venerdì 8 ottobre 2010

working and living in italy a fun blog

If you reading this blog it means you are planning to or have been offered a job in Italy, and you want assurance you are doing the right thing. It is your decision no matter what they tell you, you have to make the decision yourself, the information in blogs and expat web pages are but an experience by this or that person.
Lets get something clear, Italy is a country full of anomalies, I am Italian and lived abroad for many many years. Italy works on the theory of organised chaos but it works, you can get things done once you get used to the system, yes there is a system.

Rule no.1 get a codice fiscale,  fiscal code, or National Insurance number to you and I, without it you cannot do anything, not even hire a video. YOu will also need and ID card , you get this in Comune, quinte simple process, you get fined if you do not have a form of ID without. .

Food. Of course is good, every one will tell you that you have seen the TV program read the cooking books. And they are pretty right, but you do not find so many ready meals that you stick in a microwaves as you would find in the USA: YOU HAVE TO COOK to appreciate Italian food. It is easy, Italian cousine is simple when you see a chef preparing one of the fancy designer dishes it in nothing like it,  most of the cooking is on a base of soffritto (carrots, onions, celery slightly fried in olive oil) then to this you add tin tomatoes and tomato paste cook of a while add spices, and you have Neapolitan sauce, add meat and you have Bolognese sauce, make it fancy add some red wine. Boil some pasta and you have the basic Italian meal. To the same tomato sauce add chicken and you have chicken cacciatora (hunters chicken to you), to make it fancy add some mushrooms.
So you want to make minestrone, just get a whole load of vegetables cut them up, put in a pot, add water and a couple of cubes add salt and pepper boil slowly for a few ours or in a pressure cooker for  30 mins and you have your minestrone. You see all very simple. Do your own thing now.

Italian. This is a bitch of a language to learn. I know, I speak it fluently it is my mother tongue, but for any one trying to learn is a nightmare. English is a piece of cake. Just imagine the David of Donatello or the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo, absolutely beautiful, but impossible to reproduce, this is Italian for foreigners.
Italian love grammar and they have plenty of it. They have not yet understood the concept of teaching Italian so that you can get by. You have to be taught grammar, like at school, it is a fixation. Which is a total nonsense, most Italian do not and will not write correct Italian the conjugation of verbs is the most tragic of examples for even the most learned person.
The first thing you are faced is the book of verbs, 14 declinations on a good day and if you are lucky. They are not happy with a simple past tense, they have to have a very far past tense and if that was not enough a very very past tense. And so it goes on.
I make it simple for you, you do not need it, just try to remember the present past and future, 90% of Italians only use these. Also you must remember they have genders: girls and boy for you and me, so in general terms if a word ends in O is male if it end in A is female, if it end in E is female plural if in I is male plural. The article that precedes every word have to be female male plural or singular.
Their adjectives are also different, we say large for big, they say grande, we say very large they say grandissimo, we say very very large they say grandissimo, you say is the same, no no no, what you to is (do not write it) grandissssssssimo this makes it very very very big, the more S the bigger it is, got the gist now. Lets try beautiful, in italian is  bella, very beautiful, bellissima, but if she is very beautiful then is bellllllissssssssssima! You are now beginning to speak Italian
Easy, you must also use your hands, you if you are ex Navy this is not a problem you know how to send signals by flags, same in Italy, is not what you say but how you say it. NOW that we speak Italian, please do not add a vowel to end of every English word it does not work like that, also do not speak louder they are not deaf although you might think so by the noise. Use your hands.
Buying a house or renting.  Get this and you cannot go wrong, you are going to be conned. So with this premise start looking.
Estate agents do not market properties they way you see in the USA or the UK. Prices are not always listed. And in many cases the price rent or purchase depends if you speak good Italian or not, so you are going to get stitched. Whatever they tell you half it, then becomes a battle of wills, estate agent commission and what is worth to you.
NOTE you have to pay a commission to the estate agent so will the landlord or seller.  WALK AWAY, if you cannot agree a price walk away it is too high anyway, they will tell you they have another buyer, houses in this country can be on the market for years.
Lets say you have agreed, poor you! You pay a deposit, this is not refundable if you pull out, you pay a penalty that is the deposit, equally if the seller pulls out he pays a penalty, well you take him/her to court and maybe in 10 years you get you cash. Once you have signed the compromesso as it is called, then start the Calvary which ends a few weeks months later (this depend if you want to get a mortgage – appx 6 months we will come tot the banking system later).
You are then summoned to the notaio (this is a lawyer, sort of, a conveancer), in the UK the conveayancy you can do yourself, in Italy NO, niet, nein, Understand this, notaio and mafia, one is legal the other is not, I let you guess which. The notai are a protected species, sort of Pandas, only a few are allowed to breed each year in the whole of Italy (set up studios) and generally are passed from father to son.
A lawyer DOES NOT do conveyancing, even if in Milan there are as many lawyers than in the whole of France.
The fee, that is an interesting thing,  I will skip this, find out your self but be prepared to put away a few thousands as rule of thumbs, between what you pay the estate agent, taxes and the notaio 10% of the value of the property, may even be more. I like examples, I wanted to purchase a piece of land about 200 Sqmt (size of a large apartment) 4,000Euro for the notaio!!!!! So I said no, ho the land was only worth 800 Euro.
Once you are summoned to see God (the notaio) they are God remember that apparently you work for them not them for you, I reminded  a notaio I was the client, he went white, then red then white, I thought he was going to end up stiff on the deck, he was 45 minutes late and did not apologise.
He will read the act, this is a wad of paper which details the property your purchasing. NOTE in Italy it was customary to divide the property in many slices which you gave to your children in inheritance, this had the effect that you buy a property and is made up of little parcels of land, you could conglomerate all of it together but is expensive. Make sure there no undefined property or property which require registering, the notaio should make sure is all kosher, but some do not.
NOTE according to the catasto (these are the offices where the land is registered), the fact your land is registered in your name does not mean it is your! I thought you liked this, and also note most of the maps in the catasto or the council offices are old, not Roman, but old, usually Napoleonic, the little French fellow did to a lot of mapping around Europe. Nothing really changed until another little fellow came into power in the 30s, he did a lot of mapping as well. I wonder why these little fellows liked mapping.
Anyhow. The catasto is investing a mountain of cash; most of it is to pay for mapping Italy properly, they are using the latest satellite technologies helicopters etc, . In Italy, in many case, they are not into technology, but once they invest in the computers and internet access then they become technology mad, and you do everything on the internet, quite frightening, from taxes to booking appointments, you name it, if you do not ahve a computer you are truly stuffed.
You can check on the catasto if your parcel of lands are “yours”,  do not be frighten if after a few years you have moved into your house you receive a letter telling you have to register a piece of land, it is yours I know, but the government in the mean time has changed the law (this is usually done to get some cash).
You panic and get a geometra, this individual is a surveyor for all-intense and purposes and will charge you a fortune for doing a simple thing. On the other hand you ignore the letter they fine you and register the land, which works out more or less the same price. Do not be bullied into it, doing something research and you might find you do not need a geometra but you might have a case and the catasto will do it for you free.
A geometra will never give you a straight answer, in actual fact in Italy no one really gives you a straight answer when it comes to property, try getting an estimate for a central heating or electrical or aything, everything is vague, do not let them do that to you, because if you do you will pay double, demand an exact price.
You now have your property, and quite obviously you want to modernise it of make sure it is fit for you!. DIY There are a few stores around where you can purchase paint and wood and tools. Italian are rich people so they have the work done by Romanians who they pay in cash (no invoice this mean 20% cheaper we will come to this sport a little later on).  Since the recession Italians are becoming poorer so you see more of them in the DIY stores.
If you purchased an old house, careful is not in an historical area, as you will have deal with the BELLE ARTI and they are the same as English Heritage in the UK, they will insist on certain work in a certain way supervised by them. Italy is just a huge historical site, if not some feudal fmaily lived there, you can be sure the Roman did or someone else before them, careful where you dig.
Becasue of the poor mapping, in most cases water and drain pipes are not marked, and you find them then you put the pick axe through them.
If you have the worked done, make sure and insist the price is all inclusive and will not change from the quote (preventivo) there is a habit in this country that prices increase with time and the lack of work done, so you have to ensure you are on top of them all the time, a builder, electrician or plumber (all rare species) will do work for you and for someone else and someone else again, no one is never dedicated to your job. It may be worth getting a reputable firm, one that gives you a fattura. Also make sure the work is carried out in accordance to rule and regulations, this is where you bring back the geometra, he will file at the council a document of inizio lavori, start or work, the council will inspect it as well. Cowboy builders are cheap but will cost you double to fix and you find out the problem when is too late and have left the area..
You are now in you house and you can make friend with the locals.Enjoy wine and food, unfortunately both are too good and you indulge, you tend to indulge too much.

Working in Italy.  If you come over to retire this in not for you. If you come over to work, make sure you arrive with a job, looking for work is disheartening, if you speak English you can give lessons, which is something.
You cannot use the same humour in Italy as you do in the USA or UK, their sense of humour is not as advanced. The boss is like god and will make sure you know.  Most of the time you address people by their title, not Mr. Miss Ms, no no, by what they have studied, Ingegnere, Dottore (this applies as well if you have a PhD in mechanical engineering) it is most disturbing, but they seem to live by this and job title are very important how high up the ladder you “sit”

If you work for a foreign company, not Italian, then you probably will have a boss, who is American English or other, therefore you will be used to the system. If instead you have and Italian boss, then you have to determine if this is a large conglomerate of a family firm.
The first is not too bad as they will have international system of working, whereas in the family firm, be prepared for worst. In most cases they still have a 18th century management mentality although they will tell you “it is a two way thing” no, is one way and if you do not respect the one way, you might as well walk, they will make your life impossible until you walk. In Italy career in a company is not through meritocracy but brown-nosing, who you know, what you know does not matter.
Contracts in Italy are complex, if you are offered a contract a tempo indeterminato, this is gold dust, 90% of contracts are a tempo determianto or short term.
Your pay, well this is another interesting aspect of Italian life. You are not paid what you are worth!, the mechanic where the boss takes his BMW, Audi or Mercedes will charge 40 to 80E an hour, you who can look after the company make it successful save them money, will not get nowhere near that. Their comment is “well in Italy we do not pay the same wages that are paid the UK or USA”, the cost of living is the same so why not?! Because the workforce is treated the same way as in the 18th century and the unions will make sure there is always friction in one form or another.
Most company will want you to work with partita Iva VAT for the UK people, on the surface this may look good, but the cost of managing it is high, they may offer you a contratto a tempo collaborazione a determianto and they will deduct taxes etc, this may not look as good but you do not have the worry in participating in the the old Italian sport called “how not to pay your taxes”, usually you end up paying, your are mere mortal, you do not have a house in Montecarlo, and do not own a yacht,  if you declare that you destitute, then you probably have a yacht and a house on the Rivera.

Taxes they are high, expect the deductions from your wages to be about 41 to 42 %, to be on the safe say 50%. Also if they offer you a contract and they say to you 50000 E a year, make sure is 12 months and not 13 or 14 months. In Italy they pay the tredicesima in January and the quattordicesima in August.  This is an additional month salary.
But you can claim for your medical at the end of the year.
Make sure as soon as you arrive you get a Fiscal CODE codice fiscale, without is you cannot do anything, you get that from the tax office. Oddly enough I found the tax office very helpful in filing your tax return. they will do them for you, the appointment system is done of the internet and works like a dream, and if they do them it saves you money getting an accountant.
Do not try to play the sport I can assure you it does not work.

The banks.  We could write books on the subject. But if you are very rich and need a loan, do not go to a bank set your self up as a bank and lend yourself the cash, lend some to other, much easier, Sindona and Calvi were the masters at this. On the other hand if you are a mortal a peasant an ordinary worker you need a bank. Bank have been set up so that you work for them not them for you., understand this. They are not open on a Saturday they are usually closed at lunch time and most of the time they close a 16:30., they keep banking office hours as it is known.
Set up a post office account, they are open on  a Saturday, they open early 8:30 and you will find a branch close to you open until 19:00! Banks in Italy have a strange reputation, you should read some books on them and all will be clear.
You want a loan, you must be joking! They will only lend you the cash if you do not need it. Your house cannot be used as collateral. Not even your blood. What they want is that you meet the following criteria, you have a full time job, with a full time contract (tempo intederminato) you are over 25 but not older than 75, you must have a guarantor who is also on full time occupation. Are you with me so far? Good., now you go and plead with the bank for a loan, if it is to buy a car….. you might get it… or not. Depends.
A mortgage is even more difficult. They will tell you that they lend money to every one and for everything, nonsense, unless you are Parmalat you will not (they are in court at the moment of a fraudulent misappropriation of funds).
Lets put it in simple terms, banks are piggy banks you put money in and you do not take money out, once you put your money in, is not longer your money is theirs to do as they please even buy bonds in Argentina.

We have talked a bit about working, food, learning Italian and banks.
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I was going to talk about politics but I will leave the discussion out, since politic change too quickly in Italy  not worth writing about it. Remember Italy is still a young country 150 year old just think younger than the USA! But we have done more politics than any other country in the world. Our politicians are second to none for the wrong reasons, unfortunately they give the ordinary Italian a bad reputation.

Now you put some of your toughs