Culture shock is a very real thing, regardless what we have access to through the internet, movies, etc. Coming to another country, no matter how much you think you know about the culture already, many things will most likely shock you. While there are certainly more, we’ve compiled some of the most particular aspects or practices in Italian culture that seem to shock others the most.
La bella vita
It’s true, Italians are very focused on enjoying life! While this seems so magnificent and easy to adjust to, many cultures will tattoo the need for productivity on your brain from a young age. So, living the Italian lifestyle as a foreigner can actually be quite challenging at times. Don’t get me wrong, Italians are productive people, they go to work each day on a normal schedule. But, the value overall is on your time outside of work. This is the true essence of working to live, not living to work. Lunch is from 1pm–2pm, sometimes more, coffee breaks are essential, and dinner starts around 8 or 9pm after an aperitivo. Don’t expect anyone to rush you out of a restaurant either. You need to request the bill; they will not automatically bring it to you. It’s truly the epitome of enjoy each day, at each part of the day.
This is related to the previously mentioned cultural difference. Italians are never in a rush. They take their time and understand that many procedures also take time and they are not fighting it. Queues in Italy usually look like a mass of people just kind of, waiting around. It isn’t very strict and usually people are fairly patiently waiting. This applies to anything from the post office to a beer at a local bar. Just don’t rush around. You’ll get up there eventually. Enjoy la bella vita.
Casual conversation on the streets of Italy can sometimes be confused for an argument. In general, Italians speak very loud and talk with their hands very much. They tend to talk over one another and don’t wait for the first person to be finished speaking to start to put their two-sense in. This, however, does not constitute an argument. More often than not, you’re just hearing a conversation among customer and customer service personnel, strangers, or friends. If you’re shy, this kind of atmosphere will force you to come out of your shell for sure! You’ll have to if you expect to get a word in.
There’s an internal elegance in the way most Italians dress. Their clothes always seem to fit perfectly and they believe in a middle level of dressing style. They don’t opt for tuxedos or extra fancy clothes but being appropriately dressed is a very important thing for them. They will judge others by the way they present themselves, clothing being a huge part of that. Certain summer clothing is only for the beach and gym clothing is for the gym. They do not lounge around the cities in yoga pants, or jogging wear. In the hot summer months, it’s a very hard adjustment. Italians will continue to wear jeans and even jackets at night, regardless of the scorching temperatures. If you want to befriend some Italians, you should take care of the way you dress and look. It’s a very important part of the culture.
Things like blowing your nose in many countries is considered very rude. Here in Italy, not doing so could be considered rude so it is quite the opposite. Carry tissues with you and don’t be afraid to just do it in public. The only strange looks you may get is from other tourists. Additionally, a particularity of the Italian language can cause great confusion if you’re trying to learn. In English, we refer to the boss, the next door neighbor’s toddler, the local bartender, and the best friend as “you” when addressing them directly. In Italian, similar to Spanish, there is an informal and formal version of addressing respective groups. When learning the language, be very aware of this to avoid offending anyone. The customer service representatives, doctors, authority figures, strangers, business colleagues, etc use the form “lei,” conjugating verbs in the third person, singular, as opposed to the informal version “tu,” meaning “you.” While the culture is becoming less and less formal, it is safest to always use lei unless talking to a very close person or being told to do so.
Kisses and hugs
Greetings in Italy are very warm. Usually among friends, regardless of gender, there are long hugs accompanied by a kiss on each cheek. With more so acquaintances, it may a cheek to cheek hold for a second with a kiss sound rather than actual lip to skin contact. However, this can be a strange adjustment for other more reserved cultures. Even bosses and subordinates will have this kiss and hug greeting, something otherwise unimaginable in other parts of the world. Couples are also not worries about public displays of affection. At any given moment you may see lovers locking lips on the street.
The presence of family in Italian culture is such a beautiful part of these differences. Family is typically thought of as the extended family, including uncles, aunts, cousins, etc, as opposed to the more common idea of the immediate family being solely parents and children. Italians are raised to stay close to family, never losing the closeness, regardless of age or additional people entering their lives. As a group, they typically meet often to share meals and many times all the extended family is invited to events as small as a child’s school function.
About 80% of the Italian population is Roman Catholic which isn’t surprising considering the Pope resides in the heart of the country’s capital city. Vatican City is even technically its own entity apart from Rome. While many Muslim immigrants have become members of the Italian community, the 80% Roman Catholic is still holding up. A combination of Muslims, Atheists, and Agnostic practicing peoples make up the additional 20%.