Arm-in-Arm is part of the Italian Culture
Italians are passionate and affectionate
I think I can safely draw this conclusion after living in Italy for several years and observing the interactions amongst Italians. The photo above prompts me to pause and pay tribute to the visible bonds communicated by walking arm-in-arm. I’d also be remiss in not speaking to the greeting (and parting) of the kiss on both cheeks.
This photo makes me smile. There’s no question of the sisterhood of this fine ladies. And if you think this is only a sweet custom between women, and older people, think again. You’ll see people of all genders and ages walking arm-in-arm – families and friends alike.
Americans sometimes are a little put off by this.
Clarification of the above statement – not put off by observing this custom, but finding themselves in situations with new Italian friends and not knowing exactly what to do. I’m keenly aware of my American upbringing. The idea of greeting a male friend by kissing him on both cheeks initially seemed a little too weird. Yeah, maybe a hug, but that would be about it. And walking down the street with a male friend with our arms hooked together? Well, that was just an alien concept, until now. Simone taught me, very quickly, to get over my discomfort. I was certain people would stare. They didn’t.
And then i started paying attention. I love seeing two people walking arm-in-arm and having a conversation as they walk. You see the connection. Yes, Italians have fallen victim to digital addictions, but you don’t see as many people disconnecting into their devices. When they’re with other friends or family, they connect. They don’t seem to disconnect so readily.
If you plan to spend any significant time in Italy, be prepared to embrace and participate in these aspects of the culture.
This is my hearty recommendation. Of course, no Italian is going to force you to walk arm-in-arm or greet you with a double cheek kiss. Italians are respectful. But, you will stand out if you stick to a “safe” handshake with someone who has become a friend.
Still, when I am making new Italian friends I can detect their reticence in leaning in for the kiss to say “hello”. They’re looking for me to signal that’s it’s okay, and consequently, I have to make the first move. I’ve watched Americans – men and women alike, stand awkwardly in a moment of greeting and stiffly extend their hands for a handshake. Of course, Italians shake hands, but you’ll find that more often in meeting strangers and concluding business transactions.
Italy has been really good for me in this regard. Italy has been teaching me to drop my inhibitions and to lean into the Italian way of life. And you know what? I’m loving this. I’m becoming more like the women in the featured photo. I find myself smiling more and more at being part of a culture that so overtly communicates its affections and the importance of relationship and connection.