Humans are social creatures and Italians are exceptionally so. They take great pleasure in each other’s company and have developed highly ritualized forms of interaction. Daily exchanges with friends and acquaintances involves physical contact and kisses on both cheeks are common. Conversation ranges from the weather to the latest soccer scores and all the ailments, gossip, family news and practical exchanges in between. Bars and squares are the urban settings for these unhurried scenes which are a normal part of everyday Italian life. The advent of the cell phone has fueled the passion to communicate and in some cases aggravated the instinct leading to a hyper reliance on technology that can be witnessed on public transportation and sidewalks everywhere.
Kissing however has not diminished and remains as Italian as pizza. It’s the way individuals demonstrate respect, friendship and love. The most common form is the double cheek kiss. It can be uncomfortable for the uninitiated but no one will impose it on you and a handshake is equally acceptable. If you observe carefully you’ll see women kissing women, women kissing men, men kissing women, men kissing men and everyone kissing children. Men who kiss other men can be good friends, colleagues, relatives or lovers.
Kisses are exchanged at the beginning and end of most social encounters. An Italian man introduced to an Italian woman (or vice versa) will generally exchange kisses. Men will shake hands with each other and women may kiss or shake hands. Non-Italians can greet however they please. While citizens of other cultures tend to exchange goodbyes quickly Italians love to linger. The time between verbal indication of departure and actual physical departure can be surprisingly long and is generally spent discussing the next day and making preliminary plans for a future meeting.
Travel is about immersing oneself in other cultures and adapting to new situations. It shouldn’t be about expecting everything to be like it is back home. In Italy things won’t be the same and doing as the Romans, Florentines or Venetians do may seem odd at first but can be immensely rewarding for both body and mind if you give them a try.
Your Guide to Italy:
Moon: Rome, Florence & Venice