you should avoid in Rome:
- Testaccio (Piramide Metro) – Use caution around the Metro, you do need to be careful after dark
- San Lorenzo – Use caution, you do need to be careful after dark
- Laurentino 38 – Avoid after dark, part of this area is not safe
Places you should avoid in Milan:
- Stazione centrale (central station) – Avoid after dark, it is not safe
- Piazza Duca D’Aosta – Avoid after dark, part of this area is not safe
- Parco Sempione – Avoid this park after dark, it is not safe
Places you should avoid in Naples:
- Quartieri Spagnoli – Avoid day and night, part of this area is not safe
- Piazza Garibaldi – Avoid after dark, part of this area is not safe
- Stazione centrale (central station) – Use caution, you do need to be careful after dark
Emergency numbers in Italy (free call)
In case of any emergency call:
- 112 – National emergency number
- 113 – Police
- 115 – Fire brigade
- 118 – Ambulance / First aid
The caller must:
- State the location where assistance is needed
- State their name and telephone number
- State what happened and if it is still happening
- State how many people need help
- State, if there are weapons involved