Italy: Public Behaviour
Acceptable public conduct
Generally, the Italians prefer third-party introductions whenever possible.
You will always be introduced to older people and women first and it is best to follow this protocol when introducing yourself.
Upon introductions and departures, shake hands with everyone individually in a group; the American "group wave" will not be appreciated. It is polite while doing this to say "buon giorno" [in the morning] and "buona sera" [in the late afternoon and evening].
Frequent warm and vigorous handshakes can be common for both business and social occasions.
Italians will not hesitate to greet people they know with an embrace.
You'll notice that the Italians are often very animated and like to gesture with their hands while talking. In most cases, they gesture good-naturedly to emphasize a point or feeling.
While passionate gestures are common among Italians, they would not expect someone from another culture to do the same. When you know your Italian colleague well, it would be considered friendly to return a warm embrace.
Upon your arrival, it is considered common courtesy to greet people in the workplace, stores or restaurants with an appropriate daily greeting such as "buon giorno" or "buona sera" and "arrivaderci" upon leaving.
You'll also observe people [i.e. men with women, men with men, and women with women] walking arm in arm or holding hands in public. This often occurs in the evening, during a customary stroll known as "passeggiata."
Don't be surprised if your Italian colleagues stand much closer to you than you are used to or even feel comfortable with. Italian personal space is smaller than that of northern Europeans and significantly smaller than that of Americans.
Likewise, you may experience some gentle pushing and shoving during line-ups. It is not uncommon to see a person walk right up to the front of a line at a bank, restaurant or store and get served first because of the relationship he or she has with the clerk.
Queue-jumping is not the crime in Italy that it is in other countries. Italians are very tolerant of people who take advantage of the lack of strict queueing to get served first. There is even a certain admiration for someone who beats the system.
On public transportation, younger people should give up their seats to older people, while men should still give up their seats to women.
Eye contact remains direct and is the way Italians show their interest. Be aware that looking away may be perceived as a sign of boredom or outright rudeness. A romantic interest is usually implied when the eyes of two strangers meet and linger.
Do not presume to seat yourself at a gathering; whenever possible, wait for the host to tell you where to sit.
Placing the hand on the stomach signifies dislike, usually for another person.
Rubbing the chin with the fingertips, and then propelling them forward, is a gesture of contempt.
Contorting the fingers and hand to resemble the devil's horns pointed outward is an obscene gesture. Pointing the fingers inward, however, is a sign to ward off evil.
Pointing with the index and little finger is a gesture used only when wishing someone bad luck.
Slapping one's raised arm above the elbow and thumbing the nose are both considered extremely offensive.
In public, behaviours such as gum chewing, leaning, and slouching are unacceptable. Likewise, it is rare to see Italian businesspeople eating as they walk along a street. Eating an ice-cream is the only and perfectly acceptable exception to this.