Italy: First Name or Title?
Addressing others with respect
Follow Italian business protocol by waiting until you are invited before using first names. Italians always start with the more formal title + family name and some continue to do so even when they have worked together for years. It is a sign of respect, though it can also mean that they feel that they do not know each other well enough to move to first names. Moving too quickly to first names can make Italians uncomfortable as they may feel that you are pretending to be friendly for ulterior motives.
In most Italian companies, executives and subordinates continue to use titles and surnames only. In many large Italian multinationals, however, the corporate culture of using first names has become the norm and you may find that your Italian colleagues move very quickly to familiar terms.
If the person you are meeting is outside your company e.g. a supplier he or she would expect to use the more formal greeting for a long time.
You are expected to use “Signore” [Mr.] and “Signora” [Mrs.], plus the family name, when introduced to strangers.
“Signorina” [Miss] is rarely used in Italy today, and is best avoided. It is most commonly used when a woman appears relatively young [late teens /early twenties] and is unmarried.
Where a title is known, it is best to use it, as a title relating to a university degree has higher status than "Signore" or "Signora." A male university graduate is given the title of “Dottore”, while the female equivalent is “Dottoressa.” If in doubt whether someone has a degree or not it is best to err on the side of caution. You pay a compliment even if you get it wrong.
Italians who have a degree in engineering use the title Ingeniere (written Ing.) instead of Dottore and lawyers use Avvocato (written as e.g. Avv. Rossi) as they are considered to have higher status again.
When greeting someone formally then you say:
“Buon giorno dottore Rossi” when you arrive and “arriverdeci” as you leave
or the informal greeting:
“Ciao Marco” when you arrive and “ciao” again as you leave
If this sounds very confusing – don’t worry too much as Italians know that other nationalities are more informal than they are and that it is not easy. The fact that you are trying will be appreciated.
If you have to summon a server in a restaurant or clerk, you may use the phrase “senta”, which means, generally, “please come here.”