Italian Business CultureTerm Paper

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Italian Business Culture

The Words of an Italian Business Manager upon his culture

Ciao! Bella! So sorry I am late, but I had a bit of longer lunch meeting than expected with the general manager of one of the companies that my own organization is thinking of merging with -- he makes pasta, I make pasta sauce, my mother used to make meatballs in his son's restaurant, you know how it goes...anyway we got to talking and talking about this and that, about exporting and importing and the price of shoes and the espresso took awhile to arrive, that lazy waiter and you know how it is Whew! It is hot in here -- Italian office complexes have yet to make air conditioning in many of their rooms a reality. I would undo my tie, but it is Armani, so I feel compelled to leave it on, no? The breeze from the outdoor cafe was lovely, but in here -- so stuffy! Plus, I am accustomed I must confess, to take a siesta around this time of day. No more, now that the bloody -- to take an expression from the British -- the bloody regulations of the EU mean that all members of the European Union must work more standardized working hours.

I don't understand why, given how much hotter it is in the afternoons of Italy than in a rainy Manchester town in the United Kingdom in September. The British won't even use the euro, but insist upon the pound, yet my back is being wielded by an English bank manger's idea of what is a proper working day -- it's ridiculous and it's counterproductive to what makes my nation great. I can't even buy un-pasteurized French cheese at my favorite local market where I go walking with my wife on weekends.

Still, Italian business culture retains its own charms, no? We are still, standardization of the European Economic Union aide, much more frank than the precise and precious and protocol-conscious British and Germans, even if we don't always arrive on meetings on time. Things are much more fun -- and much more frank. In Italy, as in so much of Mediterranean culture, the real work of life is done during the fun parts of life, like drinking and fine dining. Don't tell me about American Atkins paranoia about pasta, either -- yes, we eat pasta over here, but it is only one of many small and perfectly prepared courses, and no one ever had anything bad to say about the fruit of our lovely grapes, our fine wines that are absorbed over the course of our many small, perfectly prepared courses. Don't worry about drinking during lunch meetings, so long as it is not done in excess. After we our finished here, tonight I will take you out to my favorite, finest dining establishment under the stars -- to my own home to drink from my own wine cellar, where my wife's veal scaloppini may tempt your taste buds!

Yes, we have a business meeting scheduled for tonight but to eat well is to be Italian, and to do business in Italy, and to get to know one's Italian business family associates is to do business in Italy. Think of that, American, as you or one of your compatriots strolls up and down the winding streets after a long day at work in Italy, still talking business in a leisurely way and making important social and business connections. And that way, one can walk off one's meal, no, before having the next one or drinking another grappa?

Around this time of day, the Germans are still getting indigestion over their sausages and beers, and coldly going through the order of the day, while we are out in the sun -- and the British, well, perhaps they need such a long and packed work day because they are so cold, don't know how to use family and personal connections in business, and above all, ***** foot around the real issues with dry humor and wit that merely circumvents, rather than addresses things directly. We Italians are of a high context culture that adores conflict and yet also embraces the niceties of social discourse as well as talk about money -- so if you don't like my lateness for this meeting, just tell me and I'll tell you what I think of you!

I know at times our issues regarding women have come up now and again. You don't like the fact that sometimes I give one of my female employees a little pat on her rear end -- but I say, bella, and then see how she likes it, as a woman, if I don't notice it! I wouldn't do it to my district manager, perhaps, but a secretary -- well, as I said, she doesn't seem to mind.

Take a risk with a woman's heart; take a risk with business and in life. We Italians thrive on uncertainty and risk -- though an intensely argumentative and family-based business culture, we are not like the cautious Germans and British who save and guard their investments. Instead, we plunge vigorously into the fray of economic life and embark upon new ventures. The problem is that our uncertain approach to time, to other individual's cultural and familial values can sometimes play us false and result in conflicts and misunderstandings.

Also, in terms of distance of power, the most powerful members of the organization are often the oldest members of the organization, rather than those, frankly who demonstrate the highest level of competence or generate the best ideas. My uncle, for instance, I love him to death, but is he the best manger for the pasta sauce company I run, well, perhaps not, but even though he is a meatball head, he is my uncle and has always held that position, and are you going to throw a fifty-year-old man in this era of uncertain state pensions out on his ear?

I think not! A British manager might demote him, and a German might let him go, confident that the state would provide, but given Italy's greater poverty, governmental uncertainty, and close knit family culture, I shall not be so sanguine about the fate of my uncle.

A suppose you think my Auntie Maria would even make a better manager than her husband, and you're probably right. But if you notice, even though times are changing and officially in Italy there is an equality of the sexes regarding employment and education, on a real cultural level this is not always the case. It is difficult for a woman to assume a leadership position and make her voice heard in the boardroom, above the shouts and yes, above sometimes the catcalls of Italian men. You see how a pretty woman is treated on the street, especially if she is blonde and evidently foreign born. Italians love to take the Mickey, as you say, out of the reserved Americans and British and German women.

I don't know if attitudes are that much different in the hearts of British and German men, but I do notice that male managers in these nations keep their ideas much more close to the breasts, perhaps wanting to seem more like the Americans, perhaps more because they fear litigation in their much more structured states -- who knows? All I know is that things have changed in regards to masculine and feminine roles officially and legally in Italy, but culturally much has remained the same and static.

You see, I think the problem with feminism that so many Italians have is not just that we have so many beautiful women -- which we do of course (wink) but the fact that we do not value individualism and individual achievement the same way the Americans do. Tradition and keeping alive family connections, traditions, and ways of exchange -- I'll scratch your back if you ship my marinara pasta sauce, you know what I mean -- that is what is more important, than defying the ideals of the past in my nation. Thus it is difficult for women to defy and eschew the sexist attitudes of centuries, much less the stringent rules that govern female behavior imposed upon them by brothers and fathers.

This also makes business innovation of any kind difficult, because one must be respectful of the past and one's elders. This is yet another reason, that despite our higher tolerance of risk and uncertainty, culturally, than the British and Germans, that we have not succeeded and dominated economic life in the same fashion that they have. We rely too much on tradition, protocol, family alliances, and lack unity as a nation. Just try for a dark haired Sicilian to get so much as an extra penny from a blond haired blue eyed Neapolitan, much less for the two to get together in a joint business venture, no matter how potentially profitable such an exchange might be to… [END OF PREVIEW]

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