Italian style is a natural attitude. It is about a life of good taste. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Simple but with good taste.
Luxury is possible to buy. Good taste is not.
~ Diego Della Valle, Italian businessman
The words Italy and style are synonymous. Just think the Vespa, Valentino, and Versace. And another sparkling symbol of style and grace is Sophia Loren, the epitome of the elegant donna matura (mature woman). Italians have been creating beauty for a long time so it’s a way of life for them. The Italian philosophy which emphasises beauty, style and grace is called ‘la bella figura’ or ‘the beautiful figure’. But la bella figura is more than beauty, style and grace. It is also about behaving well or Il Galateo which translates to ‘the rules of polite behaviour’. It’s what Italians Italians follow.
The origin of the phrase Il Galateo is a book of the same name written during the renaissance period by Giovanni della Casa — it was a manual for behaving with courtesy, dressing with elegance, and respect for others, which became popular throughout Europe.
According to Wikipedia:
. . . this influential courtesy book of the Renaissance explores subjects such as dress, table manners, and conversation. It became so popular that the title, which refers to the name of one of the author’s distinguished friends, entered into the Italian language. To “not know the Galateo” means to be impolite, crude, and awkward in polite society.
Il Galateo is said to have been the foundation for the etiquette manuals we know today and that through it, the Italians taught the rest of the world how to behave. Italians today talk about Il Galateo at the table – not only good manners, but the appropriate way to set the table; the giving of gifts and flowers; and even how to dress. As a manual or guide to behaving like an Italian in Italy, it is still relevant today.
The etiquette of flowers or Il Galateo dei fiori
Flowers are a thoughtful gift but the wrong flower for the occasion could be embarrassing for you and the recipient. Italians are superstitious and there is symbolism attached to colour and type of flower. Take care in your choice and you’ll be rewarded with sincere appreciation and thanks.
A few suggestions:
- Huge bunches are generally not in good taste. It’s better to give a small bouquet chosen with care
- Chrysanthemums are only for funerals
- Orchids are the perfect gift for important occasions
- Roses signify love and passion
- Yellow flowers to your boyfriend are a symbol of betrayal
- A single flower such as a rose is only given to someone you love
- For a man, flowers such as tulips or roses in bright colours are ideal
Il Galateo at the table
For a dinner party, an elegant table set with a clean tablecloth, the right number of glasses, napkins and cutlery and a beautiful centrepiece will impress your Italian guests. However, Il galateo means that there are a few other basic rules to be obeyed.
A few considerations for the host and guests:
- Invite a compatible group of friends to ensure conviviality
- Take a small beautifully wrapped gift, flowers or chocolates for the host. Quality, not quantity is the key
- At the table don’t talk too loud, or too much
- Elbows are off the table but hands are always in sight
- Don’t start eating until everyone is ready
- Whilst at the table, mobile telephones should be silent and nowhere in sight
Italian style is hard to beat, but good manners (buone maniere) cost nothing. So when in Italy, well, anywhere really, my advice is: behave like an Italian.