How to avoid making enemies of the natives

It’s never easy trying to integrate, particularly if the host nation is very different in culture, custom and language to your own homeland.

For this reason, the following list, which is by no means exhaustive, is dedicated to all those workers, students, passing business folk and friendly faces who desire to make Bologna their home for the foreseeable future.

Meeting people:

– shake hands for the first time as western custom dictates.

– after getting to know people for informal situations, air-kiss them on the cheek (left to right). Southern men kiss other men. It’s not a gay thing, really.

– (southern men) holding hands or walking arm-in-arm is likewise a friendly gesture. You can politely refuse this one saying you’ve got sweaty hands disposition or just throw your arm around them in a half-hug manly gesture.

– personal hygiene is thankfully a priority among the general population as the summers can get pretty sticky and humid so best to adapt very quickly.

– good (first) impressions are not only lasting but expected always. Formalities, especially among older people are extremely hard to break down here.

– professional or careers people are usually addressed according to their jobs, eg. Dottore for doctor, Ingeneri for engineer etc. They absolutely adore this form of reverence so if you’ve got it (a title) flaunt it asap.

– the more important a person is the more differential respect they are accorded. Italians revere status above anything else.

– looking like a slob even if you have just returned from a camping trip with 20 socially disadvantaged kids will only earn you pity points. Impressions are everything, again.

– when arranging to meet someone expect them to be late. The further south they hail from the later they will be. It’s the nature of the beast.

– between unfamiliar people language structure tends to be quite formal using Lei/Loro (you sing./plu.) unless the person politely asks to use the informal tu/voi (you sing./plu.). A good piece of advice here is to anticipate this if you’ve poor language skills. Your gesture will be much appreciated.

– whether for professional/private reasons, Italians don’t usually confirm an immediate future meet-up. And even if they do, they will always find an excuse to postpone it. Be patient.

– asking for another meet-up/date can often be delicate and must be approached with caution least you ‘scare-off’ your counterpart. A mutual future event where others will attend is a great time to follow through again.

At home:

– never show up unannounced. They don’t do surprise visits or “just happened to be in the neighbourhood”.

– if you want someone to visit you will need to formally invite them with an actual planned event.

– tagging along or gate-crashers are really not appreciated. It upsets la mama’s preparations.

– on crossing the threshold it’s usual to warn the occupants with a “permesso”, that literally means “with your permission”.

– strangely, Italians show less domestic pride than with their physical appearance, apart from cleanliness that borders on paranoia. Pure alcohol is used to wipe down everything, even the floor.

– that low down extra sink in the bathroom is not really for dunking your dirty shoes in. Worse still, by admitting to not using the bidet for its intended purpose is akin to farting loudly in public.

– presents such as wine, chocolates, ice-cream are pretty common place and warmly accepted. ‘Foreign’ foods are usually taboo as Italians are quite reserved in their culinary adventures. At the same time they are incredibly enthusiastic of their national accomplishments in this arena.

– lunch and dinner affairs are intense so prepare to feast to bursting point and wear comfortable clothes. It’s going to be a long ride. Unless stated, these occasions tend to be formal in nature even if they insist in a low profile. They love to impress their guests.

– Italians take their privacy seriously so they won’t hang out family dirty laundry in public. It’s very secret and ‘mafioso’ like.

– dating someone? Don’t expect to meet the parents for a very long time indeed. Dido for family reunions of any sort. Resurrect and perfect an old hobby while you wait.

– as a guest you may offer to help in the kitchen but don’t seriously think ‘la mama’ will actually let you past the door. She would rather slave herself to death than have a guest ‘think’ she can’t handle a simple domestic situation.

– best behaviour is a moral obligation while visiting. God forbid the neighbours get wind of interesting gossip as a consequence of your misadventures.

Social etiquette:

– going out is an experience in itself. Just getting there is another. Being out is the enjoyable part. And finally, leaving makes the whole affair an unforgettable experience.

– Italians don’t get drunk with people they don’t know well. Making an ass of themselves is a frightening prospect they rarely recover from.

– they don’t like being the brunt of personal jokes especially those questioning their physical appearance. It’s a pride thing.

– beautiful women will literally have men jostling for their attention so prepare for the barrage of poetic compliments and rush of romantic overtures. How long it continues is another matter entirely.

– loud public disturbances between couples are normal and apart from entertaining those watching, must be expected as jealous partners are ubiquitous here. It seems to be a romantic overture to show how insanely in love you are by insinuating your partner may be acting unfaithful.

– parties are generally sober affairs. Crazy and madness are not usually words associated with these events, except if it’s bursting with southern Italians.

– Italians only drink to be social. Piss-ups, pub-crawls and being legless are not part of their social repertoire.

– dress to impress or risk feeling seriously insecure about your ‘unbranded’ apparel. Fashion is synonymous with Italy.

– any dress critique should be kept for gossiping later. Only obsessive usage of superlatives “bellissima/o” with extended emphasis on the ‘-Issima’ are accepted currency regarding comments. Italians are by nature vulnerable to physical deficiencies. They feel the world is always watching them!

(Source: Phillips, Michael. Naked Bolognapocket city guide, 2015)


Until recent years, there were few opportunities to mingle among the ex-pat community. Fortunately, this has changed as can be seen from the various organizations, associations and clubs setting up shop in the city. Various groups and associations came and went. One particular success story is the International Women’s Forum. It’s an association for women and run by women with a long established history of organizing events behind them. It’s a good option – if you’re a woman.

Internations purpose is to get people interacting with each other whether they are here on a short term or long term stint. In this sense, it has a wider impact for anyone looking to network on a commercial scale or simply to hook up with anyone from anywhere.

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