*Updated June 29, 2017
I mentioned in another blog post that my first job in Italy was at a pub.
This is pretty common for a lot of expats who move to other countries and need to earn some money. The hospitality industry is always hungry for English speakers, so when some friends told me that a local pub I went to every now and then was looking for a waitress, they encouraged me to look into it.
The Trial And The Contract
Do you think that I was too worried about the wording in my very first job contract in Italy?
I needed a job and income, so I signed on the dotted line.
The problem here was that they gave me a contract “a chiamata,” which means “on-call,” yet the reality was that I had a fixed schedule.
This was unfair to me but very useful to them, because it actually costs them – as a business – a lot more money to hire regularly scheduled employees.
I believe the contract was for six months, so I can’t blame them for not offering me something more serious. It was a trial run – and not really fair that I was working a fixed schedule with an on-call contract, but I went with the flow anyways.
Tips (or lack thereof)
Italians don’t usually tip. Every now and then someone might leave a few Euro, but in general this is not a common practice.
Since the pub I worked at often had American clients, they were rather generous with their tips. Great, right?
I had to put all tips into the community tip jar. I thought we would equally share the tips at the end of night or end of the week.
They stayed in the tip jar and once a year, when the bar was closed for vacation, they all headed up to the mountains to stay in a cabin drinking and partying.
But what if I didn’t want to spend my tips that way? What if I wasn’t there working still when they went up in the mountains?
I found it absurd, yet I “put up and shut up” about it.
Learning Italian The Hard And Embarrassing Way
I caught on to the Italian language pretty quickly. I graduated with a B.A. in Spanish, and a minor in French and E.S.L., so I knew my way around the romance languages.
While working at the pub, my Italian improved by leaps and bounds; however, it was not always a pretty or fun experience.
Sometimes I had to go back to clients three or four times to ask them what they had ordered. Italy is full of different accents, and in Friuli you have a different language entirely: Friulano. Although I didn’t encounter the latter, I did find it difficult to figure out what people said most of the time.
I’ll never, ever in my life forget how to say “straw” in Italian. I have so many memories of learning words, and this is actually a great technique for any language learner; memories are easier to recall than words that you don’t use often, so if you recall the memory first, the chances are that you’ll have no problem remembering the word you learned on that particular occasion, too.
Although I probably looked like an incompetent fool to most of the thirsty folk who just wanted a freaking beer already, the language learning experience was worth the embarrasment.
You Have To Ask Yourself, “Can I Really Handle This Type Of Job And Schedule?”
We were newlyweds. I worked nights and my husband worked days, and this was a very unpleasant experience for both of us.
It was the beginning of my Italian life. I needed time to adjust, time to settle in, time to find myself in this new country.
I had no time for any of that. I worked late, I slept in late, and the worst part about it was that my husband had to stay up late on the weekdays that I worked to come pick me up from the pub. He was already tired from his long days at work, and then he had to stay up late so he could pick me up from work.
It wasn’t safe for me to ride my bike, I couldn’t drive his manual car very well, and I didn’t yet have my Italian driver’s license. I did have an international driver’s license, but the whole manual gear shift thing just wasn’t for me. New roads, new road signs, a different vehicle and a drive home that usually had cop traps set up…it was too much.
I didn’t get to go out and be social any more with my husband and all of his friends (the friends that I was still trying to get to know better).
I had constant back pain due to stress, and the shoulder that I used to lug around five or six one-liter glasses of beer had doubled in size due to the muscle being used so much more than my other one. I had digestive problems due to the intolerance to beer yeast I didn’t know about at the time, and when you drink a beer almost every day when your body doesn’t tolerate it well, you have problems. I was sad, depressed, stressed and to top it all off I wasn’t getting along with my main coworker.
What Does This All Add Up To?
This all adds up to a disaster.
I was sick of the schedule, sick of the clients, sick of the coworker and sick of the job.
Since I had avoided confrontation or attempting to confront all of the problems I had, my anger and frustration built up inside of me.
One night, the overly-aggressive and domineering coworker had asked me to move a group of people that I had just seated to a new table; this group, based on the size, was placed at a properly sized table, and I was supposed to tell them, “Hey guys! I just sat you down here, but now you have to pick up your crap and move it all over to a smaller table where you will eat and drink practically sitting on one another’s lap, because an even larger group just arrived and they are going to get your nice cozy table here.”
Um, yeah. Because that’s a great idea.
This was a common practice at the pub, which I found unacceptable and rude.
I told the coworker that she could ask them to move, since it was her idea in the first place, which only pissed her off to the point of no return.
From there, all I remember is that we ended up in the kitchen where I was so frustrated and didn’t know how to express myself in Italian, that I started telling her off in English (she spoke English very well). She cut me off, shooting me a few daggers with her eyes, and yelled, “PARLA ITALIANO!” (Speak Italian!)
Sorry, mom, but my answer to her wasn’t very pretty.
I yelled back at her in English at the top of my lungs and said, “I’ll SAY WHATEVER THE F%@K I WANT!” in English, just to piss her off more! HA!
The final straw that broke the camel’s back? Yeah, the camel’s back snapped in half and then shattered into pieces.
I walked out 30 minutes later and only went back to pick up my last pay stub.
The Moral Of The Story
Well, this isn’t the way that I would recommend anyone to approach their first job in Italy, but I do hope that it will help people to think about the questions they should ask their potential employer – and themselves – before accepting any old job. Maybe if this had happened at a different point in my Italian life, I could have handled it differently?
I’ll never know! This is the way it went down and still, to this day, I actually appreciate the whole experience greatly. Yes, I was a jerk for walking out, but the experience taught me a lot about what I will and will not tolerate from people, my Italian improved immensely, aaaaaand…I got to taste a lot of free beer.
I guess you could say, I gained a lot of ex-beer-ience at this job.
So I’m curious…does anyone else out there have a doozy of a first job in Italy story? Share it below. What did you learn from it and how has it made you a better person?
*Update – I actually still see the old coworker around every now and then and after quite a few years, we can greet one another and make small talk.