Annie Epstein – Learning to Work in Italy and to Cross the Street

The past evening, I met my boss for wine and cheese at a new enoteca called Litro.  Our meeting was both an opportunity to meet person-to-person, as we rarely did, and to give my boss the chance to visit this newly opened popular spot.  While we were dining together, I was able to hear my boss’s cultural perspective on Italy and her experience working in Italy.  Similar to the discussions we had in class, she described how hard it is to start a business in Italy.  Her own tour company is considered a Californian agency, rather than Italian, due to the excessive amounts of red tape one must get through to open a business here.  Her sentiments echoed those of Megan’s boss when he came to speak to our class.

She also mentioned the difficulty she’s encountered working for Italian employers.  My boss is American, she comes from a similar cultural perspective as myself, and her challenges sound very similar to those we’ve talked about in class.  While she had no problem working for Italians, she found getting paid was close to impossible.  We discussed in class that Italian culture tends to be long-term and flow-oriented, which seems to also apply to compensating employees.  My boss assumed that following her work, she would immediately receive a paycheck, but instead found that she had to send repeated emails and waited months for each check.  One interpretation of this difficulty is that she, as an American, viewed each job as a short-term activity which, when finished, was completed with financial compensation.  Her employers, on the other hand, might have viewed this as part of a larger exchange of services and thus not felt pressured to rush her check to her.  Sarah might also be maintaining far more rigorous of a schedule than the flow-oriented schedule in which she was working.  Perhaps her employers felt that in due time the money would make it to her and such deadlines were flexible.  Still, no matter what the thinking or cultural motivations behind it, it was obviously a clash of cultural perspectives.  The two parties were operating on very different expectations and thus struggled to work together.

Though I myself did not experience working for an Italian employer, I spent a lot of time interacting in Italian environments in which I could see some of the cultural differences we discussed in class come into play.  For instance, the driving and parking styles of Italians very much illustrates the particularist attitude of Italian culture.  Road rules apply only sometimes, as do parking rules.  When the rules don’t make sense (i.e. whenever someone is in a rush, needs to make a U-turn rather than driving in a circle, or really wants a parking spot), the rules are broken.  This ad hoc system of rule following and breaking leads to organized chaos.  To me, an outsider, the ever-changing rules of parking and driving are impossible to follow.  But I have gathered that to an insider, the important part of functioning in this environment is paying attention.  If you’re aware that pedestrians can cross in front of you at any time and cabs will swerve into your lane without warning, you drive with an increased awareness.  I can see the benefit to the universalist method in which all rules are followed, no one reverses down a one-way street because they “have to,” but now I can also see the benefit of a particularist method because wasting the time of driving all the way around because you missed your turn isn’t worth it.  As a pedestrian, I’ve learned to cross the street with confidence because people here expect you to break the rules (within reason).  No one should cross the street during heavy traffic without a second glance at the cars, but at the same time, waiting at a red light to cross the street when there’s no one around is senseless.  If a rule is illogical, or seems to apply to a different scenario, why should I blindly follow it?  While I can’t just go home and start aggressively jaywalking, I can bring home a more flexible way of looking at rules.