Cultural intelligence

ITALY: Keeping up appearances


The concept of bella figura, of making a good impression, or the projection of "a confident, knowing, capable face to the world," underlies nearly every aspect of Italian society. It starts with one’s appearance and goes well beyond that. It governs behavior, language, customs; it influences business etiquette. Family names are tied in to honor and image.


The business visitor should pay close attention that she/he doesn't inadvertently cause an Italian counterpart to lose face. Dishonoring the individual or her or his family, bringing about public shame, is the opposite of bella -- it is the brutta figura. A public faux pas of this type should be corrected with a public apology. According to Gloria Nardini, a writer who lectures on contemporary Italian culture at Florence's Institute of Fine and Liberal Arts at Palazzo Rucellai, scholarly references to the bella figura date back to the 1400s.


> Do you have an awkward 'loss of face' story to tell that we can all learn from?


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