Business travelers to Rome, particularly Americans, should properly prepare themselves by studying Italian culture and customs. Though not as foreign as doing business in Asia or Africa, there are some significant differences that should be noted. Italy is a very old country and the people there value respect. Offend someone in your first encounter and you’re unlikely to close a deal.
The main business in Rome is, of course, tourism. Business travelers to Rome should be aware of this and take in some of the sites while there. Telling a professional contact that you visited the Vatican Museum or St. Peters Basilica will definitely score you a few points. You’ll also want to ask for restaurant suggestions. Everyone in Rome has a favorite friend or relative in the restaurant business.
Italian Etiquette and Attire for Business Travelers
Despite what you see on television, it is not proper to kiss on the cheek when you first meet a business contact in Rome. That’s reserved for close friends and family. Lead with a firm handshake and be sure to come prepared with business cards printed in Italian and English. Most Italian businessmen actually speak English, but it’s a sign of respect to include their native tongue on your printed materials.
For Italians, appearance counts. Attire is one area where doing business in Italy is very different than it is in America. US professionals have adopted a very casual approach to dressing for work. Jeans and sneakers are far more common than business suits. Don’t try that in Rome. Wear a nice suit, preferably designer label, and pick out an expensive but conservative tie.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do
Business hours in Rome are 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, with much of the deal making and partnership building happening over lunch while enjoying fine Italian food and wine. After-hours the city is filled with life. Restaurants, nightclubs, and sporting events are where bonds of trust are built. In Italy, no one makes a long-term deal without meeting face-to-face first. It’s important for you to be a “good fit” and someone they feel they can trust. Without that, you have no chance.
For business travelers out on the town after hours with a client of potential partner, let them choose your destinations. Remember that you are a guest in their country and act accordingly. If you’re out on your own and looking for a good meal, try the Ristorante Alfredo alla Scrofa, located at Via della Scrofa 104. Home to the original Fettuccini Alfredo, this famous landmark has been frequented by the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Cary Grant, and Roger Waters.
Converse about What you Know
Obviously business travelers will want to have conversations specific to the business they’re conducting. Avoid speaking about local economics. Italy’s economy has not been good and much of its industry has been struggling in recent years. Renewable energy is a lively topic, as most of their energy in currently imported. Art and history are also fun to chat about, but be careful. Italians are quite knowledgeable in these areas. Don’t broach any topic you’re not well schooled in.