Business With Italy: Cultural Issues and Challenges

Subject: Corporate Governance
Pages: 6
Words: 1682
Reading time:
7 min
Study level: PhD


Culture can be defined as the collective systems of beliefs, attitudes, knowledge experience, way of religion and behavior. Culture can also be defined as the way a members of a group of people live with each other in their environment. It entails norms, beliefs, and taboos of a given community. It can be experienced and practiced regionally, a generation, a community or country. It is known the world over that cultural practice varies from one region to the next. These cultural practices affect every part of life including business in various parts of the world. This paper takes a closer look at the concepts, theories and other business etiquettes while carrying out business transactions with Italy.


Doing business in and with Italy requires one to have absolutely good etiquette just like doing business with other people or other countries. First, one should know and if possible master the Italian culture, the way they carry themselves while conducting business operations and their modus operandi (Baranski & West, 2001). Italy is a very self centered nation that accords more value to the family setting and personal accountability. It is known that Italians would rather carry out business activities with countries and people they already know and trust than with strangers. They also prefer doing business with individuals they have been informed of and have a clear knowledge of who the people actually are. If someone wants to do any business transactions with Italians one has to go through a protocol. First, an introduction is done by the interested business person through the network or using the available contacts. The next step is to organize a meeting with the Italian business persons, after being known properly and being accepted. The meeting is requested by writing a letter. To get the feedback it is orderly to make a follow up by either sending an e-mail, an official fax or through a phone call. After a meeting has been arranged, it is important to pay a lot of attention to your dressing code (Baranski & West, 2001).

Italians are known to dress very well, so they expect one to dress smartly and impressively just like they do. Clothing should be of top style and of high taste. For the man it is recommended to wear luxurious and classy tailor-made dark suits. This should be well accessorized with expensive tie clips, cuff links and a trendy designer watch. This is known in Italy to have an aura of wealth and business minded person. It also shows seriousness and commitment in one’s undertakings. As usual in any business negotiation no one wants to deal with non-committed individuals or people who do not show any sign of responsibility. Women on the other hand should opt for uncomplicated and well designed attires. This too should be well accessorized. Italians have a fashion statement called Bella Figura for women (Kenna & Lacy, 1995). This is considered a major feature in their business. They believe that Belle Figura promotes an atmosphere of tranquility and magnificence in the world. Just like in any other official involvement, whatever one wears speaks volumes about an individual and determines a wrong impression.

In addition, one should have well organized and well structured business presentations and business materials that should be agreeable with the Italian business associates. It is also of great importance to have courtesy and be well behaved while dealing with Italians. They believe in total respect, good manners and politeness. With reference to Hall and Hall’s high and low dimension cultural theory, it is good to choose the words that one uses as words can have different meanings in different environments and in various situations thus words can be differently interpreted. It is good to choose words with utmost care when speaking. It is also good to show or bring out their correct and exact meanings. One should also consider time factor as this is an important issue while doing cross cultural business.

Some countries or cultures consider time as money and do not believe in wasting a single minute. In other places time is really not a factor, thus people lead a slow paced life where there is no hurry. Things are done one step at a time and life is lived one day at a time (Moran, Harris & Moran, 2007). In Italy time is a great factor in business. It is appropriate to be considerate too and shake hands on arrival and while leaving the Italian business associates. With the passage of time, the relationship gets stronger and one can hug his business associate as this shows a degree of closeness. In some cultures, invading one’s space is usually not a good thing to do. In the same way, giving individual space is relevant while discussing business matters in Italy. This is because they are used to using big hand motions, free feelings and close personal contacts in their discussions.

On the other hand one should not move far or act like he is leaving or even standing far as this creates an unfriendly attitude. It is noted that Italians are a bit more emotional and they try to base their business agreements on the foundations of faith and belief as they consider this a success to their dealings. While starting any spoken or printed conversation, one is advised to use personal or specialized names unless otherwise asked to do so. During the discussions it is good to feel free and not be in a hurry or show any signs of discomfort as this is not very welcome by Italians as it shows a state of weakness. Alternatively to appear friendly and show interest, one can start asking questions about their way of life, the food they eat, their agricultural products, their artistic culture, fashion and design and other things. One is advised to keep direct eye contact during the talking sessions as this portrays one as an honest and interested person. One should be sure to show special consideration to the important people attending the meeting because Italians normally have utmost respect for high dignitaries, and people with authority and age. One should also be ready for any changes as this is common especially when the business associates are trying to make careful and correct decisions.

Business deals might take a little while before being reached so patience is an important virtue. Lack of patience is offensive in the Italian way of life. To deal with this one can leave his proposal behind, then go through it and be sure of an answer from them. One should not put them on pressure as Italians do not like being pressurized. Their final business decisions are usually based on the impression they instill from the beginning but not on how concrete the business plan is (Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner, 2004).

According to Hofstede’s five dimensions of cross cultural trading, the first dimension is masculinity and femininity (Hofstede, 2004). This refers to the gender of the involved parties. Apparently Italians have no problems in doing business with either males or females as long as the business associates meet their business needs and act to their satisfaction. The second one is individualism and collectivism. This refers to looking at negotiations from a personal point of view and from a people’s point of view. In Italy, business negotiations are arrived at after both sides have been examined and there is a mutual understanding between the parties involved. It is also good to come up with methods of preventing unavoidable circumstances in business negotiations (Ahlstrom & Bruton, 2009). This circumstance may have risks that might affect the success of the negotiations. Risks might include factors such as financial insufficiency. At this point in time the negotiations should also consider the long term and short term objectives of their business; outline how the objectives are supposed to be achieved and stating the short term goals. This is a show of orderliness and a habit that is very common with Italian business men and women. They are usually goal oriented and always do their businesses expecting the best profit and highest success. Distance is also a factor to consider when doing business discussions. Italians generally do not mind doing business with people from foreign countries (Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner, 2004).

Besides the Hofstede’s dimensions, there are also the Trompenaar’s seven dimensions that also closely relate with the Italian form of business negotiations (Gelfand & Brett, 2004). While doing businesses there are worldwide or universal rules to be followed. The Italians incorporate this in their business dealings as they know they are doing business with people from different parts of the world. They also consider various situations that might arise. Italians are also emotionally driven and hence one needs to be very honest, faithful and trustworthy but at the same time it is good to remain neutral while talking about customs that one does not agree with. In such situations it is wise to focus on the business issues at hand. One should be specific in the negotiations unless it is necessary to deviate.

The business plan should show attainment plans and how to achieve the set objectives. In the Italian culture, the business plans should be time conscious and environmental friendly and should not cause harm to anybody or anything. This is because Italians love and preserve nature. Italian business negotiation is done between groups of people or just with individuals. Italians deal in different commodities either through exports or imports from different countries. For instance, they usually export wine, textile and art materials to the United States and other parts of the world. These are their major exports while on the other hand they import commodities like fuel, oil, coal and aluminum (Ahlstrom & Bruton, 2009).


Italians are known to be good business partners. They are well known for their expensive dressings and their extravagant way of life. It is important to understand their culture and way of life so as to be able to do business without causing any misunderstanding. This results in proper business undertakings.

Reference List

Ahlstrom, D. & Bruton, G., 2009. International Management: Strategy and culture in the emerging world. Thousand Oaks: Cengage Learning.

Baranski, Z., & West, R., 2001. The Cambridge companion to modern Italian culture. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Gelfand, M. & Brett, J., 2004. The handbook of negotiation and culture. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Hofstede, G., 2004. Cultures and organizations: Software of the Mind. New York: Mc-Graw Hill.

Kenna, P. & Lacy, S., 1995. Business Italy: a practical guide to understanding Italian. Rome: Passport Books.

Moran, R. Harris, P. & Moran, S., 2007. Managing global differences: Global leadership strategies for the 21st Century. 7th ed. Oxford: Elsevier Press.

Trompenaars, F. & Hampden-Turner, C., 2004. Managing people across cultures. London: Capstone Publishing.