3 Things You Need to Know before Starting Work in Italy
Your bags are packed and you’re ready to make your mark in the Italian business scene. Good for you! It’s hard moving to a new place only to start building relationships and business contacts from scratch, and I have to say I’m impressed with your bold move.
But now what? You’ve asked some of your more nomadic friends who’ve visited Italy for advice and consulted several travel books, but you still feel as though you aren’t quite prepared enough to face your new colleagues. Well, I’m here to help. I’ve compiled these two things you may not be aware of (but probably should be) before starting work in Italy. Is this list inclusive of everything you might need to know? No. Let’s face it, if you get a “do this, not that” list you run the risk of overcorrecting and coming off a bit robotic. And we don’t want that now, do we? This is just a quick rundown on things that might make your word relationships run a bit smoother.
1.) You might need to adjust your sense of humor. Keep in mind that nothing I say is true of all Italian people; there are as many different types of personalities as there are people in the world. That being said, it’s been my experience—and the experience of a few friends—that Italians in general tend towards broader, slapstick comedy. I’m not saying this as a way of encouraging you to, I don’t know, slip on a banana peel; however, I am trying to help your inner office relations. Again, don’t go overboard, but try to appeal to the sensibilities of those around you. If you make jokes that aren’t really culturally relevant, you’ll only be cementing your status as an outsider. Instead listen to what others say and try to imitate that same kind of energy when you tell anecdotes of your misadventures. Everyone loves a good laugh; give them one and soon all your colleagues will love you.
2.) Get over your insecurities. I’m not asking you to completely overhaul your childhood traumas—if that were the case, I’d need years of therapy focused on my awkward adolescence before I could even set foot in Italy. All I mean to say is that, generally speaking, Italians tend to be blunt. It won’t seem so bad when you’re getting catcalls while out for a refreshing walk, but as easily as they bestow a compliment they won’t hesitate to call you stupid or ugly either. At first it can be a bit jarring, especially at the office, but my advice is to just shrug it off. What’s one person’s (unsolicited) opinion matter? Unless it’s your boss, then take note and adjust as needed.
3.) If all else fails, bring up football. If you want to make small talk but don’t quite know where to start, bring up the national sport. Even if you know nothing about sports—ahem, like me—then ask for the other person to explain it to you. Or if you’re lucky they won’t be sporty either and you can try to dissect other people’s fascination with athletics. Either way, everyone will have an opinion one way or the other. Use it to your advantage.
The best way to combat insecurity over being in an unfamiliar country is to be as prepared as possible. Read as much as you can on the local culture and customs and try your best to learn the language. Contact Language Trainers for information on Italian courses in your area. If you’ve already started memorizing words and phrases in preparation for your trip, we have an Italian Language Level Test that will show you how far along you are—and how much further you need to go. The most important thing is to relax and let your personality shine through; because, even with the internet between us, I can tell you’re a pretty awesome person. And I’m a great judge of character.