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Doing business with Italians

I’m half Italian, half German and I grew up in Germany. I thought I understood both sides of my heritage, but I didn’t really discover how different these two cultures could be until my work as a sales manager took me to Italy. In fact, it took me a year of working in Italy, building a sales department for a German energy supplier, before I began to fully appreciate how to do business in Italy. As a guest author for Target Training, I want to share some of the lessons I learnt.

What the Italians love and admire

Italians love their language, their country, good life, good food, beauty and fashion. They admire order and punctuality but rarely act in this way. The more south you go the more this is true. (In fact Italians refer to two Italys: the one north and the one south of Rome. Rome itself being part of the southern half). Do not be surprised if your Italian business partner arrives half an hour late to a meeting. He may excuse himself but probably will not. It is also fairly normal to answer the (mobile) phone in the middle of a meeting.

How they work

Business is largely based on personal relationships. A task may take a month or more when carried out for an unknown client. The same task might be completed in two days if a favoured client asks for the same thing. This results in an environment of reciprocal obligations.

The worst thing that can happen to an Italian is: fare una brutta figura (making a bad figure, that is giving a bad impression). It is important not to lay blame on any person in public, e. g. in a meeting unless you really want to “punish” that person. If you want to lay blame, you may be better off doing so in a one to one talk.

Time for meetings = time for foodmedium

Business meetings will probably take place shortly before, after, or even during meal times. Italians prefer to make contracts between people, not between companies. Eating together is one of the best ways of connecting to other people. Building trustworthy relationships is crucial to Italians. You probably will not get down to business until you’ve been out to eat with the decision makers a couple of times. Dinner tends to be the most important meal of the day.

Do you want to be a guest author on our blog?

For our Intercultural series, Andy Fluck has written a post about doing business with Italians. We hope you find it as interesting as we do. If you want to contribute as a guest author, we’re always looking for more cultural insights. If you have spent a lot of time doing business with another culture, or if you have other cultural business experiences you want to share: send us an email

Are you looking for cultural insights?

Read the other articles in our Intercultural series:

The language

If you are interested in doing long-term business with Italians, you should learn Italian. The efforts you put in to learning the language will pay off in your business relationships. Many Italians speak good English, but they do not like it. If they have the choice between an Italian and an English speaking business partner, they are prone to choose the Italian speaking one.

About the author af

Andy Fluck, Handwerk des Verkaufens

Kompetenz – Methode – Persönlichkeit

Ich fülle die Auftragsbücher meiner Kunden, in dem ich Sie in Ihrer Kommunikation in Verkauf, Führung und in Ihrer Persönlichkeitsentwicklung unterstütze. Sprechen Sie mich gerne an.



3 replies
  1. Will
    Will says:

    Go with the flow, right. Thanks Andy and Jennie for the interesting discussion. For me, Italians are masters of diplomacy. This opinion is based on spending some time in Milan and Venice, where I noticed that in public, there is a great level of respect for others, echoed in polite comments and gestures on the street or in bars, for example. Also from business emails that my participants have shown me, I have noticed the extremely polite register of the messages.

    Of course, this could just be a show, but I still think it makes building rapport easier; to start with at least. Also, I can understand the point about doing business over food – some Italian friends of mine like nothing better that chatting over a ‘Spritz’ (a fruity cocktail commonly drunk around 6 p.m. and served with snacks). As the offices empty every early evening, the socializing begins in the bars. How very civilized. Cin cin & ciao!

  2. Jennie Wright
    Jennie Wright says:

    Your points are completely true! Great tips for people working with Italians.

    I would also say, with regard to the language, that they really appreciate someone trying to speak Italian. Some attempt is much appreciated – even if it’s only some Italian greetings before you switch to English.

    Also, don’t let the cultural differences annoy you, just go with the flow!

  3. Gerhard
    Gerhard says:

    Nice article! Always interesting and true that you have to know the region of a country where the person comes from.

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