Report from the Euro Zone: Life in Italy -- The Triumph of Bureaucracy in the North and Lethargy in the South
Sept. 9, 2008
I found Italy to be a chaotic mess. When I travel, I like to experience a country without the big hotel, concierge service in order to see what it would be like to live there. I know you can't get a complete picture in such a short period of time but you can at least get a taste.
For a country that is so dependent on tourism for their economy, I was amazed at the poor service I experienced throughout the country. In the Lake Como area, the train station had no one working at the station in order for you to buy tickets, the machines to buy tickets were broken and the validation boxes were broken. I had to buy a train ticket at a travel agency. It was good thing that I checked this out before waiting the next day to buy a ticket or I would have missed the train that I needed to take. If you don't validate your ticket before boarding the train, and you are caught you will be fined. Luckily for me, no one was checking tickets that morning - the one time I was glad not to see a trenitalia employee.
I went to the customer care center in the Milan train station to ask a few questions and before I could even get a few words out, I was told to go away now; they didn't have time. So much for customer care.
Once we got to our next destination, there was a train strike and we were stranded for 24 hours and we were unable to get to our next destination on time. We had to change our tickets for the next day and they still charged me a fee for changing even though it was their fault. You can argue but it is fruitless; you might as well be yelling at a bowl of jello; you will get about the same response.
In Florence, I got ripped off at the ATM. Thank you, Banca Popolare Commercio E Industria. Apparently, this problem at foreign ATMs is more frequent than is commonly known. It makes you want to go back to using traveler's checks.
In Rome, don't expect the stores to be open during the advertised hours; they are just mere suggestions.
The tour guide from Ireland living in Rome has been trying to get a permit to open a pizzeria for several years. She said that the bureaucratic red tape is horrendous.
Also obtaining a full time job is difficult for young people because companies can't fire people for cause once they hire you; so to get around this problem, the companies keep you in temporary status if they hire at all.
Also, many young couples are not having children because they can't support them. I talked to an American, married to an Italian, who has lived in Rome for over 30 years. She told me that many are basically dumpster diving to make ends meet. They don't make enough money to make it to the end of the month. Rome is a very expensive city for anyone except a multi-millionare. Americans, of course, were noticeably absent and I would not have been there if a substantial portion of the trip had not been subsidized.
Naples has depression-level unemployment - greater than 25 percent - with tremendous amounts of garbage piling up. Crime is high and from what I heard, the local government there would make the Mafia proud. Many tourists get ripped off every year as they travel through Naples to get to Pompeii.
When I returned to the states, I shared my experiences with an HR manager who works for a Fortune 500 company. She said that they have trouble finding reliable and steady people in southern Italy. They don't have the problems in the Northern part of Italy. If you can overcome the bureaucracy there and stay away from the areas of Italy that are the most corrupt, there maybe a niche for businesses that provide good service at economical prices. If that is possible in Italy, there maybe a tremendous opportunity. You just may need a pallet load of valium to get through it.