Megan Shaffer – Cultural Differences: Short-Term vs. Long-Term

Through my internship, I have noticed that one of the most significant differences between Italian and American businesses are that American businesses are focused primarily on the short-term, while Italian ones are concerned with the long-term.  One day when I came into work, my boss was in the process of contacting each person that had been on a tour that day.  When I asked what had happened, he said that one of their tours had ended up with seven people.  LivItaly Tours promises tour groups of a maximum of six people, so my boss felt terrible and gave each person on that tour a partial refund.  He was worried that the extra person on the tour affected the quality of everyone’s experience.  It is doubtful that one person made that big of a difference in the quality of the tour.  Also, it is unlikely that the people on the seven-person tour will return to Italy anytime in the near future and take another tour with LivItaly Tours, so a refund was not necessary.  My boss, however, wanted everyone to experience Italy to its fullest and felt that the large tour group negatively affected the quality of the tour.  LivItaly is true to their word and cares deeply about the customer.  Although he was aware that he could have gotten away with not refunding the customers, the reputation of the company was more important to him than the money.

It is true that this desire to uphold the reputation of the company could be contributed solely to the strong work ethic of my boss, and not to the Italian work culture as a whole.  I, however, see this same sense of responsibility and pride amongst business-owners throughout Italy, and think that it is a characteristic of the Italian workplace.  While on the IES Abroad field trip to the Amalfi Coast, we went on a tour of a lemon grove in Sorrento.  At the end of our tour we got to go to Cassano 1875, a limoncello shop, to watch how they make limoncello.  The owner gave us all a shot and a piece of lemon cake.  I am gluten-intolerant, so I did not take a piece of cake.  The owner noticed that I was not eating any cake, and came up to me and handed me a huge handful of lemon candies.  I did not expect to be given anything, but he felt bad that I could not try the cake.  I can only speculate, but based on my experiences both at work and throughout Italy, I have noticed that Italians have a lot of pride both in what they do, and where they live.  The owner of the limoncello shop in Sorrento is passionate about his product, and wanted to share this passion with me.  Likewise, the owners of LivItaly Tours have a passion for Italy, and want to share it with their customers.

It is not that Americans don’t have a desire to make their customers happy, its just that they do not seem to go as above and beyond as the Italians.  For example, when going to a restaurant in America, the waiters are certainly polite, but rarely make an effort to get to know you or to make small talk.  Numerous times while I have been at restaurants in Italy, I have been asked my name, where I am from, why I am in Rome, etc.  While dining at restaurants I am often given a free dessert or post-dinner drink as well.  That’s the difference.  Americans do short-term business: they ensure you have good service so that you tip well and return to spend money in the future.  Italians do long-term business: establishing a relationship with each and every client in the hopes that you enjoy your experience and either return again or spread the word to others. Because most businesses in Italy are very small, they maintain their customers through the relationships that they establish with them and through the reputation that the company earns.  Giving out refunds and free candy may not equal the most profit in the short-term, but because of my wonderful experiences with LivItaly Tours and the limoncello shop, I referred my friends and family to them.  A strong reputation is the best way to bring in customers.