Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Sunday, March 23, 2008


This post by Kataroma reminded me of a post I've been meaning to write, so here goes.
A friend of a friend was visiting from the US and was asking us general questions about Rome. He was very shocked to hear about the high cost of living and the low wages- and who wouldn't be?! I came to the conclusion that Rome, and perhaps Italy in general, is paradise for refugees and the rich. For refugees- even the measly money they make here is better than what they'd make back in their home countries, so they probably consider themselves "lucky". And the rich... well, they don't have to worry about a thing because they can avoid most of the daily hassles we average people deal with here.

I'm neither a refugee nor a rich person. I, like most American college students, went abroad during my junior year (JYA- say it with me!). I opted for a chintzy program in Rome that allowed me to enroll directly at La Sapienza. I had no desire to be in a foreign country while surrounded by hoards of drunken American students (and pub crawls didn't even exist when I came here!), I just wanted to learn the language and really experience life in Rome. I did- it was an amazing experience and after I graduated college, I decided to come back to Rome and "get it out of my system". And here I am, almost 12 years later... I admit I've been very lucky in Rome, I've had some great jobs, I've met amazing people, and I've made a lovely home for myself. But in the past few years, I've also realize that I don't feel as connected to Rome as I used to. I'm now weighing the pros and cons of staying or leaving.

It's interesting for me to meet people who've recently moved to Rome, I love picking their brains to find out what possessed them to do this. I personally don't think Rome still has that charm it used to have, but apparently newcomers have a different perception.
One of my friends moved here from the US at the age of 34, leaving behind a successful career and a six-figure salary. She came here looking for something more to life, hoping for a fresh, new start. She's been here for 4 years, struggling to make ends meet. And even though she has some complaints about Italy, it seems like she's here to stay. She says she likes the lifestyle, she has no desire to have a high-stress, high-salary job again. This reminds me of a fellow blogger I enjoy reading, who is moving to Italy in search of a new & better life. Different strokes for different folks! I guess it all depends what phase of life you are in and what your perception of Italy is.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

More bureaucracy is never a good "solution"

In the Italian workplace, there is an ugly phenomenon known as "licenziamento in bianco", essentially your employer hands you, the employee, a resignation letter and forces you to sign and date it- thus firing yourself. This is a sneaky way for employers to:
  1. get around the fairly strict regulations against firing someone without a valid reason
  2. get rid of anyone who might be a rabble-rouser or a unionist
  3. avoid paying employee benefits & contributions
Needless to say, it is highly illegal, yet it does happen, apparently rather often... because a law has recently been passed to hinder this practice.
What is this magical law, you ask? WELL.... law # 1695 states that if an employee wishes to quit their job, they must first go to the Ministero del Lavoro and request permission to quit. Yeah, they say you can download the necessary "I want to quit" form online (in my experience, very few Italian public office websites actually work!), fill it out, bring it to the Ministero, and then wait for them to contact you and give you authorization to quit. At that point, you can go to your boss with your resignation letter and say "I quit".
Don't get me wrong, I'm happy the government has addressed this hideous practice of forced resignation BUT gimme a break- is adding more bureaucracy to our lives actually a solution??? Or is it just another pain in the ass that will slow down the entire flow of things? Last summer I quit a job and the thought of having to go through all this ridiculous paperwork is almost enough to make me suck it up and stay at a bad job! And we all know how notoriously slow most of the public offices are, so I can't imagine that this "authorization to quit" would actually be processed in 15 days, as they claim.
Argh, there has got to be a better solution, don't you think?

Sunday, March 9, 2008

My dear old friend

Some interesting posts by Deirdré and Tracie (about their recent decisions to move back to USA for work) got me thinking about the sad state of affairs here. As I mentioned in a previous post, in the past few years I've witnessed a sort of exodus of ex pats (and non) from Rome for one main reason: work, or lack of.

I've been lucky enough during my years in Rome to never have to babysit or teach English (no offence to anyone who does, it's just not my cup of tea nor can an adult actually live off of that kind of "pay"). But I can't help but notice that my hard work has never really paid off- in every and any sense. From what I've seen in Italy (I've held many different jobs with Italian and American employers), it doesn't pay to work hard- literally. Hard work doesn't lead to promotions or pay increases or better opportunities because meritocracy doesn't seem to exist. And this is difficult for me to swallow because I pride myself on working hard.

MIND you, I am not in any way saying that work or money = happiness, or that one has to earn heaps of money to enjoy life. I am simply saying that life is a lot nicer when you can do a job you like and be paid properly for it without having to make endless compromises. Life is also more enjoyable when you don't have to constantly stress out about how to pay rent, mortgages, bills, etc. Life is more pleasurable if you're able to save up money for the future, none of us are getting any younger you know! It really seems impossible to make a career for yourself that allows you to earn a decent living in Rome. Yet I hear so many people say "the quality of life is better in Italy", so I can't help but scratch my head and wonder- what exactly do you mean by quality of life? For me quality of life means:
1) living in a place that allows me to do something I enjoy for work, something that compensates me appropriately, and something that gives me room to grow
2) living in a place where public services function- meaning public transportation and public offices
3) living in a place where laws are enforced and justice prevails
4) living in a place that offers basic conveniences
5) living in a place where you actually can have a future
6) living in a place that is not afraid of change
7) living in a place where salaries are proportionate to the cost of living
8) living in a place where people are civilized and considerate of others
9) living in a place that isn't paralyzed by bureaucracy
10) living in a place where customer service is alive and well

Humm, I personally don't feel that many of these apply to Rome. I'm not saying Rome sucks, but apart from the clichés like great food, coffee, and architecture, there are some pretty big voids in this city. Voids I think could be filled if the country radically changed its ways. I'm not the only one who notices how much Italians have changed, how much more miserable and disgruntled the average Italian is- and it's all due to the fact that people are being exploited in the work place. People who work their fingers to the bone still can't make ends meet. Those who do make ends meet are also unhappy because they're stuck working unsatisfying jobs just to pay the bills. I'm sorry, that's no bella vita if you ask me.

I recently went back to USA to test out the job market waters: I got a job on a gig for 12 weeks. It wasn't easy, it was a lot of hard work but the pay was GREAT, and I did a damn good job (yes, I can pat myself on the back). My hard work was immensely appreciated and rewarded, in fact, I got hired for the same gig next year AND other people who heard about my "good work" have already contacted me for more gigs. It was so satisfying for me to be in a work situation where I was NOT being exploited (as we often are here in Italy), I was being paid very well, I worked with efficient and competent people, and I knew that if I did a good job it would lead to bigger and better things. This is how things should work, but that's not the case in Italy. I see too many bright young people working for pennies and being exploited, with no hopes for a decent career or life in Italy. No, it's not just about the money, it's about the principles. It never feels good to know you're being shortchanged, nor does it feel good to know you're in a dead-end job.

I find it horribly sad that so many people are forced to leave because of this dreary situation. I do love Rome (despite all the annoyances and quirks I often complain about), but sometimes I feel like I'm watching a dear old friend slowly kill herself. It breaks my heart but there's nothing I can do...

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Sweatin' it

Overheard today on a street near Largo Argentina:

Mother walking on pedestrian street with her two kids. One of the kids (probably 5-6 years old) starts running.

Mother (yelling at the top of her lungs): Gianni, non correre! Ma perché devi correre e sudarti tutto?

(Gianni, don't run! Why do you have to run and get all sweaty?)

Oh, oh, oh! I know the answer! Why does he have to run and get all sweaty? Because he's a KID, lady! Give him a break!