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Italian Culture: What Are Italians Like?

Italians are good people by and large.  They have their faults, but then doesn’t everyone? Here’s a post which will help you understand Italian culture.

Generally in my experience, Italians are helpful, courteous, considerate and friendly – much more so once they know you. This certainly makes life in Italy a lot easier. Knowing Italian helps quite a lot too.

My young students at the business school; they are from 23 to 30+ years of age; treat me with great respect, which I like.  This makes you feel like a valued human being, and this feeling makes day to day life easier. Little problems which arise can be overcome and things then go well.

I do like Italians in general, there is something about them which is difficult to put into words. It’s a sort of warmth which makes you feel comfortable – but this warmth is not always evident until you know an Italian quite well. This warmth often translates into physical closeness – at times, for an Englishman, this can be a little off-putting, even if it is not meant to be and it is very much an integral part of Italian culture.

Personal Space in Italian Culture

What newcomers to Italy, such as those from the US and the UK, may well notice is that in Italian culture, people stand much closer to one another when conversation. Italians, both men and women, may even touch you.

The standing closer to me thing was disconcerting for me at first. I suppose this may be down to good old English reserve and even now after many years in Italy I still find myself taking a step backwards on occasion. However, once you are used to it, you find that the closeness is nothing more than the way the people are.  It’s a sort of intimacy, but without any other connotations. Do not get the wrong idea – the closeness is not indication of a sexual advance. Men in Italy stand close to men and women and vice versa.

Don’t Get the Wrong Idea, Guys!

On the subject of the fairer sex, Italian women will often touch you during a conversation even if they have only just met you.  This intimacy does not mean anything, it’s just a sign of the warmth for which Italian culture is known, nothing more.  Many non-Italian men experiencing this touching for the first time may well get the wrong impression, or at the very least become a little confused. I really could get myself into awful trouble by adopting Italian habits in the UK!

Men Kiss Men in Italy

As you may know, men kiss men here. Now, I don’t mean kisses on the lips or anything sexual, just a sort of peck on the cheek, or on both cheeks.

At first coming from the UK where men do not kiss men because it is not considered ‘manly’, I found the men kissing men thing really unusual.  If a man were to kiss a man in the UK, people would think they are both probably gay. Here in Italy, it does not even raise an eyebrow. You will also see, from time to time, men walking arm in arm – this is not considered strange nor is it an indication of sexuality. Men holding hands, on the other hand, may well indicate their sexuality.

Personal Touches

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Certain aspects of Italian culture such as the personal touches I really like, many of which seem to have all but disappeared in the UK.

For example, I frequent several bars where I have my ‘cafè lungo’ – a slightly longer shot of espresso coffee.  Often I don’t even have to say anything and after a few moments a cup of coffee appears in front of me.  This I like.

It may take a little time for people to get to know you in Italy, but once they do, they really do treat you very well.

There are still an awful lot of small family run businesses in Italy, and they survive by developing a good relationship with their customers, who in turn repay the compliment by returning again and again and, of course, keeping the business going.

I will admit that I, and others, have come across odd Italian service – in some shops you are made to feel as if you are an unwelcome guest at times.  I am not sure whether this is because I stand out as a foreigner or not.

Another example of Italian courteousness is that of the three men who run a small garage where I park my car.

Now, I as think I have said elsewhere in this blog, I do not use my car very often and on a couple of occasions or so, I’ve turned the ignition key and nothing has happened. Flat battery.  So, I wander into the garage looking a little forlorn and explain what has happened.  The owner smiles to himself a little and asks another chap to give me a hand.  Car starts and off I go.  I do offer to pay for their help, but they won’t accept anything. I  know this is a small thing, but it’s nice and makes you feel better about the quality of life.

Catholicism

Catholicism is very Italian – the Pope is on the news in Italy almost daily. It was my impression before I came to Italy that Italians were deeply religious people. However, as with most stereotypically based views, I was wrong. I do know quite a number of Italians who go to church, most are indeed catholic, but many, many people have little or no involvement with the church in Italy. Italy is not too different from the UK in this respect, or so I would say. However, having written this, the influence of the Roman Catholic Church on Italian culture is enormous.

Constitutionally, Italy has no state religion, in practice though, the state religion is Roman Catholicism. Well, the Roman Catholic Church does have its HQ in Rome.

It’s not all a bed of roses though. Here is a another post which talks about both the good and the not so good aspects of Italians: Italians – What’s Good, and What’s Not so Good

Further reading: I’d recommend The Italians by John Hooper which I have read. Published in 2015 by a journalist who has spent many years in Italy, this book provides plenty of insight into the contemporary Italian psyche.

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