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...


Anonymous said...

I have two friends in Rome and both are native Italians and both of them want to get the heck outta Roma for the reasons you listed on your blog.
Personally, I think things will only improve if there is a major revolution or upheaval.

Samantha said...

Amen sister! My quality of life criteria are pretty much the same, and France doesn't come anywher near that either. It's a wonderful place to holiday, but not to try to make a decent living or to get anywhere in life.

Romerican said...

Hello ladies,

Yep... sad but true. What's funny is I just got back to Rome after 4 months away (and I'll be heading back to NYC in a few weeks for another job) and this time I'm really enjoying being back here... I think it has to do with the fact that I've been gone so long AND that I know I'll be leaving again soon- so in some ways it's like a "vacation", I guess its more bearable knowing I won't have to deal with it for long!

Emmina said...

I agree with you absolutely 110%! This is a subject that comes up frequently (pretty much everyday actually) amongst my Italian and non-Italian co-wokers (we're a mix of English, Americans and Canadians). Our organisation has offices in London, Paris, Madrid, Milan & the US. We all do the exact same job, yet it is well-known that here in the Milan office we are paid less than our foreign counterparts. As much as people talk about Milan as "the working city", and Italy's "financial centre", the average salary remains at just over 1000 euros per month - even for professionals. Living here and witnessing well-qualified, hard-working people struggle to get to the end of the month provides a fairly sad view of the 'bel paese'. Don't get me wrong - I know Italy has many other things going for it, but as your quality of life list demonstrates, there are many important issues which need to be dealt with and fast!

Delina said...

It is a sad state of affairs. When will things change I ask myself. I mean, things can't keep on going like this, can they?

Tracie B. said...

i think the "quality of life" life myth--outside of the laid-back countryside borghi--has been perpetuated by cinema and books written by people who live in italy and DON'T have to work to stay.

like francis mayer. i think the quality of vacation life is FANTASTIC. but real?