Milan may not be Italy’s capital city but is the central hub of the economy, leading the way in the likes of the arts, commerce, fashion and finance.
As in any major city there are certain rules best observed when doing business. The incorrect greeting or inappropriate clothing or comment could make or break a potential global deal.
It’s worth knowing that Milan’s most important dates are fashion weeks from January-March and June, September and October. There is also an annual furniture trade fair in early April. If you’re heading to the city during these months, be sure to book ahead as it can get very busy.
Business, The Milanese Way
Doing The Meet and Greet
Whilst many of the Italians you meet will be able to speak English it’s always best to start any conversation with a ‘buongiorno’ which means ‘good morning’. If it’s an afternoon meeting ‘buonasera’ will suffice. After which introduce yourself and offer your hand to shake. A goodbye (arrivederci) and another handshake are great ways to end a meeting. Remember it’s best to start with a formal greeting until you are told it’s OK to do otherwise.
Dress To Impress
Italian’s are a stylish bunch and what you’re wearing will be noticed. Those attending meetings need to make sure they are ahead of the style game with well presented suits for men and carefully considered outfits and jewellery for women. As Milan, alongside Rome, is considered the style hub of the country, you’ll get extra points if you turn up in designer wear.
A Matter of Time
Punctuality is not always high on the agenda of priorities for Italians who may not frown upon you being a little late for a business meeting. (We’re talking about up to 10 minutes here, not hours, which would be considered incredibly tardy). That said, it would be thought of as rude if you arrived later than the most senior person in the room. They may also take a little time in getting back about a future project but this isn’t to be thought of as unreasonable. They will work through priorities as they see them and come back as soon as they can.
Business meetings can be lively affairs and you may find yours punctuated by colleagues debating simultaneously, and disagreeing with a passion. This is perfectly normal in Italian society and should be viewed as such. You may also not follow an agenda to the letter and mobile phones in general need to be switched off.
Working 9 to 5?
In Milan working hours in the private sector tend to range from 9am to 6pm as a general rule. That said, it’s not all work and no play and it would be usual to find yourself having an hour or two for lunch most week days. As in many cities many employees work after 6pm and at weekends. Much of Italy holidays in August so it’s good to keep this in mind when booking meetings. There are also a number of main holidays listed here which will govern whether an office is open for business or not.
If you are looking for the UK government’s advice on the practicalities of doing business in Italy, please see their website here.
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