Italians are famous for their non-verbal communication. A stereotype often heard about Italians is that we talk with our hands. Non-verbal communication is popular for many reasons—habit, emphasis and the ability at times to say more with gestures than you can with words. In many ways, gestures and body language become direct expressions of one’s personality and culture. If you have been to Italy, you know we do start communicating with our bodies from the very moment we get to know you: we shake hands vigorously, we hug, we smile, in a fashion that is entirely and charmingly mediterranean.
The question “How do I greet someone when I’m in Italy?” can be easily answered, but it is important to understand that there is not just one way to do so. Italians often greet friends with a tight hug or a kiss on each cheek, but you will also find people greeting with a shake of hands, a nod, a slap on the back or a smile. Nevertheless, there are some frequent gestures used when people meet and it can be useful to understand them.
Some basic social conventions you should know…
Follow the advice of these Italian High Schoolers and learn more about non-verbal communication in Italy
When Italians meet, they frequently kiss one another as a form of greeting: a peck on each cheek. While the standard is indeed a kiss on each cheek, this can vary depending on the region and individual habits. Usually, you’ll start with a kiss on the right cheek, followed by one on the left. Some will go for a third kiss and, in rare occasions, you may find someone giving a single kiss, on the right cheek.
Be careful though: whereas the number of kisses may be quite flexible, there is a strict convention concerning the side you should first start from. When kissing, you always lean right first, but if you’re not sure and you don’t remember which is the right thing to do just wait for the other person to start. And don’t think that men don’t kiss! In Italy two male friends greet each others with pecks on the cheeks, too, or with a slap on the back.
It is important to note, however, that when meeting for the first time Italians are unlikely to kiss because it is seen as a more intimate type of greeting, denoting friendship or a prior acquaintance. When meeting someone for the first time a hand shake (la stretta di mano) is more appropriate.
Shaking hands is a recognized greeting in almost every Western culture. La stretta di mano is used between people who are introduced for the first time and simply want to say through a means of nonverbal communication, “Nice to meet you” (in Italian, we say “piacere”).
The handshake is a formal greeting expressing a polite approach, whereas the kiss implies more intimacy and familiarity. Don’t forget, however, that a handshake can also hold several nuances of meaning, depending on the way you do it. When shaking your hands do it firmly and tightly because giving a flabby hand is not very polite as it means that you don’t want to have contact with the other person or you are simply not interested in them. A weak handshake can also suggest that you are not a very strong or confident person.
Edited by Francesca Bezzone