by Louis Bignami

According to writer Ennio Flaiano, "Being Italian is a profession – except that it doesn’t require much studying, one just inherits it." Well, I’m Italian. My wife’s Italian. We adore Italy and visit as often as we can, but understanding Italy is a bit like understanding Modern Art – opinions differ. Still a quick set of "Clift Notes" that, I should add, are called "Bignami’s" in Italy can help translate. For the best information on this interesting subject try the long read of Luigi’s Barzini’s classic, The Italians, which more than lives up to it’s sub-head as A Full-Length Portrait Featuring Their Manners and Morals.!


First, nobody is Italian. Ask about nationality and you hear, "Tuscano, Lombardo or Romano". Regionalism reigns as might be expected in a country that only conglomerated in the middle 1800’s. So think regionally. Eat the regional risotto and veal in Milano. Drink the regional wines. Shop for the regional specialties. Consider regional behaviors.

Second, realize only family counts with regionalism rampant and the government traditionally suspect. Italians I know look at government like Americans look at the IRS and "fatta la legge, trovato l’inganno" – a law is passed, a way round it found – typifies general attitudes. Friends and neighbors come second, acquaintances and business associates come next, and larger entities come dead last, and nepotism seems natural

Third, Northern and Southern Italians differ wildly; each suspects the other of nefarious plots with mezzogiorno attitudes general. Most agree that Southern Italians are more interested in power and tend to gravitate into government, and that Northern Italians are interested in money. Hence the big corporations are all Northern.

Roberto Lanza, a look time friend from Italy puts it this way. "Northern Italy was conquered by the French, Germans, Spanish and Austrians. Southern Italy was conquered by Greeks, Arabs and Spanish. Conquerors imprinted a bit of their own standards. But off course every Italian lives in his or her own country. Still, where would the French be if we hadn’t taught them to cook!"

Fourth, and probably as a result of repeated conquests, business and other ethics tend to be "situational." Honorable dealings obtain in most cases, but It’s worth noting that a famous book on playing "Scopa" the most popular Italian card game starts: "Rule #1: always try to see your opponent’s cards."

There also seems a flexible approach to details that tends to tell you what the speaker thinks you want to hear, rather than what the speaker things will happen. So expect times, dates, deadlines and directions tend to be "flexible" enough to drive the clock compulsive totally bonkers!

Fifth, there’s no question but the best part of doing business in Italy is lunch! Always do lunch two or three hours with a leisurely discussion of wonderful food and fine wines beats days with the bean counters and portable computers.

Finally, remember Charles V who claimed to use Spanish with God, French with men, German with his horse and Italian with women, for by its nature Italian sometimes seems better suited to romance and its' ambiguously amorous nature than to the hard world of specifics on time, place and amounts that may be needed in the business world.