How to be polite in Italy

How do you know what is good and bad behavior in a new country? Different societies behave in different ways. These tips show how to adapt to Italian society and behavior. They will help you to show respect and be polite in Italy.

Two men greet each other at the tram stop

1. Say “please” (“per favore”)

Italians say “please”(“per favore” in Italian) when they want something. When you order a coffee at a bar, say: “May I have a coffee, please?” or, in Italian: “Posso avere un caffè, per favore?” Say please when you ask for something. Otherwise people may think you are rude.

2. Say “thank you” (“grazie”)

Italians say “thank you” (“grazie“) often. Say thank you when someone tries to help you or gives you something. For example, if someone offers you a tissue or a glass of water, say “thank you.”

3. Say hello (“salve”) and goodbye (“arrivederci”)

Italians say hello and goodbye when they meet someone they know, or enter or leave a place where there are people they know. Remember to greet people you know when arriving and leaving. For example, when you enter a room where you know people, say hello or “salve!” When you leave a room, say goodbye or “arrivederci!” Italians will appreciate this!

Say excuse me (“scusi”)

Italians say excuse me (“scusi” is formal and “scusa” is informal) when they do something that might offend someone else. For example, if you bump into someone by mistake while walking, stop and say “excuse me!” to the person you bumped. That way they will know that you did not bump them on purpose and that you are sorry.

5. Look people in the eye when you are talking to them

Italians look one another in the eye when talking. When you are talking to someone, look directly at their eyes. This creates a connection between you and the person you are talking to.

6. Stand an arm’s length away from people you are talking to

Italians want some personal space around them when they talk to someone. This is more important if you do not know people well or at all. Keep a distance of about the length of your arm between you and the person you are talking to. If you stand very close to someone when you are speaking, they may think you are being aggressive or overly familiar. They may take a step back or show surprise or disapproval.

7. Explain or step back politely if you do not want people to touch you

On the other hand, some Italians are very physical! They may hold your arm while they are talking to you. Many Italians shake hands and kiss. They may hug you when they first see you. If that makes you uncomfortable, it is okay to step back. If you are from a culture where men and women do not touch each other in public, explain that to the person you are meeting in a polite way. You do not need to kiss, shake hands, or do things that make you feel uncomfortable.

8. Hold the door open for people behind you

Polite Italians hold the door open for people who are right behind them. When you enter or leave a restaurant, an office, a bank, or any other place, if a person is leaving or entering at the same time or right behind you, hold the door open for them. That way you are not letting the door close in someone’s face. This is a nice thing to do and shows you are paying attention to the people around you.

9. Cover your mouth with your hand when you yawn, cough, sneeze or burp

Italians cover their mouths when they do these things. If you happen to yawn, cough, sneeze or burp in public or in front of people you don’t know, remember to put your hand in front of your mouth. If you forget to cover your mouth, say “excuse me!” right away.

10. Speak in a suitable tone of voice

Italians speak in a quieter voice when they are in places like the post office, a bank, or the hospital. Remember to speak with a tone of voice and volume that is appropriate for the place you are in. In order to understand what tone of voice is appropriate, listen to how other people in the same place are speaking.

11. Smile!

Italians tend to smile often. In informal conversations and outside of work, you will often see Italians smiling. When someone smiles at you, it is nice to smile back. A smile, in fact, is a sign of openness and friendliness towards others. However, pay attention not to smile when you are talking about serious or sad things.