Italian Life Italy

Are Italians Rude?

Why native English-speaking foreigners are sometimes shocked when visiting Italy for the first time. Pros & Cons of life in Italy blog series.

During my daily Italian lesson I came across a video titled Are Italians Rude? Being married to an Italian, having Italian in-laws, and having recently moved to Italy, my first instinct was to get defensive. Italians are not rude! That’s a rude, stereotypical judgement not a question! Then I watched the video and the title in question didn’t seem so rude after-all.

The video is by none other than Manu Venditti from Italy Made Easy YouTube fame. Not only is Manu Italian, but he is arguably one of the most respected online Italian teachers. I was curious how Manu was going to tackle a rather touchy topic.

Are Italians Rude Video

Right off the bat, I’ll say this video is in Italian and more than anything I was incredibly proud I understood the gist of it! For my non-Italian speaking friends, don’t worry I’ll give you a little summary below.

Are Italians Rude Video

Manu starts out introducing himself and the Italy Made Easy series before immediately addresses the topic of the video “Are Italians Rude” as a very delicate topic. True. He goes on to say, he wants to speak about the topic in a civil educated way.

At this point I was ready to listen. Anyone new too Manu and the Italy Made Easy videos might be wondering, who is this guy and what makes him qualified to talk about a very touchy cultural topic.

Who is Manu Venditti from Italy Made Easy

Manu is a Doctor in Translation from Italy. He’s been teaching Italian as a foreign language for over 20 years. Fluent in four languages (Italian, English, Spanish and Portuguese) Manu has a unique gift as a foreign language teacher. He’s able to look at the Italian language through the lens of an English-speaking foreigner.

If this sounds like an ad for Italy Made Easy right now, forgive me. It’s not. I’m just a fan who has a huge amount of appreciation for the passion and skill Manu brings to teaching Italian. Which takes me back to the content of the video itself.

Ever the teacher Manu starts by tactfully explaining maleducato basically means rude in Italian. Rude as in speaking without demonstrating respect or someone who offends you. You being the operative word. I’ll get back to that in a minute.

In other videos Manu has tactfully made the connection between being poorly educated and being rude in Italian. So to call an Italian rude is… well, it’s just culturally rude in the first place.

Manu goes on to explain that over the years many of his students who visit Italy for the first time, email him afterwards saying they had a fantastic experience, they love Italy, but some also say they were treated poorly and ask “Are Italians Rude?”

Manu then asks his students watching the video live what their experiences are with Italians. He then nervously takes what I’m sure is a coffee break to steel himself for the responses.

Gulp.

I’ll skip forward a bit here and get to the reason behind why I decided to write this post. I was recently asked by a woman planning to move to Italy “What are three things you wish you knew before moving to Italy.”

The differences in the way Americans and Italians communicate is indeed one of the things I think anyone considering a move to Italy or even just coming for their first visit should be aware of ahead of time.

Italians Are More Direct Than Americans

In his video Manu very tactfully points out two key things to keep in mind. One, the obvious. Many of the Italians foreigners meet in Italy are working in the tourism, which is not easy or highly paid. Being a tourist rushing to see as much of Venice as possible in 24 hours, is not the best way to get to know what Italians are really like.

An Italian could say the exact same thing to an Italian and an American and chances are good that if anyone found the statement rude, it would be the American. Why is that?

This is what I was referring to earlier when I pointed out “you being the operative word” and point Two that Manu makes. Italians have a much more direct style of communication than many of his English-speaking students do from places like American, Australian and even Japan.

Think of it this way. As an American how would you ask for help finding a white shirt in a store? You’d most likely say “excuse me, could you help me find a white shirt?” In our Italian lessons we learn to say “sto cercando una camicia bianca” or “mi servo una camicia bianca” I’m looking for or I need a white shirt. Italian is a much more direct language.

As an American living in Italy learning to speak Italian, I now see the difference language plays in culture. In Italy, there is far less preoccupation with saying what you’re really thinking. The nice way to talk about an overweight person in Italian is to say they are Ciccona. While the “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” American is more likely to dance around the subject of weight like a Fantasia hippo in a tutu.

There is a flip side though. Americans can be very naive about the ways we as foreigners are rude too Italians.

I myself was rude during my first phone call in Italy. When Filomena from my Doctor’s office called I said “Ciao, come stai?” Filomena paused long enough I knew I goofed. In my mind, I thought “we’ve met, she’s so nice, I’ll be informal.” My overly friendly and very informal American approach translated into me showing a lack of respect for Filomena. I might as well have said “what’s up dude!” I would never intentionally be rude, but what seems natural to me is rude in Italy.

In Italian when speaking to someone you do not know well or who is your senior, you should use the polite or formal form of the pronoun you, which is Lei. In English the pronoun you is simply you. It’s just as acceptable to ask a child “How are you today?” as it is to ask “How are you today?” to the person about to give you a very important, formal job interview.

Our languages are different and so too are our cultures. Where Italian is direct, English is evasive. Where Italian is formal, English is casual. All of this to say, if you’re an English-speaker coming to Italy for the first time and you’ve ever said “well I never!” or clutched pearls, then the directness of Italians might in fact seem rude. Then again, being a casual friendly American might just as well be perceived as rude too.

Do I as an American personally find Italians Rude? No. Are they more direct than Americans? Most definitely. Can that be shocking for foreigners visiting Italy for the first time. Yep! Is one way better than the other? Nope.

As Manu pointed out in his video, the difference is a matter of cultural semantics. Getting to know Italians beyond that of a tourist, means seeing their warmth and kindness more often than hearing raised voices.

My experience as an American living in Bardonecchia, Italy is similar to life in small town America. Walking into my local market feels like walking into Cheers. Everybody knows my name and my usual. Due etti di roast beef e un etto di prosciutto.

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6 comments

  1. That’s a really insightful post. Having learned languages that stress formal and informal myself, it’s important to respect that. I also like how you talk about directness. There are so many nuances to culture and it’s very easy to stereotype rather than actually go out of your way to understand cultural differences. Good job on your Italian!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Being married to one I certainly agree! I do find they don’t mince words though. Even if the American sentences are shorter, Italians are more direct with their opinions, wants and needs. At least from what I’ve observed. I’ve falling in love with the Italian Futtetenne attitude when it comes to giving a fig what someone else thinks!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I found this really interesting. I never think of Italian as being a direct language, not like German. Instead, I think of Italian/French/Spanish as being romantic languages. I frequently find when translating any one of these into English that the English version will be much shorter.

    Like

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