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Published by reiss.laura, 2019-08-14 12:16:05

Italy The Basics

Italy The Basics

Italy the basics


Italy, officially the Italian Republic (“Repubblica Italiana”), is a peninsula in the Mediterranean Sea. Its most prominent
feature is its boot-like shape kicking the island of Sicily.
This last one, together with Sardinia, represent the two largest islands in the Mediterranean Sea. Italy also has two
independent countries within its borders: the Vatican City, in Rome, and the independent State of San Marino on the
north-east coast, the world’s smallest country.
Last Campione d’Italia is an Italian enclave in Switzerland.
Much of Italy is covered by mountains. The Dolomite Mountains, which extend across northern Italy, are part of the
Alps mountain range. The Alps extend across the northern Italian border from West to East. The Apennine Mountains
cut down the centre of Italy, stretching from North to South, dividing the east and west coasts. The Po Valley, just
south of the Alps, is the basin of the Po River and it is considered a fertile farm land.
Italy is divided into 20 regions, each with its own distinctive dialect, architecture and cuisine:


1. Trentino-Alto Adige Trento
2. Friuli Venezia - Giulia Trieste
3. Veneto Venezia
4. Lombardia Milano
5. Piemonte Torino
6. Liguria Genova
7. Valle d’Aosta Aosta
8. Emilia Romagna Bologna


9. Toscana Firenze
10. Umbria Perugia
11. Abruzzo L’Aquila
12. Molise Campobasso
13. Marche Ancona
14. Lazio Roma (also capital of Italy)


15. Campania Napoli
16. Basilicata Potenza
17. Puglia Bari
18. Calabria Catanzaro
19. Sicilia Palermo
20. Sardegna Cagliari


Italy the basics


The climate in Italy is highly diverse and can be far from the stereotypical Mediterranean climate depending on the
Most of the inland northern areas for example Turin, Milan and Bologna, have a continental climate. The coastal areas
of Liguria and most of the peninsula south of Florence generally fit the Mediterranean stereotype.
The coastal areas of the peninsula can be very different from the inland higher altitudes and valleys, particularly
during the winter months when the higher altitudes tend to be cold, wet, and often snowy.
The coastal regions have mild winters and warm, dry summers, although lowland valleys can be quite hot in summer.


Italy the basics



Italy has been a democratic republic since June 2nd 1946, when the monarchy was abolished by popular referendum.
The constitution was promulgated on 1st January 1948.
Executive power is practiced collectively by the Council of Ministers, which is led by the President of the Council, in
jargon referred to as “Premier” or “Primo Ministro” (Prime Minister).
Institutional buildings in Rome:
Palazzo del Quirinale is the seat of the President of the Italian Republic.
Palazzo Chigi is the seat of the Council of Ministers, headed by the Prime Minister.
Palazzo Montecitorio is the seat of the Chamber of Deputies.
Palazzo Madama is the seat of the Senate.


Roman Catholicism is by far the largest religion in the country, although since 1984 it is no longer officially the state
religion. Most Italians are Roman Catholic, although only about one-third of them are active members.
The number of practicing Catholics in Italy has been decreasing in latest years. There are also significant minorities
which include Protestants, Jews and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, numbering approximately 400.000.
Present Constitution confirms that the State of Vatican City is recognised by Italy as an independent, sovereign entity.
Catholic Church has a major influence on Italian politics, culture and social development and enjoys some privileges,
stemming from its sovereign status and its historical political authority, not available to other faiths.
Any public school provides “hour of religion” classes, though this class is optional and students who do not wish to
attend are free to study other subjects.
Immigration, both legal and illegal, continues to add large groups of non-Christian residents, mainly Muslims, from
North Africa, South Asia, Albania, and the Middle East, whom number estimation is one million.
Buddhists number some 40.000 of European origin and 20.000 of Asian origin. Scientologists claim to have
approximately 100.000 members, Waldensians estimate approximately 30.000 members (concentrated mainly in the
north-west, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) has approximately 20.000 members.
A Jewish community of approximately 30.000 people is spread in 21 cities. Other significant religious communities
include Orthodox, small Protestant groups, Japanese Buddhists, the Baha’i Faith, and South Asian Hindus. Recent polls
show that approximately 14% of the population consider themselves either atheists or agnostics.


Italy the basics



The Italian estimated resident population exceeds 61 million, 5 million are immigrants. Italy currently has the fourth-
largest population and the fifth highest population density in the European Union. The highest density (one- third) is in
northern Italy.


Italy the basics



Italian is the official language of Italy, San Marino and the Vatican City, as well as one of the three official languages in
Italian also is the second official language in some areas of Istria, Slovenia and Croatia, where an Italian minority lives.


The euro (currency sign: €; currency code: EUR) is the official currency.
The euro was introduced to world financial markets as an accounting currency on 1 January 1999. Coins and
banknotes have replaced the “Lira” since January 2002.


The supply is 220V, though anything requiring 240V will work. Plugs either have two or three round pins: a multi-plug
adapter is very useful.


Italy’s International Dialling code is +39.
To call a land line from abroad dial +39 followed by the area code - INCLUDING THE ZERO - then the phone number.
For Example: to call a land line number in Rome where the area code is 06, dial 0039 06 and then the phone number.
To call a mobile phone from abroad dial +39 followed by the mobile phone number.
For Example: to call the mobile phone number 334 1234567, dial 0039 334 1234567.
To call a land line from Italy dial the area code followed by the phone number INCLUDING THE ZERO.
For Example: to call a land line number in Rome where the area code is 06, dial 06 and then the phone number.
To call a mobile phone from Italy dial the mobile phone number.
For Example: to call the mobile phone number 334 1234567, dial 334 1234567.
Please note that Italian mobile phone numbers don’t have the ZERO in front of the number, either for calling from
abroad or Italy.
Mobile (cell) phones in Italy work on the GSM European standard, usually compatible with most international phones.
If you’re going to be in the country for any length of time, it might be worth getting an Italian SIM card.
Phone tariffs are among the most expensive in Europe, especially if you’re calling long-distance or internationally.


Italy the basics



Generally office hours are from Monday to Friday from 08.30/9am to 5.30/6pm.
Standard shops opening hours are Monday to Saturday from 9.00am to 12.30pm and from 3.30pm to 7.30pm, with
closure on Sunday. In central and southern Italy they open and close a bit later.
Shops located in large cities and/or in the city centre typically do not close at lunch time nor on Sunday.
Department stores are usually open 9.00am to 9.00pm every day including Sunday, thus varying region to region and
city to city.
Post offices opening hours are Monday to Friday from 8.00am to 7.00pm for larger branches and from 8.00am to
2.00pm for smaller ones. On Saturday they all close at noon.


Italy the basics


Crime and personal safety

Over the last years theft and violence have been on the increase in Italy as a result of migratory flow and financial
Like the rest of Europe, major cities have unsafe areas that are best avoided, especially at night.
Petty crime including bag snatching, pick-pocketing and theft from cars can take place especially in larger cities, in and
around major tourist attractions, on public transports and around transport hubs.
When using bus, tram and metro, pay close attention to your personal belongings. Street children may stand outside
railways stations, acting on their own or in pairs to distract their victims and rob them.

However, if you follow simple common-sense rules you will have no problems. Here are a few tips:
• Be aware of bag snatchers and pickpockets on public transport, railways and metro stations and in very crowded
areas in general.
• When using public transports, always watch your handbag, briefcase, purse or wallet and keep it close to your front.
Men should not keep their wallets in rear trouser pockets.
• Do not leave your luggage unattended.
• Car theft is high, so possibly leave your car in a garage or indoor parking place overnight. When parking on the
street, never leave windows open and/or valuable items in view.
• Always lock your car doors if you stop at coffee shop or gas station on highways or motorways.
• While driving, do not leave your valuables in front or rear seats, or keep car doors locked.
• Avoid hanging your arm out of the window if wearing an expensive watch as well as stopping and getting off the car
if approached by people pretending a fake accident.
• At supermarkets/shopping malls do not leave your trolley unattended with your bag in.
• If living on lower floors or in a house avoid leaving windows open, especially at night or when out, and keep front
door locked. Alarm and/or windows safety grates have a deterrent effect.

In case of theft or loss, always report the incident at the police station within 24 hours and ask for a police statement
For Emergency Numbers, please refer to “useful links and emergency numbers” chapter.


Italy the basics


Civil Unrest/Political Tension

Demonstrations occur frequently in Italy particularly in major cities. Demonstrations can result in public
transportation disruptions and commercial premises closures, particularly in tourist areas. It is better to avoid protests
and large public gatherings as they may turn violent, and monitor the media for information about any possible safety
or security risks.

Health precautions

Vaccinations are not required and Italy doesn't pose any more health worries than anywhere else in Europe.
Tap water is perfectly safe to drink. If not, a "acqua non potabile" sign always is displayed to indicate that the water is
unsafe to drink.
During the summer it's worth taking insect repellent against mosquito bites.
An Italian pharmacist (farmacia) is well qualified to give you advice on minor ailments and to dispense prescriptions.
Pharmacies generally follow the same opening time of other shops, nevertheless a 24/7 rotation system is in place
everywhere. The address of the closest open pharmacy is displayed on any chemist's door or listed on the local
In case of emergency, go straight to the Pronto Soccorso (Emergency Room) of the nearest ospedale (hospital), or call
118 to ask for an ambulanza (ambulance).


It sometimes requires patience to deal with the Italian concept of service, which does not always seem to follow the
maxim: customer is always right.
Long queues are the norm in banks, post offices and government offices.

Natural Disaster

Italy is in an active seismic zone and is subject to earthquakes.
Mt Etna on the island of Sicily, Mt Stromboli and Mt Vulcano in the Eolian Islands chain north of Sicily are all active
volcanoes. Mt Vesuvius near Naples is currently inactive.
Due to global warming and torrential rains, rocks slide and floods are unfortunately well rising.


Italy the basics



Drivers should take into account:

• High gasoline/fuel price (benzina/diesel).
• The difficulty of parking in town.
• The Italians' often erratic approach to driving and their excessive speed (Italy has one of the highest rates of motor
vehicle accidents in the European Union).

Golden Rules

• Traffic drives on the right, and the minimum driving age in Italy is 18 years.
• Seat belts must be worn in the front and back of vehicle.
• Children under 12 years, 1,50 mt and 36 kilos shall travel with appropriate car seats or with specie seat belt
adaptors, according to their age and size.
• Drivers must wear shoes while driving (barefoot and slippers are not allowed).
• In case of a breakdown or accident, drivers must wear "a high visibility jacket" to get off the car and place a red
triangle at a minimum distance of 50 meters behind the vehicle.
• A valid driving license must be carried at all times*.
• Lights must be turned on while driving on main roads and highways (autostrade, superstrade, tangenziali etc.), even
during daylight hours.
• Phones may only be used with either hands free equipment or headset.
• The alcohol level for D.U.I. is .05 BAC.

*Please refer to our "Driving" facts sheet for essential information about driving licenses.

Speed Limits

50 kph in town
90-110 kph on dual carriageway roads out of town (superstrade and tangenziali)
130 kph on motorways (autostrade)

Motorways (Autostrade)

Autostrade are indicated by green signs.
Dual carriageway roads (superstrade and tangenziali) are indicated by blue signs.

Autostrade are subject to tolls. Tolls can be paid cash, by cards (debit or credit cards, viacard) and by telepass, an
electronic device to be placed on your vehicle's dashboard.

Road Rescue Service

24 hrs emergency service is provided by ACI (Automobile Club Italia).
Toll free number is: 803 116.


Italy the basics



Opening time can be very different depending on the Italian region, the area where the station is located and its size.
In town, gas stations are generally open Monday to Friday from 7.00/7.30am to 12.30pm and from 3.00pm to 7.00pm.
On Saturday they close at noon.

Petrol can be bought 24 hrs a day and on Sundays from automatic petrol pumps.


There are frequent strikes in Italy that can result in delays and cancellations to regular public transport services.

A few Italian cities like Brescia, Milan, Rome, Turin and Naples have a metro system (metropolitana).
All Italian cities and towns have a comprehensive bus and/or tram system, which is quite inexpensive compared to
other European cities.
Bus stops are known as “fermate” and buses (autobus) usually run from 6am till midnight.
Tickets (biglietti) must be bought before boarding the bus, and are available from kiosks, bars and tobacconists
Buses are boarded via the front and rear doors and exited via the central doors. Tickets are validated by being
punched in machines on board.

High-speed trains are:
• Freccia Rossa
• Italo

Route covered is Turin-Milan-Bologna-Florence-Rome-Naples-Salerno. High-speed trains always require seat pre-

Other trains using both high speed and traditional lines are:
• Freccia Bianca
• Freccia Argento
• Intercity IC

Express, Regional and local trains are mainly used by daily commuters and often are old and in bad conditions.

Train tickets (except high-speed ones) have to be validated at the machine placed at the train platform before


Italy the basics



"Italians... are like tesserae, the pieces of a mosaic.
All separate and of different size and colour. But the pieces add up to a recognizable whole. And this, when all said and
done, is greater than the sum of its parts."

Charles Richards - The New Italians

Italy has many advantages as an expat destination: timeless art and culture, spectacular and varied natural beauty,
irresistible design and fashion, incomparable wining and dining and a truly vibrant lifestyle.
But what keeps people coming back and back perhaps, are the Italians themselves, and their ability to enthuse and
inspire others. Integrating with Italian colleagues will indeed present a rewarding and stimulating challenge.
A Starting Point: One of the most important things to remember on arriving in Italy is that the top priority for the
Italians is building relationships. Family and friends lie at the heart of the culture. Trust comes from the closeness of
one's relationships. If you dedicate time to this you will reap enormous benefits, both at work and in your personal
life. Relationships commonly take precedence over the rules - in Italy 'doing a task' is often not as important as 'doing
a favour'.
Being able and willing to sacrifice for the relationship is highly valued. Italians tends to prioritize friend and family
issues over work - in fact, at times, work does not start until personal issues are addressed. There is a low default trust
in institutions in Italy and close relationships often substitute for this missing element of trust.
Work relationships, as well as friendships, take time to establish and, once agreed on, they are maintained for good.
Family and friends are often used as 'connections' to find ways around bureaucratic obstacles and 'speed things up'.
Another important step you can take as you are integrating is to adapt to the Italian style of communication. You will
often experience 'conversational overlap'.
Your Italian interlocutor will give you an answer before you've even completed what you wanted to say. This is
motivated usually more by enthusiasm than a desire to take control.
The emotional transparency encouraged in Italy means that holding feelings is sometimes seen as disengagement.
Interruption, on the contrary, is all part of Italian life.


Italy the basics


Emotional engagement is necessary to build relationships and trust with Italians. Open expression of emotions tends
to be associated with frankness. Most Italians, therefore, share their ideals, hopes, disappointments, desires – and
expect the same in return.

La ‘Bella Figura’ is another key value in Italy and it is used to describe the ability to present oneself well, have a sense
of style, behave with respect and know one’s place in society. It is about standing out of the crowd and it stems from a
love of beauty and form which is instilled at an early age. Many Italians are obsessed with what others think of them.
This is linked with the concept of ‘fare una bella figura’ and it is the importance given to protecting the right image –
which can be more important than the reality of the situation, even if it is an illusion. ‘Fare una bella figura’ is about
impressing others by getting it just right!

On Sundays, we would get all dressed up in our finest clothes so that we could stroll around the piazza in the afternoon
looking like a million dollars, even if we didn’t have a lira in tasca (penny in our pocket). It was the image that counted,
not the reality – that was boring.

Cynthia Milani, Brand Italy: A Guide To The Italians

Flexibility and ‘l’arte dell’arrangiarsi’ – the art of improvisation - are key features of the Italian culture which an
expat soon experiences and can be a source of frustration for those who feel comfortable with clear procedures. Rules
and laws are often seen by many Italians as ideals and, therefore, flexible. In business, rules are often bent or
interpreted to fit one’s needs and get things done in a timely fashion. Italians pride themselves for being very good
crisis managers – when faced with a difficulty in following a procedure or abiding by a rule in order to achieve
something, one naturally takes a shortcut.
Italians feel very comfortable with making decisions and solving problems at the last moment. They thrive on flexibility
and creativity and their ability to draw on their network of strong business relationships give them confidence that
they will deliver what they promise, sometimes with minutes to spare!

The captain of a large ship with an international crew has hit an iceberg. He must evacuate the ship as quickly as
possible. He yells to the Germans aboard ‘Jump, it is an order’, and they all jump. He yells to the British aboard ‘Jump,
it would not be sporting of you to remain’. They all jump. He yells to the French ‘Jump, it is the clever thing to do’ and
they jump. Then he looks at the Italians and says ‘I absolutely forbid you to jump’. They jump.

Richard W. Hill


Italy the basics


Stability and continuity are a priority for many Italians. A stable financial situation is highly regarded and it often
entails maintaining a steady long-term job. Italians tends to embrace changes in their private and professional life only
when they are certain that the change is for the better. This also means that most Italians are thoughtful, analyze
probabilities in detail and make decisions based on what has worked in the past or in similar circumstances. Linked to
stability is status.
Status is the position attributed to a person or the position a person holds in society that helps Italians determine the
level of formality to use in conversations. Status provides the Italian with the clues needed to interact and establish
relationships with others, while using the right level of formality to preserve face, dignity and determine unspoken
boundaries. This is the reason why Italians often use titles such as ‘Dottore’ or ‘Ingegnere’ and the courtesy form ‘Lei’.
As a result of this, Italian subordinates tend to be cautious about giving upward feedback to superiors as they have
been brought up to be wary of positional power and hierarchy from their early days in school and university. Bosses
control many of the uncertainties on which future careers can depend and because, in the end, evaluation is
subjectivity in the hands of the boss, it is considered risky to challenge them – especially in a public settings.
An important note… No one from any culture is ‘Mr Average’, so when you come to Italy as an expat you may meet a
number of Italians whose behaviour fits the points above but some may be quite idiosyncratic compared to the Italian
‘norm’ – because of regional origin, personality or even the special nature of the organizational culture to which they
belong. However, you can be pretty sure that most Italians will agree that these values are important to operate in an
Italian context and it will be appreciated if you take these aspects seriously.

This Italy country insight was compiled by TCO International – Developing Global People

Italians expect that the special needs of
demanding individuals will be met by
those they deal with. This is a country
focused on customization. An obvious
example of this is shown in the precise
requests people can make when
ordering a simple ‘caffè’ – and the bar
staff’s ability to meet these requests!


Italy the basics


Learn some Italian!

Italian grammar is not easy, but learning at least some dozen words and making oneself understood saying isolate
words is fairly easy.
In Italy the knowledge of English is spread, not mandatory. If you absolutely want to speak English, always ask: “Parla
inglese?” (or even in English “Do you speak English?”) and wait for an answer. Do not just start speaking English at
people. Anyway, when you speak English with a local you’d better use basic words and expressions and articulate well.

Meetings & Greetings

When being introduced during a business or social meeting, shake hands with everyone, present men, women and
children and shake hands again when leaving. Friends often greet each other with a kiss on both cheeks.


Italy became a unified state only in 1861. As a result, Italians often feel more loyalty to their region than to their
nation as a whole. For this reason, not only dialects, traditions or cuisine may be very different region to region but
also, and particularly, mentality, temperament and lifestyle considerably differ north to south.

Dining Out

Business entertainment is generally done at lunch or dinner in a restaurant. Dinner is more of a social occasion to get
to know people. Business may be discussed at a breakfast meeting, but it is not common.
If you invite, you pay for the meal.
Do not invite yourself at Italian new colleagues or neighbours’ homes.
When invited always bring, or send, a small gift for the host or hostess. A good bottle of wine and/or flowers (an
uneven number, no chrysanthemums which are a symbol of death and no red roses that are a symbol of love and
passion) will be always appreciated.
Cocktails are not common in Italy as well as drinking without eating. Heavy drinking is unusual and not appreciated.
Italians do not use bread plates and butter. Bread should be placed next to your plate on the table.


Italy the basics


Roll spaghetti with your fork on the sides of your pasta plate.
Do not roll spaghetti on your spoon.
Keep both hands above the table, never on your lap.
Do not put your elbows on the table.
Keep your wineglass almost full if you do not want a refill.
Burping is considered extremely rude.
Do not leave the table until everyone is finished.

The Bill

At the restaurant, ask for your bill “il conto” when you finish eating. It may not be brought to you until you ask.
The bill may include a sitting or cover charge called “coperto”, which ranges from 1 to 3 euros per person or even
more, depending on the restaurant. It is automatically added to the bill and it must be visible on the menu. This is the
charge for the tablecloth, silverware, etc.
Lazio region, where Rome is located, has banned it (though it still routinely appears on menus) while it may be added
in other regions.
Like the coperto, the “servizio” charge (listed as a percentage of the total bill) is something you have to check. The
service charge must be listed on the menu, and is generally in tiny print above or below the coperto charge.
Tipping is not mandatory but always appreciated. Italians generally do not tip as a percentage and may more easily
round up the bill.
There are a number of reasons for this cultural difference, primarily the fact that servers are paid a decent wage and
do not live off tips. Secondly because “coperto” and “servizio” maybe charged already. Last but not least, many
smaller trattorias in Italy are run by family.
Leaving small tips in bars and cafes is more customary in Rome and Southern Italy.

Remember to take your receipt, even if paying cash. It is the law and it is linked to owner’s tax purposes. You must be
able to prove that you paid. Should a plain clothes police stop you after you leave, there could be a fine to pay if no
receipt can be shown.

Tips for women

Foreign women can do business without any difficulty. Being a woman may even be considered an advantage in some
Italians are generally not inhibited when interacting with the opposite sex. Flirtation is part of the spirit of life in Italy.


Italy the basics



Use only the regulated taxis and not the unauthorised taxi drivers who tend to wait at central railway stations or
airports. Taxis are expensive and not always the quickest means of transport. Hailing for a taxis at the roadside is not
easy, but there are plenty of taxi ranks in major cities. Tipping taxi drivers is not compulsory though counters’ “round-
ups” are appreciated.


Pets are allowed in restaurants, bars, shops, malls, unless a sign is displayed outside, and on public transports with
different rules and conditions to be checked with the local service provider.
Pets are not allowed in supermarkets, theatres and cinemas.


It is prohibited in all indoor public places. You are not allowed to smoke in any offices, hotels, buses, railway and
metro stations, discotheques, cinemas, shopping malls, bars, restaurants and airports, unless there is a dedicated
smoking area.

Unmarried partnerships

These are not recognized from an institutional point of view but children born out of marriage/civil union do have the
recognition of the State and have the same rights of children born from married couples or couples bound with
legalized partnerships.
In order to be formally recognized by the State, all couples (both homosexual and heterosexual) shall register their
union producing the relevant certificate or a marriage certificate.


This is a deeply-rooted Italian custom! You’d be surprised by the number of versions of the classic ‘CAFFE’ ESPRESSO’
that people choose to drink in bars and cafes and that also vary from region to region – here’s a few of them:

Caffè Lungo An espresso with a little more water
Caffè Ristretto An extra-strong espresso
Caffè Doppio A double espresso
Caffè Macchiato caldo o freddo An espresso with hot or cold milk
Caffè Corretto An espresso with alcohol
Caffè Americano A weaker espresso with more water
Caffè Marocchino An espresso with chocolate and milk foam
Cappuccino It is usually drunk at breakfast time and maybe mid-
morning or afternoon but never after meals


Italy the basics



• January 1st - New Year's Day "Capodanno"
• January 6th - Epiphany "La Befana"
• Easter Sunday - "Pasqua"
• Easter Monday - "Pasquetta"
• Aprii 25th - Liberation Day "Festa della Liberazione”. It celebrates the end of the World War II in Italy
• May 1st - Labour Day "Festa del Lavoro"
• June 2nd - Italian Republic's Anniversary "Festa della Repubblica"
• August 15th - Virgin Mary's Assumption "Ferragosto"
• November 1st - AII Saints' Day "Tutti i Santi"
• December 8th - Immaculate conception or "Immacolata Concezione"
• December 25th - Christmas Day or "Natale"
• December 26th - "Santo Stefano"
Additionally, each city has its dedicated Saint Day, where a Patron Saint "Santo Patrono" is celebrated.
Here are a few:
• Bologna 4th October (San Petronio)
• Milan: 7th December (Sant’Ambrogio)
• Modena: 31 Gennaio (San Geminiano)
• Padua: 13 Giugno (Sant' Antonio)
• Rome: 29th June (San Pietro)
• Turin: 24th June (San Giovanni Battista)
• Venice: 25th April (San Marco)


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