The Italian Culture: 20 Decent Customs and Traditions from the Beautiful Country of Italy

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Updated on: Educator Review By: Michelle Connolly

Diverse cultures make the world more exciting, for there will always be something different to learn. Every country has its fair share of traditions and customs that make it stand out and unique. Countries in the same region can share some practices, but slight differences will always be. This time, we’re casting light on the raw beauty of Italian culture.

Italian culture is primarily famous for its remarkable cuisine that greatly influenced many parts of the world. Although their food is succulent and worth the hype, they own many more traditions beyond their flavoursome cuisine. These customs will significantly benefit you the next time you make friends with Italian people.

1. Kissing on the Cheek

Italians have their own set of traditions and customs that make them different from their European counterparts. In Italian culture, greeting people is not limited to handshaking. People greet each other by giving two light kisses on each cheek, starting with the left side. It is essential to know that it is not an actual kiss, but it’s more like the two cheeks coming in contact with no lips. 

People still make noises in the air with their lips, yet only the cheeks get to meet one another. However, this means of greeting is usually limited to people you know too well. You don’t greet strangers by kissing them on the cheeks, but a handshake would be enough. Most men usually greet with cheeks kissing with family members only. If a man is greeting a woman who isn’t related to him, he may just give a back pat to show affection.

Although this tradition is embedded in Italian culture, it is also a well-known greeting method in other parts of the world. In Europe, France and Spain are other countries with the cheek-kissing tradition. Other parts of the Arab world also use this method for greeting close friends and family members. 

Italian greeting

2. Respect the Elders by Standing

“Respect Your Elderly” is a worldwide tradition that many mothers keep teaching their young children. So, this one is not surprising, for it is shared. However, the difference here is that in Italian tradition, respecting the elders is not limited to not talking back, saying inappropriate words, or even raising your voice. It includes standing up when an elderly enters the room.

People sitting in a room and an older person enters show respect by standing up. It would be best if you didn’t greet the elders while sitting down; it is a sign of disrespect. It would be best if you always shook hands from a standing position. On the other hand, if you’re entering the room with an older person, you should wait until they get in first.

3. No Hats Inside

Have you ever seen a movie where people enter a restaurant and hand off their coats and hats to the waiter? In Italian culture, you should do the same when you enter someone’s house, but you don’t hand them to someone else unless they offer. Hats indoors are a sign of disrespect in Italian culture. 

Wearing a hat means protecting yourself from the harsh sun, rain, or dirt. Thus, when you get indoors, it’s essential to take the hat off to show that you believe the house is clean and not the other way around. The same goes when you enter a church; you never keep the hat on. It also makes eye contact easier, for it’s important to look people in the eyes while you talk to them.

4. Open Doors For Women

In classic films, we have seen men holding doors for women and going after them. They also opened the car doors and let the woman get inside the car before they did. We call this kind a gentleman, and it’s not a common practice among the younger generations now. However, in Italian culture, a man should always open the door for women and elders.

They don’t have to be lovers for this to happen. A gentleman in Italian culture is one who is decent with strangers as well. If a man is getting out of a place with a woman behind him, he shouldn’t let her run for the door and let it smack her. That way, he will be considered disrespectful and rude.

5. Use Bread At the End of Meals

Italians are fond of eating lots of pasta, far more than you think you know. Their food is often soaked in sauces and marinara that are naturally left behind when they finish their meals. This happens in other cultures, but the Italian culture has different ways of leaving empty plates after eating. 

One of the most famous Italian customs is la scarpetta. They use this method to take all the left sauce and pieces of bread to mop up the sauce. The funny thing is that you can spot an Italian from how their plate looks. It’s often empty and clean of sauces and leftovers, thanks to their little bread tradition.

bread and dinner

6. No Unannounced Visits

In many countries, visiting your family and friends is okay without sending a message or calling beforehand. However, showing up unannounced is deemed disrespectful in Italian culture. You should always ask the host if they’re available before knocking on their doors, so you don’t disrupt their plans. 

People always plan their social gatherings to fit all attendees’ schedules and plans. However, unannounced visits occur in Italy, but only in the village. In rural areas, unannounced visits are well-perceived and welcomed.

7. Bring Gifts Over Dinner Invitations

Italian culture isn’t one of those cultures where you accept dinner invitations and just show up. It’s deemed rude in Italy to go to someone’s house over dinner or lunch empty-handed. It’s always important to bring flowers or a box of chocolates to show respect for the hosts who took the time to clean their house and prepare a fancy meal for you. 

You can also bring a small gift or souvenir to show gratitude for their efforts. If one shows up empty-handed, they shall send flowers the following day of the dinner gathering. However, the flowers shall never be yellow or red and should only be in odd numbers.

8. Cover Mouth During Yawning

When someone yawns, they should cover their mouth with their hands, according to the rules of Italian culture. This is an act of respect in Italy, and most people do it, although it may not have real significance. Interestingly, people in ancient times also covered their mouths when yawning, but that’s because they believed it was a way to stop your soul from leaving your body. 

Sneezing and coughing are other acts that require covering your mouth. However, this is not only in Italian culture, but it’s a universal thing, which means everyone everywhere should do it. This help in preventing the spread of diseases or infections, especially when someone is sick. It became even more critical after the COVID-19 pandemic. However, even if you’re not ill, covering your mouth when sneezing or coughing is a sign of respect.

9. Pray Before Meals

Praying before meals is a universal tradition for all religious communities. It’s a way to thank God and be grateful for providing you with food and health. Most Italians are Roman Catholic, meaning they are considered a religious population. So, saying grace before eating your meal is essential to Italian culture. 

When there are guests over dinner or lunch, it’s essential to respect this brief prayer time, even if they follow a different religion or don’t follow any. At praying time, everybody waits till the host or the one sitting at the head of the table finishes saying grace. Then everyone is free to eat once the host announces “Boun appetite.”

pray before dinner

10. Never Wrap Gifts in Dark Colours

Gifts play a vital role in Italian culture. Everyone loves receiving a lovely gift, especially if it’s something they’ve always wanted or needed. However, there’s an art in the way you present your offering. 

Colours have significant connotations for Italians. They care about the wrapping colour you use to cover their gifts, and dark colours are poorly received. Italians take offence when you hand a gift in black or dark purple wraps. You should always wrap the gifts in bright, vibrant colours representing joy and happiness.

11. Have etiquette for Sitting Down

Italians don’t just enter someone else’s house and sit down wherever they find empty. There are rules for sitting down in Italian culture, which may also be prevalent in other countries. When you’re in a social gathering, you should always wait for the host to seat you. Also, never sit down before the elders. 

On the other hand, if you’re the host, you should always wait for your guests to sit down before sitting down yourself. It’s also essential that you don’t stretch your arms on the table while sitting down. If you’re sitting in a living room, Italians make sure they don’t sit crossing their legs when there’s an elder in the room. 

12. Taking Shoes Off Has Rules Too

Most cultures around the world consider it polite to take your shoes off before getting into someone’s house. However, in Italian culture, things are a bit different. It’s inappropriate to take your shoes off in front of the guests. Also, you shouldn’t take your shoes off unless the hosts ask you to. Otherwise, you should keep your shoes on.

On the other hand, Italians usually never get inside their houses with their shoes on. They usually take them off upon arrival and go for house-only slippers. This way, they prevent the streets’ germs and unknown bacteria from getting inside their clean homes.

13. Alfresco is Essential in Summer

Alfresco may sound like the name of Italian food, but it’s an Italian word that means “outdoors.” In Italy, people love alfresco dining in summer. It’s a significant part of their tradition to spend time in the fresh air, especially during the warm days of summer.

Alfresco doesn’t always have to be about dining; it can include entertaining activities, barbecues, or fun social gatherings. No matter what they decide to do, it has to happen outdoors in the open.

14. Remove Price Tags Off Gifts

There’s a valid reason why many retail shops offer “gift receipts.” These receipts show the purchase date but without the item’s price. In Italian culture, it’s inappropriate to give someone a present with a price tag on it. It implies that you’re trying to show this person that you’ve spent a lot of money on their gift, which can be offensive to them.

The opposite also applies in this case. Some people may take offence if the gift isn’t expensive, thinking you are offering them cheap stuff. So, whether the gift is expensive or not, its price shouldn’t be out for everyone to see. 

15. No Yellow Roses

Italians are fond of flowers. It’s always a grand gesture to send flowers to someone’s house, especially after a lovely dinner invitation. However, the colour of the roses matters a lot. Yellow flowers are ill-perceived. People regard yellow as a symbol of jealousy. Thus, sending someone yellow roses can be offensive and mean that you’re jealous of them. 

White and red are always the most loved. White colour symbolises purity and sensitivity, while red is a symbol of love and passion, that’s why we see red flowers all over Valentine’s Day, right? Thus, it’s essential to know that in Italian culture, it’s not just about the flowers you give but also the colours you choose. 

yellow rose

16. Leaving Without Eating or Drinking Something is Rude

Italians have a lot of etiquette basics, especially when it comes to food. Such traditions are deeply ingrained in their roots and have been taking place since the past. Among the essential practices in Italian culture is the importance of eating or drinking something whenever you visit someone’s house. 

If you get up and leave without drinking or eating whatever the host serves you, you’ll be viewed as a rude person with no manners. Another important rule in Italian culture is never to leave the table after eating. You should wait for someone to be done, especially if you’re the host. However, as a guest, everyone must stay at the table while others finish eating.

17. Don’t Move Freely Around Someone Else’s House

When someone invites you to Italy, you should follow them to whichever room they go to. It’s also essential not to scrutinise their place but to lower your gaze and only look at what they choose to show you. Italian culture treats people’s houses with ultimate respect and privacy.

When the host sits in the living room, you don’t get to roam around their house freely. Even if you intend to use the restroom, asking the host to show you the way is essential. Afterwards, you go straight to the room where you were sitting and don’t roam around easily and comfortably. 

18. Never Touch Food With Your Hands

Italians respect their traditions so much and apply their rule in their daily lives. They even dislike foreigners who come to their country and don’t view their Italian culture highly. Thus, learning how to behave around Italians and not offend their beliefs is essential. One of the most important rules to be aware of in Italy is never to touch food with your hands.

You should always use a fork and a knife. This is not only a rule in Italian culture but also an essential basic in eating etiquette. Even fruits are served in small bites so you can enjoy them with a fork. The same goes for the renowned la scarpetta method; you don’t just grab the bread by hand. Instead, you cut the bread loaf into small bites and use the fork to mop the sauces off the plate. 

19. Only Wine Goes With Meals

In different places around the world, you can always pair your meal with a glass of fresh juice, your favourite cocktail or beer, or even soda. However, all of these beverages don’t pair well with food in Italian culture. The only thing they seem to enjoy pouring over during mealtimes is wine. However, there’s an exception to pizza which you can enjoy with a soda can if you prefer. 

There are more rules to wine when it comes to Italian culture. If someone’s sitting on your right who needs to pour wine, and you happen to have the glass in your hand, don’t pour it. This position will make you pour the drink underhanded, meaning that the back of your hand is facing the table with your palm facing up. Italians view this gesture as bad luck, meaning you wish for this person to choke and die.

20. Always Accept Offers to Pay

When someone offers to pay for your coffee or food, you usually insist that they don’t. However, rejecting such an offer in Italian culture is considered rude and offensive. Italians take it as if you don’t believe this person has enough money to pay. Thus, it would be best if you always accepted when someone offers, and then you pay for both of you the next time. 

Splitting is also not so common in Italy. Many like to take the honour of paying for their families and friends. They keep exchanging bills one time after another until they’re almost even, but splitting the bill isn’t part of Italian culture, to begin with.

Italy is a beautiful place with great traditions and rich history. It’s one of those places where you can make friends with great people and eat fantastic food. If you want a great travelling experience, learn about Italian culture beforehand, so you can easily blend in.

paying bill

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