During my recent holiday in Catania, Sicily, I couldn’t help but think that the very relaxed approach the Sicilians appear to take to work – an attitude which, I believe, is fairly characteristic of life in Southern Europe – might go a long way to explain the rocky economies of the region.
Reluctant to appear bigoted or ill-informed, I googled “Italian work ethic” and found a number of blogs / articles on the subject. Mostly written in 2010, they were inspired by a feature that appeared in the New York Times called Fiat pushes work ethic at Italian plant. The article seems to reinforce my perceptions and contains an hilarious quote from Nello Niglio, a factory worker: reflecting on CEO Sergio Marchionne’s requirements to work longer hours and cut back on absences Niglio commented: “He wants to impose American-style standards. But too much work is going to kill our workers.” The blog I found most illuminating was written by Executive Coach Stuart Schneiderman. He characterised the changes being proposed at Fiat as a “… a massive cultural revolution. One that devalues hedonism and revalues work.”
It appears that the cultural shift being instituted at the Fiat factory in Pomigliano in 2010 has not yet percolated down to Catania.
Shops open at some point between 9.00 and 10.00 and close during the heat of the day any time from 12.30. The town didn’t start coming to life again until around 4.00 when the shops stay open until around 8.00. Restaurants start to fill up at 9.00 and are in full swing at 10.30, with babies and toddlers very much in evidence. Of course tourism is a big part of the Sicilian economy so there is a very different working day for the significant number of the population who work in the ‘hospitality industry’, but it seemed clear to me that life in Sicily revolved around leisure time rather than a commitment to anything resembling a career.
It’s possible that the lack of challenging and rewarding career options may be a significant factor. Our tour guide who took us and a Swiss couple up Mount Etna, for example, had spent a year in the UK with the EU’s Erasmus Programme studying history. He spoke Italian, English and Spanish and was a teacher by profession but had been forced to start work as a tour guide when Berlosconi’s government started cutting the education budget in 2008.
Interestingly though, both his elder sisters had successful careers in Catania: one, a lawyer by profession, is the Mayor of Catania’s political speech writer; the other owns a chain of shops selling housewares. I’ve been on enough guided tours in my time to recognise a man whose heart is not in his job. Listening to him, I had to wonder whether he was one of life’s victims and perhaps he (and the economies of the Southern Med.), deserve the hand that fate has dealt them?!