Il Galateo: Proper Manners in Italy
English speakers call them good manners, the French use the term bon ton, while Italians refer to it as galateo. Despite the differences in terminology, all of these terms refer to the same thing: the correct behavior one must exhibit in any given situation.
Italians love food and, in Italy, the galateo should always be followed when eating. There are some basic rules when it comes to table manners (le buone maniere a tavola) that are extremely important and foreigners should keep these in mind when visiting the country.
To Italians, the following aren’t so much rules as basic manners that should be respected in all circumstances:
- Don’t rest your elbows on the table. This is something Italians are taught very early in life and mothers are always telling their children not to do.
- Don’t make loud or obnoxious noises when eating, especially soup or liquid food. In other words, don’t slurp it! If your dish is hot, wait a few minutes to avoid any unattractive or disturbing noises.
- Don’t speak with your mouth full.
- Eat with your mouth closed.
- Don’t belch. In the past this may have been considered a sign of satisfaction and approval of a good meal, but now burping at the table is strictly forbidden. While this custom may be present in other cultures, in Italy it is not accepted.
- Wait before starting to eat. Italians see sharing a meal as an important way to interact, so good manners dictate you should wait until everyone is seated and/or served before beginning to eat.
- Don’t smell your food.
As you can see, these are quite practical customs which, while important for Italians, can be considered valued and common practices all over the world. The Galateo suggests more rules to follow when eating, even though some of these may not be necessary in more informal settings:
- Place your napkin on your lap and not around your neck or stuffed in your shirt.
- Don’t eat rice or pasta with a spoon.
- Use cutlery to bring food to your mouth rather than leaning close to your dish.
- Don’t clean your plate with a piece of bread (even though this is nowadays a common thing to do and appreciated by everyone: who doesn’t know about the Italian scarpetta?)
- Don’t put too much food on your plate.
- Don’t refuse wine by putting your hand over the glass or turning it over.
- Don’t smoke at the table while eating.
- Use your napkin to clean your mouth before and after drinking.
- Don’t use toothpicks at the table.
These are basic fundamentals pretty much all Italians follow when eating a meal. It’s important to remember them, although many of us are quite flexible, especially in more informal situations. For example, if you’re with friends, you’ll likely see someone doing the famous scarpetta (cleaning the plate with a piece of bread), which isn’t strictly seen as polite.
Not every culture sees manners in the same light, and what may be acceptable in one country may not be in another. If in Italy try to remember these rules, after all it’s important to remember that “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” If you want to get even better at the Italian table manners game, you should also learn a bit more about what to avoid when ordering your food, taking a look at some basic Italian eating rules.