How To Have A True Italiano (in Italy) As a Colleague and New Best Friend
No need to rush from place to place or appointment to appointment. There is no rush. Italy is full of beautiful people, beautiful food, and beautiful scenery.
In the mood for an espresso before the meeting? Stop into any one of the hundreds of Espresso Bars on your way—they’re certain to have a mix of customers. There will be businessmen in suits en route to a meeting, a tourist thirsty for some real Italian Espresso, a mother with her children in tow, and most likely a group of elderly people. Everyone is chatting away—not a worry in the world. No need to fret, you may even bump into the person you’re scheduled to meet. Take your time, relax and enjoy, you have at least 30 minutes past your appointment time to show up, and even then (chances are) you’ll be kept waiting.
A shake of hands, a kiss on the cheek – male to male or male to female, female to male or female to female. Taking the lead from what seems to be the norm works if you’re comfortable with it.
As Americans, they expect us to be a little “uptight”. No need to prove them right or wrong, you need to do what’s comfortable for you. Just because everyone around you is kissing everyone else doesn’t mean you need to jump right in. However, if you are meeting a friend or a business contact that you’ve know well, insist on the formal handshake with a tight squeeze to show strength—like you were shown as a child. A kiss on the cheek or an air kiss as it’s called. Cheek to cheek, you then kiss the air and not the face. It’s a gesture of kindness. Kissing on the cheek as a gesture of hello and goodbye doesn’t mean you’ll be jumping into bed any time soon. Oh, and definitely no kissing on the lips unless the next step is bed and you’re stopping for that espresso to give you strength for what’s next.
Meet and Greet
The idea of a quick hello “I’ll stop by and introduce myself….we can meet later when there’s time” is certainly a great idea when you’re on the run, trying to meet a deadline or squeezing a week’s worth of work into a single day. But it’s not reality when the rules of tradition and good manners are what really drives the culture, as they do in Italy. After the kiss or handshake or nod of the head if you’re suffering from a cold, expect to be offered an espresso or American coffee. To say no is a slap in the face to the Italian basics of cordial behavior. It’s best to plan an hour—a quick meet and greet when living La Dolce Vita.
Dot your “i’s” and cross your “t’s”— isn’t that why we have contracts? To spell out the responsibilities for performance and the terms that go with it? Agreeing on a price and terms is wonderful, in theory, and yes a contract deals with the specifics and generalities; even after you think you’ve discussed every possible scenario, up pops another and another, and then another. But don’t give up. All the banter back and forth and all the long discussions just shy of a doomsday scenario are part of the “get to know you” piece of the puzzle that forms the basis of working with one another; and it’s called building a relationship. It’s impossible to address every conceivable thing that can go wrong and have its specific remedy in writing. If you can get through the first contract with all your hair left on your head, the contracts that follow will be easier because it’s been built on your work and a handshake. Bottom line, get it all in writing anyway. Things do go wrong, and it’s best to have the understanding between parties inked on paper rather than a “he-said and she-said” in front of a judge.
Dress The Part
There’s a reason most fashion runways are filled with Italian designers, why the high-end fashion brands are Italian, and why Italian style seems to drive the fashion scene.
Simply said, they love to dress, always in the most fashionable color, cut, and style of dress; coat, suit and jacket and tie. And accessories. Italy wouldn’t be Italy without branded sunglasses, belts, handbags, book bags, watches, jeans, shoes and jewelry. It may look like the Italians spend every dollar they have on their clothing, but it’s their sense of style and passion for always looking “put together” that gives the outsider that impression. They don’t go out unless their shirt is ironed, blazer on, handbag, glasses and gloves, belt, scarf and hat. How they look is important to them. They may live in a one bedroom apartment shared with eight relatives and have one bathroom, but when they step outside it looks to the rest of the world as if they just stepped out of that gorgeous Palazzo. They look like a million dollars and feel like it too.
So much of how we feel about ourselves is expressed by how we look and the compliments, or not, of others. The Italians are fashion trendsetters and take no chance is having that lofty title taken away.
My recommendation: Bring your finest, stand tall, smile and don’t forget to enjoy a laugh with your Italian colleagues.
The 9-5 routine with an hour break for lunch is so very American, don’t expect the same. If you hear someone proclaim, “I’ll stay late to get it done” it’s definitely not an Italian. When the work day is over, it’s a mad rush to the exit sign. Italians live life to the fullest, they aren’t consumed with work. Work is just a part of their day, and if it doesn’t get done today they’ll get to it tomorrow. So if you need something done by Tuesday, or you have a 5pm deadline and need something in order to get it done, be smart. Tuesday becomes a Monday due date and that 5 pm deadline is really noon, for them!
Work. Break. Work. Break. Lunch. Work. Break. Work. Break. Time to go, the day is over. Yes, it seems a little counterproductive taking so many breaks during the day, but that’s the way it’s done. So go ahead grab that coffee and cigarette, go sit and chat it up with your coworkers. And don’t be such a stick on the mud—if you don’t get it done today, you can always finish tomorrow.
You can count on the Italians to deliver, it’s just that the price may vary from what you discussed and agreed to, and the time of delivery may not be exactly what was promised. They may not arrive on time or be prepared if you do. But nonetheless, they live up to their word and they’ll do whatever they can to preserve a relationship. Relationships are critical in their culture.They take pride in what they do. Their intentions are honorable, and they live up to their word on their time table.
So for now, Ciao Bella and see you at the espresso bar.