Doing Business, the Italian Way


Are you looking to expand your business to Italy? Or maybe you already have clients based in Italy but struggle to communicate with the language and culture barriers?

After receiving a few enquiries about my international business support and customer/supplier account management services I thought it would be a good idea to write a short blog about doing business in Italy.

Although I have lived in the UK for the past 20 years, I am originally from Sardinia, Italy. I moved here a young, culture-hungry 20-something wanting to improve my English and learn about the British culture. I loved it so much, I never left! And I still love everything about it here (except perhaps the weather!)

So how does doing business in Italy differ from the UK? Well, the answer is actually, ‘not much’. However, there are some subtle differences in both business and cultural etiquette and knowing them could mean the difference between a favourable outcome and a complete disaster.

Cultural Etiquette

Italians are very laid back and sociable. So, my number one tip for doing business with Italians is to relax and enjoy it! Very often the lines between business and social become blurred, so don’t worry too much about meetings starting on time, or the fact that there is no agenda. Food is of utmost importance to Italians, and 2-hour lunch meetings are the norm. Grab-and-go lunches and fast-food are just not an option, the outrage Romans felt when McDonalds opened its first restaurant there will tell you all you need to know about our passion for food!

This guide from Italy Beyond the Obvious explains more cultural differences between the UK and Italy, really well.

Business Etiquette

An important thing to remember is that in Italy, office opening times are different from the UK. They are 1 hour ahead but also depending on whether you are dealing with the public or private sector, their daily working hours can vary considerably.

Trust really is the key to doing business in Italy. Don’t overlook the importance of building good relationships with suppliers and customers/clients. Finding a well-connected person who can establish the right introductions on your behalf will give you and your business so many more opportunities.

And remember! Even at business meetings, when meeting and leaving, Italians wish each other “good day” or “good evening”. Where there is an existing relationship, Italians also include a kiss on both cheeks (left cheek first) with the greeting.

Language

Whilst English is widely spoken throughout Italian businesses nowadays, never assume that you will be conversing in English. If the use of the local language is used, the communication will be clear, will avoid stilted phraseology and most of all, will show your willingness to make an effort, build trust and show commitment by using a resource who speaks the same language.

The Italian language is largely focused on intonation, rather than structure, so while you may be entirely fluent in Italian words, the way you speak will carry far more weight and meaning. Italians also use their hands to talk – a lot! According to this article, there are over 250 hand gestures that are used in conversation! I wonder if we could have a conversation using just hand gestures??

Negotiating is tough at the best of times, but add a language barrier and it can become ten times harder. Italians are known to be fiery (just ask my husband 😉 ) and are passionate when expressing disagreement or faced with conflict during negotiations. I would highly recommend the use of a native Italian speaker to use as an intermediary.

To start you off conversing in Italian, you can use some of these handy phrases (hand gestures optional!);

Meetings

  • “Buongiorno come sta / stai?” (Hello, how are you [formal/informal]?)

  • “Bene, grazie” ( Very well, thank you)

  • “E lei?” (and you?)

  • “Piacere.” (Nice to meet you.)

  • “Lieto di conoscerla” (Glad to meet you)

  • Lei di dov’e’? (Where are you from)

  • “Come si chiama / ti chiami?” (What is your name (formal/informal)?)

  • “Sono ___.” (My name is ___.)

"Monica left no stone unturned and went over and above board to locate the correct information from the right people for me. She was quick, communicated clearly and regularly and was both incredibly professional yet personable throughout.

Liaising with the Italian authorities is difficult at the best of times, and I definitely would not have obtained the information that Monica did by myself in the same time-frame. Retaining Monica saved me a hell of a lot of time and stress."

Doing business in Italy comes with a wealth of potential, but differing business and cultural etiquette can leave business owners feeling confused, which is why having local help is a must when doing business there.

Outsourcing a variety of tasks to MoGio VA would be a convenient starting point. I offer affordable international business support and translation services, all undertaken in a professional manner, ensuring the smoothest possible working relationship with your Italian customers, contacts, and suppliers. Contact me to find out more.

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