The importance of friendship may be over-shadowed by the role of the family, but it plays a key role in Italian society. Italians are highly gregarious people and love belonging to groups or cliques. The idea of belonging to a group is seen as natural and essential.
'Real' friendships are usually formed early on in life, at school or with neighbours, and tend to be lifelong and important. Groups of old friends are often comparatively closed and admit few new members.
Other 'real' friends can be made at university, at work, playing sport, and so on, but tend to be more rare. These friendships should perhaps be considered 'useful' rather than 'real'. Most adult Italians belong to a whole network of 'useful' friendships: the good dentist who will extract your teeth 'at half-price', the smart lawyer who will present your case free of charge, the lady in the bread shop who will always keep a loaf of your favourite bread.
Then there are 'dangerous' friendships - those you would be better off without, often linked to 'offers you can't refuse'. The sister of one of Italy's most famous judges, who was killed by a car bomb while leading the Palermo courts in their fight against the mafia, is continuing her brother's fight. She says she has few friends, commenting that it is exactly when people start being too friendly that you really have to worry.
Visitors sometimes accuse the Italians of wearing their hearts on their sleeves, but this 'superficial' friendliness is often misunderstood. They are being treated as friends without anything but friendship being expected in return, something that Italians rarely grant each other. There are no strings attached: they will not be asked to help Salvatore's second cousin Concetta find a job when she comes to their country in the spring.