5 Cultural Traits that Korean and Italian Businesspeople Have in Common

Trade between the European Union and South Korea is on the rise. Over the last 10 years exports from the EU to Asia’s fourth largest economy have more than doubled, with 2014 imports totaling $48.8 billion –an increase of 9 percent on the previous year.

Germany was by far the largest exporter, accounting for 36 percent, followed by the UK with 12 percent, Italy with 10 percent, and finally, The Netherlands, rounding out the top five, exporting 9% of the EU total.

For Italy, Korea is an increasingly lucrative market to export Italian goods and services.


Even Alitalia, Italy’s flagship airline, began flying to Korea again this year, after an 18-year hiatus following the Asian financial crisis when many companies pulled up their stake during the economic storm.

When announcing the Alitalia move back in May, CEO Silvano Cassano told Korean reporters in Rome how important Korea was to its Asia expansion.

“We are focusing on Asian markets, and the service between Rome and Seoul is one of the most important among them,” said Cassano.

Five things we share in common

As an Italian having worked in Korea for 20 years, I have seen a lot of common traits shared by both Korean and Italian business people. Focusing on cultural differences is sometimes easier than looking for common grounds, but what we share is all the more important.


I thought I would share them with you.

1. We prefer to do business with people we know

This is true of both Koreans and Italians. We prefer doing business with people we are familiar with or that we are introduced to us by people we know. (After all, the word “familiar” comes from “family!”) This is sometimes unimportant to other nationalities, but Italians and Koreans know why it’s important.

2. Business is often personal

For different historical reasons, both Italians and Koreans have a need to understand the personal background of their counterparts in order to establish trust. Especially small to medium-sized company executives who can often get very curious about personal details about their business counterparts.

3. Flexibility 

When I talk about being flexible, I don’t mean deadlines (Koreans are much stricter than Italians!) but a certain degree of flexibility is usually tolerated by both Italians and Korean as a pragmatic way to solve problems in the course of the business process.

4. Meetings

When compared to most western standards, especially Americans, who often prefer their meetings to be decision-oriented with a clear outcome expected from the gathering, meetings between Italians and Koreans tend to be much more exploratory and analysis-oriented.

5. Meals are important!

Hospitality plays a key role in both Italian and Korean business culture, so regardless of how we feel, we tend not to decline an invitation to dine, because it would be perceived as slightly insulting. We know that investing time and attention in a relationship-building lunch/dinner will be rewarding to everyone involved.

Lia Iovenitti is the CEO & Founder of Conselit Co., Ltd. Her firm specializes in helping specializes in helping European and especially Italian businesses expand into the Korean market. You can visit them on the web at www.conselit.com


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