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‘Piano, piano’: Carla Bastos on Italy’s (maddeningly) laid-back work culture

When I walked into the local post office in Sesto Fiorentino the week before Christmas, I breathed a sigh of relief upon seeing only four other customers.

I should have known better.

I was only there to pick up a package that had arrived from the States, but something so simple can be quite involved in Italy. After punching in the reason for my visit and collecting my ticket from the kiosk just inside the door, I settled in – for almost an hour until my number came up.

Perhaps for the hundredth time in the two years I’ve lived in Italy, I thought, “People, it doesn’t have to be this complicated!”

But this was the norm, as I was reminded just weeks earlier when I’d dropped by to mail Christmas cards. After waiting, and waiting, and waiting some more, I stood at the counter as the clerk leisurely calculated the postage for each of the five cards – which were all the same size and weight, and all going to the United States. A couple of them still have not arrived at this writing.

Maybe by next Christmas?

New expats, take note

These seemingly insignificant issues bear repeating, and new or aspiring expats should take note. Complicated processes here are exacerbated by generally blasé attitudes.

The “piano, piano” (little by little) mindset applies in nearly every situation, be it business, recreation, travel, what have you.

For example, hiring a contractor may include a legally binding contract, but the completion date is more of a suggestion. I learned this last year when the façade of my apartment building was updated. Painting and a few minor repairs that should have taken weeks ended up dragging on for a year.

As I came and went, I couldn’t help noticing the workers’ nonchalant demeanor. There were days when they would show up for just a couple of hours, or not at all. On one of those no-show days, a neighbor commented, “They’re probably at the beach.” (Because, of course.)

The laid-back culture is fine for retirees like me – unless, of course, I’m trying to mail a letter. But, for new arrivals seeking residency, or for entrepreneurs (including Italians who are used to the slow pace of getting things done), it can be so very frustrating. Even students who are here for a year immersed in exciting majors, while enthralled with the experience, may be shocked by the challenges of everyday life.

Government does … nothing

One of the most curious aspects of it all is that the government continues to shoot itself in the foot by not at least attempting to improve processes and attitudes. This week I happened by Florence’s Galleria dell’Accademia, and I was sad to see the ugly eyesore of construction equipment at the end of the street, taking up almost a full city block – and nearly obstructing direct access to the piazza and other museums around the corner.

A few months earlier, I’d taken out-of-town guests down this street and remarked how sorry I was that they had to encounter the whole mess. And, while I don’t know what work is being done, it looks almost exactly as I remember it then – clearly, not much has been accomplished.

No doubt Italy’s current economic challenges play a part in such delays but, for a country so dependent on tourism revenue, one wonders if it has its priorities in order.

In March of 2022, following the lead of other European Union countries, Italy announced its new digital nomad visa. The visa would enable non-EU citizens to work remotely, establish start-ups, etc., via a seamless process – an obvious boon to the Italian economy. Formal adoption and application requirements were supposed to be announced within 30 days. Then, “soon.” Then, after a change in government that year, radio silence.

Today, nearly two years later, still no Italian digital nomad visa.

(There is talk in Parliament that the new target is this fall.)

A system in dire need of change

For a country this old, infrastructure development and maintenance aren’t easy and, to be fair, Italy’s efforts have been impressive. But its systems really need work. Of course, in this “piano, piano” culture, online ranting is clearly not the answer – otherwise, I would have solved all the country’s ills by now.

But what is? What will it take to finally begin to make serious progress in catching up to the rest of the western world?

Once again, for retirees who have no particular agenda, no big whoop. For us, the lifestyle is part of the reason we came here. But might prospective expats with much to offer this economy be having second thoughts?

If I were in their shoes, this laid-back state of affairs would certainly give me pause.

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Carla Bastos is an expat writer living in Italy.

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