Three Things You Need To Know About Italians 


It is common knowledge that to learn a foreign language you must understand the grammar and interact with native speakers. However, not everybody knows that to properly learn a language, it is also important to learn about the culture. It helps you to better understand the language you are studying, that is, to disambiguate and to avoid misunderstandings during your conversations.


Let's now review three general characteristics you should know about Italians.


 1. How we greet


Conventionally, when we meet someone for the first time we either shake hands (ci diamo la mano) or give each other two kisses on the cheek (ci diamo due baci sulle guance). Women usually shake hands but sometimes they give each other two kisses on the cheeks. Men usually shake hands. What about kisses between men and women? Normally, we kiss each other on the cheek but sometimes we just shake hands.


Ordinarily, when we already know someone we kiss each other on the cheeks, regardless of gender but men occasionally shake hands. Sometimes we shake hands and kiss each other on the cheeks at the same time. It depends on the person and on the region we live in. Generally, the north prefers handshakes while the south prefers kisses.



Having said that, you should remember three things:


•       We give two kisses (neither one nor three).


•       We give the first kiss starting from the right cheek, not the left one (so be careful, or be clever).


•       Ciao means both hello and goodbye.



 ...and learn these expressions:



Presentare qualcuno a qualcuno


This expression means "to introduce someone to someone"




Ti ricordi la ragazza che ti ho presentato?

Do you remember the girl I introduced you to?


NB. Presentare and not introdurre




  • Ti voglio presentare un amico
  • I want to introduce you to a friend.



Tutto a posto?/Tutto a posto


This expression is a colloquial way to ask: "Is everything all right?"; "Are you okay?"; "How are you?"


It can be also used as an answer to say: "I'm good"; "I'm okay."




  • Ciao Luca, tutto a posto?
  • Hi Luca. Are you okay?; Hi Luca. How are you?



  • Ciao Carla, come va? Tutto a posto.
  • Hi Carla. How are you? I am good.



Togliere il saluto


It means "to stop speaking to someone"; "not to say hello to someone anymore."




  • Marco mi ha tolto il saluto.
  • Marco stopped speaking to me.





This expression means "hello" when you answer the phone. It also means "are you ready?"




  • Pronto, chi parla?
  • Hello. Who is this?


  • (Sei) pronto? Dai che è tardi!
  • Are you ready, come on, it's late!


2. How we eat


Generally, it is true that we eat a lot of pasta and pizza. As a matter of fact, we eat pasta almost every day. We eat it in different ways: with sauce (pasta al sugo), parmesan cheese, oil (pasta all'olio), butter (pasta al burro), eggs, meat, fish, vegetables and much more.


What about pizza? To be honest, we normally eat it on the weekends and not everyday like pasta. On the rare occasion that we don't eat pasta, we usually eat rice. Of course we also eat many other types of dishes, but this is not an article about Italian cuisine.


Similarly to many southern European countries, we eat late. We normally have breakfast (facciamo colazione) between 7.30 am and 8.30am; we have lunch (pranziamo) between 1pm and 2pm; we have dinner (ceniamo) between 8pm and 9pm.



 Having said that, you should remember three things:


•       For breakfast we usually like to eat and drink sweet foods and beverages such as milk, coffee, cappuccino, cookies, sweets, fruits, bread with jam/honey/nutella, and so on.


•       Italian coffee is strong and short (one small cup and not a full glass).


•       We drink coffee at all hours, but we normally drink cappuccino only in the morning (never after lunch).



 ...and learn these expressions:



Fare merenda/fare uno spuntino


This expression means to have a snack (between lunch and dinner).




  • Faccio merenda tutti giorni.
  • I have a snack every day.


Fare merenda can also mean to have a snack between breakfast and lunch, especially for children at school. Fare uno spuntino can also mean to have a light meal instead of lunch.


  • Fare l'aperitivo
  • To drink an aperitif. However, nowadays we use it with the meaning of drinking an aperitif and eating a small portion of food. We have it in the evening.




  • Ieri ho fatto l'aperitivo con Sara.
  • Yesterday I had an aperitif with Sara.



Dare un morso/assaggiare


Dare un morso literally means "to take a bite" (mordere=to bite). Depending on the context it has a different undertone. You can dare un morso to a person, an animal, an object.


Nevertheless, if we are talking about food, it means to eat a little food.




  • Mamma, quel bambino mi ha dato un morso (mi ha morso/morsicato).
  • Mom, that child bit me.


  • Voglio dare un morso alla tua pizza.
  • I would like to take a bite of your pizza.




Assaggiare means "to taste". Sometimes we use dare un morso with a similar meaning to assaggiare.




  • Fammi dare un morso al tuo gelato.
  • Let me taste your ice-cream.



Apparecchiare (il tavolo)/(Andare) a tavola


The expression apparecchiare (il tavolo) means to set the table. Additionally, the phrase (andare) a tavola literally means to go to the table, that is, to go eat.





  • Marco, apparecchia che il pranzo è pronto!
  • Marco, set the table! Lunch is ready!


  • Ragazzi a tavola che la cena è pronta!
  • Guys, let's go eat, dinner is ready!


3. How we talk


Everyone knows that we gesticulate a lot. It is absolutely true. In fact, we don't study gestures at school. We just learn them spontaneously in everyday life. Be aware, during our gesticulation we might touch you. That is because we tend to be warm, expressive and extroverted.


What else? I must say we are a bit noisy. In other words, we talk out loud (parliamo a voce alta). This is not beacause we are angry or rude. It is just how we talk. Apart from that, another aspect which defines us is that we love laughing. I mean, we like playing around and joking. It is our way of being. It is rare to find an Italian without any sense of humor. Much of what we say normally has a humorous tone, especially in the south.



Having said that, you should remember three things:


  • If we touch you in a conversation it doesn't mean we want to flirt with you (provarci con te)...or maybe it does.


  • Before getting mad for how loud we talk, remember it is the way we talk (we are not angry).


  • Before getting offended by what we say, remember that comedy and humor are Italian cultural expressions.



...and learn these expressions:



Dire (qualcosa) all'orecchio


This phrase means "to whisper something in your ear". Normally we do it when we don't want people to hear to what we're saying.




  • Non posso dirlo a voce alta quindi te lo dico all'orecchio.
  • I can't say it aloud so I'll whisper it in your ear.


Fare l'occhiolino


This means "to wink".




  • Quel ragazzo mi ha fatto l'occhiolino, forse gli piaccio.
  • That guy winked at me. Maybe he likes me.


  • Davide sta scherzando, mi ha fatto l'occhiolino.
  • Davide is joking. He winked at me.



Senza peli sulla lingua


This expression literally means "without hairs on the tongue". It's figurative meaning is to be outspoken.




  • Io sono onesto e senza peli sulla lingua.
  • I am honest and outspoken.


  • Gli ho detto tutto quello che pensavo senza peli sulla lingua.
  • I told him what I thought in an outspoken manner.



Parla come mangi


This phrase literally means "speak the way you eat". This is beacuse eating is easy and the way you speak should be easy too. In fact, it is a common way to say "talk simply". We use it when somenone is speaking in a complicated way (or using a language above his or her level) and we want him or her to speak clearly.




  • Scusa, non ti capisco, parla come mangi per favore.
  • I can't understand you, I'm sorry. Keep it simple please.



4. Further curiosities


  • Some Italian have aperitivo in the evening (5pm-7pm) almost three times a week.


  • We go to bed late (andiamo a letto tardi); between 10pm and 12pm.


  • Fortunately (or unfortunately) many Italians attach great importance to appearance. But don't worry, Italian girls have deep personalities and Italian boys are not effeminate as someone might thinks. We just like (maybe too much) to be cool.


  • Family in Italy is important; not only close relatives but also distant ones. We are friends with our cousins. We occasionally meet and go out with them. Moreover, it's not weird to have a family lunch (pranzo di famiglia) with grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins, once a month.


  • The majority of Italian boys can play football and most girls knows some steps of Latin dances.


  • Italy is one of the few non-Hispanic countries where many young people love raggaeton.


  • Finally, we like meeting people from all over the world. So come to Italy, we would be happy to host you :).


Hero image by Carissa Gan on Unsplash