Italian etiquette: what you need to know

  • 19 August 2015 | Zimkhitha Sulelo
The Italian flag. Image courtesy of Roel Driever

When hosting Italian guests, there are a few things that you have to remember to avoid awkward situations.

Here is a list of what you need to know, from how to greet your guests to what you need to avoid.


Italians are known for kissing on the cheeks when they greet, but that is reserved for friends and family. If you are meeting them from the first time, a handshake will do – and do not forget to make eye contact. If by the time they depart you have made good friends, then remember to start with the left cheek. A pat on the back is often added between men.

Personal grooming

Personal image is very important to Italians, and first impressions are lasting impressions. There is a reason why some of the best clothing and shoes comes from Italy; think Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana. You do not have to be in a designer suit, but be neat and presentable at all times. You will be judged by the way you dress, speak and the way you carry yourself in general.

Dining etiquette

Italians love good food and they take their time to enjoy their meals. Wine, cheese and pasta are important parts of Italian meals. When dining, keep your elbows off the table. Do not serve them bread before their main meal, as is the norm here. They eat bread with their main meal, and break it with their hands rather than use a knife.

Know your guests

The south versus the north of Italy is a hot topic and to avoid offending anyone, do not compare the two. There is a big debate over which region is the best and depending on who you ask, you will get different opinions. It will be better to find out where your guests come from, and ask them about their region instead; that way, you won’t end up with awkward conversations. Just think of it like sport: You wouldn’t wear your Pirates T-shirt to host Kaizer Chiefs fans, right?