Making Friends in Italy

This question came up recently on one of the expats-in-Italy boards I hang out on (it had coincidentally already been on my mind): How do you make friends with Italians?

Although most of the Italians I’ve met are warm and friendly and great fun to have dinner with, I’m not sure that I have any really close Italian friends. There are Italians with whom I can enjoy a long chat when the occasion happens to arise, but no one I’d call up and pour out my heart to when I need an understanding ear. I do have friends like that, both in Italy and elsewhere, they just don’t happen to be Italians.

I’ve observed, over the years I’ve been here, that most Italians don’t make friends as easily as many Americans do. I think it’s a matter of practice. Many Americans move around a great deal (most within America, some outside), and have repeatedly faced the need to make new friends. When you move a lot, you learn to get to know people quickly.

Most Italians stay all their lives in the city of their birth (if they possibly can); some never even move out of their original neighborhood, though they may commute across town for work. Some commute between cities, working somewhere during the week and returning home on weekends. Some are forced to migrate for work, but still maintain strong ties with their paese, a word meaning both “town” and “nation” – which reflects Italy’s long history as a collection of separate city-states.

Hometown ties extend even to strangers. When we first moved to Italy, our car (donated by my husband’s parents) had a license plate from Teramo, a town in Abruzzo. We drove it to Milan for our first reconnaissance visit. Late at night, at a toll booth just outside the city, a man in a car beside us shouted excitedly: “Are you from Teramo? That’s where I’m from, but I live here. I’m in the Guardia di Finanza. If you ever need any help, just look me up!” (The Guardia di Finanza are the financial police, who investigate accounting frauds, tax evasion, etc. – I hope never to need him!)

Kids usually stay in the same school for the complete cycle at each level: five years of elementary school, three of middle school, and five of high school. As far as I can tell, Italians form their enduring friendships during their school years, and, even if they grow up to be very different from those friends in lifestyle, experiences, careers, etc., they don’t feel a strong need for new friendships in later life.

I just ran across an article in the International Herald Tribune which suggests that this is also true in other European cultures: “the therapist stated categorically that people just did not make friends any longer in middle age. That advice, suggested Draguns, reflects cultural traditions in Germany and the Netherlands, where people tend to limit their friends to those they made in school and to keep the same friends through old age…”

I’ll be curious to hear from my European readers about this, to agree or refute or expand. I wonder: do Europeans feel that American-style friendships are shallow, because they happen so quickly? Some undoubtedly are, but not all. Some of my closest friendships have been formed very quickly, often with other third-culture kids who feel the same need I do to find the right people and make friends quickly.

See also: Rebecca’s view

Update: A few years later I began meeting and hanging out with il popolo della rete – Italians who are active online – and then began to find like-minded Italians to be friends with.

What’s your experience of making friends in Italy?

36 thoughts on “Making Friends in Italy

  1. Paula

    I’ve only been here a few months, and although I have lots of friends in the South of Italy where my boyfriend lives I’m finding it tough to make friends here in the North – I actually don’t know how much longer I’m going to cope – It’s getting pretty lonely.

  2. Andrey

    Same to me, italians are very “closed”, they don’t look for more than they currently have, kind of don’t want to change their “lifestyle”, way of thinking..
    I’m here for 8-9 months and all my “friends” are from worksite, very difficult to have somebody calling you back next day, even if you had a 6-7 hours spent together..

  3. Enrica

    I am an Italian who lived in UK for 8 years, I came back to Milan a year and a half ago and did not make any new Italian friends since. And I lost the ones i had before leaving. I feel like a stranger in my own town. I joined a trekking course for a few months and out of 28 people I could not made a proper friendship with any of them.

  4. Camille Katt

    I am Italian and most of my family is treacherous. Seriously, I remember as a young child that I did not have the looks to help them, and despite the fact that I was intelligent, classy and nice, I was rejected. When they could not reject me outright, they made up stories about me, totally mind-boggling and totally untrue. Despite many years of “banging my head against a brick wall” trying to be accepted because you really only have one family, I took my therapists advice finally and disowned them. I have had other Italian friends who described a similar situation with their families. I am happy now. I have moved on the found other people to be delightful.

  5. charmaine khatchikian

    I came to Italy as a married woman. Found my life intolerable. The Italian friends I had made totally abandoned me. I got a divorce in America, lucky for me although I am British, I returned to complete isolation. Italians are impossible to make friens with. They are either tainted with jealousy, or only want to know you to make money from you, or altherantively what you can offer them when your situation is stable. My life is with other non-Italians. The country needs to wake up and there is more to life than 3 hour lunch with your family. Also they fail to travel and speak other languages.
    The country is medieval and the people are impossible to have as friends.

  6. Laura

    I’m italian, and I have some “strangers” friends. I have a british friend who lives here in Italy: he’s my best friend.
    I find difficult to make new friends, too, here in Italy. I’m so sorry for this. My closest friends are strangers, a part for 2-3 italians.
    I just would like to say that not italians are so difficult to make friends…there is a little part who is right like you! there are italians that love making friends, learning other languages and travelling out of Italy.
    …hope you’ll find some of them.

  7. luke81

    i agree with what i read in this blog, that’s why italy is so oldfashion and i like other countries much more, because our country is wonderful but the menthality is to close and old!!!

  8. katherine

    hola!! soy latinoamericana, un dia busque una pagina web para aprender italiano, y tambien queria hacer amigos de Italia, con todos los que hable, no tengo contacto ahora, excepto con uno de ellos, hemos hecho una bonita amistad, sin embargo siento que es un poco extraño, porque no habla de su familia, y tambien que es muy solitario, y poco expresivo, en cuestion de sentimientos, pienso que talvez es parte de su idiosincracia, sin embargo me encanta conversar con él, y he aprendido a aceptarlo tal cual es..!!

  9. ASANKA HERATH

    I want a friend from italy. I’m university student of sri lanka.my university name is sri jayawardanapura. i really like italy. italy is very beautiful.my country is same.i want many friend from italy.if you’r girl or boy doesn’t matter. i’m female. birth day is 30.04.1987.

  10. Jhonmar

    I’m staying here in Milan for 7 months, I’m not yet ”Parla bene” in Italian and since only few Italians can speak English, I’m having a hardtime talking to them.

    – jm, 19, male

  11. Suetonius

    Unless you are a single (blond) female, Italians -at least the ones from the South- will not befriend you. Any male foreigner will confirm this. Maybe in a small village befriending a local is easier, I am not sure.
    I guess centuries of mafia, Catholicism and tourism have left their traces.

  12. Sofie

    I’ve been in Italy for close to three weeks as an Au Pair, I’m 17 and have found that very few people speak English. Few as in I’ve met four so far. Nobody my own age that lives close by. I’ve a hard time going out alone and finding friends, safety in numbers and all of that. So, if you don’t know any Italian but “Ciao” and don’t have a friend to translate, I’ve found that making friends might be hard
    However, the people I’ve met that can’t speak to me are at least friendly and nods and smiles a lot.

  13. Dawit Mobae

    I am Eritrean middle aged man and professional. I would like to have friendship with a man or woman, adults and matured from Italy for communication in Italian and English. I wish to have ardent friend who could help me and to whom I can help.

    Dawit

  14. Laozhe

    We are retired old people,I and my wife,want have a friend from Italy.we are now live in China.we also want travel to Italy and met new friends.Who want become our friend?
    My Email:chenjiwen123456@126.com

  15. lata saravanan

    i am a indian, i am a beauticien and own a parlour. i am interested to have friends in italy.i have friend in france.please reply

  16. Jane

    Hi, I’m from America and I find it really easy to make friends with Italians (teenagers). Of course, it took years to really become a part of their group and be accepted, they are very close-knit. However, once they are friends with you, no matter where you live in the world, they’ll keep in contact with you. I’m friends with older ones too, they are the kindest of them all and mail me gifts once in a while. I guess it depends on who you come across and where you are. I had no trouble making friends in the north or south, although in the north the teenagers aren’t as friendly.

  17. Claudia

    I’m 18, blonde hair, blue eyes, outgoing personality and Australian. I’m in Italy this year as an Au Pair and so far my only good friends are ones I’ve met through an Au Pair site on Facebook, and none of them are Italian. Italian’s are LOVELY people and even if you’ve only met them for 1 minute they’ll still say hi on the street to you every day, but they are really frustrating when it comes to replying to texts etc and making plans, and I often find myself going out alone and making no actual friends, just acquaintances. Men always approach you when you have blonde hair, that’s a given, but they’re obviously not the friends I’m looking for. Italian women are IMPOSSIBLE to make friends with, they are really horrible. I love Italy and Italian’s, but yeh, they’re really hard to make friends with.

  18. Alicia

    Hi! I’m Alicia. My Dad got a job in Italy and we’re moving to Milan in the summer. I’m 16 years old, half white and half black, and over six feet tall. I’m really nervous about not being able to make friends because I don’t have that outgoing personality most Italians have. I’ve been there for a 10 day trip and it was amazing, but I’m just nervous because I’m kind of an introvert. I’m Canadian. If you have any advice for me please email me at missmouse2005@hotmail.com. Maybe we could try teaching eachother words and phrases. Thanks so much for reading.

  19. mejan

    Hi, I am Mejan, Live in Dhaka, Bangladesh. I am learning Italian and want italian friends, I am 28 yrs boyor Girl any italian who want to be a friends can mark a mail and contact on facebook. mejan.zoom@gmail.com. in my email address.
    Thanks.

  20. Catrin Vaughan

    I agree 100% I have been living in Italy for years, off and on, and my reluctance to come back is ALWAYS because I know by now; it’s difficult to make friends.
    Unless you get a boyfriend – where you will be friends with his friends – you will find it difficult to make any. These guys have the same group of friends and don’t often introduce new friends, or have friends that their other friends don’t know.
    Joining a group of some sorts through sport is a way to make friends, but that one group you make will be it!
    I came back because I want to learn the language, but with no Italian speaking friends, this is a difficult feat.
    The only good friends I have made in Italy were British, Irish, American, Canadian and people from more modern European countries.
    Italians speand far too much time with their families and don’t learn to stand on their own two feet and become indipendent.
    Plans will be made, but I can bet your bottom dollar that most of the time, it won’t transpire. If you are young and blonde, the men will be interested in you, but beware – esp. in the south and Sicily – they will allready have a long-term girlfriend.
    Family, family, family. Poor souls, as there is a big world out there and many amazing new people to meet.
    Aside from a few people I know, most non-Italians here feel the same way. The are also behind on the times with racial equality and religious views.
    It’s common to discover that devout Catholics are sleeping with just about everybody: the women are as bad as the men. Women accept that men will cheat and bestow all of their energy on their children and grandchildren instead.
    No non-Italian is capable of cooking, although – if you give them a foreign dish they will be very fearfull to try it.
    It’s dissapointing to me that it is this way in Italy. Should this offend you, then I suggest you go and live there and try and make friends.
    I’m British and I have a passion for music, but the music on offer here in Italy is quite Eurotrash pop/cringe worthy ballards. There are some exceptions, mind you.
    Could you imagine British people staying at home till they are 40 plus, never leaving the paese where they are from and not going abroad and speading every meal time with the family (uncles, aunts,grandparents etc…)? We would stay in a very small minded frame of mind.
    I laughed when I saw Indians that had written here about wanting to make friends in Italy – I am privy to the strong racial divide here as I see it with my own eyes. Ethnic people are like those in the Seep South, USA in the 60’s – they are The Help.
    Good luck to anyone in Italy and I hope you make more friends that I have!

  21. Safari

    I agree with what other people said on top, is very difficult to make friends in Italy i have been here in Italy for two and half years but you can not imagine i dont have even a single friends. I can say that the italians have that old mentality, they are not like other europrens. I have been to France to Belgium and Spain they are the best places ever, there you can make friends and not in italy.Italians have the same friends. And many of them are racist, but if you try to ask for the help on the way, may be trying to ask where is Coloseo some know it but they will tell you non lo so. But i am surprised when they go yo other countries they want to be taken care like kings, i swear when i go back to my country i don’t want to see any Italian. Anyone with objection write me safarimicky@yahoo.com

  22. Lucilla

    I’m italian leaving in the US since almost three years, I know a lot of people, but only one person from here I can call friend, in my meaning of friendship. I don’t want generalize, so I can say, until now I have been really bad impressed about how people call each other friend without any real relationship, people are friends in 5 minutes (easy make tons of friends like that!), and at the first problem, discussion, misunderstanding, they just vanish and stop to talk to you. I don’t say everybody is like that of course, and probably I have been really unlucky!

    It’s hard make friends in Italy ..yes…simply because we give a different meaning to the word “friend” …if I spend on e evening with some new people…I don’t call them friends the morning after! For us friends are the most important thing after the family, are the people know you better, understand you, and if not are ready to discuss and fight, but then they are still there!

    I miss my friends that also if I’m far are always there for me, never forgot a birthday, and if I have any problem are the first ones I will call always!

  23. charmaine khatchikian

    Friends in Italy. Open up your wallet. I said it before and they only want your money because they are so pathetic that at 40+ they are still at home. But perhaps that is a good thing that they actually have some respect for their parents. No, sorry it is because the legal system is so out of date that the legislation of patrimony is that if the parent dies the kids inherit. Leaves the mother on the steet. Racist? They invented the world. If you are Afro Carribean you better carry your passport on your forehead as the Carabinieri stop you “documenti” is their first word. Go to Europe and cross the borders, you never see police but Italy is infested with the Carabinieri. Part of the culture. But I have to say having now taken them and exposed them in the Court of Human Rights, that I a British subject, working as an English teacher was hospitalized countless times by my violent Armenian Iranian husband. Now as I go back as visitor to have a holiday in my home they bend over backwards. That is because they are afraid of me. Yes afraid of a women. The species that they adore to sickening proportion. They cannot do enough for me. Friends yes I do have friends and all of them have a great big story, You have to take the place as a joke. No government but 25 years of that hair implanted baffoon and sexual abuser. I won’t even put his name on the web. The immigration is a joke but if you have a problem they do try to help and they do it with a smile, There are good points. The happy hour is great and the ante pasti is world class. The music is wonderful (classic).
    It has charm but unless you are rich and on holiday forget it. The place is in the dark ages.
    Everything is black economy and if you work like I did paying tax it is wasted.
    I now campaign again against their horse meat eating but they do have the largest vegetarian associaton in the European Union. The French eating habits are more disgusting. Vegetarians can eat well and go out in restaurants in Italy. But I paid the price I lost everything. Absolutely everything. Do not get married there. Do not go there if you are married and have marital problems. Italians accept infidelity they sick religion permits it like it permits cousins to marry each other. Produces a few lunatics to keep the money in the family, Talking about family I have 3 Italian cousins who I hate the sight of. I have nothing to do with them and they are bred and cultured in the Italian stealing, murdering, mafia criminal concept.
    Go to any other European Union country. You will get treated better. Go to Sweden or any of the northern European countries. Stay out of Italy is it pure RACISM, women bashing and women permitting bashing.

  24. Lorenzo

    I’m Italian, I’ve always lived in Italy and I must say: you’re right. We develop friendships during the school-days and teen age and we tend to maintain these friendships for all our lifetime. The reason is simple: we give a very strong and powerful meaning to the word “friend”. A friend is not a guy we met the day before, is not a guy we once shared a beer with. A friend is a person we can count on and, especially in the south of Italy, I must know him well before tagging him as a “friend”. For all the other things you said I must agree. Italians’ mentality is archaic, medieval and the 90% of Italians will not move from their home city even if they are starving.

  25. Deirdre Straughan Post author

    Yes, I’ve heard this judgement from many Europeans: “Americans are too quick to make friends, that can’t be real friendship.” There can be superficial friendships in any culture, and no doubt the term “friend” is overused, but it is indeed possible to form a deep friendship quickly, just as it is possible to fall in love at first sight. Americans are more likely to move around during their lifetimes, whether within or outside the US, so we have more practice at spotting people we are likely to become friends with, and following up quickly. Otherwise we’d have a lot of lonely times throughout our lives as we move from place to place. Friendship, like any relationship, takes work and commitment and trust. But none of those things necessarily requires prolonged and repeated exposure.

  26. vivian g

    I have spent two years in southern italy and there is not one single italian i can call “friend”. The few “friendship” that i have had all involved payment of some sort, either language lessons, cat-sitting service, tours etc. As soon as you don’t pay them anymore, there is no reason to maintain the “friendship”. I have just given up making any friends or doing anything at all here and whenever I have long weekends or holidays, I fly somewhere else to spend my money in worthy places. Am sick and tired of the village life and the village mentality.

  27. Aquesha

    11 and a half years since Deirdre wrote this article and everything is exactly the same. I’ve lived in Florence for 3 years and it’s impossible to make friends with Italians. They’ve had the same friends since childhood and they don’t let in anyone new. You’ll always just be an acquaintance, entertainment that they invite over once every blue moon so they feel more ‘worldly’

    All my ‘friends’ are foreigners, who are always leaving. That is exhausting in itself. If you’re not a student or a tourist….an extended period in Italy without and Italian partner to help you integrate…. is a painful and isolating experience.

    It’s also so true what the previous person said about Italians only beings friends with you when money is being exchanged. My social network of Italians extends only to my landlord and his girlfriend, my students (I teach English) etc….. when those transactions end…. so does the relationship.

    Oh did I forget to mention…..I’m black…. from the Caribbean….The racism here isn’t aggressive but it’s evident. Men are so ignorant here they seem to think that all black women are either prostitutes or some exotic fruit to be picked……don’t start me on Italian men.

    I’m dying professionally….I’m an architect but the only decent offers I get for work are teaching English…… and then a few insulting offers to be ‘the help’…. smh

    Sigh, but these are the few negatives about living in Italy….otherwise it’s a beautiful country, but heartbreakingly isolating.
    It’s like you’re in love with someone who just won’t love you back.

  28. Deirdre Straughan Post author

    I’m so sorry to hear it. To be blunt: maybe you need to rethink your relationship with Italy? I’ve been told that Florentines are the least accepting of outsiders of all Italians – and I was told that by at least one Florentine. Maybe try a different city? Milan may be the friendliest to outsiders; I had that conversation about Florence with a Florentine who, after living abroad for some years, when he returned to Italy chose instead to live in Milan, which he found more welcoming than his hometown.

    And, as you can see elsewhere on my site, I eventually gave up on Italy…

  29. Alexandre N. Zovico (@Aleperdido)

    I am grandson of Italians but unfortunately I was born in São Paulo, Brazil
    As the ‘culture’ of brazilians is suffering from the world’s largest tax and die unattended in hospital doors and still make Carnival or kill supporters of opponents soccer teams, I which die! in shame of the natives…
    Kinda, abandon here is a matter of Quality of Life! I know English and am learning Italian, in Twitter, I try to make friends with the people of Italy but it is practically impossible, it seems that we are an inherent aversion to them! When it seems that will engage a friendship and you relax then it gets worse, here we have a bad habit of playing and making jokes, so I spoke to one Italian which I would give caipirinha to he and say it was lemonade, he took offense, to just finish thefriendship. Another Italian wanted to speak Spanish with me and I not know anything about Spanish, so I said: -Talk in Italian! we are men or lawyers? It has a famous saying in Italy that says: ‘Siamo uomini o avvocati’ and I wanted to relax a bit, ready! He was sulking and finisce la amicizia…
    I read things here which is very sad, but all the mankind seems to be not good people, researchers said that there is 97% of the mankind could harm people for just U$5,00!!!
    It’s sad because the only wealth we bring to after-death are the friendships and knowledge!
    If someone wants to have a friend for life, (and beyond:)))), I am here: twitter.com/Aleperdido

    And just remember Chi non lavora non mangia!

  30. Mari

    Unfortunately I haven’t been in Italy but I have heard a lot about this country.. I don’t know why but I am getting crazy about Italy.I wish I could travel there ???

  31. Celine

    Hi, been here at the southern italy so hard to make friends, most people go through this maybe because of a language barrier. But even still just to find an everyday friend is like digging for gold.

  32. Hilary jones

    I had friends in carate Brianza …I found them and one in San Diego.But I cannot find a Milanese friend, who.helped me find a job MANY years ago …1959. I found old postcards in the attic which started my quest. I’m just interest to know what happened in their lives, unfortunately two had died.this one, Arigo Marzani, I cannot find. He must be in his 70’s and used to be a travel courier. I assume he stayed and married in Milan so there maybe family.
    There is a detective agency in Milan. …but they wanted over 2000 euros and I have’t got that sort of money. Any ideas ? Where can I look now? Any suggestions gratefully received.

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