This week I visited the source.
If you were an English-speaking woman new to a foreign city, where would you go to let down your hair and rant in peace? Your English-speaking hairdresser, of course, and in Rome this means Noi Salon in Piazza del Popolo run by Rick and Massimo. Originally from California, Rick Breco acknowledged that he has, indeed, heard it all, so I settled back and got the scoop.
The number one rant is food -- with comfort food that you can't easily find here, such as cheddar cheese, at the top of the list. Then comes Italian food rules and the timing of meals -- restaurants have the nasty habit of actually closing and re-opening during the day, as do shops.
A different idea of customer service comes next. As Rick put it, "This makes them insane," with the lack of personal space coming up close behind. What is defined as "rudeness" usually has to do with people not looking and smiling back when you cross their path on the sidewalk, and slow reaction time when you enter a shop.
What his clients love is "the dream" that has become Italy's trademark, branded by the romantic cypress-lined road in Tuscany (alla "Under the Tuscan Sun"). He has found the perfect backdrop closer by, near Orvieto, where he occasionally takes special guests just so that they can fulfill their fantasy and go home happy.
Many are fearful of communicating, integrating and even shopping. Italian ways are complicated and hard to fathom, so that sometimes it is easier to simply shut down and stick to the English-speaking community. For Americans with Italian husbands (that they met and married while in the US) there is the MIL factor and the fear of not only having your personal space encroached upon, but also your intimate values, beliefs and ways of thinking and behaving.
On the other side of the chair, Rick's strongest cross-cultural moments center around the concept of time. It drives him crazy that many Italian clients insist on just dropping in and expecting service without an appointment He sees this practice as a lack of respect. In fact, about 70% of their business is with the foreign English-speaking community.
So, "What is the secret of doing business in Italy?" I asked. "Forming personal relationships, the Italian way," he answered with certainty, "and finding your niche." On the personal side, he finds that having a sense of humor makes all the difference, "Feeling comfortable to tease and make a joke as a way to approach Italians, who then easily accept you for being yourself."
Ah yes, being particolare, the Italian way.
Noi Salon, Piazza del Popolo, 3