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During 2015 the Italian economy fared better than many analysts had expected, with GDP growing by 0.8%, and there are indications that it will grow by 1.5% during 2016. The one downside, however, it its debt burden which, at 132% of GDP, is second in Europe only to Greece and currently unemployment is 12.7%. Despite this the UK continues to have a strong trade relationship with the country, and the export markets for the professional services sector, technology, and high quality consumer items remain strong. However, the way in which Italians conduct business is somewhat different from how we do so in the UK, so here are some cultural tips that should help you maximise your chances of success.
On meeting a polite handshake is customary, and ensure that nobody in the group is missed out otherwise you will cause offence. When doing so try to use ‘buongiorno’ and ‘buonasera’ for good morning and good afternoon. Italians can be particularly expressive with their greetings when meeting someone they know well, but you are not expected to participate. Always use Signor and Signora unless you are invited to use their first name.
Relationships are a vital part of doing business in Italy and building adequate trust is essential, so expect to spend some time in informal conversations before discussing business. Even when you do move on to business, it is likely to be conducted more informally than it is in the UK, and the Italians do have the habit of all talking at once.
Expect negotiations to be slow and detailed and never display impatience. Italians like to take their time and consider all aspects before making a decision. They will always try to get the best possible deal they can, so you need to stay strong; you will be respected for doing so.
Lunches in Italy can be protracted events which often last for two or three hours. This is generally compensated for by the quality of the food, and there tends to be little reluctance to continue business discussions while eating, though as the Italians really do love talking, expect the conversation to be about anything under the sun.
The Italians love style, and dressing well is important. Men should choose a fashionable, formal suit and shirts can be white or coloured, though a designer silk tie is considered very stylish. Indeed the Italians even have a particular way to where their ties, they like to let the skinny end of the tie hang longer than the wide side. Women should dress elegantly, the more expensive looking the clothes the better. Good quality shoes and accessories will impress. You will be judged by how you dress, so do take this seriously.
During conversation Italians tend to stand much closer than we more conservative British are used to. It really can feel that your personal bubble is being invaded. However you feel about it, never move away to increase that distance; if you do it will be considered rude and might be taken as an insult. Don’t worry that your breath could smell of garlic, it is almost certain that his or hers will too!
For more global cultural tips visit our blog. If you’d like to chat to Brightlines Translation about how you can reach your global customers do call 01225 580770 or contact us here. We are happy to help and advice is always free.