I have been ostracized by two people in Florence because I decided to no longer work for their publications.
People here take things to a personal level when it should stay professional. What makes my situation even more baffling is that neither of them paid me, yet they expected me to be at their every beck and call without consideration for my personal time.
One of them would invite me to free dinners, as if that should be sufficient compensation (last time I checked my landlord did not accept a plate of pasta for the rent); and the other only paid me about 300 euros for at least five months of work (and I had to ask for that amount).
When I had told each one that I was broke and needed to find paid work, I thought they would get the hint that their assignments for me would no longer be placed first — nothing personal, it's business.
When I informed one of the last month I would be working for free, they replied, “You have a lot to learn … I am not taking advantage of you.” Who said anything about being taken advantage of? That person was actually selling their product, and advertisements, yet there was not enough money to compensate me for my editing and writing services.
The other person, although not selling any advertisements that I was aware of, brought me into their idea for an English newspaper. The idea was I was supposed to be the editor. In a meeting last December the graphic artist, salesman and owner of the paper were all arguing about when to publish the first issue. It became clear that they expected me to write all 16 pages of the biweekly publication.
“What will the sections of the paper be,” I asked the owner (it was only natural that they would know what they wanted their future newspaper to be).
“No, you have to do that. You have to figure out all of the sections,” he said.
“But where was the rough outline that we decided on together last week,” I asked.
“No, no you have to do that. I don’t have any time,” they said.
In this meeting, I was told that I was not allowed to leave Florence to go to Sicily to visit my family, yet the same person that made this rule visited the United States for a week this month. After frivolous meetings and arguing over target groups in the months that followed, the group was falling apart, yet the owner made it clear that “the paper must come out before I leave for the United States,” yet they “did not have time” to commit to it. Somehow I felt that all the responsibilities were falling on me. I began to feel exploited for my knowledge of English, and writing skills.
That made me think twice about how appreciated I was, and if this person was as serious as I was about their so called “dream.” The day before they left for their trip to the United States, they told me I should look for a job since the economic crisis was not the opportune time to introduce a new publication in Florence. So that’s what I did. When they returned, I was still expected to commit my personal time. When I made it clear I was no longer going to be their writing monkey I was cut off — with intent.
It takes a lot of arrogance to dangle a work contract in the face of woman who does not know where her next meal is coming from. But what makes the vulture show through, is when they pretend not to know you when they see you on the street, blame you for the failures of their publication, cancel you as a friend from Facebook (my friend Christine and I laughed over that for hours), send a lackey to request materials back from you, and refuse to return your calls, all because you put yourself before their self interests.
I am realizing how the game is played in Italy. They try to make you believe that you need them, so that you will work for free. However, in reality it is they who need a mother tongue English speaker to develop their business idea. It is a psychological game. Some people that I have met in Florence are so good at this game, that they have made me feel ashamed for thinking that I deserve money in exchange for the work I do.
Those two experiences and more have made me realize that Italy does subscribe to a caste system. “You’re at the bottom freelance immigrant journalist! I am ‘so and so’ and I have been writing longer than you, living in Florence longer than you, and I have more connections than you; so you need to kiss my feet and work for free until I think you’re worthy of earning cash.”
And you know what I say to that: Fuck you. I have just as much right as anyone to make my living here, and write for more than one publication and to develop my ideas for my own projects — all for $$$$$$.
Competition exists everywhere, and so does jealousy. In Italy I see a trend beyond the normal competitive traits that these personality types have in common. They tend to be over emotional. They also talk themselves up and surround themselves with people who look up to them, such as students who come to Florence on study abroad programs. They keep their cards close; never revealing any information on their business or contacts; secrecy to the point of suffocation.
Maybe I am the naïve one; maybe I should be following those personalities and learning from their actions. But if being closed off and taking everything personal is what it takes to run a successful business in Italy, I hope I fail miserably.
I have deleted and added content to this post after its original publication in order to present the material in a more journalistic manner.