Business in Italy, Culture, Life in Italy

Business the Italian way: what the Italians excel at


Sorry for my long absence, these last few months have been very hectic in my personal life. Have you ever had long periods of nothing going on and then bam, everything happens at once? Well, everything has been happening all at once since February non-stop.  I finally have a break to write a post as it’s a rainy weekend and I’m feeling under the weather so I don’t mind to sit on the couch and pour out my thoughts that have been building up for months. Yes, I think about my blog continuously even if I rarely have time for it these days. I’ve been battling between 3 posts completely non-correlated: Every day Italy through pictures: the real life,  A peephole into Italian design: the scope of art, and Business the Italian way: what the Italians excel at. For the last few months I’ve been collecting pictures for Every day Italy  but it’s an ongoing project. The Italian Design post is my true, deep passion so I’m still in the process of  organizing my thoughts on that. I’m left with Business the Italian way which fits perfectly for today because I’ve been dealing with business in literally every aspect over the last few months. This post talks about what I’ve learned over the last 2 1/2 years of doing business in Italy as the client.

Business the Italian way: What the Italians excel at

1. They’re the kings of negotiation

Negotiating has always been my weak point in life. I don’t feel bad about it, I can blame that on being the youngest child; we often have to accept whatever is given to us and follow the others. I didn’t get help later in life either as they never had a class on negotiation in college-which thinking back I don’t understand how they could miss that. When I got to Italy however I noticed immediately that Italians are some seriously savvy people when it comes to negotiating. They demand what they want, it’s amazing. They never worry about the prices that people tell them because they already have a plan A and plan B of how they will get the price they want at the end of the day. Their strategy is the friendly one, guilt tripping others to lower the price in respect of their friendship, the economy, the location, their personal life…whatever. Then they nag until they get the price that they want. They have a way of convincing like I’ve never seen before. They’re never embarrassed or shy, what matters to them is the bottom line and what stays in their pockets. I’ve never seen an American have enough patience to nag and nag again, but this has it’s benefits in the business world.

Here is my personal example: My Italian husband and I went to finalize a contract to buy a china cabinet at our local furniture store, whose owner is a family friend     (principle one). The man slid over the contract for us to sign and the price was 1,200 euro. Without even speaking, my husband wrote 1,000 euro, crossed out the other amount, and signed the contract. Then the jokes started flying between him and the owner, the friendly way to negotiate “this is how you repay me, come on!” then my husband replied “we’re family friends man! 200 is the discount in advance because I know we’re going to have to wait 4 months!”  A few pinches and pokes later our family-friend-furniture-salesman agreed on the contract. I said to my husband “that was pretty savvy, I would’ve never had the guts to do that.” He said “Jessica, this is how it works in Italy.”

We ended up waiting 5 months for that china cabinet so we made a trip back to the furniture store but this time for me to practice my negotiating skills. I said to the salesman “look, we’ve been waiting a long time and it’s not reasonable. In America they would offer something to their clients to keep them content, so I expect the same from you in all honesty also because we’re friends.” He then agreed and said “Jessica, go pick out what you want in the store and that’ll be my gift to you for the inconvenience.” I went, found a vase that I loved (150 euro) and took my pride and joy home and then patiently continued to wait for my china cabinet. Now, every time I look at that vase I laugh. In the end we really paid 850 for our china cabinet because we had the guts to negotiate.

My beautiful vase

2. They sniff out all loopholes, and if they aren’t there they just create them

All people talk about in Italy is how to get around the system whether they’re a group of teenagers trying to figure out how to not pay for metro tickets, or a typical family saving monthly trash costs by living together. This affects every part of their culture. They find ways to not pay taxes, work illegally, stay at home and get paid, get medicine without prescriptions, build houses in no-build zones, I mean it’s endless. It’s almost like a science in Italy. Albeit the government is so strict with regulations and taxes that you have to bypass the system just to live a decent life. Everyone is involved because their mother’s boss is doing it, and his friend’s niece is doing it…the whole country is doing it! If you don’t find loopholes someone else will and then you’ll be left paying full price for no reason.

If a loophole doesn’t exist in an area of life then the mafia takes care of that by fluffing up situations and making them seem more grave than they really are. So, in Italy there are loopholes everywhere. Living here has taught me to look into things more deeply, research, and find ways to get discounts.

3. They make connections like nobody’s business

In America the way you make connections is really short lived and more on a superficial level. You give them your business card, you send cards for Christmas, call if you’re in town for something quick but not meaningful…you know what I’m talking about? Your connection stops there, it never really becomes personal or develops into a life lasting friendship. People in America can also see right through you if you’re dragging them along just for your success, but they don’t always mind that because they’re probably doing the same thing to you. In Italy however when an Italian makes a connection he doesn’t always give out a business card, but instead takes you out for coffee and then gives you his personal cell phone number. He then contacts you in general for random stuff, not just for business. This creates a more casual relationship wherein trust grows. Italians contact each other, joke around, keep in touch, call for every event in your life, they make their connections feel like friends. Even if the friendship is business related it’s much more valuable than a distant connection where you’re too afraid to let your guard down just to say something personal like happy anniversary.

I’ve learned a lot about making connections in Italy from just watching how they do business. Maybe a reason why their connections bend over backwards for them is that they trust each other (way more than Americans trust each other). As an American myself I have a major problem believing what people say. I doubt people mean what they say when I’m doing business with them probably 95% of the time. I double check that they know what they’re doing, I ask around, and I do a little research. Italians however generally trust each other’s work and that they can do what they’re saying they can do.  Personal example: My husband and I went to a fabric shop to look at some wallpaper but couldn’t really decide what to buy. So, the lady let us take home the sample books with no rush, no worries at all that we would keep those books for who knows how long. We said we’d bring them back the next day. She doesn’t have our information really, she just trusts that we’re going to bring them back tomorrow like we said. What if we sold those sample books? What if we used the samples for small DIY projects or ruined them and then just said sorry? She has no worries at all. I was impressed by this and it made me felt valued as a customer honestly. Point that I learned is to trust your clients and they’ll turn around and trust you back, or cut you slack at least.

Another personal example: A man came over and painted my ceilings but I didn’t have any cash to pay him at the moment so he said oh don’t worry about it, I’ll drop by sometime next week whenever and we’ll take care of it then. Can you imagine that happening in America? Never. If I was a bad client I could avoid being home for months, but he doesn’t think about that because he trusts and his message is that he doesn’t care just about the money, but about the relationship, the connection. What happened is he made me trust him and because he was so slack I’ll be calling him back.

They make friendships, they trust, and they do favors. I can’t even remember how many times I’ve dropped by a business to have them fix something quick for me like my car, a piece of furniture, breakfast, or even waxing my legs and they didn’t let me pay. They give so much to returning clients just to keep that connection alive. It works. Give a little, take a lot back. This was a great lesson learned that the Italians taught me.

Apart from the favors, they always give discounts. Usually this covers tax. One thing you have to consider when you buy something in Italy is that the price includes tax so you never have to guess the final amount at the counter.  I think it’s very kind of them to give you a little “sconto”,  and it’s a great strategy. Now, if you’re friends with the person, they’ll give you a nice sconto to keep you as a connection and friend.

4. Patience is the key to happiness-and quality

The first rule about Italy is you have to be patient. Nothing happens fast here, everything is done in tranquil time because people are busy not working, going to the beach, and living la bella vita of course. Well, that translates into business. When people take their time and enjoy what they’re doing, even when it’s completing an order, they usually do a better job. Quality has always been superior to quantity, and quantity can mean the amount of months you wait for your product to be finished. Like I said, we waited a total of 5 months for our china cabinet, but when it arrived it was exactly what we expected: pure quality and beautiful design. The delivery guys did come at 7:30 in the morning unannounced, but again PATIENCE is the key to happiness. I kindly let them in, held my temper, offered some coffee to them and myself, and was just happy they came at all after 5 months of waiting…

Quality is superior to convenience in Italy. In America I think quality and convenience are on the same level, people give in if they have to wait and then end up with livable products. Italians don’t do that. They wait for 1 year just to receive wedding photos, and it’s acceptable. Everybody would be out of business if that happened in America. But I think I’m adapting to this slow-service movement. I’ve seen the difference in quality between American products and Italian products and in my experience it’s worth the wait. Think long-term investments, that’s the name of the game in business the Italian way.

A negative side of patience is when you wait to get paid by a client. If a client takes his time to pay you that is another way to say “you screwed me over and I’m irritated” Ironically the salesmen don’t nag to get their money because they know they did something wrong in the first place so they accept the repercussions (again notice the tranquil lifestyle).  But if you run into a good businessman he will actually inquire about why you’re not paying him because he cares about his business, the connection, and also his money too.


To end this post I have to tell you at least one thing they are quite bad about just for kicks, and that is……dun….dun…dun….advertising. Not all the time, but lately I’ve been noticing some major failings. First take into consideration that all Italians study English up until their last day of college, and even afterwards. They have an interest in the English language and should therefore be careful with what they write in English. Also, many companies operate internationally marketing to English speakers, so there is their second motive to pay close attention to the English language. These pictures just make me laugh.

Horno….it’s a little too close to another word we all know. Couldn’t stop laughing when I saw this. What this translates to an English speaker is: hmmm, better be careful if I eat these!

Lube is a famous kitchen brand in Italy so I’ve heard. But Lube, really? And then the advertisement reads “Lube, for all the reasons in the world.” Well, I can imagine…! Apparently they don’t teach international business in Italian colleges to help prevent companies from making idiots out of themselves in other languages. It might be a dangerous, slippery slope to buy a kitchen from them!

This last one is just poor advertising point blank. Born to be wild with a kitten on the inside. SMH



A dopo, you can trust me on that, but it might be a while.








7 thoughts on “Business the Italian way: what the Italians excel at”

  1. I just came across your blog and I love it already! My husband and I just moved to Milan a month ago from Boston, MA – there are a lot of things that are different that I wasn’t expecting (like how long it is taking to get internet!) It’s really helpful to see your tips and tricks. Thank you!!!

  2. Just found your blog and enjoying so much seeing Italy from a foreign point of view! So funny. BTW I have an explanation for “Horno”, that’s the Spanish translation for “Forno”. A lot of times you find description in multiple languages in products.
    I hope you’ll write some more posts. I love them!


  3. Interesting post! Maybe your point of view is slightly influenced by the place you live in. Despite Italy is quite tiny, this is a very regional country. And internal immigration from south to north, even if it has mixed up average culture, didn’t succeed to comform the manners nationwide, and there are still many different way to approach these matters and different styles in Italy.
    I think that those McCain chips are sold only in southern Europe and oven is written in Italian, Spanish and Greek….

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