Guide to Italian AttitudesApril 13, 2020
- Italian naming conventions are similar to those in Australia, with the surname following the first name, e.g. Alessandro CAPONE (male) and Francesca SORRENTINO (female).
- Many Italian names end in a vowel. For men, ‘o’, ‘e’ or ‘i’ are common: e.g. Gianni, Alberto, Dante. Female names commonly end in ‘a’ or ‘e’: e.g. Sofia, Adele.
- Many people are named after their grandparents; however, parents are increasingly choosing new names for their children.
Traditionally, most Italians had a name that corresponded to a saint. In some regions such as Campania, the name day of that saint is celebrated as if it were one’s birthday. For common names, there might be multiple days during the year to celebrate a saint, but Italians usually pick only one day to celebrate. Some Italian villages, towns and cities are also named after a particular saint and will celebrate the day as a public holiday. Some saints are considered more important than others due to the role they play in the Bible, such as Pietro (Saint Peter), Paolo (Saint Paul) and Giuseppe (Saint Joseph).
In the past, name days were more important than birthdays. This may be continue to be true for some people, usually for the elderly (as name days don’t remind them of how old they are). Today, most young Italians consider the name day to be less important than one’s birthday.
- Direct Communication: Italians are typically direct communicators. They tend to be open about their emotions and speak clearly about their point. They generally expect similar honesty from their conversation partner and hence may fail to read into understatements. Therefore, avoid ambiguity and indirect speech.
- Communication Style: Italians are generally quite open, inquisitive and bold. Expect to be asked a lot about your life story and background. You may find that they are eager to give their opinions or advice on your activity. For example, they may point out an error in your organisation of your home and give you a tip on how to correct it. Foreigners can find this judgemental or nosey. However, avoid ignoring them or shutting down their questions and comments. This may lead them to see you as closed off or overly sensitive.
- Silence: Italians can grow uncomfortable with prolonged periods of silence and may naturally speak to fill it.
- Raised Voices: Italians may speak in loud voices to make themselves heard over one another. A raised voice is not necessarily a sign of anger, but can be an expression of excitement or conviction. You may find people talk over one another in order to be heard.
- Humour: Italians often enjoy joking throughout conversation to lighten the mood. Having humour in one’s voice can allow people to speak their mind quite openly. Be aware that their humour can be quite cynical, making fun of sensitive topics. They can also be quite self-deprecating, ironic and sarcastic. Expect them to mock one another and slip sarcasm or double meanings into any topic of conversation.
- Online Communication: Consider that some Italians may find online communication to be an impersonal form of interaction or a lazy way of maintaining a relationship. The older generation in particular may limit its use to helping organise further face-to-face interaction. This does not apply to the younger generations that are more involved in the digital world.
- Personal Space: Italians generally keep a close proximity to one another, sometimes standing less than a metre away from the person they are talking to. While this distinction is not always noticeable, they may think you are avoiding them if you move farther away from what they consider to be normal.
- Physical Contact: Italians are generally tactile people and quite affectionate. It is common to see hugging, kissing, back slapping and hand holding in public. People may touch their conversation partner to show their engagement in the discussion – for example, nudging them or touching their arm when pointing something out. Friends may also walk arm-in-arm in public.
- Eye Contact: Direct eye contact is expected and held during conversations. In some places in Italy, people may inadvertently stare out of curiosity. However, be aware that staring is generally considered rude and can also represent an act of defiance if a person of low social status stares at someone higher than them.
- Expression: Italians are naturally more expressive in their tone of voice, facial expressions and body language, often motioning with their hands to emphasise their point. This can sometimes seem theatrical. Expect many gestures to be used during communication and consider how much you use your own in comparison. Newly migrated Italians can often interpret Australian body language to be stiff and reserved.
- Gestures: To rub one’s thumb against the fingers indicates money. People may acknowledge the cleverness of another person by pulling down the bottom eyelid with a finger. People can gesture “no” by jerking their head upwards –- be aware this can look similar to a nod.
- Counting: Italians start counting with their thumb instead of their index finger. The thumb represents 1, and so on.
- It is uncommon for Italians to make phone calls between 2pm and 4pm, since this is when many people have a ‘pisolino’ (nap). If they must call during these hours, they will apologise for disturbing the household.
- Italy has been a key flashpoint in Europe’s migrant crisis. With a large coastline, hundreds of thousands of people have been arriving by sea in the past few years, the majority from Africa. Such migration has been putting social and political stress on the country. Be sensitive if approaching this topic as you may not be able to presume somebody’s position or education on the matter. Avoid making comparisons with Australia’s migration as it occurs under a different context and scale.