I noticed soon after we moved to Italy that when we would meet a new Italian acquaintance that the men would always talk to me, even when Valerie and I were together. This seemed especially odd since Valerie is the one with the vastly superior language skills. After greetings I or Valerie might pose a question and the Italian male would always respond to me, even if Valerie was asking the question. I just nod my head in agreement. This happens with new acquaintances but as we come to know one another the Italian males will respond directly to Valerie.
We have recently met some new people where this response came up again and I asked another Italian friend why this happens. He explained that in polite company, Italians consider it rude, at least in these parts, for a man to address a woman he does not know directly in the presence of her husband or companion. They consider it the same as flirting with the woman. As you become better acquainted they will address the woman directly.