Italian Social Rules and Taboos: Don't Say Ciao!!


What shouldn’t you do and say in Italy? There are a couple of unwritten social rules that tell you how to behave in an Italian context without falling short of others expectations. These unwritten rules and taboos are actually numerous and are totally different from one country to another. You really know you are in your home country only when this kind of behavior rules are part of you and you know what to expect from everyone. After having spent more than one year in Germany I still get disappointed occasionally.

Let´s talk about the last tiny cultural shock I experienced several weeks ago. During a dinner I prepared for some German friends, I had to hear this comment about my risotto: “I think that risotto with mozzarella is boring”. In Italy I could have served stinking stale food, my dishes could have been covered with hair (well, not exactly!) but still everyone would have eaten it and would have thanked me for my culinary effort. What can I say, I really appreciate frankness but still, some sincerity examples are a way too tough and could break the Italian social harmony.

This is why I strongly suggest you to follow the following tips!

1. Don´t say ciao to everyone!
You’ll hear ciao being said all over Italy – It’s an incredibly common greeting throughout the country. But if you pay closer attention, you’ll see that it’s almost always used among people who know each other or are in the same peer group. Among strangers, or when addressing an elder or your teachers and professors, you should use other more formal greetings. Of course, you won’t be deemed as rude but people will think you are overly informal if you simply say “ciao” to a shopkeeper or to a barman.

2. Don´t accept food the first time it´s offered to you
I know it sounds really stupid but actually it works like this! As a guest in Italy, you will drown in food and wine and everyone will want you to eat and drink everything on the table. So only say yes… after you have been asked at least twice to do it! When someone offers you something for the first time you should follow the so-called rule of the “fare i complimenti” (the best translation I can think of is to stand on ceremony, which is still not totally correct). “Fare i complimenti” is a typical Italian behaviour. I tried to explain it in many different ways to many different groups of people, from many different countries. After a conversation with a German friend, who asked me “why should I refuse something if I’m hungry??” The only sane conclusion I could think of was that there´s no way to explain “fare i complimenti”. Just take into consideration the existence of this rule and stick yourself to it!

3. Don´t mention the word ‘sex’ in a family conversation
This is really a big deal! Just skip the issue, and avoid any discussion on this topic. This is still one of the biggest taboos! The first time I went out for dinner with my German boyfriend and his German family I experienced something that would never happen in Italy. Raising our glasses to Greek food we were enjoying, his family chose a wonderful topic to talk about: our sex life! In Italy nobody directly mentions this issue and if it happened, it would mean a half-hour of embarrassing silence!

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5 thoughts on “Italian Social Rules and Taboos: Don't Say Ciao!!”

  1. In Spain, it is also quite unpolite to accept something right after the first offering … quite silly and pointless “rule”, actually, sometimes it seems that the person who accepts does not really care, but eventually he/she accepts because the other person is insisting so much ! … annoying rule, IMHO.

    As for talking about sex, I think it is just weird almost everywhere, specially if it was the first time you met his parents.

  2. Re 2.: And then they tell you “non fare i complimenti!” and you just get even more confused… 😉

    Re 3.: Quite unusual for German standards and would in most families lead to embarassing silence.

  3. “Ciao” means “hi” as well as “bye” and is informal.

    If you want to greet some one in a formal way it would be:

    “Buon giorno” = “Good day”
    “Buona sera” = “Good evening”

    “Good bye” would be “Arrivederci” (literally: “until we see each other again”) or “ArrivederLa” (literally: “until I see you again”; very formal).

  4. Pingback: Forms of Address all over the World - Lexiophiles

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