People and Culture of Italy | An Overview

posted in: Europe, Italy 7

About people and culture of Italy

The people and culture of Italy have flourished over the centuries making Italy one of world’s leading and influential countries. Italy is considered the home of Roman Empire, Renaissance and of the Roman Catholic Church, boasting a rich culture associated with religion, family, etiquette & customs, art, architecture, music and food. With the innate culture of Italy to celebrate, you are never too far or need wait too long to experience a vibrant festival or carnival thrown in respect of a saint or a local harvest. Italians do live life to their fullest!

Arena di Verona

Italy, a peninsula in southern Europe is home to about 60.4 million inhabitants (2020). About 96% are Italians and the remaining 4% include North African, Italo-Albanians, Albanians, Germans, Austrian and other European groups. This page tells you more about Italy.

You can find Italy at the following GPS:

Latitude: 41° 17′ 32.86″ N
Longitude: 12° 34′ 25.00″ E

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Here is an overview on people and culture of Italy.

Culture of Italy and Language

The official language spoken by the nation is Italian. About 93% are native Italian speakers. There are other dialects and languages spoken by or understood by the minority of the nationals, such as French, German, Ladin, Slovene, Greek, Catalan, Croatian and Emiliano-Romagnolo.

Emiliano-Romagnolo is made up of two distinct languages, Emilian and Romagnol. This language is spoken by 1.7 million people primarily in Northern Italian region of Emilia-Romagna. It encompasses parts of Lombardy, Piedmont, Veneto, Tuscany and in one of the world’s smallest country, San Marino.

Friulian is a dialect spoken by 600,000 people in the Friuli region of north east Italy.

Ladin, Slovene and German enjoy equal recognition with Italian in the province of Alto-Adige.

French is legally recognised in the Alpine region of the Val d’Aosta.

Catalan is spoken by a small number of people, about 0.7% in one city on the island of Sardinia. On the rest of the island, Sardinian is spoken by over 1 million residents.

Is English spoken in Italy?

Although Italian is the widely spoken language, there are subtle signs that Italians are well-versed in English as well. English is the principal foreign language taught in almost every school in Italy, so the younger generation are able to converse well. Some Italians may say that they do not speak or understand English, but you will find that they can understand enough and able to communicate with a few words in English and accompanied by hand gestures.

If you are travelling to major cities like Rome , Milan, Florence , Venice, you may not encounter problems getting by without any Italian as a tourist. However, if you wish, you could always learn the language by signing up to a language class in Italy when you visit or do an online language course to be familiar with the language.


Culture of Italy and Religion

The primary religion in Italy is Roman Catholic. Rome is home to Vatican City, the hub of Roman Catholicism and where the Pope resides. About 90% of Italians are Roman Catholics. Although church attendance is low, the influence of the church is high. Office buildings have a cross or a religious statue in the lobby. There are many celebrations throughout the year honouring saints.

Easter and pre Lent celebrations are the most celebrated, best loved and ancient of traditions in Italy. The highlight is Carnavale. A vibrant celebration of dancing, masquerading and feasting takes place before Ash Wednesday. The pre Lent festivals mark an essential time in Italian culture to celebrate with food before the fasting and sacrifices of Lent is observed.

A small minority of Italians are Jews, Protestants and Muslims.

Pro tip: When visiting a church or when within church settings, avoid wearing shorts (for men) and avoid sleeveless tops (for women).


Culture of Italy & Family Values + Style

The Italians place family in the centre of their social structure and provide a stabilising factor for its members. Culture of Italy in the north is slightly different to the south. In the north, the nuclear family lives together while in the south, the extended family often reside together. In both situations, the family provide financial and emotional support to each other.

The expression bella figura” – good image is important in the culture of Italy. For Italians, appearances matter and first impressions are lasting impressions. They unconsciously assess another person’s social standing in the first few minutes of their meeting. The way one dresses goes beyond the “bella figura” meaning, extending it to cover confidence, style and demeanour.


Culture of Italy & Etiquette

In meeting people, the Italians are formal. The proper etiquette involve a handshake with eye contact and a smile between strangers. Wait till invited to address on first name basis.

Men and women dress formally when invited to business and social meetings – ties and suits for men while women dress simply but elegantly. As Italians are guided by first impressions, it is important to show propriety and respect, especially when meeting for the first time.

Etiquette on gift giving :

  • When giving gifts, choose quality over quantity. If you are gifting wine, choose a good vintage.
  • Do not wrap gifts in black, as is traditionally a mourning colour;
  • Do not wrap gifts in purple, as it is a symbol of bad luck;
  • Gifts are usually opened when received.

Etiquette when choosing flowers, do not give:

  • Chrysanthemums as they are used at funerals;
  • Red flowers as they indicate secrecy;
  • Yellow flowers as they indicate jealousy;

Gestures

The Italians are known to say that a gesture is more valuable than a thousand words. They seem to have a gesture for almost everything with hands moving in various directions and facial expressions as they speak.

Here are some to take note of when travelling to Italy:

  • People shake hands when arriving and leaving; Men slap each other on the back and may as well embrace if they know each other.
  • Women kiss cheek to cheek, starting with the left.
  • Sitting crossed legs at the ankle suggests a respect for traditional values and rules of etiquette.
  • Crossing your arms on your chest suggests defensiveness.
  • Rubbing hands together, followed by a quick kiss of the fingertips expresses satisfaction particularly after having a delicious meal.

Art, Architecture, Music, Literature & Fashion

Art

The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci

Every corner of Italy is painted with art! Italian art can be viewed not just in Florence, Milan, Rome and Venice but also in public buildings and churches. The artistic tradition was deeply rooted in Italian culture as early as the Neolithic Age evidenced by artefacts and ornaments. The Renaissance marked the heyday of art culture with Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci. One of the most famous piece of art is the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel of the Vatican, which was painted by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512. Another most celebrated and well known artwork in the world is Leonardo’s Last Supper painted between 1494 and 1498 on the wall of the dining room of the former Dominican convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie. Borromini and Bernini contributed to baroque Italy. For art lovers, Italy is a paradise with invaluable works.

Take a virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel of the Vatican – it’s absolutely breathtaking! OR watch the official video from the Vatican

Architecture

Duomo di Milano – Architecture spanning almost 600 years

Architecture in Italy spans 3500 years. Showcasing a broad and diverse architectural style, from ancient Roman, to Gothic, Renaissance, Art Nouveau and modern. The Duomo di Milano is a good example of architecture spanning 600 years showcased in one building!

Music & Dance

Music and dance are an iconic part of Italian national and ethnic identity, forming an important culture of Italy.

Italian music is generally eclectic and takes various forms from opera to folk and spans a diverse array of regional styles, instruments and dances. Italian opera is world famous and is an essential part of Italian musical culture, along with other imported genres like jazz, rock, and hip hop. Development of opera, in particular has become a national pride. Many of the world’s great musicians and composers like Giuseppe Verdi and Luciano Pavarotti are Italians.

Dance

Dances in Italy takes various form, from combat dancing to love and courting. Popular dances include:

Tarantella – A dialect form used to describe a common kind of spider, which is part of a folk ritual intended to cure the poison caused by the tarantula bites.

Weapon dance – A Tuscan regional dance, this display signify the moves of combat.

Love & Courting – Duru-duru is a display of dance known in Sardinia and is about love and courting. It can be for couples or singles.

Tammuriata – This dance is performed in Southern Italy to the sound of tambourine to the lyric song called strambotto.

Literature

Italian literature, both written and spoken has its beginnings in the 13th century. Some of the great works includes Dante’s La Divina Commedia which was written in the 13th century. There are writings of Pietro Bembo, Nicolo Machiavelli and Ludovico Ariosto in the 16th century.


Fashion

Fashion has been part of the culture of Italy for a long time, playing a key role in the country’s society and lifestyle. Italy is one of the leading countries in fashion with Milan considered as one of the fashion capitals in the world, alongside Paris , New York and London . Some world renowned fashion houses such as Armani, Gucci, Versace, Louis Vuitton and Prada are all Italian. Italian fashion is about craftmanship, quality and creativity. Different regions have come up with their own specialities over time.


Celebrations

Woman wearing mask at Venice Carnivale

Despite Italy’s rich and magnificent contribution to art, architecture, and music, there is also the culture of Italy to celebrate. There are hundreds of festivals, local and national that takes place across the country. in any given day to celebrate a saint or a local harvest. In villages, towns or smaller cities, people come together to take an evening stroll – a domestic ritual referred to as “passeggiata.”

It’s worth noting that given the number of holidays and celebrations that takes place throughout the country, that some attractions will have reduced opening hours or closed altogether. Check national holidays when planning your vacation to Italy.


Food

The food culture of Italy is part of their daily life. Italians are passionate about their food, how it is prepared, cooked and served. What ingredients are used with no compromising for a substitute! They preserve the authentic simplicity of ingredients and their art of cooking. Therefore, when it comes to food, the Italians are happiest when it’s done right.

While cooking is almost a philosophy in the culture of Italy, eating becomes the irreplaceable pillar of Italian sociability – perfect moments to talk, laugh, share and strengthen relationships.

However, Italian food are very regional. There are differences in dishes, popularity and its traditions between Northern and Southern regions of Italy. Broadly, in the north, the most common dishes are comprised of fish, potatoes, rice, sausage, pork, pasta, polenta and risotto. In the south, tomatoes are a staple, either served fresh or cooked into sauce with capers, peppers, olives and olive oil, garlic, artichokes, eggplant and ricotta cheese. In central Italy, for example, spaghetti and pizza are popular. As food is a means for maintaining ties between family and friends, there is a special meal for every occasion in Italy.

So, If you want to experience Italy, then you need to experience their food!


Planning your trip?


What do you think? Is this post valuable to you in planning your visits to Italy? If so please let me know in comments below or via Contact Form, I would love to hear from you.

Have a splendid time exploring Italy.

Georgina

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The culture of Italy is unique and fascinating having flourished over the centuries steeped in religion, family, art & music. Here's an overview for you via @GGeorgina_mytimelessfootsteps/
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7 Responses

  1. […] In any case, whether it is the peak season or the shoulder season, find yourself a seat in one of the al frescoe restaurants lined up at the Bra on early evenings. Over coffee, watch and take part in the daily passeggiata, a tradition when Italian families and groups of friends take a stroll before dinner. Learn more about Italian culture from this page. […]

  2. Georgina
    |

    I shall be so looking forward to your posts on your trips.

  3. Chelsea Messina
    |

    I am certainly planning on it! I’ll be watching your tips and guides 💜

  4. Georgina
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    So nice you know some Italian “secret” ingredient to their cooking! 🙂 Sincerely hope that you will visit Italy soonest after lockdown.

  5. Chelsea Messina
    |

    Italy has been on my bucket list since I was a kid. My grandma and I would make homemade pasta/sauce/ravioli/tortellini/lasagna and other italian food that was passed down to her from her mother. I WILL taste the food of Italy one day after lockdown haha

  6. Georgina
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    So glad you love Italy as well, Ann 🙂 I love how the Italians have so many celebrations and events throughout the year which makes food to be a special occasion all the time.

  7. Ann
    |

    Oh geez, I really really want to visit Italy again!
    I have been to a few places around the mainland and Sicily, and to be honest I have loved it. I love the culture and the food!

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