Before you begin working your way to foreign language fluency, it helps to understand the culture behind the language you’re learning. After all, language exists to help a group of people express their ideas and beliefs. Italy is an old country with a rich history and culture. As you begin your Italian language program, gaining a strong grasp on this history, the values, and the etiquette will help you rapidly achieve success. In particular, in order to have a proper conversation with Italians and connect with the people, you need to know what to expect from the experience.
Italian people are far more adept at oral communication than they are with the written word. In fact, most Italian professionals communicate by phone, rather than sending e-mails, letters, or memos. When a written communication is required, the individual sending the document will often call the recipient, as well. This is done, even in cases where the telephone call is placed just to let someone know that a written communication has been sent to them. Most Italian people accept that a verbal communication should accompany every letter, memo, or email. This is just viewed as standard etiquette, particularly in the more southern regions of the country.
For this reason, it’s not surprising that Italians are widely known for their passion for talking. It’s said that they are a people with a talent for rhetoric, expressing fantasies and ideas freely. However, it may be wise not to expect too many proven facts, as they are equally unlikely to research topics before discussing them. While Italians may be talkative, that doesn’t mean they’re very sociable. Their direct approach often makes them seem cold and rude.
Where an Italian may seem dismissive, he’s really only acting assertively and trying to speak with efficiency. Often, a simple “no” isn’t meant to be as abrupt as it seems and one should keep the doors of communication open with their Italian counterpart. There may still be room for negotiation or compromise.
While communication among Italians is important, it’s essential to their non-verbal communication too. If you are ever travelling through a part of the country like Naples, you will notice that people tend to talk with their hands quite a bit.
The key to really enjoy yourself as you people watch is to make sure you understand just what body language means in Italy. A person who doesn’t care what another person says might do something like stroke their fingers upward under their chin. They will have their hands down and then will eventually thrust their hands forward.
If you hit a football match, you are likely going to see fans stretching out their hands towards the referee with their pinky out and their thumb down. This means that they do not agree with the calls on the field. If the palm is turned upward, then they aren’t just disagreeing, they are saying something rather obscene.
While Italians are quite a bit more formal than you might imagine, shaking hands is almost always done in a way where people feel as though they want to be warm and friendly. People who are truly happy to see you will grip your arm as they shake your hand. When good friends or family members see each other again, they will usually have the hand shake go into an embrace while slapping the others’ back. Women are likely going to kiss each other on both cheeks, though that is something men will do on occasion as well.
In conversation, Italian people immediately try to bond with those to whom they are speaking. It’s important to them to show that they value everyone with whom they communicate, even in business situations. Regardless of the situation, Italians try to be especially responsive to others, when they are speaking, smiling often.
The Italian people also use body language and facial expressions to show interest in the topic. They are quick to offer help with any problems expressed in a conversation and will be just as likely to open up about their own troubles, when given the chance. Keeping eye contact and speaking in a confident tone are valued traits among the Italian people. Their goal in any conversation is to create a close, personal bond.
For that reason, many Italians view the British and Americans as bitter and emotionally withdrawn. In speaking with Italians, those from other western countries are urged to relax their body language and to smile often. Instead of focusing on the business at hand, attempting to form a friendship will be more appreciated. Of course, discussing economic situations and business propositions are important, but for many Italians, that should come only after a genuine relationship has been forged.
While Italians do value assertiveness and confidence, it’s equally important not to seem overconfident or conceited. Along similar lines, refrain from criticizing the country of Italy or its people. While your Italian associates may do that, they don’t feel outsiders should be quick to agree.
The key to effective communication is a melding of the spoken word and body language. Italians have mastered the art of expression, using both hand gestures and emotionally descriptive words to make their ideas known. They often use descriptors like “fantastic,”“absolutely,” and “definitely” to eliminate any ambiguity from their words and thoughts. Among Italians, it’s just as important to communicate their ideas clearly in words and gestures as it is to entertain and express their emotions.
Another conversational practice common among Italians is the “ping pong” conversation, otherwise known as conversational overlap. It involves two more people talking over each other, raising their voices to be heard. While it may be alarming to overhear, this is simply the way they share news about their family, jobs, health, and whatever other exciting events may be taking place in their lives. This kind of passionate debate is considered a healthy way to build bonds even where they ridicule friends in front of others or criticize propositions and personal plans.
While Italians may disagree often and loudly, their opinions are rarely final and it may not be long before they are again in agreement. It’s not rare for Italian people to revisit old conflicts in the hopes of resolving issues that have been festering between them. Even when they argue, Italians are almost always polite in offering their views, preferring to maintain a sense of common courtesy and respect. In fact, Italian people are notoriously respectful and courteous. They will often offer apologies over trivial matters out of a fear that they have insulted someone.
If you have been extremely frustrated by what is being offered in Italy when it comes to making a phone call or sending a piece of mail, never fear. Where you can take solace is that Italians are famously great at having face to face conversations. Known as “conversazione,” Italians believe the best way to communicate is to do it face to face.
While Americans tend to think that a conversation should be private, Italy is a place where people will go out of their way to draw in strangers to their conversation. There are still “piazze” all over the country where people from all walks of life gather just to talk with one another. These aren’t just conversations about the weather or who won the big game.
These conversations tend to involve attempting to quell a feud or argument and to celebrate people’s good news. The Italians often pride themselves in being able to talk to anyone at any time and any place. While people in the United States will often to go to the beach looking for the ability to get away from everybody, in Italy it’s quite the opposite. The people in this country love to go to the beach to see other people and talk to them about their day, their lives, and what their plans for the rest of the day. It’s not unusual to see perfect strangers line up their chairs one after another to share their days.
If you do indeed find yourself traveling to Italy, you are going to want to know a bit more about the place. Starting from the very beginning, Italian has been considered a romantic language. While it is indeed considered a “romantic” language, there was a time when it was a language that was forced on those who were conquered by the Roman people. In Italy, the Italian language has about 57.7 million people speaking it with a total of around 64 million people who can speak it in a smattering of 29 different countries.
As is the case with most other countries around the world, the spoken dialect can change depending on which parts of the country you are in. You can think of this as the same way you are going to hear a slightly different version of English if you are in a place like Fort Payne, Alabama compared to somewhere like New York City.
Just like in the United States, the written version of Italian is the same no matter where in Italy you find yourself. The dialects are a bit different in Italy because the language has been around so long (hundreds of years longer than what you see in English in North America). There were also a ton of different states that have been split into different sections throughout the years. One place where Italian is considered the official language that you probably wouldn’t expect is Switzerland. This again goes back to the Swiss Guard at Vatican City.
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