domenica, gennaio 14, 2007

The first 100 days in the wonderland

Sorry for making all this buzz about launching my blog in English and then not writing a single word since arriving here. But… I can explain.

The first months have been immensely turbulent. Armed with my primitive Italian skills plus notorious ability to misread maps and constantly get lost I’ve been so busy finding my way in this interesting country, that the poor little blog got very little attention.

So what’s Italy like?
To put it shortly, everything is exactly the opposite of Estonia. Seems simple but it took me some time to figure this out. What I call time-to-figure-things-out is defined as "culture shock" in Geert Hofstede's book "Cultures and Organizations", as I found out yesterday.

Geert writes:"In a way the visitor in a foreign culture returns to the mental state of an infant, in which he or she has to learn the simplest things over again. This usually leads to feelings of distress, of helplessness, and of hostility towards the new environment. Often one's physical functioning is affected. Expatriates and migrants have more need for medical help shortly after their displacement than before of later." I say, this book really talked to my heart.

So in what sense is Italy the opposite of Estonia? Some examples:

Estonia: a civil right, available for free.
Italy: a scarce and costly natural resource.

Estonia: barely drinkable.
Italy: the best in the world.

Being late
Estonia: considered an utmost disrespect.
Italy: nobody arrives on time.

Estonia: smaller is better.
Italy: bigger is better.

Estonia: bigger is better.
Italy: smaller is better.

Italian 35-year-old: lives with parents, vaguely worried for not being married yet, occasionally is involved in job-searching activities, usually hasn’t been traveling outside Italy.

Estonian 35-year-old: left home at 18, since then has been building a business empire consisting of several small companies and off-shore firms. Owns real estate and leases a car. Has 2-4 children of whom half are from the previous marriage. Spends holidays in warm countries, such as Italy.

Trade unions
Estonia: like UFOs – everyone has heard of them, nobody has seen them.
Italy: even the grass doesn’t grow without trade unions’ approval.

Marriage and divorce
Italy: marriage is the departure ticket to get away from the parents’ home. Weddings are big important events, like rock festivals or so. Divorce is a shame.
Estonia: general view - marriage changes nothing. Some people still do get married, in this case often weddings are private affairs, where only parents and very close friends are invited. 50% of marriages end in divorce.

Estonia: consumed only during weekends. Important is to get very drunk. Vodka and beer have bigger market share than wine.
Italy: wine is consumed every day at dinner table. Nobody gets drunk never. Vodka has no market share.

Estonia: rule is a rule.
Italy: every rule has million exceptions. The better your negotiating skills, the favourable exceptions you get.

Estonia: bigger is better. Less than 2.0 l engine is considered unpractical. Fiat is not a car.
Italy: smaller is better. Engine more than 2.0 l is rarely seen. 80% of cars are Fiat.

Estonia: people have heard about it.
Italy: all Italians are catholic.

Estonia: supermarkets are open from 8am to 11pm. The rest of the stores from 9am to 8pm.
Italy: supermarkets are open from 9am to 1pm and then 4pm to 8pm. Other stores are open whenever they want, the only sure thing is that 1pm to 4pm they are closed. On Sundays everything is closed (sic!).

I could go on with these examples for hours, but now I have to go lunching with Italians :)
Next time I will give you an update on what interesting and glamorous things I’ve been doing during the first 100 days.