Expat guide to Italian culture and traditions


Updated on Feb 06 • 6 minute read

Life in Italy is a mix of culture and traditions that never fade away. Whether you’re planning to move to Italy, already living in Italy or going for a nice extended holiday, knowing about Italian culture can help you to settle down better and prevent mistakes that could easily be avoided.

Do Italians talk with their hands? Do they live at their parents’ house until their late twenties? Or do you have doubts about how to behave in Italy or just want to know more about Italian culture and lifestyle? Keep reading if you have doubts about how to behave in Italy or just want to know more about Italian culture and lifestyle.

What is the culture like in Italy?

The modern-day Italian culture is deeply rooted in the country’s extensive history. As a result, there are some unique Italian customs, traditions and values when it comes to social interactions.

Greeting others in Italy

First things first, what is the best way of greeting people in Italy?

Italians are straightforward, yet welcoming and formal. When they talk to people they don’t know, or to someone who is older, they address them with the formal form ”lei”.

When it comes to greeting new people, Italians shake hands and exchange three kisses on the cheeks. As to greeting friends and relatives, the tradition dictates that you must exchange a hug and two kisses on the cheeks.

Many foreigners, especially those from northern countries, tend to find the traditional way of greeting people in Italy rather unpleasant. However, following this approach to greeting your acquaintances can help you to integrate into Italian society.

Body language is very important in Italy. Make sure to smile when you greet a local or they’ll think that you don’t like them. If you don’t know how to behave or what to say, just copy the way Italians act towards you!

Against the common misconception, Italians don’t like loud people, especially in public places.

Italian culture shocks

Eating at a restaurant

One of the main culture shocks you may experience in Italy is having a meal in a restaurant. Don’t expect the waiter to bring the bill after you finish your food. If you want to pay the bill and leave, you’ll have to ask for it.

This is based on the notion that going to a restaurant is seen as an important social event that can last indefinitely, as long as people are enjoying their time. Therefore, receiving the bill without asking for it is seen as a sign of disrespect.

Once you get the bill, you shouldn’t expect that everyone will pay their part sperately. Italians don’t pay seperate bills. Instead, it’s often the case that they’ll fight for the honour of covering the full bill for their collegues or friends.

Tips aren’t common in Italy. You’ll find that some restaurants include a coperto fee of around €2 in the bill, that serves as a form of a tip. However, if you don’t find coperto in your bill, it’s up to you if you want to tip the waiter or not. Whatever your decision, don’t worry, nobody will think you’re rude if you don’t give a tip.

Time perception

In Italy, there’s no rush, especially in small cities and in the South part of the country. Agreeing to an informal meeting at 9:30 and showing up at 9:45, or even later, is normal for Italians. However, Italians are always on time for work.

Always dress to impress

Italians have an appreciation for fashion so being well-dressed is important. Italians can judge others by the way they present themselves. Some high-class restaurants or clubs won’t let you in if you aren’t dressed up to par.

Style is an important way for Italians to express themselves and you have to keep up in order to make it in Italy.

The bureaucratic spiral

Every country has its downside, and bureaucracy is the one of Italy. As a result, you’ll need a lot of patience and luck in order to successfully go through any public administrative process in Italy. It’s always better to be prepared and know what you need before moving to italy.

Italy’s food culture

Italians take pride in their cuisine. You’ll have to make sure to be mindful about what you say about someone’s cooking and how you eat it. If you aren’t, you risk getting into a conflict.

Against the common misconception, Italian cusine isn’t only about pasta and pizza. Each region, and even some cities, have typical dishes that vary widely.

Even though breakfast is the most important meal of the day, Italians don’t have a big breakfast and sometimes even skip it. A traditional breakfast is made up of espresso, cappuccino or a juice and something sweet in the form of a croissant or bread with Nutella.

However, they have a big lunch and dinner and eat snacks or fruit in the middle of the morning and afternoon. A traditional main meal is made of three courses. The main course (primo piatto) typically cosnists of pasta, gnocchi, rice or lasagna. The second course (secondo piatto) almost always includes meat or fish with a side dish. The meal finishes with some type of dessert accompanied by coffee.

Italians like aperitivo, which should be a moment before dinner for everyone to catch up with each other, drink Aperol Spritz and enjoy aptizers. In reality, aperitivo is like a real dinner! You’ll get served a lot of different Italian dishes with a cocktail of your choice for only €8-€12. You’ll get different traditional Italian foods based on the city where you’re doing aperitivo!

Eating is seen as an important moment of the day, where everyone comes together, so it’s made for talking. Don’t start eating before everyone is at the table and someone says Buon appetito, as this is rude. Likewise, don’t leave the table until everybody has finished eating.

What are the family values in Italy?

Family is the most important thing for Italians. Never joke about someone’s family in Italy.

Don’t count on Italains being available on Sundays. This is when they gather with their families to celebrate important occasions.

Most children keep living with their parents until their late twenties due to the economic crisis or the difficult job situation of the country. For the same reason, couples usually get married and have children late. It's common to leave the children with their grandparents until they are old enough to go to kindergarten.

Italians seek advice from their elder family members even after their coming of age.

What is the working culture in Italy?

Italians work an average of 40 hours a week. Everyone starts working at different times. However, it’s common for employees who have children to start working around 7:30/8:00 and finish by 16:30/17:00 so they can pick them up and bring them to sport activities and help them with homework.

Having many coffee breaks and chatting with colleagues during the day is part of the Italian working culture. These are considered sacred moments when people can recharge their batteries and enjoy the working day a bit more.

What is the social life in Italy like?

Italians are sociable by nature and their lifestyle revolves around socialising. Although Italians don’t refrain from going out on weekdays, most of them prefer to rest after work and keep the energy for the weekend.

The further South you go in Italy, the later people go out. This is mostly related to the warmer weather. The night starts with an aperitivo at around 18:00 and moves on to pubs or clubs until 05:00. Once the clubs close, Italians go to the nearest bakery to cap the night with a pastry.

You’ll never get bored with the nighlife in Italy! Big cities, such as Milan, have something to offer for everyone!


Now that we went through all of the things you should be mindful of doing, we must let you know about the taboos in Italian culture.

The most important taboos you should avoid are:

  1. Asking an Italian if they have a relative or a friend who’s in the mafia. This will come across as obnoxious and, especially in the southern parts of Italy.
  2. Ordering a cappuccino after noon. Instead you should go for a caffe macchiato, which is espresso with hot milk foam.
  3. Putting cheese on fish. Seafood is delicate and Italians are firm believers that the strong flavour of cheese operpowers its flavour.
  4. Serving food in different plates. Always make sure that all of your guests get the same type of plates!
  5. Entering a home with an open umbrella or openning it once you’re inside. Italians believe that this brings bad luck to everyone involved.
  6. Putting bread upside down on the table. Italians see bread as a symbol of life and believe that placing it upside-down brings bad luck.
  7. Crossing arms with someone during “cheers” or when passing food and bevarages around the table. Italians believe that doing this will bring bad luck.
  8. Gifting someone a wallet without putting money inside. The amount of money is irrelevant, but putting it inside the gift is a sign of wishing someone that their wallet is never empty.
  9. Giving an even number of flowers. Handing someone an even number of flowers is only acceptable when they are grieving over the death of a close person.

Italians believe that Friday’s that fall on the 13th or 17th bring bad luck.

Italian’s culture is one of the richest in the world, you should definitely live it in order to discover more and get the most out of it! What are you waiting for? Start looking for accommodation now!

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