Furbizia: The Italian Art Of Being Sly

When my in-laws were here last Christmas (some of you remember that insane three week period of my life), Francesco and I took them to Las Vegas for a few days. After our hotel lost our reservation, twice, and gave us a room without pillows (WTF!?) Francesco complained and the hotel gave us a discount. The moment my in-laws heard that we’d complained and therefore been given a discount their eyes all but burst out of their sockets. My God, the possibilities! My father-in-law joked, “We should go to a restaurant and say we’re sick so we get free food! We should tell them that all of their food made us vomit!” The ideas started to flow. How could we get everything for free in the US from that moment forward?

“But how are businesses still in business?” My father-in-law asked, “doesn’t everyone just lie to get everything for free?”



“Because complaining about stuff has consequences and people could lose their jobs?” I responded, confused, “I mean, I guess dirtbags do it.”

“This would never work in Italy. The business would go broke!”

“If they had good customer service they’d go broke?” I asked.

“Yes! Everyone would lie to get it for free and nobody would pay for it anymore. It would be stupid for the business” he laughed.

My father-in-law is a man who loves rules, is an upstanding citizen, and a retired detective. This is a man who runs his home like a military camp, and yet he was thrilled that his son had been “furbo,” by getting a discount at the hotel. When I told him that Francesco wasn’t doing anything clever or sneaky, he was simply letting the manager know there were problems, and that in the US it’s normal to do that but not to exploit it, his mind was nearly blown.

I’m not sure that another scenario could better sum up the Italian sub-cultural phenomenon of Furbizia than that conversation. By definition, Furbizia is basically a quality of “achieving goals using ingenious tricks,” according to the Italian dictionary. Clever, cunning, sly, are some other synonyms. One could also call it being a massive douche bag, but often in Italy, within certain groups, it’s considered smart.

A common perception is that the person being sly is a badass whereas the person being screwed over is a moron who deserves it for not paying attention or not exploiting the opportunity themselves. If you think about it, it’s a genius way to be a dick and take zero responsibility for it. Sadly, it contributes to a cultural layer of manipulation and distrust. The sly trick can be as small as making a business agreement with someone then “accidentally” fudging it, feigning ignorance when caught, or it can be as large as Bettino Craxi who famously embezzled taxpayer’s money and then fled to Tunisia. How clever. It’s not necessarily lying or cheating, rather, exploiting possibilities. It is a game of who can cut all the angles or out sneak their opponent and by opponent I mean the rest of the world.

I’ve been overcharged for drinks, screwed in business deals (also recently, note: we bloggers all talk, bad idea to play sneaky with our crowd, asshole businesses), ass-raped by landladies, all in the game of furbizia. It’s not uncommon, especially if you’re foreign and speak Italian like a drunk toddler. It’s a lot more difficult to pull one over on a local because they are so damn prepared for it that they are constantly on guard. Even my eight year old niece is skeptical of the world already. My husband seems to think that everyone is trying to sneak one over on him and unfortunately it’s because people often are. He’s the kind of guy where someone will try to give him a free sample in Costco and he’ll back away nervously wondering what they want in return. When Francesco and I first started dating he wondered if I had ulterior motives, that I was furbo because “nobody is this honest, you’re trying to trick me.” I actually thought he was insane until I noticed that a lot of his friends approached the world with the same doubt. It isn’t to say that everyone in Italy is trying to screw each other, that’s not true at all, for example most of our friends couldn’t be further from this type of behavior, but sometimes it can feel like the whole country is trying to bend you over (without lube).

The “art,” of furbizia is basically the art of pushing all the boundaries and some people are pros. You’ve seen it before in every soccer game where an Italian player will throw themselves to the ground and pretend to be injured to buy time. Francesco’s teammates used to do that during games and the Europeans from the other teams wanted to kill them. “Just play an honest game mate!” they’d yell. The Italians would smile after the match, “Did you see what I did,” proud of their contribution to the win. It’s a bit different in soccer than the other examples but the idea is still the same.

Every country has liars and thieves, assholes, and douchebags. In the US we have it all, probably more of it, but it seems a bit different. In the US these sneaky types are usually either blatant criminals or involved in white collar crime (arguably much worse) but I’ve never worried that a Starbucks employee might over charge me for a coffee so they could pocket the change (not because Americans are better people, but because people would lose their goddamn jobs and their minds. And surveillance cameras of the all-knowing big brother are pervasive in American culture). Until now, I probably just gave everyone an awesome idea. Great. I’m onto you, Starbucks. 

You would think that after so many years i’d be used to it but I’m not sure that’s possible. Not because I’m gullible or naive but because I’m lazy. I don’t have the energy to check, double check, triple check to see if people are pulling one over on me or not. If I do notice, it pisses me off and I’ll end that relationship immediately (especially business relationships) but I can’t seem to get into the mindset of wondering constantly if there’s a loophole to take advantage of or if I’m being screwed. It just seems exhausting, although, if I did hop on the bandwagon of furbizia I might save a lot of euros here or there, and in a culture of the  cunning, with politicians playing the same game, and economies failing, we could all use an extra buck and an extra boost.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is a COSI post! The fun never ends! Check out what my fellow bloggers had to say about the same subject.

Girl In Florence: Why Being Furbo In Italy Is Anything But Cool

Rick Zullo: What Does It Mean To Be Furbo?

Unwilling Expat: Italy’s Cheating Heart

Englishman In Italy: Furbizia

Sex, Lies, And Nutella: Tourists Beware Fighting Furbizia In Italy

Married to Italy: Furbizia- a blessing or a curse

The Florence Diaries: A life lesson in Con-Artistry

48 thoughts on “Furbizia: The Italian Art Of Being Sly

  1. Pingback: Furbizia | Englishman in Italy

  2. Hi Misty,
    I also have the ability to talk like a drunk toddler and get ripped off.

    I always thought I sounded quite Italian until somebody (who shall remain nameless) recorded my outrageous accent and replayed the recording to me…

  3. You are right, Misty. It takes too much energy to constantly worry someone is pulling one over on you! I have better things to do with my energy, like learn Italian!

  4. Pingback: The complexity of Italy’s cheating heart | Unwilling Expat

  5. YES!! We experience the furbizia all the time; like you said, speaking Italian like a drunken toddler (love that image!) immediately sets off the antennae. I know when it happens, I hate when it happens, I debate with myself what to do about it…confront (with drunken toddler Italian)? Never do business with them again? Never trust them again?? Yes, yes, and yes.
    My Roman family is constantly warning me to watch out….and so I do. But, for me, the approach with which I am the most comfortable is honesty. If I’m going to live here, I need to live by the standards that satisfy my moral code…so I’m honest, forthright and vigilant, It’s the compromise with which I can live; so I do.

  6. Pingback: What does it mean to be furbo in Italy?

  7. Hello Misty! I loved this post! I know very well what you’re talking about. I’m brazilian, have never been to Italy (although I’ll be going soon), but the more I read your blog and others about italian culture I realize italians are a LOT similiar to brazilians! We have here what we call the “brazilian way”, which is the same thing as furbizia. I used to live in Canada, more specifically Toronto and there are a lot of brazilians there, it used to make me so mad and sad to see people using the brazilian way to exploit and gain things without being honest or earning it.😦

    But be aware Italia! I’m coming, and you won’t make a fool out of me! lol


  8. I loved your take on this Misty and LOL to Francesco thinking you were being ‘furbo’ by just… being honest?! That is kind of frightening if you ask me but I am not surprised. I also am far too lazy to make sure I am not getting ripped off but my oh my does it feel like you need to!

  9. The example of your in-laws in Vegas explains the concept perfectly. It’s a complete cultural mind shift, and I just can’t get my head around it. I think I’m like you, it’s just too much trouble to deal with. I suppose if you grow up around that, it becomes second nature, so it doesn’t really require the effort and it would for an expat to adopt this “skill.”

  10. haha this totally makes sense now why my fiance is paranoid about getting screwed over by people…it’s contagious. I think that way too now and it scares my friends but pleases my parents because they’re Jewish and always thought this way like him.

    • Ah yes! One of my best friends always says that Jewish culture and Italian culture are very similar. It’s also similar to Iranian culture. My dad also thinks the the world is out to get him. haha

      • it’s actually this way in most countries except what we call “anglosaxon” countries (where people speak english like in america, australia, UK, canada…). So it’s actually the americans who are different than the rest of the world not the italians, iranian, french, etc… lool😉

      • Hello! First of all, thanks for the amazing blog. As an Italian expat in the US it has been a sort of therapeutic experience to read your posts, and a really entertaining one too. Yet, this time I’d like to add my two cents. I kind of disagree with the “there are a lot of fine italians but…” point. I don’t think it’s about “italian culture”, it’s about whatever place which experienced very high inequality, very poor law enforcement, and – just on top of it – a relatively recent (and non-digested) dictatorship. I found a similar kind of cynicism, a similar kind of diffidence, and a similar kind of readiness to be sly in people from ex-soviet states, or from arab states, or… [fill with other places responding to the above description].

        This not to deny the problem we have with this kind of behavior, just to contextualize it. I always found enlightening an old cool said about this: “la furbizia e’ la virtu’ dei servi”, “furbizia is the serf’s virtue”. Furbizia is common where serfdom survived much further than the dark ages, not just in the “boot”. Sorry for the burst of “amor di patria”, and thanks again for your posts😉

  11. Pingback: Tourists Beware: Fighting Furbizia in Italy | Sex, Lies, & Nutella

  12. This is exactly right! I have almost subconsciously started doing this… bending the truth only slightly to protect myself or get a desired outcome. The first time I became conscious of it, my boss smiled at me, and I could only comment, “Oh, God, now I’m starting to lie like an Italian.” To which she just answered, “Bravissima.”

  13. I visited Rome last year and I’m 99.9999% certain that I was “furbo’d” at least 2 or 3 times. I look exactly like an American tourist, and I might as well wear a sandwich board saying “Hey, I’m a dumb American tourist. Please take advantage of me!”

    Però😉, because I was incredibly self-conscious about looking like the “Ugly American” and there was always a 0.000003 chance that I was mistaken about being screwed over and I didn’t want to cause a scene, I never said anything. But I’m about 101.3% certain that I was “furbo’d.” (I actually have a trademark on that term, so please write and ask for permission before using it.)

  14. I just found this blog, it’s great! Aaah.. Furbizia. It’s hardwired! Even Italians who don’t want to be furbi seem to always expect it in others, in my experience. Just one of the negatives about a generally awesome place. X

  15. Agree on all fronts.
    I’m Italian – first time in the USA my American cousin brought me to a place you could buy a glass and refill with coke all night long.
    It was me, my Italian brother and my American cousin – 21 years ago
    First thing I asked was:
    Why did you buy 3 glasses???
    You could just get one and we all drink by the same one!!!🙂

    • Because you are one of those people who are NOT like this, and my Italian friends have also moved abroad for the same reasons. It’s sad, but it is not just a common habit in Italy, unfortunately it exists in some other countries too, and it’s the reason why those countries are back-ward – it is the heart of corruption in a society.

  16. As an Italian having lived abroad for 13 years, I find “furbizia” to be a handy skill. I behave myself and try to exploit loopholes when I find them, but without bending the law too much, I daresay. Since I have been working in Academia for a while, this entails that I am exploiting loopholes much like my employers do, but with the proviso that they are supposed to have the upper hand on contractual matters…

    I would even say that by being used to 20 backstabbing attempts before the first coffee, I can spot cheaters the very moment they think of something funny. A semester in Italy should be compulsory for anyone who plans on being an immigrant/expat, as it would offer remarkably useful survival skills (!).

    Francesco-Alessio (from Stockholm)

    • To use this “street smart” skill (awareness) to understand how people think etc, and to protect yourself is one thing, but to use such “skills” to cheat and lie to others (such as getting something for nothing) who are decent, honest people, is cowardly and disgusting. To me, a man who is like this is the vilest, lowest of humanity – the opposite of all that is noble, courageous and civilized in humanity. Cowards lie and cheat others (because they have no true self respect or dignity, they also have no respect for others), don’t forget it, there are no exceptions. If you think it makes you “clever” and a “survivor” you’re very wrong.

  17. Thanks M.E.

    By the way, will we see a post on the bizarre ways Italians address each other? If you are living in Florence, I imagine that you will have at least one nickname by now, and perhaps some do not even recall your true name. It is rather common in central Italy, I believe. I do have friends who forgot my real name AND my first nickname, so they call me by my second nickname, for instance.

    That, or your social life is not intense enough (!).


  18. In Italy there are sly and honest people just like in every other country. I think that all I read here it’s the fair of prejudice. If you talk with italian hotels and restaurants owners, they can tell you that there are a lot of strangers, who asking for discount or a cut of the price scream them with bad comments on the web. This doesn’t mean that all strangers are sly or dishonest. As far as your Bettino Craxi quote and what you wrote about our political system, your description seems to me really shallow, because there are so many italians who are trying to correct the system and to denounce bad politicians behaviour. The problem is that Italians talk a lots, they widely express their criticism over themselves. They do it in the press and on the media. They do it much more than people from other countries do, but believe me, political scandals are everywhere and in each country of this world, scandals and really big one are also in international organisation. The difference is that italian people talk about scandals, and they talk about their political scandals too. We know that we have to beat against them. We look after politics and politician every italian look after it, and we try to do our best everyday, even to correct our faults.

    • Of course not every Italian is a gross example of furbizia….but nowhere else in the world have I seen children and *parents* brag the kids cheat in school. I think what the average definition of furbizia might be relative. Italy is a fabulous country unfortunately marred by a mentality to take short cuts even if it means hurting oneself or a “simile” in the end.
      I think Misty is just sharing her experiences as most of us do.
      I am sure Italian hotels also have foreigners asking for discounts or doing bad business ….but as my elementary teacher always said, pointing to other bad behavior doesn’t make your bad behavior ok or right.😉

  19. That is the first reasons why i left Italy 10 or so years ago. I cannot stand the way people are, and if you are ‘honest ‘ these ‘types’ think you are ‘stupid’ (fun time the school bully’s days ..).
    Not to say that in other countries I’ve lived you don’t find the same, although the percentage of these people is much different and there are still boundaries . Having said that the world has been made a shitO’ and not everyone is the way their country describes them so, be careful by judging ‘italians’ or any other people, since i also have to say that i would never exchange my Italian friends with any other friend i have made around the globe.

  20. Another reason why I would not choose to live in Italy. It’s bad habits like this that ruin a country and keep it in a state of poverty/ignorance. Sad but true. Perhaps the most important thing is to not allow yourself to descend to that mentality and start to act like that. I have Italian friends who have warned me about this in Italy. The country has a lot of problems due to this dishonesty and sneaky, lying tendency which has dug its claws into all aspects of society. It would be indeed stupid to try to deny that it exists considering it’s in your face where ever you go there, and it’s very off-putting for visitors to Italy. Makes you wonder where this mentality comes from, where it started.

    • Abbiamo capito che non vi piace l’Italia, ma non mi pare sia obbligatorio vivere qui. Sceglietevi un altro paese e vedrete che tutto andrà magicamente meglio.

      • Ah, Luca, what a silly idea. Nobody is required to love every aspect if living anywhere. When Italians move to other countries, they’re not allowed to complain about the food or the lifestyle? Or parts of their new home they find weird or interesting or dull? Just because I find one part of something unsavory doesn’t mean that I don’t love Italy. Do you love every part of Italy? I’m sure that you’ve complained your fair share about something otherwise you’re the only Italian I’ve ever heard of that doesn’t.

  21. my favorite line: “sometimes it can feel like the whole country is trying to bend you over (without lube).”
    oh, you make me giggle.

  22. Pingback: Furbizia – a blessing or a burden? | Married to Italy

  23. Pingback: A Life Lesson in Con-Artistry | The Florence Diaries

  24. hey Misty, lost you for awhile, been so busy with my own book project, keeping up two blogs, my articles etc etc, and living in EETaly. Loved this post, It perfectly expressed how I feel about living here after 13 years. I laughed my ass off. I think your Parents in law and my PIL are definately related. They have to be. Anyway its a huge relief to know that someone else on the planet is going through the same torture as me. I love your writing as always and I hope your holiday in Cassino has you relaxing a little without too many comments about your underwear🙂 or babymaking potential. At least you are still sane after living again in the US of A, as for me Im not so sure Im still sane. Its so bone-crunching hot here 100 degrees at midnight!!! impossible to sleep. happy travels x

  25. You might want to get informed about the “furbi” in your own country, maybe you haven’t lived in the US for too long. For example, many Italians could only dream to be so sly as american bankers:

    Do you know how many pillows you can buy with 700 billion taxpayers’ dollars? Bettino Craxi was a poor novice in comparison, he didn’t even steal 1/1000 of that sum, and at least he was basically forced to go in exile, instead of being bailed out.

    • Are we having a contest? This blog is about Italy, hence talking about Italy (the good and the bad). If it were a blog about the US I’d have plenty of fodder for negative things as well. Is any country perfect? The US isn’t, Italy certainly isn’t either.

  26. My husband always says ‘che furba che sei’, and I take it as a compliment (I won’t go into details of what I do to get that compliment, though😉 ). Another way of being furbo is what happened to my friend who’s not Italian, but speaks it fluently and with hardly an accent. She and her husband went to have a drink and a coffee on the terrace of La Rinascente in Florence (the only Italians going for lunch or aperitivo are its employees). After they had their drinks, the waitress comes and hands them the bill. It was around 7 euros. My friend mistakes 10 euros for 5, and gives her 12 euros, not seven. And the waitress goes, all exuberance and surprise: ”Wow, this for meee??? Thank you very much!”, before my friend actually understood what was happening. She just gave a nod and the waitress left, while her husband stared incredulously. That’s furbizia.

  27. Misty, je t’adore !! I’m French with Italian ancestry, been living in Italy for 5 years, I’ve noticed and experienced the same thing, and I hate it. Feeling surrounded by such a mentality has made me so sad. I’m not the same any more. I realize how few people are trustworthy here … I know a few, fortunately, but I’m also happier when I go home in France and am able to meet new people in a relaxed way, without fearing that he or she will try to take advantage of me or screw me as his or her first goal. I prefer more honest people and businesses. I can not appreciate or open myself in any way to people that have lied to me… so I feel more lonely than I felt in France.
    It feels very very good seing that we’re not alone, that other people have experienced the same and analyse things with the same logic.
    Thank you very much!

  28. Pingback: Untrite | Est homo homini lupus?

  29. @LILI : I don’t agree, this behaviour is much less present in France than in Italy. That’s why insurance companies have better offers there than here!! French people have other cons, but they’re generally more honest based on my experience (lived there for 33years). @RAGAZZAMBULANTE: so you’re better appreciated professionally if you lie ?! I’m not surprised, because I’ve been working here for 5years myself. But I feel this is pathetic and I don’t want to change..not on that point. @BARBARA: This is NOT prejudice. This is lived experience. Not caused by everyone, but by an average. Sincerely speaking, if I had had this kind of prejudice, I would probably have thought twice before coming here to live. Magari avessi avuto quel pregiudizio , mi avrebbe protetta!! Anzi, quest’esperienza mi ha fatto capire che i vari cliché non nascono dal niente e che avrei dovuto con umiltà prenderli in considerazione, cosa che non avevo fatto, fiduciosa che ero nella vita e nella natura umana. @LUCA: OK si infatti, se globalmente non ci va o andrà più bene possiamo o potremo andare via. ti posso dare ragione su questo…. nel frattempo siamo liberi di pensare ed esprimerci, aren’t we ? Mille grazie.

  30. Pingback: Instructions For Being A Tenant In Italy - HORSE ON THE MENU

  31. What a cultural phenomenon! And it does sound exhausting trying to ‘out smart’ people everyday just to get some damn shopping done! Your in-law’s reaction is so funny, but I can see their pov, the us and other countries just roll on a different level… and because of video surveillance.

  32. Pingback: The Notorious Italian 'Furbizia' - HORSE ON THE MENU

  33. Hi Misty,

    Thanks, this was a great read. I’ve understood the concept of “furbo” since I began working with Italians. My father is Italian and he always said he didn’t like to work with other Italians and, though he didn’t explain much, I think it’s for exactly the reasons you state here.

    You also just reminded me of the film, “Breaking Away.” Have you ever seen it? The young lead wants to be a professional cyclist and he’s so enamored with the Italians. He teaches himself Italian and he puts posters of them all over his bedroom. They are his heros — that is until this happens>> https://youtu.be/VTZ0N7VTDtY

    It’s exactly what you’re talking about in this post! I love my Italians,but many people that don’t live in Italy or have family there think they are just these magnanimous, warm fuzzy, always-cooking-something-great people and don’t see realize that while they are all those things – there’s this other side of the culture.

    Warm regards,
    Jenifer Mangione Vogt

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