We caught up with SAI Florence Assistant Program Coordinator Maurizio, who is contributing to our blog this month. As an Italian, Maurizio is including his insight of working with Americans in Florence. Here is his summary.
Differences between Americans and Italians: a delicate issue to talk about, especially if 80% of your co-workers are American.
I have been working for an American company (SAI, maybe you are familiar with it) surrounded by American colleagues for more than one year. What did it mean for me? How did it affect me, my working habits, my professional strengths and weaknesses? And how have I affected (if I have) my American colleagues? Those are interesting questions. Seeing Italians and Americans working together is indeed a sociological and psychological analysis, something that Baumann and Freud also might like to observe, I am sure.
Americans and Italians are pretty different in a lot of ways, but it’s inside an office these differences are evident and clear.
Let’s start with a generalization, which is often based on some truth: when Americans are working (and in some degree even in daily life) they love to follow procedures, schematising answers and steps, and like to be super organized. Italians have more of a “go with the flow” mood, finding their personal way to do things which is not always the “right” and traditional one.
Americans like to go step- by- step, from the problem to the solution. They go from A (the start) to B to C to D to E, where E is the solution. Italians usually start by searching for E (the solution), coming back to the problem analysis (A), going to D, come back to C, have a coffee, passing to take a look at B and then finally arrive in E. Result? The problem is solved, but if you are looking at it by following the procedures (something that Americans love a lot), it’s quite crazy and out of control. That’s why Americans are often shocked when they finally have to work (or deal) with Italians.
What can we say? This is how we do things in Italy, and this is how I also worked before. This was the first hard lesson that I had to learn when I started working with US citizens. In Rome do as Romans do, but in SAI do as your Americans colleagues do. That means that I had to change, to become sharper, more organized, careful with details, and careful with my English. I must be sharp on time, sharp on deadlines, and, last but not least, sharp on having a tidy desk.
I can say that after one year I am a better worker, and I have gained organizational skills. And I see how adopting an American style in my daily work helps me to be more organized even in my daily life: now it’s easier for me to be on time for meetings, more tidy and in order, and more respectful of deadlines.
However, the situation is not always black and white, it’s often grey: so, even Americans can learn something from this crazy, loud and disorganized people called Italians. Italians have something that other nations and people don’t often have: the important gift of thinking out of schemes, adapting themselves to uncommon and strange situations to solve unknown problems. We are flexible and creative thinkers, a skill coming from the fact that we used to be ruled by many different foreign countries, dominated by many different invaders and rulers, and often we don’t need rules to follow: we create our own rules, based on a successful mix of common sense and creativity. That’s what I call the Italian “genius”, and that’s why we flourish everywhere we go all over the world. That’s why the Monna Lisa, “melanzane alla parmigiana” and the telephone were created here, and not in France, Russia or Indonesia.
But that’s not all. Italians are also good in contributing to a warm work environment. With us, team bonding is an easy task. We don’t need silly group-team-building games. We create team bonding with a simple “pausa caffè”; we invented it, and for some good reasons, because it’s a fact that we love coffee: it is often not only a way to break the stress, but also a chance to bond with your colleagues. Working with Italians feels like being in a family, where personal relationships count more than professional relations.
So, I can finish this long blogpost with a peaceful consideration: Americans and Italians are very different, but they work well together, and they can learn the best and the worst from one another. You can teach us how to live to work, we can teach you how to work to live.