Wednesday, November 17, 2010

She Works Hard for the Money

Oh wow you really live in Italy? It must be so wonderful! You are so lucky! It’s like you’re on a permanent vacation!…..
Yes it is wonderful and as I mentioned in an earlier post I do love living here, but I often times get frustrated when people think that I am sitting around sipping red wine in a little café somewhere living La Bella Vita. Trust me, I wish that were the case. Unfortunately, for the Italians and those of us that have decided to make Italy our home we face a very different reality.
(Yes I know I used this photo already but it just seemed so fitting)
As it turns out, La belpaease has some the lowest salaries in all of Europe. The average monthly wage around here is approximately 1,000euro (or 1,300 U.S. dollars) give or take. Average. A clerk at the local grocery store or the sales girl in the clothing shop is making about 800euro ($1,085) per month. It’s no wonder they don’t really care to help you when you come in. They’ll be smoking a cigarette outside or sending text messages on their cell phones. When you ask them for help its as if you are disturbing them. Yeah, I get frustrated with this often, but on the other hand can you really blame them? It’s not exactly the most stimulating work environment. I know I certainly wouldn’t be thinking, “How can I help you?” I would be thinking, “4 measly euro per hour?” That’s almost insulting! Especially considering that most of the time these people are working 6 days per week.
A monthly income of 1,200 euro or more is considered pretty good around here. And I’m not just talking about college kids that work in stores; I’m talking about professional people. People with college degrees and have families to support. If you get lucky maybe you can make it up to 1,500 euro but what’s left after paying rent/mortgage, groceries, utilities, car insurance, gas, etc? Not much. Especially considering that the cost of rent for a 1 bedroom apartment in the city of Florence can run anywhere between 800-1,200 euro per month.

And that is the Italians if they are lucky enough to find jobs. Nepotism is still very much a part of Italian culture even today. As if their father were King and its their inherent birth right to be given a job simply because they are the bosses kid or because they know someone who knows someone who owes them a favor, if you know what I mean. Even if you are a highly trained specialist with years of experience, if there is a job available, likely it is going to the bosses son or daughter who just graduated by the skin of their teeth and is completely unmotivated by the job set before them. Too bad, that’s just the way it is.

And if you are a foreigner, ha! Good luck! There are basically 3 possibly 4 main options for you around here.

Option 1: Tourism on some level, tour agency in the administrative department, unless of course you have gone through the city run, guiding-mafia training course (in which any previous education or training you may have means absolutely nothing) and then you can lead tours, which yes, can be interesting, but is REALLY hard work and incredibly competitive. I know everyone always thinks OMG! How great what a wonderful job! It must be so fun! Yeah, great especially in the middle of the July heat pushing thorough crowds of people, dripping sweat and answering questions like, “what does p.i.z.z.a mean in Italian?” And dealing with guides who have been around for years, and don’t want to see you succeed because you might take work away from them. Dirty looks abound and maybe even some scheming and conniving to make sure you don’t get work.
There is also possibly the option of working in a hotel.
Option 2: Study abroad. Every semester hundreds of American University students come to study in Florence for anywhere from 3 months to a year. Many of those schools need someone to basically baby-sit these kids while they are here. Not only will you be responsible for finding them housing ahead of time and making sure their paper work and visa’s are all in order, but then you will be given an emergency cell phone that the students can call you on 24hrs a day. As in, its 3a.m and they’ve been out drinking all night and for some strange reason their key no longer works in their door (true story). Ok, so yeah, I have one friend who really enjoys her position as a student coordinator, but she is working with grad students, a little more serious in their reasons for being here. But those positions are few and far between.
Option 3, teach English. Sounds simple enough right? You speak English already, how hard could it be? Well first you will have to be certified to teach English abroad, which means taking an exam though TEFL an internationally recognized certification program that you will pay approximately 2,000 euro for. And that generally means working in ESL schools in which you will be teaching mostly adults. Working in an actual elementary or high school requires years of moving around from school to school and building up ‘points’ so that eventually, some day, maybe 5 years from now, you will be given a permanent position. And then, you can expect to get paid the exalted salary of 1,000 euro per month….if you’re lucky. For example I know a teacher with a master’s degree in early childhood education with a specialization in children with special needs; she often works with autistic children and brings home 1,000 euro per month. Vergonia! I know another who is a Registered Nurse, trained at one of the top nursing schools in the U.S married with 2 teenagers and brings home 1,500 euro per month. Wow! I made that in college waiting tables. Well maybe not exactly, but you get the idea. One thing is for sure, most of us did not move to Italy to make money.

Option 4: Au pair, (or glorified babysitter) Not much to explain there.

So the long and short of it is this; living in Italy yes has it perks, but it does take a bit of denaro to thoroughly enjoy it. Most people cannot afford to live on their own and Italians will typically live with their parents until they are in their mid-30’s. The Italian birthrate is amongst the lowest in the world and if people do have children, it is usually only one child because they simply cannot afford more.

I sometimes become frustrated when students come to Italy and state that they ‘live’ here. Living here means dealing with this type of thing, job hunting and dealing with the politics and bureaucracy of it all.  The idea that it is always wonderful and worry free is a false impression and can undermine the difficulties and efforts many put into making a decent living here. Its important to keep in mind that studying here and living here are two totally and completely different experiences.
Perhaps in the end it’s better this way. Maybe it forces us to be creative in other ways; to find our passion and create a career that we love and make for ourselves. Or to discover a talent that we never realized we had. It is certainly not easy but worth every moment! After all being creative is what the Italians do best!

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  1. What does "pizza" mean? Hilarious!

    I am looking forward to more tourist stories! :)

  2. yeah, and then she said, oh so they use the same word here?

  3. Hilarious! At least she is one of the ones that actually leaves her country though.


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