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Culture and Society: Gift Giving


Italians attach significant value to the art of gift-giving. It is not only the gift itself that is important but also the wrapping. As appearances are important to Italians, gifts are always beautifully wrapped, typifying the Italian principle of bella figura, an phrase meaning good impression or good image. Price tags are always removed as it is considered rude to show how much the gift cost.

Hospitality Gifts

When invited to someone’s home, Italians usually bring a small neutral gift as a token of appreciation. Flowers, chocolates, or cakes are appreciated as they appeal to the Italians’ affinity for the finer things in life. Flowers are given in odd numbers, except in the case of a dozen roses.

Italians enjoy giving and receiving high-quality wines or liqueurs, and they enjoy sampling foods and wines from other regions as they are generally curious about other cultures and customs. Likewise, a small memento from the guest’s home country, such as a coffee table book or local culinary specialty, makes an appropriate hospitality gift. If the host has children, presenting them with small toys or sweets is appreciated. Gifts are opened immediately, followed by brief admiration and thanks.

Thank-you notes are typically send the day after a dinner at someone’s home, and flowers, if they were brought to the dinner, may be sent as well.

Personal Gifts

Family and friends give gifts to each other on special occasions such as birthdays, graduations, holidays, and ceremonies such as weddings, baptisms, Confirmation, and Holy Communion. At Christmas, Italians enjoy giving and receiving pandoro, a golden sponge cake, or panettone, a tall cake with currants and candied fruits. At Easter, it is common to give a colomba, a sugared cake shaped like a dove. Gifts are usually given on Christmas Day or Christmas Eve to family and close friends. In some regions, gifts are given (especially to children) on Epiphany, January 6th, to symbolize the gifts of the Magi.

Often gifts of silver or gold jewelry are given at important religious ceremonies such as Holy Communion. At weddings, guests typically give the couple money or household items. Buste is an Italian wedding tradition in which the bride carries a purse to receive gifts of money from the wedding guests. Male guests sometimes give money in exchange for a dance with the bride.

Business Gifts

Italians do not typically exchange gifts during initial business meetings. More commonly, gifts are often, though not always, exchanged at the end of successful negotiations. Gifts are typically small and inexpensive, but of excellent quality. It is also polite, though not obligatory, to give a gift to an assistant who has been helpful in the office. In this case, flowers, chocolates, or desk accessories are considered appropriate. Christmas cards are often sent as tokens of thanks to business associates.


Cheap-looking or overly practical gifts are generally not given. In business settings, gifts bearing one’s company logo are considered cheap advertising and impolite. Sharp items, such as knives or scissors, are avoided as they suggest the severing of a relationship.

When giving flowers, chrysanthemums and red roses are reserved for funerals and romantic occasions, respectively. Yellow flowers, especially roses, are also avoided as they represent jealousy and unfaithfulness. Handkerchiefs and brooches, like chrysanthemums, symbolize funerals and make poor gifts. 

Personal items such as clothing are typically avoided unless the relationship is close and the recipient’s personal preferences are known. The number 17 is considered an unlucky number in Italy and is avoided for gifts. 

The colors black, a symbol of death, and purple, considered unlucky, are not used to wrap gifts.