Communication with Italians

Communication is how we share information and ideas with other people. We do it by speaking, by writing, and even with our hands and face. In a new country, we need to learn new ways of communicating. Here are some tips to help you communicate in Italy.


Two women talking

During your first months in Italy, there will be many times when you do not understand people and situations. This is very difficult, but it is also normal. Try not to be discouraged! Communication will get better with time. You will get used to the new culture and start to understand the Italian language.

Italian language

When you arrive in a new country, not knowing the language makes everything difficult. But you can learn to speak and understand Italian!

Learn

You can go to a free class to help you learn. You can also take a language course online.

Listen

Even when you are not in your class or learning online, you can learn a lot about communication. Listen to Italians speak to each other. Notice how they use the words, and try to copy them.

Speak

Talk to people as much as you can. Do not be discouraged if others do not understand at first. Repeat what it is you wish to say until you are understood. Many Italians are not used to new accents. They may need time in order to learn to understand you.

Ask

Do not be afraid to ask. When you do not understand a person, ask them politely to repeat what they have said slowly or to use easier words.

Private matters

Private matters (cose private in Italian) are things that Italians prefer not to talk about with people who are not part of their family. Here are some private matters:

Money

Salary and bank balance are private matters. If you ask an Italian, “How much do you earn?” he or she will probably seem irritated and answer, “It’s none of your business!” (“non sono fatti tuoi!”) or not answer at all.

Appearance

Italians are also very sensitive about their appearance, their image. If you say, “You aren’t looking very well,” or “You look fatter,” they will probably be offended and answer you in a brusque way.

Personal questions

If you do not know a person well, avoid direct personal questions, such as asking about their relationship with their partner, or even asking where they are going.

Offensive topics

Subjects such as sex and drugs are not usually well accepted. Racist or sexist remarks will offend many people.

In general, stick to safe topics! Until you know someone very well, talk about subjects such as sports, food or the weather.

Greetings

Greetings are an important part of communication. Many Italians shake hands when they introduce themselves or when they meet for business. They hug each other if they are close friends or relatives. If an Italian stretches out his hand to you, he expects you to take it and squeeze it gently. You do not have to shake hands if it is against your culture. You can explain politely if you are from a culture where men and women outside of family do not touch each other. Or if that is hard for you, you simply put your hands together and lean your head forward. You can say a polite greeting. Then the other person knows you do not mean to be rude.

Nonverbal communication

People communicate in two ways: with words and without words. Communicating without words is called nonverbal communication. It is the way our bodies and faces send messages to other people. We use eye contact, facial expressions, gestures, posture and tone of voice.

Italians pay attention to nonverbal communication. They are well known for communicating with gestures as well as with words. Here are ways that Italians use nonverbal communication:

• Eye contact for an Italian means respect and understanding. If you do not look into a person’s eyes, they will think you do not want contact or that you are lying. Even if this is not the custom in your culture, try to make eye contact. You will communicate much better.

• Facial expressions show how a person feels and often what they are thinking. Italians usually smile and have relaxed facial expressions when they are calm and when they wish to make people feel at ease. You should try to smile and have a relaxed facial expression when speaking to others. This will help you communicate well.

• Posture – If you keep your back straight and your shoulders open, people will listen more carefully and respect you!

• Space – Many Italians keep a distance of at least an arm’s length from the person to whom they are speaking. This is especially true if they are speaking to someone they do not know or do not know well. If you stand too close to a person, you may seem aggressive or too friendly.

• Discussions are frequent amongst Italians when they do not agree. If you are talking to someone and your opinion is different from theirs, they will probably start a discussion with you to prove that they are right. This is normal and does not mean you are having an argument. Maybe it is not respectful to express disagreement in your culture, and this surprises you. Remember that disagreeing is accepted in Italian culture and do not be offended. You always have the right to say your opinion as long as you speak politely and with respect.

• Gesticulation means the gestures we make while speaking. In Italy every gesture has a specific meaning.

Contracts and agreements

Contracts and agreements are important forms of communication. Agreements are often just spoken. If someone asks you to do something and you answer “yes” or “no,” it is an agreement. Once you have said “yes,” it is important for Italians that you respect the agreement.

If you cannot do what you had agreed to do, you must let the other person know. For example, if someone invited you for a meal and you answered “yes,” that is an agreement and you must go. If you cannot go, let the person know well before the time you were supposed to show up.

Contracts are written agreements. You write down exactly what you and the other person or people have agreed. When you open a bank account, buy a car, or rent a house, you will have to sign a contract.

When you sign a contract, you are legally responsible to do what is written in the contract. It is very important that you read the contract carefully before signing it. If you do not understand what is written in the contract, ask for explanations. If you still do not understand, ask for help from someone who can explain to you what is written. This person could be a lawyer, a translator, or a professional adviser who is not involved in the contract. If the contract is about work, or money or legal services, it is very important to understand what you are signing.