Expats moving to Italy may experience culture shock. Settling into a new country is often challenging, particularly when cultural differences are compounded with the difficulty of learning another language like Italian. Even seemingly simple transactions such as finding a house, doctor, dentist, school and bank can seem daunting and add to a new arrival’s sense of culture shock in Italy.
Meeting and greeting in Italy
Italians are more formal in addressing new acquaintances and colleagues than some expats might be used to. Someone using an informal greeting like “ciao” to someone they have just met will often be interpreted as rudeness rather than friendliness. When being introduced to an Italian, a person would say “buongiorno” (good day) and shake hands. Ciao is reserved for use among friends. Once acquainted, kisses on the cheek are often exchanged in greetings and when saying goodbye.
Titles are used when addressing people, particularly of an older generation. In the case of professionals, a director would be referred to as "direttore", a doctor is "dottore" while an architect would be called "architetto", and so on. When addressing someone without knowing their title, a man can be referred to as "signore" and a woman as "signora".
Dress in Italy
One thinks of fashion and one thinks of Italy, and this connotation exists for good reason. Italy is home to several leading fashion houses. High fashion and professional dress are common in workplace settings. A person’s general body language speaks to style too, so expats should carry themselves with confidence and walk the walk. This is important amongst both men and women.
Religion in Italy
Most of the population of Italy is Roman Catholic and Christian, although the number of Italians who practice their religion is lowering. Still, religion plays a major role in culture, business and the way people live. Italy is a secular country. However, with its many churches and the influence of the Vatican City, a separate country located within Rome, religion is undeniably significant in Italy.
Bureaucracy in Italy
While expats often complain about the bureaucratic inefficiency they encounter in the country, Italy has a strong bureaucratic tradition. Italians are aware of the problem and public office is often associated with inefficiency, but the paperwork is largely seen as a necessary, if unpleasant, part of life. Expats should expect paperwork and bureaucratic procedures to take some time.
Time in Italy
Coupled with bureaucracy is Italian time: there is no rush. Italian time makes allowances for siestas, called riposo locally, means that banks are often only open in the mornings and shops are closed between 1pm and 3.30pm. During this time, many families take a nap and should not be disturbed by telephone calls.
Food in Italy
Food is indeed the way to the heart in Italy and this does go further than pizza and pasta. Soup, bread, meat and fish are also commonly eaten. Food is a way of creating a warm, welcoming environment, to maintain family relations and friendships and to establish new relationships too. Expats are unlikely to enter an Italian home without being offered something to eat or drink.
Language in Italy
Italian is the official language of the country and is spoken by most of the country’s population. Italian is one of the most similar languages to Latin in terms of its vocabulary. However, dialects can differ vastly between regions.
There are many language schools throughout the country which provide memorable and useful insights into Italian culture. Alternatively, expats can enjoy private lessons with a hired tutor in the comfort of their own home or hotel.
► For insight into good and bad aspects of culture and daily life, check out our Pros and Cons of Moving to Italy page.
"The Italian culture overall is very difficult for any American to adjust to – it’s almost like going back in time 50 years." Read what Jessica has to say about culture shock in Italy in her expat interview.
"Italy has a reputation for a relaxed attitude to work and for coming to a standstill at lunch time." Read Sarah's experiences of adjusting to culture in Italy.
Are you an expat living in Italy?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Italy. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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