Cultural faux pas – how to avoid embarrassing yourself in Italy

When meeting a group of Italians, make sure you shake hands with all members of the group, make eye contact and smile. Not doing so is considered rude. When they know you better, don't be surprised is they greet you with kisses on the cheeks and/or an embrace as well - Italians tend to more tactile generally than northern Europeans.

If you visit a church or cathedral in Italy, make sure you're wearing long sleeves and trousers or a long skirt - going into such places wearing shorts and t-shirts is considered disrespectful.

Make sure you dress well when in Italy as the Italian are very fashion conscious and appearances are important, as are first impressions. The clothes you wear can indicate your social status, family background and education level. Your confidence, style and demeanour are also important.

Calling cards are quite widely used in Italy, so it's a good idea to take a supply of you own. They usually include the person's name, address, title or academic honours, and telephone number. They can be used in social situations, but should not used in business situations, where business cards are preferred.

When giving presents to Italian avoid chrysanthemums, as they are used at funerals, and avoid red flowers, which indicate secrecy, and yellow flowers, which indicate jealousy. Make sure any wine you give is good quality, and don't wrap things in black, the colour of mourning, or purple, the colour of bad luck. If someone gives you a gift, it's usual to open it straight away.

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