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Culture and Society: Stereotypes

Being both oversimplified and an opinion by definition, a stereotype about a group of people may have much or very little truth to it. While painting any group with a single brush can be risky, knowing that certain stereotypes exist can be an important step in understanding a culture. If you're a traveler, this knowledge can help you avoid offending the people of your host country. 

The following stereotypes are presented in two sections: first, those often held by foreigners visiting this country; and second, those often held by the country's own inhabitants. The description below each entry attempts to explain why some people may believe the given stereotype.

Please note that these stereotypes do not necessarily represent the views of World Trade Press or its employees, but are presented here in an effort to make you a more informed researcher or traveler. Through your own experiences you may find some or all untrue, only partially true, unfair, or fairly accurate.

Stereotypes of Italians as Accepted by Some Foreigners

Hot Blooded

Italians are very emotional people who are passionate about even the minor aspects of life.

Italians rarely do things by half measures when it comes to expressing their emotions. Discussions become noisy arguments, lovers’ spats boil into screaming matches, botched football plays foster fisticuffs, and casual glances give way to lust, all at a moment’s notice. Italians believe that there is no point bothering to communicate unless you are at full tilt. This can be very disconcerting for visitors from calmer cultures, who tend to believe the Italians are constantly on the verge of apoplexy.

Criminal Outlook

Italians are as likely to skirt the law as they are to take a breath. It is no wonder that organized crime flourishes here.

Italians make no effort to conceal the fact that they think that adhering to the letter of the law is foolish, especially if it is not in their favor. Accusations of corruption against top politicians are almost constant, and it is estimated that almost 25 percent of the economy takes place “off the books.” Although Italians do not like to be thought of as all being members of the mafia, they are not beyond trying to take advantage of legal loopholes or unobservant officials. Laws in Italy are guidelines for civilized society, not limits.

Style Conscious

Italians are overly concerned about how they look. The men may be worse than the women in this matter.

Even the chronically unemployed try to look their best when going out in public in Italy, and having the latest style is a must. Much is made of appearance, although no one wants to look like they are trying. Italian style has influenced world culture from clothes to automobiles and furniture to shoes. Italians are not shy about giving friends or strangers the up-and-down look when meeting, followed by a critique. Foreigners working in Italy need to be aware that their appearance will have a definite impact on their success.

Mamas’ Boys

The Italian family is built around the mother, and Italian men act like Lotharios to compensate for life at home.

Italy is a very matriarchal society, and mama rules the roost in no uncertain terms. Even as married adults, Italian men still dote on their mothers and force their wives to live up to the matriarch’s standards. The economic situation in Italy also makes it necessary for single males to live at home, often well into their 30s, further polishing the mama’s boy image. The assertive sexual behavior of Italian men in public is seen as a way for them to maintain their self-esteem, while still attached to mama’s apron strings.


Italians run through governments like most countries go through calendars. No one governs Italy for very long.

Italy has dozens of political parties, making it almost impossible for any one party to have a clear majority. This results in coalition governments that are more equitable than they are competent, thus creating an ever-changing political landscape. Since 1948, Italy averaged one government per year up until the late 1990s. Silvio Berlusconi’s premiership that ran from 2001–2006 was the longest since World War II. This has made it hard for Italy to assert itself in the European Union (EU) or on the global stage, even though it is one of the world’s top economies.

Stereotypes of Italians as Accepted by Some Italians

Roman Successors

We are the inheritors of the glory of Rome. Without Italy, European civilization would be nothing.

Italians are keen to remind visitors that they are walking the same roads as Julius Caesar and the Roman Legions. Every bit of ancient architecture and art is preserved and highlighted for dramatic effect. These same visitors often wonder what happened to cause the Roman juggernaut to become the Italian circus when they see the bundle of lightly controlled chaos that is today’s Italy. In their defense, it should be noted that Italians are not the only Europeans to revel in a distant past while neglecting their future.

Romantic Culture

We see the world through our emotions and feel everything much deeper than other cultures.

Italians are not shy when it comes to expressing their moods, as anyone who has attended an Italian football match can attest. In the area of romantic love, the “Latin Lover” title was invented to describe the Italian take on the ways of the heart. Foreign females visiting Italy find out quickly that Italian men believe in getting directly to the point, and Italian women are famous for their lusty glances. For Italians, life is too short to waste time being demure.

Europeans First

Here in Italy we see the great value in a united Europe, and we are the most European of the EU members.

As much as 60 percent of Italians see themselves as Europeans first, then as Italians, which is considerably higher than other EU countries. Italy has greatly benefited from the stability that the euro has brought to its economy, and the government in Brussels fills in the gaps left open by laxity in Rome. However, Italy has parted ways with its EU brethren on several occasions, seeing itself as being part of the balancing weight to offset the Franco-German bloc in Brussels.

La Dolce Vita

We Italians do not take any great pleasure in work and only see it as a means to support our leisure time.

Although they are not as vacation mad as the French, Italians see work as a necessary evil. They do, however, admire those that have a job that can be done with passion, like theater or art. The average worker (usually unionized) wants to get paid as much as possible for as little work as can possibly be done. Worker’s benefits are generous, and millions of strikers take to the streets in a flash if any official tries to tamper with them. The low productivity and high social costs are often cited as the main reasons behind Italy’s sputtering economy.

Center of the Food Universe

We invented fine dining, and the rest of Europe can only claim to be pale imitations of the original.           

Italians like their food and will not hear of anyone claiming to have better cuisine—even the French. Although most foreigners don’t know much about Italian food beyond pasta and pizza, the variety of regional tastes is quite impressive. All dining (even breakfast) is considered a communal event, where conversation acts as another spice in the recipe. And then there is coffee. No one can match the emphasis that the Italians place on a good cup of coffee.