Hello friends and strangers and happy new year!
Or, like some of my Italian friends who
spread haitches randomly like salt, say: Happy new HERE! – which, if you think about it, it’s quite a nice concept: who doesn’t need a new “here” from time to time, to refresh the old, rusty here we’re used to?
Unfortunately there has been nothing new in my “here” or “heres” lately (as a bi-lingual, bi-resident, bi-tax-payer I’ve been juggling heres like crazy).
In fact time goes by, but I always end up banging my head against the same old walls.
So, to open a new year with an old here, here’s a post that would make the blood of my detractors boil – yes, you out there who accuse me of using cultural stereotypes (really? I mean, really?? What have you been reading? I do nothing but laugh at cultural stereotypes. But anyway…)
Match the following adjectives with the nationalities you’d commonly associate them with:
I bet you expect me to link Italian with warm, welcoming etc..
Yes, very broadly speaking the Italian “character” tends to be less introverted than the British, and many Italians living in London moan about the English lack of “warmth” bla bla… But let’s face it, in terms of putting strangers “at ease”, of welcoming people, of creating a pleasant atmosphere, especially at work, the Brits win hands on.
And who cares about warm, cold or tepid. Manners are more important than temperature.
Take today for instance.
I’m in Milan recording a voice over. Now, when I record in London this is what happens:
1) smiley receptionist walks me in.
2) smiley runner asks what I’d like to drink – tea, coffee, juice.
3) sound engineer makes sure there’s water in the booth
4) everyone is already there – producer, copy, client – and ready to go
5) everybody introduces themselves, and makes an effort to have a chat with you, no matter if it’s just about the weather or where you’ve travelled from today. They would have sent me the script in advance.
6) during the recording the client keeps asking the voice artist’s opinion, showing the greatest respect for our profession.
7) generally everyone tries to smile, keep the atmosphere charming and not take themselves too seriously – it’s just an advert, we’re not doing open heart surgery.
Ok, this, instead, is what happened to me in Milan today (and what happens every time I set foot in an Italian studio where I’ve never worked before):
1)I was greeted by person with no clear role who shove me a script and disappeared, leaving me alone in an empty studio for 20 minutes. Everyone else was late
2) When I asked if I could have a glass of water the above mentioned creature sighed and gave me a 50 cent coin. “Go to the machine”, she said. She didn’t explain where said machine was. I didn’t bother saying I could have used my own money, I just assumed they had a water fountain.
3) the engineer arrived, nodded at me and sat down, giving me his back and ignoring my attempt at having a very basic conversation. No, he wasn’t very busy, in fact the protools session was already open. He just couldnt be bothered.
4) the client rushed in, glanced at me as if to say “who the hell are you, I don’t know you so you must be rubbish”, announced that “the script is crap but what can we do, it’s Austrian”, and with a face as welcoming as a piranha’s said: “well, try to make it sound interesting”.
5) I have flu today, but when I apologised in advance for any possible imperfections in my voice I was met with uninterested silence from both the engineer and the client. I don’t expect a day of national mourning to acknowledge my poor health, but since I work with my voice, I woke up with none, and still managed to drag myself to the studio and actually do a decent job, a little bit of sympathy might have been a general sign of humanity.
Of course, had I been a regular in that studio, things would have been different. There would have been hugs, greetings, loud laughs, cups of coffee ordered from the local cafe, and how is your cat? Shall we go for sushi?
Italian workplaces can absolutely pleasant and fun whenever people are old friends.
But most of us don’t just work with friends…
Please you out there, don’t start saying I’m generalising, of course I am. Yes, I know there are exceptions, I know you moved to Rome from Novosibirsk, were welcomed with open arms, invited to Christmas dinner, introduced to your boss’s granny etc etc
Stop treating me as if I’m retarded or a member of Ukip!
Of course there are hundreds of stories of individual kindness in Italy.
BUT, what I’m saying here is that Italians often lack, especially on the work place, a standard etiquette aimed at creating a pleasant atmosphere for everyone.
Whilst anglo-saxon cultures – both British and American – have developed a simple standard of politeness, whereby at work everyone tries their best to make everyone else feel welcome. Nice and simple.
Never mind if it’s an act. The act actually works. Because it helps fighting tribal individualism and contributes towards creating a society where being pleasant to each other is the default mode.
And I’m not just talking about the acting world.
Do you know in most offices in Italy there’s no such thing as an induction on the first day of work?
Its like being dropped in the jungle, if you survive the first days, you’re in.
Is this welcoming?
Is this warm Italian style?
I’m not happy to say this but individualism and selfishness are some of the most repellent traits of the Italian society and the reason of many of its problems.
Because many Italians, not all but many, just think about themselves and their close circle.
So why abide to the rules, why pay taxes, why keep the streets clean, why stopp at the zebra crossing, why bother if weaker parts of society struggle? Lets just do what suits us, and stuff everyone else!
Solidarity begins with little gestures.
Little, basic things.
Like being kind to each other and show respect. Yes it sounds trite, stereotyped and corny, but I always feel good when I leave a recording studio in London. Because I’ve been treated nicely. By total strangers who might not give a damn about me, might never book me again, perhaps might even secretly dislike me but if so, they keep it to themselves.
I wish my compatriots were the same.
Happy new HERE everyone