“Italians don’t follow rules, and they’re always late.” Maybe you’ve run across this statement yourself. But what can this perception be attributed to, and what’s behind it? In today’s blog post, we’d like to address this issue and explain how it can affect your undertakings with Italian business partners.
With a total of more than 60 million inhabitants, Italy ranks among Europe’s most populous countries, and around eight percent of the population has a migrant background [mostly from Romania, Albania, Morocco and China]. Due to the economic crisis, development has been difficult over the last ten years, but Italy has been slowly recovering in the meantime. The economy is growing, unemployment figures have been gradually receding, and Italy continues to rank among the most popular tourist destinations.
In order for your business contact with Italians to go off without a hitch – and as a complement to our last blog post on this target country – we’d like to get you more closely acquainted with Italians’ cultural characteristics when it comes to dealing with rules and appointments.
Thinking outside the box is in!
While abiding by rules, laws and agreements may be taken for granted where you come from, things are a little different in Italy. The reason for this is a different understanding of rules that goes back to the country’s early history. Thanks to regional fragmentation and foreign rule, which lasted several centuries, the Italian populace had to be able to fend for itself in day-to-day life. To be sure, the state established official laws, but they were mostly not followed as adequate supervision was difficult. Binding rules consequently play a rather negligible role in Italian culture, even to this day.
In the business world, this can be expressed as follows: instructions given by a company aren’t implemented blindly, but rather tend to be administered variably depending on the given situation. Tardiness of up to 30 minutes to professional appointments is also not uncommon; it’s accepted so that previous tasks or appointments can be wrapped up calmly. Deadlines for work also tend not to be considered firmly fixed in Italy.
It’s thus clear that Italians don’t consider rules and times to be set in stone; they’re rather seen as a rough guide. On that note, please also keep in mind that – depending on the personality of your Italian business partner – meticulous adherence to rules and appointments can sometimes be understood to imply a lack of flexibility and creativity. Try to adjust a little bit to the Italian style, exercise patience and composure, and show flexibility. This is a matter of values that are appreciated by a majority of Italians.
We’d like to give you three additional tips regarding situations in which you might come into contact with Italians:
- When you’re having a discussion with your Italian business partner, don’t be surprised if he or she interrupts you. In Italy, there’s no break to take turns speaking – which is why speakers tend to overlap each other. This behavior is in no way meant to be impolite or disrespectful. It’s just common practice.
- To break the ice, you could benefit by speaking a few words of Italian. Here are a few useful examples: “Good morning” = “Buongiorno” | “Thank you” = “Grazie mille” | “Goodbye” = “Arrivederci”. Don’t be afraid to try these out. They’re sure to go down well with your Italian business partners.
- Please take into consideration that there are strong regional differences in Italy in terms of the manifestation of cultural differences. This especially pertains to the north/south divide. Always keep this in the back of your mind!
If you need further information about the Italian business world – for instance, on employee leadership or conducting negotiations – we’d recommend taking a cross-cultural training.