Italians are stereotypically viewed as being a hot-blooded, intense Mediterranean people with a close-knit family structure and a passion for food and wine. Many Italians are in fact culturally defined by their family customs and their wholehearted investment in everyday things that Americans often take for granted, such as food and fashion.
Culturally, many Italians place a very high value on family bonds. Extended families often live together, with the mother at the center of the household in the deeply respected role of giver and matriarch. It is traditional for extended families who do not live together to try to dine together daily. Many Italians also take care of their elderly relatives. The family unit includes aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents as well as parents and children, and it is the social hub of a traditional Italian's life.
The stereotypes of Italians having a special relationship with food are based in truth, and Italian family meals are often more formal than the average American family meal. Italians do not need a special occasion to set an elegant table. They also have specific ideas about which foods and drinks are suitable for which times of day; for example, Italians drink cappuccinos in the morning and not the afternoon. They pair beer with pizza and water or wine with other afternoon and evening meals. Holidays are an extravaganza. For instance, Christmas Eve includes the Feast of Seven Fishes, which includes seven different types of fish along with side dishes like olives, sausage cheese and wild game.
Italians dress to be seen and expect to be watched in public -- they do not consider it bad manners to stare openly at strangers. This means that they tend to be invested in their clothing and in dressing appropriately, generally more formally than is common in America. They choose elegant styles that coordinate with the seasons. Italians take pride in their appearance and may judge people negatively who dress too casually. Leather goods, accessories, scarves and sunglasses are artfully used to dress up any outfit.
In Italian custom, it is polite to display enthusiasm for another person by touching, hugging and kissing him, particularly when saying hello. Extended eye-contact is also considered polite, and an unwillingness to meet someone's eyes is considered a sign of untrustworthiness. It is traditional for family elders to be the first to enter a room and for children to stand when adults come into their presence as signs of respect. Personal dignity is of great importance, and Italians show respect for one another's dignity by observing these customs.