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Book on Italian etiquette?? (like Polly Platt's on France)

Book on Italian etiquette?? (like Polly Platt's on France)

Jun 28th, 2005, 05:24 PM
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Book on Italian etiquette?? (like Polly Platt's on France)

Before traveling to France, we read Polly Platt's excellent books, "French or Foe" and "Savoir Flair". They were enormously helpful in learning to relate to people in France. Just learning to properly greet people when entering a shop was worth the entire price - it completely changed the way we were perceived by shopkeepers. Many other such tips helped us on the way to many great conversations and wonderful interactions with the French.

I wonder if anyone knows of any similar books for Italy - works that explain Italian customs and etiquette. A search of Amazon brings up a few candidates: "Culture Shock: Italy", "Living, Studying, and Working in Italy", "The Italian Way", and "The Dark Heart of Italy". Can anyone recommend one of these, or another book not listed?


- Larry
justretired is offline  
Jun 29th, 2005, 02:18 AM
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Just be yourselves. Don't trust those books: they are just generalizations which rarely reflect reality.

When you enter shops just say buongiorno and say thank you when you are done. And if somebody says thank you to you (grazie) just reply "Prego". We do this all the time.

Avoid screaming and laughing loud in restaurants and you will be fine.

We all know that we cannot expect foreigners to behave like an Italian would do, in the end we do the same abroad.
casinadirosa is offline  
Jun 29th, 2005, 03:43 AM
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Hi Larry
Although I agree with casindirosa at heart, in that it's good to just be yourselves, and avoid "screaming and laughing loud" in restaurants, I strongly disagree in that I would never tell anyone to ignore those books. I have three of them on my shelf.

"Living, Studying and Working in Italy" is more of a reference book if you are planning to try to live in Italy as a non-citizen)

I am on the final chapter of Tobias Jones' "The Dark Heart of Italy" and enjoyed this wonderful book immensely-it talks about so many aspects of Italian life over and above the "wine, women and song" approach (from the point of view of the Author, who lived in Parma for four years), and was a bestseller in Italy, so was also read by many Italians. His insights on the game of soccer alone are worth buying the book. There's alot about the machinations of Italian Politics, and Catholicism.
I think this book is much more fun if you already have a certain amount of experience in Italy.

But as for learning generalized local customs and "etiquette" for a traveler, you might be better off with "Culture Shock: Italy".

Further, no matter how much you "read up" beforehand, nothing can ever replace moments of spontaneous encounter. Italians (and yes this is a generalization, but a nice one) tend to be gracious, hospitable and friendly, so you will be fine if you mirror that behavior. A helpful phrase akin to "have a nice day" when leaving a shop or after a conversation on the street would be; "Buona giornata" or in the late afternoon/evening; "Buona serata". It's kind of like tipping your hat. (guess I'm old enough to remember that custom!)

Happy reading!
bellastar is offline  
Jun 29th, 2005, 03:46 AM
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Casinadirosa, thanks for your perspective. I appreciate your taking the time to reply. But let me explain why I found the Polly Platt books to be so helpful.

I certainly know the basics of good behavior, and I speak French and Italian. This upcoming trip to Italy will be our third.

But our last trip to France was my seventh, and yet I still learned things from the Polly Platt books that were very helpful. For example, in the US, it is normal to enter a small shop without greeting the shopkeeper at all. There is nothing wrong with greeting the shopkeeper, but you are not expected to do so. You can even wander around yourself looking at, and even picking up and inspecting the merchandise. That is routine behavior, and there is nothing wrong with it. The shop is a commercial establishment, and you are not there to make a personal connection with the service people. You are there to see if there's something you want to buy.

In France, that behavior would be considered to be very rude. You are expected to greet the shopkeeper and others upon entering, and although you can then look around, you shouldn't touch anything until you are helped. If you act as if you were in an American shop, I don't think the reaction of a French shopkeeper is apt to be "well, maybe American customs are different." They are quite apt to simply think you are acting badly. Despite having been to France six times previously, I was unaware of this cultural difference until it was explicitly pointed out by the Polly Platt books.

So, what do I do in Italy? Am I expected to greet the store personnel? Should I not touch anything until helped? That is, is it like France?

And apart from stores, are there other cultural tips that will ease my way in Italy? In some countries it's considered very rude to put your elbows on the dinner table; in others, it's normal behavior. I do find these books helpful.

- Larry
justretired is offline  
Jun 29th, 2005, 03:58 AM
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Hi, Bellastar. Your reply came in while I was replying to Casinadirosa. Thanks! As someone familiar with three of the books I mentioned, your comments are very helpful. I'll probably look at "Culture shock: Italy" for general etiquette tips, and may also read "The Dark Heart of Italy" for general background, based on your recommendation.

- Larry
justretired is offline  
Jun 29th, 2005, 04:05 AM
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May I suggest that since there seem to be a great many people who read thses posts and then take them as gospel that you might want to go a little farther in terms of the France and shops "issue."

I know for a fact that this "acceptable behavior" can depend a good deal on the size of the "shop" and where it is located in France and this obviously does not apply to large department stores (although there very well may be people here who would assume that it does).

As to the "laughing out loud in a restaurant"...that depends on the venue and the occasion as well. I've have yet to see anyone who enjoys a good rollicking time in a restaurant than some of my FRENCH friends in Paris.
Intrepid1 is offline  
Jun 29th, 2005, 04:20 AM
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I would NOT trust any such books about etiquette in Italy, unless it pointed out the differences among regions and between urban and rural. I was surprised to learn through discussions with some native Italians of the Italian Language forum (Aboutcom) that some ways that are very normal and natural in the south (e.g., moving hands when talking) are considered rude and boorsih in parts of the north, and some behaviors that are considered polite and genteel in parts of the north (e.g., not making much eye contact) are considered unfriendly and weird in much of the south (and by Americans like me).
cmt is offline  
Jun 29th, 2005, 05:06 AM
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Intrepid1, your points are very well taken. Nobody expects you to greet anyone in a department store.

And cmt, I think your point about regional differences is also very good. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to see someone tell me that customs are very different in different parts of the US - in the south, people are much more apt to chat with shopkeepers, and even to have long conversations in supermarket checkout lines, without any objections from those behind in the line (in fact, they'll join in the discussion).

To some extent, once Polly Platt opened my eyes to French cultural differences, all I have to do is to observe, something I was not doing well in the past. Once I became aware of the French customs, they became so obvious everywhere that it's hard to believe I had missed them previously. The rules apply even to a tolltaker on a highway: as I hand him the toll, I say,

Bonjour, monsieur.
- Bonjour, monsieur. Merci.
Au revoir, monsieur.
- Au revoir, monsieur. Bonne journée.

A French person coming across a small group of friends will shake hands with, or kiss, each friend individually. If he can't linger, he might say "Sorry, I've got to run", and then will shake hands with or kiss each person a second time, despite having just done so. The first time was to say hello, and the second time to say goodbye, and you have to do both.

- Larry
justretired is offline  
Jun 29th, 2005, 05:32 PM
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You can find a lot of very useful information of this type on the slowtrav web site under the Instructions for Visitors section:

Much of this is of a practical nature, like how to use the trains and dial the phones, but if you read, for example, the sections on restaurants and food shopping, you will get a lot of good information on the normal and expected behavior in these types of interactions.
nonnafelice is offline  
Jun 29th, 2005, 06:18 PM
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Hello cmt, you IMO are very correct about different customs and manners regarding the north of Italy versus the south of Italy. I actually prefer the south of Italy but usually am in the northern part of Italy. Take care.
LoveItaly is offline  
Jun 29th, 2005, 06:54 PM
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nonnafelice, thanks for the reference to the slowtrav site. There's a lot there; I'm still exploring it.

(Non sono ancora un nonno, ma sono felice.)

- Larry
justretired is offline  
Jun 29th, 2005, 07:00 PM
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" French person coming across a small group of friends will shake hands with, or kiss, each friend individually. If he can't linger, he might say "Sorry, I've got to run", and then will shake hands with or kiss each person a second time, despite having just done so. The first time was to say hello, and the second time to say goodbye, and you have to do both. "

Maybe I look as an ignorant ..but you don't do it this way on the states ?
We do in Spain just the same
kenderina is offline  
Jun 30th, 2005, 03:48 AM
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kenderina, I think we Americans are a practical lot, always in a hurry. For most of us, if we've just greeted a group of friends moments before, there's no need to go around again to say goodbye to each. Just wave your hand, and say goodbye to everyone at once.

At work, we don't generally make a big deal of greeting people at all - just "Hi", or "Good morning" to an entire group all at once, without formally shaking hands with each. When I had a summer job in France (decades ago), I was astounded by how much time went into the daily greeting rituals. In a department of N people, that's N(N-1)/2 handshakes every day - for 30 people, that's 435 handshakes. What lost productivity, I thought.

On the other hand, the French system of using titles had, for me, the great advantage of not requiring me to remember every name. It was just, "Bonjour, Monsieur", "Bonjour, Madame". In the US, it's "Hi, Doug", with a wave of the hand, but that means you have to remember Douglas's name.

kenderina, where did you get your screen name? "K" is barely a Spanish letter.

My wife invented the screen name "justretired". I pointed out that it was a bad choice, unsustainable because as time passed, I would eventually no longer be "just retired". And indeed, at this point, I've already been retired almost two years. travelphile may have solved the problem by writing, "Hi, JustR".

- Larry
justretired is offline  
Jun 30th, 2005, 06:13 AM
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kenderina -

No - in the US you don;t go around cheek-kissing and shaking hands at random. This is done usually only on formal occasions. For instance at a wedding or a "formal" dinner party or holiday gathering greeting friends or family you have not seen in a while. Or in a business situation - meeting someone for the first time

Otherwise all this shaking/kissing is overkill - and would be seen as odd. You certainly don;t kiss/shake hands with people you see every day or even every few days.

(Two jobs ago we had someone visiting from our German office - and he kept trying to shake everone's hand. Finally someone had to take him aside and tell him to stop doing it - because a couple of the clients were starting to make jokes about it.)
nytraveler is offline  
Jun 30th, 2005, 10:09 AM
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I love threads like this one and others on manners in different places. I think you can still be yourself and be aware of what might be less than acceptable in another country. We travelled to Japan last year and the research I did for that was really an eye-opener! And I've worked with many Chinese people -- I was the one designated to buy 'awards' gift and didn't realize that it was not customary in China to give people watches or clocks as gifts until someone advised me of that.

Anyway -- Italy. I would normally say good morning or hello when I come into a store anyway so that was no problem. Not touching the produce was new to me since it's customary at home to fill a bag yourself. I never saw plastic gloves but the store clerk was always happy to do it for me. I didn't know about putting money into people's hands instead of on the counter and now I can't remember if I did it. But here are some things I noticed: once, when I was buying a cold drink at a cafe, I put my hat and a small package on the counter and got a disapproving look from the server. I think it was the hat that offended, not the package. Also, I noticed that many tourists talk in quite loud voices and seem unaware of their surroundings (churches, small towns, train cars where people are trying to sleep). I saw many people taking pictures where it was clearly posted that this was not allowed (included a guy who snapped several flash photos of a group of nuns praying in a chapel). And I haven't seen this anywhere but I just always think it's polite to ask the owner or clerk's permission first if you want to take a picture in their shop or restaurant.

Just one more think about clothes. There's a lot of talk on these sites about appropriate dress. I think you'll be fine in casual clothes just about anywhere you go if you follow any special rules (in churches, for example) and dress in a neat, clean, respectful manner. Just remember how your mother always wanted you to look when you were invited to somebody's house for dinner. It's the same thing -- you're a guest in someone else's country and you want to represent your own country well.
hdm is offline  
Jun 30th, 2005, 06:16 PM
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hdm, thanks for your contribution.

I seem to remember being told in Spain not to put things down on a bar.

In Japan, small gifts were given on many occasions, but we had been warned that the custom is to never open them immediately - take them home (well, back to your hotel), and open them there. When I was handed a small gift-wrapped package by a manager at Sony, he did say, "Not a TV set".

- Larry
justretired is offline  
Jun 30th, 2005, 07:22 PM
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Thanks a lot, justretired and nytraveler !
You would have to see a spanish forum or chat, where all the ones who join it daily begin to greet everybody one by one, it's like 10 minutes where you only can read "Hello Patty, how are you ? and handful of names more

Justretired, my nick comes from the "Dragonlance" series. They are a bit like The Lord of the Rings. The have a race who are called Kenders. But they use it the same for masculine or femenine ones. I thought it was unfair..and invented kenderina. -ina is a femenine suffix in Spanish. I have this nickname on Internet for almost 10 years
kenderina is offline  
Jun 30th, 2005, 07:44 PM
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kenderina, I'm very amused by the image of Spanish greeting customs being transported into cyberspace! Maybe we need a "smiley" to represent a handshake, or a kiss on the cheek.

Did you send your message at 5:22 in the morning?!!

Que tenga un buen dia !

- Lorenzo (como me llamo en mi clase de español)
justretired is offline  
Jun 30th, 2005, 07:55 PM
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yes, it is 5.50 in the morning, I couldn't get asleep and I knew there were people here to talk because of the hour difference but I'm going back to bed

Buenas noches para ti , Lorenzo !

kenderina is offline  
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