So you’ve been invited to dinner with friends.
And not just any friends. Italian friends. At their home!
First, congratulations. A dinner invitation is truly a special thing.
Second, there are some things you may want to know before you head over carrying your aunt’s famous casserole dish. As with any culture, Italians have etiquette rules that should be followed if you want to blend in.
Follow the tips below and you’re sure to sail stress-free through your first Italian dinner party.
1.) Don’t take off your shoes
Does vacation mode have you wearing a two-day-old pair of socks? In Italy, no one has to know, because customarily, guests don’t remove their shoes when entering the house for dinner.
Unless the host expressly asks you to remove them, it is considered very rude to take your shoes off and sit barefoot (or sock-footed) at the dinner table. Not to mention it’s considered a health hazard to have bare feet (see this post).
2.) Bring a gift for the host, but don’t bring a main course item
There is something very beautiful about the Italian dinner invitation. The host wants to take care of you, make sure you’re having a good time and, most importantly, feed you.
Unless it’s a potluck, bringing a main course dish is considered very strange. Stick to dessert or wine – and buy it with the host (not the entire party) in mind. It should be a gift for the padrone della casa – the head of the house – after all, it is their hard work that made this night happen.
3.) The first serving is always made by the host
When sitting down to eat, it is best to wait until the host serves you or begins passing a dish. Remember, since they prepared it, they get to serve it.
Reaching for something or “digging in” is bad manners.
When unsure, follow the lead of those around you. After the first go around, if the dish is left on the table, you can feel free to help yourself to seconds. If the dish was put back in the kitchen, just simply ask the host if you can have some more.
4.) Don’t clear your own dishes
In the U.S. guests often offer to help clean up, or bring their dirty plates and glasses into the kitchen.
In Italy, the host wouldn’t dream of putting their guests to work in this way.
They won’t be offended if you don’t offer and will certainly think it a strange thing if you try to “work” when they have invited you to relax.
So, put down the plate and fork, despite what you may be used to, and just sit back, sip your wine and thank your host profusely.
5.) Prepare to be there for the long haul
As my friend puts it, “rimanga e parlare, non è un ristorante!” Stay and chat, it’s not a restaurant!
The art of conversation in Italia is called convivium and it is considered extremely rude if you leave early or immediately after dinner.
If the pace of conversation is too fast, simply staying and listening is acceptable but the point is to be present and engaged with those around you.
The conversation during and after dinner is almost as important as the food itself!
The Italian dinner party is something that was once described to me as “sacred.”
The host, the carefully selected guests, food, wine – everything is put together with forethought and precision.
Above all, it is all done to please you, the guest, and make sure you have a great time.
With these five tips, you’ll be sure to fit in and more importantly ready to enjoy this beautiful ritual with your new friends.
Have you ever made a dinner party faux pas? Have other questions on how to behave? Let me know below!