Italian cultural values

11 Italian Cultural Values: Beyond Pasta and Dolce Vita

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Italy is a country renowned for its rich cultural heritage, captivating landscapes, and delectable cuisine. While pasta and the dolce vita lifestyle have become iconic symbols of Italian culture, there is much more to the Italian way of life than meets the eye. 

In this article, we delve into the heart of Italy and explore 11 Italian cultural values that go beyond pasta and the dolce vita, shedding light on the elements that define and unite the Italian people. 




Italian Culture Value 1: Freedom, Equality & the Italian Constitution

In Italy, the values of freedom and equality hold immense significance, forming the pillars of its democratic society. Rooted in history and enshrined in the Italian Constitution, these values serve as guiding principles that shape the nation’s laws, institutions, and collective consciousness. 

The Italian Constitution, adopted in 1947, emphasizes the fundamental rights and liberties of every citizen, promoting the principles of freedom of thought, expression, and association. It upholds the concept of equality, safeguarding individuals from discrimination based on gender, race, religion, or social status. 

Article 3 of the Italian Constitution

Have a look at what Article 3 of the Italian Constitution says. I will be providing both Italian and English versions, in case you want to have a look at the Italian one.

“Tutti i cittadini hanno pari dignità sociale e sono eguali davanti alla legge, senza distinzione di sesso, di razza, di lingua, di religione, di opinioni politiche, di condizioni personali e sociali.

È compito della Repubblica rimuovere gli ostacoli di ordine economico e sociale, che, limitando di fatto la libertà e l’eguaglianza dei cittadini, impediscono il pieno sviluppo della persona umana e l’effettiva partecipazione di tutti i lavoratori all’organizzazione politica, economica e sociale del Paese.”

This translates to:

“All citizens have equal social dignity and are equal before the law, without distinction of sex, race, language, religion, political opinion, personal and social conditions.

It is the duty of the Republic to remove the economic and social obstacles which, by effectively limiting the freedom and equality of citizens, prevent the full development of the human person and the effective participation of all workers in the political, economic, and society of the country.”

Equality & Freedom in Practice

While freedom and equality most likely are and should be fundamental values of every modern society, regardless of location and culture, in Italy these two are felt very strongly. The value of freedom manifests in Italy’s commitment to personal autonomy, political participation, and the pursuit of happiness. 

Simultaneously, the principle of equality ensures that every individual is afforded fair treatment, opportunities, and protection under the law. Together, the cherished values of freedom and equality in Italy foster a society that strives for justice, inclusivity, and the empowerment of all its citizens.

Having said all of that, I don’t want you to think I am telling you that the Italian peninsula is the perfect country, as no country is, and like all countries it has its issues and its limitations, but that’s not within the scope of this article.


Italian walking alone symbolizing individualism

Value 2: Italian Identity & Individualism

In Italy, while the importance of family and community is deeply ingrained, there is also a significant appreciation for individualism. Italian society recognizes and values the uniqueness of each person and encourages personal expression and autonomy. Individualism can be seen in various aspects of life in Italy, from career choices to personal style and artistic endeavors. 

Italians take pride in their identities and often express themselves through fashion, art, and creative pursuits. While maintaining strong connections with family and community, Italians also embrace the importance of personal freedom and self-expression, allowing for a dynamic blend of individualism and collective bonds within the cultural fabric of the country.

So, if you’re wondering whether Italy leans more towards being individualistic or collectivistic, here’s the scoop: Italians are definitely individualistic at heart. They value their freedom and equality, and they know how to rock their unique style and expression. 

But here’s the cool part—they also love coming together in groups for a greater cause. Whether it’s fighting for the environment, standing against war, or battling racism, Italians are all about joining forces to make a difference. It’s like they’re balancing their strong individualism with a strong sense of community and solidarity. They know that together, they can achieve amazing things for the greater good.


Italian Culture Value 3: National Pride & Local Patriotism aka Campanilismo

Italian National Pride and Campanilismo, also known as local patriotism, are two contrasting yet interwoven aspects of Italy’s cultural identity.

Patriottismo

Italian National Pride stems from a deep sense of attachment and loyalty to the country as a whole. It encompasses a shared pride in Italy’s historical legacy, artistic achievements, and contributions to the world. We take immense pride in the Italian language, culture, and traditions, celebrating national symbols like the flag, national anthem, and historical landmarks. This collective sense of national pride is especially evident during international sporting events or significant historical anniversaries, where many Italians unite in their support for their nation and display their passion for being Italian.

Campanilism in Italy

On the other hand, Campanilism reflects the strong attachment and loyalty that Italians have to their local communities, regions, and cities. The term “Campanilismo” is derived from the word “campanile,” which means bell tower in Italian. It symbolizes the local pride associated with one’s town or village and the belief that one’s home region is the best in Italy

Campanilismo fosters a healthy rivalry between different regions, with each one proudly showcasing its unique cultural heritage, culinary specialties, and historical achievements. This local patriotism is evident in various aspects of Italian life, including regional festivals, local dialects, and even in the support of local sports teams.

Despite their differences, Italian National Pride and Campanilismo coexist harmoniously in the Italian cultural landscape. Italians embrace both their national identity and their local roots, understanding that their collective diversity contributes to the richness and charm of Italy as a whole. These dual expressions of pride reflect the multifaceted nature of Italy’s cultural concepts, where the love for the country as a united whole blends seamlessly with the affectionate attachment to one’s local community.


italian flag symbolizing patriotism and Italian cultural values

Value 4: Italian Morals & Honesty

As explained nicely in an article by Corriere.it the word ‘morality’ finds its roots in Latin, with Cicero, a renowned Roman philosopher, being the first to use it in a modern context. Attested in Italian since the thirteenth century, ‘moral’ originates from the Latin ‘morāle(m),’ derived from ‘mos, moris,’ meaning ‘costume,’ and the Greek word ‘ēthikós.’ Cicero, in his work ‘De Officiis,’ argued that what is honest and virtuous is also beneficial, intertwining the concept of man’s behavior in choosing between good and evil, right and wrong—a reflection of his ‘customs.

At the core of Italian morality lies a strong sense of interconnectedness and community. Italians prioritize nurturing and supporting their kin throughout their lives, contributing to a tightly-knit and caring society. Compassion, empathy, and treating others with respect are highly valued in Italian culture, creating a moral framework that fosters genuine concern for the well-being of fellow community members.

Honesty is a significant virtue in the culture of Italy, and it is intricately linked to notions of integrity and trustworthiness. Italians place great importance on maintaining their word and following through with commitments. They value sincerity in communication and tend to be straightforward and direct in their interactions. 

While the concept of “white lies” exists in many cultures, Italians generally avoid such practices, believing that honesty is the best policy for building strong and genuine relationships. Honesty is not only expected in personal relationships but also in business dealings, where transparency and integrity are key elements for establishing successful partnerships. 

Overall, morals and honesty values play a fundamental role in fostering a tightly-knit and trustworthy society, where individuals are encouraged to uphold ethical principles in both their personal and professional lives.


italian grandma and grandchild symbolizing family

Italian Culture Value 5: Traditional Italian Family Values

Italian family values hold a central and cherished place in the country’s cultural fabric. Family is the cornerstone of Italian society, and its significance extends far beyond immediate relatives to encompass extended family members and close friends. Italians prioritize strong bonds with their kin, valuing loyalty, support, and unity. 

Multigenerational households are common, fostering deep connections between different age groups. Family gatherings, meals, and celebrations are vibrant and frequent, providing opportunities for socializing and nurturing familial ties. Elders are highly respected and play an essential role in transmitting traditions and customs, wisdom, and moral values to younger generations. 

The concept of “La Famiglia” goes beyond blood relations, as close friends can also be considered part of one’s extended family. Italian family values promote a strong sense of belonging, ensuring that individuals are supported, loved, and cared for throughout their lives.

Relationships are built on mutual trust, respect, and loyalty, which extend beyond immediate family to include close friends and even acquaintances. Italians are known for their hospitality, and welcoming others into their homes is a common way to strengthen relationships. 

Whether in romantic partnerships, friendships, or professional relationships, Italians emphasize the importance of emotional connections and interpersonal harmony, which contribute to the enduring and supportive relationships that lie at the heart of Italian culture.

Trust as a foundation of all relationships

Trust within Italian culture holds immense importance and is considered the foundation of strong relationships. Italians highly value honesty, reliability, and the fulfillment of commitments. Building trust is a gradual process, often nurtured through shared experiences and consistent interactions. Once trust is established, it forms a bond that fosters loyalty and a sense of security. 

Within families and close-knit communities, trust is an integral part of daily living in Italy, allowing individuals to rely on one another for support, guidance, and emotional well-being. Trust also extends to business relationships, where confidence and integrity are key elements in fostering successful partnerships.


Value 6: Enjoying Good Food 

Italy and food are like pizza and tomato, essential to each other. That’s how Italians view food in their life; as an essential part of their life, not just to feed their body but to please their souls. It might sound romantic, and even cheesy, but that’s how it is. And if it wasn’t that way, you probably wouldn’t love Italy as much, and you wouldn’t get to enjoy all the delicious Italian food either.

It’s thanks to this passion we have for food that Italian food is so special and the most loved around the world. It’s because each recipe was born for the love of food, the respect for the local resources, and the pleasure to continue following family cooking methods and recipes.

Savoring food, be it a coffee in the morning at the bar, or a plate of pasta over lunch with colleagues, is fundamental for an Italian. An Italian doesn’t eat just to eat, and when he/she eats it must be in an ideal situation. The food needs to be delicious, even if it’s a lunch break, and the situation needs to be comfortable.

Did you know that Italians hate to eat standing unless they are having a quick coffee and croissant before work?

That’s probably why standing wedding parties are not very popular in most parts of Italy, but we much prefer long and big wedding dinners where everyone can sit in tranquility and enjoy every course to the fullest.


Local Food Shopping is Key

This love for every meal being perfect shows in the way Italians do their shopping. We much prefer shopping for vegetables from the vegetable van that passes next to our homes. We take pleasure in walking or stopping with the car by a bakery, panificio, after work to pick up freshly baked bread. On Sundays or special occasions, we like to take a trip to a local patisserie or pasticceria and pick up some freshly made mini cakes, which we call pasticcini

The same holds for the way we buy our meat and fish, we make sure to choose the best local butcher and ironmonger, one who we can trust to provide the best quality produce. Many even buy extra virgin olive oil and wine that’s made in-house on a small scale by someone they know, be it a family member, a friend, or a neighbor.

We are born as Buon Gustai

Kids learn very early to eat well too. You won’t see a single kid, unless he’s a foreigner, drinking out of a soft drink bottle in his pushchair. Neither will you see him having a pack of crisps. Instead, you’ll likely see him eat a nice biscuit, a milk roll from the bakery, or even better a croissant.

When it comes to hosting, Italians strive to prepare a meal fit for a king. They want their guests to leave thinking that they ate the best food ever, and to feel like that food was prepared with high-quality ingredients and with love. We get this mindset from our nonnas who taught us the importance of paying attention to every detail when it comes to cooking, setting the table, and serving the food.


Italian Culture Value 7. Dolce Vita, Slow Living, and Good Time in Italy

In Italy, the dolce vita philosophy embodies a way of life that emphasizes savoring every moment, indulging in the pleasures of daily existence, and appreciating the finer things in life. The term “dolce vita,” which translates to “sweet life,” was popularized during the 1960s and 1970s, encapsulating the carefree and hedonistic lifestyle embraced by Italians. This philosophy encourages individuals to take time for leisure, to enjoy leisurely meals with loved ones, and to engage in meaningful conversations. 

Slow living, another prevalent aspect of Italian culture, complements the dolce vita philosophy by advocating for a relaxed pace of life, fostering a deeper connection with one’s surroundings and a heightened appreciation for simple joys. The combination of dolce vita and slow living allows Italians to escape the hustle and bustle of modern life, championing the art of living in the present and prioritizing well-being and joy over the pursuit of material gains.

italian enjoying leisure time while reading the newspaper

Italians Prioritize Leisure Time

Italians are masters of embracing a good time, and they understand the importance of finding joy and celebration in various aspects of life. Festivals, cultural events, and family gatherings are infused with exuberance and a lively spirit, showcasing Italy’s vibrant and festive culture. Whether it’s a traditional local festival, a joyous wedding, or a simple gathering with friends, Italians excel at creating an atmosphere of merriment and camaraderie. 

Food and drink play a central role in these festivities, with traditional Italian cuisine serving as a gateway to delightful experiences. Italians have a unique talent for infusing every occasion with an unmistakable zest for life, making laughter, music, and good company essential ingredients in their pursuit of a good time. 

Dolce Far Niente

This unwavering commitment to enjoying life and embracing the Dolce vita philosophy is what makes Italy a beacon of happiness and contentment for both locals and visitors alike.

This philosophy is shown beautifully by a beautiful Italian saying about life, or better an Italian expression. I am referring to the Dolce Far Niente.

The concept of “Dolce Far Niente” encapsulates the art of doing nothing and embracing the sweetness of idleness. Originating from Italian culture, it embodies the idea of savoring leisure time without guilt or pressure. This cherished practice allows individuals to unwind, relax, and simply enjoy the present moment. 

Whether lounging in a piazza with a cup of coffee, strolling through quaint streets, or basking in the warmth of the sun, “Dolce Far Niente” encourages a state of tranquility and mindfulness. Embracing this philosophy allows Italians to recharge, find inner peace, and relish the simple pleasures of life, epitomizing the essence of “the sweetness of doing nothing.”

Dolce Vita Examples from Italian Daily Life

To better get the Living la Dolce Vita Meaning take a look at a few examples of how Italians apply this throughout their daily life.

  1. They take frequent coffee breaks at work;
  2. Many enjoy a good lunch and dinner every day, usually in company;
  3. Italians strive to find time for family and friends after work, whether that means going to visit their mums or having a drink with a friend.
  4. They regularly plan activities and dinner parties to make daily life and weekends extra special, regardless of whether there’s an occasion to celebrate or not. For us, life is a long-term celebration by itself. 
  5. At the same time, Italians are good at realizing when they need to reset and be alone or just with their immediate family. In that case, they might head for a walk in the countryside or a weekend away to relax.



Value 8: Formality, Manners, Traditions & Respect are Fundamental in Italy

Formality and manners hold significant importance in Italian culture, reflecting a deep-rooted respect for tradition and social etiquette. From a young age, Italians are taught to value proper conduct and to adhere to established norms in social interactions. 

Politeness, courtesy, and showing respect for others are fundamental aspects of Italian etiquette. Addressing others using appropriate titles and gestures of deference is customary, exemplifying the significance placed on demonstrating respect and consideration towards one another.

Formality is particularly evident in professional settings, where formal language and attire are expected. Handshakes are common as a sign of greeting, and eye contact is valued as a gesture of sincerity. Additionally, punctuality is highly regarded, emphasizing the importance of showing up on time as a sign of respect for others’ schedules and commitments.

As with many other things, even the way Italians approach timeliness changes from the North to South of Italy.

The further South you get – think Campania, Sicily and Sardinia – the more common is regarding being slightly late as normal.

Take it this way, Southern Italians value the Dolce Vita and slow living a tidbit more than our Northern and Central Italian compatriots.

Respecting traditions is of paramount importance for Italians, as their cultural heritage and history are deeply intertwined with these time-honored customs. Traditions are seen as a way to preserve and celebrate Italy’s rich past, passing down values and practices from one generation to the next. Moreover, adhering to these traditions is viewed as a display of good manners, particularly concerning family customs.

From religious festivities and regional festivals to family rituals and culinary traditions, Italians take pride in upholding these customs that define their sense of identity and community. 


italian woman with curated outfit

Italian Culture Value 9: Fare la Bella Figura – Looking & Feeling Good

I am sure you’ve heard a lot about Italian Style; you might even be trying to recreate it for yourself by shopping for Italian fashion and home decor. Well, it all starts with Italian elegance – that classic style that never goes out of fashion and that’s so important for us Italians. 

In the same way, we are taught to be well-mannered as kids, stay put when sitting at the table and having our meals, and be nice and polite with people around us, we are also taught to polish ourselves every morning to look our best.

It’s because our Italian parents want us to look good and feel good, and they also want to feel good about themselves around others. It’s called ‘fare la bella figura’, and even though it has a lot to do with Italian looks, it also encompasses one’s behavior and communication style.

“Fare la bella figura” is an essential concept in Italian culture, emphasizing the importance of making a good impression and presenting oneself in a favorable light. This expression, which translates to “making a beautiful figure,” encompasses both physical appearance and behavior. 

Italians take great pride in how they present themselves, whether in their style or social interactions. It involves dressing well, displaying confidence, and exhibiting proper etiquette in various settings. “Fare la bella figura” reflects the value placed on aesthetics, social grace, and respect for others, contributing to the art of charming and leaving a lasting positive impact on those they encounter.


Value 10: Self-expression – Italian Passion and Love

Italian passion is well-known around the world. You can see it in the way Italians love, whether that’s their love for family, partners, kids, food, work, their country, or their freedom. Likewise, you also see it in the way we express ourselves – using our hands to emphasize our words, changing the tone of our voice to do the same as well as to express our emotions.

“Italian communication style is unique – usually, a mix of politeness and elegance combined with passionate hand gestures, very likely coupled with a few words spoken in dialect, especially if we want to emphasize certain positive or negative feelings.”

Yes, even though we are taught to speak Italian as our main language, especially at school and in public situations, we are also exposed to the dialect of our region and area. Like me, many kids and teens choose not to speak the dialect but they can still understand and appreciate it.

Expressiveness is ingrained in our communication style, combining politeness and elegance with passionate hand gestures to emphasize our words and emotions. This unique mix of gestures, tones, and dialects adds color and depth to our conversations, creating a dynamic and engaging form of self-expression. 

While Italian is the main language taught and used in public settings, the influence of regional dialects remains present, adding a touch of nostalgia and cultural richness to the way Italians communicate. The appreciation for both the official language and regional dialects reflects the depth of Italian culture and their profound connection to self-expression and the power of words.


italian architecture in Rome

Italian Culture Value 11. Admiration, Inspiration, Beauty

Italians love beautiful things; we love to look at them, hence why we appreciate history and art so much, and we love to surround ourselves with them. The latter shows in the way we choose to dress, furniture our homes and accessorize our lives.

Admiration is a way we show appreciation, love, and respect for beautiful things; that can extend to our partners, our favorite museum, different Italian cities, and even our cars.

We take pride in celebrating and acknowledging the accomplishments of others, whether it be in the fields of Italian music, fashion, architecture, Italian literature, or any form of creative expression. The Italian Renaissance, a period of profound cultural transformation, exemplifies this value, with artists, scholars, and thinkers inspiring one another to reach new heights of creativity and excellence. 

Today, admiration for talent and achievement continues to thrive, fostering a supportive and encouraging environment for aspiring individuals to pursue their passions and excel in their chosen fields. The collective admiration for Italy’s cultural heritage and the accomplishments of its citizens not only serves as a source of motivation but also highlights the cultural ethos that champions excellence and creative expression as essential components of the Italian identity.


What about Italian Religious Values?

By now, you’re probably wondering why I didn’t mention religion as a core Italian value. Well, that’s because as an Italian myself, I don’t think Italians are that religious as individuals. Collectively, you might think Religion in Italy is very important because of the Pope, the Vatican, and the long history of how religion has always played an important part in the background and lives of Italians.

On paper, nearly 80% of the population in Italy is Catholic, 15% is atheist, and the remaining 5% belongs to another religion (data taken from Italian in Dati).

Notwithstanding that, I wouldn’t say Italians are very religious. We don’t go to church often, and many of us rarely go unless it’s to celebrate a family or friend’s wedding, baptism, holy communion, or to mourn a lost one. Many don’t even pray, and while catechism is part of most kids’ upbringing, it feels like another thing to tick off the list, and not something really meaningful.

That’s shown by this data, taken from Giornalesentire. it: 71.1% of Italians declare themselves as Catholics, but only 25.4% are practicants

Researchers sustain that this is due to a phenomenon called ‘secolarizzazione religiosa’ or religious secularization. The latter implies a process whereby religion loses its importance within social life, brought by many aspects of modern life including the separation between religious institutions and secular authorities.

Having said all of this, even though a good part of the Italian population might not be religious, we don’t lack belief in God. Many of us like to think there’s a higher power there to protect us and lead the way, in good and in bad times. So we might not go to church or pray formally, but we still like to thank God for both the little and the big things. That probably spans from the fact that we are grateful people overall. 

So if you see us celebrating our patron Saint, or important religious feasts like the day in honor Francis of Assisi, it’s not as much for our religious beliefs but as a respect for our local customs.


Final Thoughts

As we’ve explored, Italian culture is a mosaic woven from diverse threads of history, passion, and tradition. From a profound reverence for art to an unparalleled zeal for life’s pleasures, these 11 values offer a window into the Italian spirit. While pasta and la dolce vita may be Italy’s most renowned exports, it is the nation’s emphasis on beauty, family, individuality, and honesty that truly defines this remarkable culture. 

Wherever you may encounter Italian values, whether along ancient streets or in modern cities – like Venice and Milan, their ability to blend the old with the new is sure to captivate. By upholding traditions while embracing progress, Italians have maintained a dynamic culture that continues to inspire.

So as you immerse yourself in the Bel Paese, allow these cultural touchstones to deepen your connection to a country whose values run as deep as its history. From the Alps to Sicily, Italia awaits – ready to welcome you into its passion and voglia di vivere, aka love for life.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Core Italian values like freedom, equality, and morality form the pillars of Italy’s society and Constitution.
  2. Family, trust, and relationships are paramount in Italian culture.
  3. Pride in local communities blends with national spirit. Campanilismo reflects regional connections.
  4. Tradition, formality, and manners command respect across Italian society.
  5. The Dolce vita philosophy champions leisure and savoring life’s pleasures.
  6. Admiration for beauty and excellence fosters creativity and self-expression. 
  7. Food and hospitality are cherished shared experiences.
  8. Style and graceful presentation are marks of respect.
  9. Individualism thrives alongside strong community bonds.
  10. Passionate communication matched with politeness is the Italian way.


Frequently Asked Questions about Italian Values

What are Italian family values?

Loyalty, support, and unity are central to Italian families. Multigenerational households are common. Elders are respected and help pass on traditions. The concept of “famiglia” extends beyond blood relatives to close friends.

What do Italians value most? 

Italians highly value family, relationships, food, art, history, individuality, leisure time (la dolce vita), and making a good impression (bella figura).

What is the Italian philosophy of life?

The Dolce vita philosophy of living life to the fullest with leisure, pleasure, and appreciation of beauty. Also slow living, savoring simple joys.

What is the Italian mindset?

Passionate, creative, appreciative of beauty, value individuality, importance of family, relaxed pace of life.

What is the Italian saying about living life to the fullest?

“Dolce vita” which translates to “sweet life” and embodies fully enjoying life’s pleasures.

What is the Italian expression about doing nothing? 

“Dolce far niente” means “the sweetness of doing nothing” and relaxing.

What is the Italian expression of happiness?

“La dolce vita” captures the essence of living happily and indulging in life’s pleasures.

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