Italy is a surprisingly formal society; the following tips will help you avoid awkward moments.

  • Greetings Shake hands and say buongiorno (good day) or buonasera (good evening) to strangers; kiss both cheeks and say come stai (how are you) to friends. Use lei (you) in polite company; use tu (you) with friends and children. Only use first names if invited.
  • Asking for help Say mi scusi (excuse me) to attract attention; and use permesso (permission) when you want to pass someone in a crowded space. If you want to see something in a shop, ask a sales assistant to help you.
  • La bella figura (Making a good impression) Appearances are important so dress smartly, and take a gift of chocolates or pastries if invited to a Milanese home.
  • Religion Dress modestly (covering shoulders and thighs) and talk in a respectfully quiet tone when visiting religious sites.