December 20, 2008

One story of corruption follows another in the news these days, with a common theme -- si fa così. For those of you who read in Italian, CLICK HERE for an interesting article by the author of Gomorrah.

December 9, 2008

Against the tide

I'm generally a positive person, even more so when I put on my coaching hat.

Coaches focus on what is working. When things are hovering around a two on a scale of one to ten, a coach might ask, "great, so how did you get to 2?" Something must be going right and if that something can be pulled out to the front and examined, you might just get some clarity on how to get to three, or even six.

So, when I opened the newspaper and saw that 2/3rds of Afghanistan is now in the hands of the Taliban, up from just over a half a year ago, I automatically looked for what is working.

And I found it. Two maps in the newspaper, one from 2007 and the other from 2008, showed the strength of the Taliban (strong, medium, low) by color codes. Two regions, or parts of regions, stood out. One is hardly in Afghanistan at all, a sliver of high mountain peaks sticking out to the northeast, with Tajikistan to the north and Pakistan to the south and a 76km border with China to the east. The other area is a small region called Jowzjan that borders Turkmenistan and is covered with low level lands.

What do these two very different areas have in common? In 2007 they had a medium level of Taliban presence and in 2008 they have a low level. They are the only two areas in which this happened. The others either stayed the same or increased their level of Taliban presence.

I wonder if these two areas couldn't teach us something about what works in keeping the Taliban at bay? Just a coaching perspective.

a domani,

December 1, 2008

Whose gender gap?

This post will get the comments rolling.


The 2007 Gender Gap list by the World Economic Forum put Italy at the bottom of the European heap and way down at number 84 on a world list of 128 countries.This is the country of veline and vallette and very, very few women in politics.

Although actually my most recent encounter with male assumptions about what women can and cannot do, came from a Brit living in the US. His assumptions about Italian males, brought him to assume that I, a woman, would have difficulties working as a coach with a group of males in a business performance area. So does that mean that this job should, by fault, go to a man?

And who is being sexist here?

a domani,

November 30, 2008

Third culture kids unite

Thanks to my friend Gillian, my inbox this morning held a very interesting article I would like to share, "Obama Brings the Expat Experience to the White House". The author, Ruth E. Van Reken, is an TCK (Third Culture Kid) herself and writes about the TCK traits that Obama (and many of his new staff) will bring to the White House and how they may affect the way the new administration guides the nation, and influences the world.


Back in February, I read "Dreams of My Father" and was struck by his first 10 years of life. I don't think even he, at the time only 26 years old, understood what those years would bring to him in terms of cross-cultural skills and a truly global mindset. So, if you missed it the first time around, please enjoy one of my favorite posts. If you have read the book or know his childhood story, you can skim the first part and jump further down to see how his background informs the extraordinary skills that eventually brought him all the way to the White House.


Happy reading on a cold, rainy Sunday. I am waiting for the rain to break to have a run.

a domani,

November 29, 2008

Mobile phones to good use

I have been a very bad blogger these days. My writing has been elsewhere. I had good intentions today, but instead got involved in a USAID Development Challenge project for innovative ideas on using mobile technology for international development projects.

I guess I was feeling innovative, and I added my project to the pot. The winner gets $10,000 seed money and the chance to present their project to major donors. If not, you get some exposure anyway.

I thought, why not try follow up coaching for development training projects and do it through a combination of virtual teleclasses, internet voip and mobile phone text messaging. Studies show that training without follow up does not render the results that can be achieved with training plus follow up coaching. This was the premise of my presentation at the SIETAR conference in Granada last month (link is to your right near the end of "When I'm not blogging..."). SIETAR is the Society of Intercultural Education, Training and Research.

Check it out and leave a comment, or even better, a star! CLICK HERE

a presto,

November 8, 2008

Unfortunate adjectives

Oh dear. Now that I can hold my head back up as an American, I must hang it down once again as an Italian.

Berlusconi did it again -- mouth before brain.

Oh well.

I believe his unfortunate comment that Obama is, "young, good-looking and suntanned" came from a place of unconsciousness not of malice or racism. He is just clueless and unfortunately not alone.

I know a few Asian-Americans here in Rome who are struggling with the constant assumption that they are someone's maid. One is a lawyer and recent arrival to the city. The innocent yet disturbing comments of her new Italian husband's friends leave her confused. How should she react? The children of another Asian-American / Italian couple are referred to by their friends at school as the "cinesine", although they are not even of Chinese origin. It is not with a mean intent, just unconsciousness.

So, at the top of the heap, Prime Minister Berlusconi refers to President-elect Barack Obama as, "suntanned" and continues to insist that he was just being "cute".

There is a long way to go. Wake up Italy.

a domani,

November 6, 2008

Moving forward

I have been pouring through article after article, enjoying the energy of forward moving change.

I am a personal fan of the Italian journalist Vittorio Zucconi who has been in the US for many years and carries a particular insider/outsider voice to his reporting for La Repubblica newspaper. True to form, his front page article highlighted unique characteristics of the American people. In this case, their ability to come down from the electoral high and get on with daily life, while both political sides shake hands and wish each other well. A new day is dawning and we had better get some rest. A spontaneous group formed in front of the White House to sing, "Bye Bye George." There was no need to cry victory and denigrate the other side. In any case, they will be back, when the time is right. American's pragmatic civility in politics is what catches him off guard from his European perspective.

In my readings, my favorite comment on Barack Obama was from Henry Louis Gates Jr, a Harvard scholar of African - American history,

"People don't see him primarily as black, I think people see him primarily as an agent of change."

and that is the way it should be, seeing people for who they are and what they stand for.

God bless America.

a domani,

November 1, 2008


As I finally got to the bottom of my emails, I found a stack of NY Times op-eds forwarded by my mother. She continues to send fed-ex envelopes full of article clippings, highlighted and covered with notes, but recently discovered the NY Times online service. Yikes, what will this team bring!

The article that adds to our cross-cultural understanding is by Nicholas D. Kristof, entitled, "Rebranding the US with Obama" "". He suggests that, "Barack Obama’s political success could change global perceptions of the United States, redefining the American “brand” to be less about Guantánamo and more about equality." "

Perceptions" is the word that caught my eye.

In his endorsement, Mr. Powell stated that an Obama election “will also not only electrify our country, I think it’ll electrify the world.” You can already see that. A 22-nation survey by the BBC found that voters abroad preferred Mr. Obama to Mr. McCain in every single country — by four to one over all. Nearly half of those in the BBC poll said that the election of Mr. Obama, an African-American, would “fundamentally change” their perceptions of the United States."

There it is again, "perceptions". In Europe, these new perceptions have been already translated into "Obama-mania".

"Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes, which conducted the BBC poll, said that at a recent international conference he attended in Malaysia, many Muslims voiced astonishment at Mr. Obama’s rise because it was so much at odds with their assumptions about the United States. Remember that the one thing countless millions of people around the world “know” about the United States is that it is controlled by a cabal of white bankers and Jews who use police with fire hoses to repress blacks. To them, Mr. Obama’s rise triggers severe cognitive dissonance.

“It’s an anomaly, so contrary to their expectation that it makes them receptive to a new paradigm for the U.S.,” Mr. Kull said.

Now we find, "assumptions," and "expectations," "new paradigms," "what people know about another country," and "cognitive dissonance".

Maybe this election will force all of us to look again at our perceptions, assumptions, expectations, and especially what we think we KNOW about another country. A little cognitive dissonance may not be a bad thing after all -- gets us thinking in new ways.

Who knows, we may have a Chinese-Italian, Romanian-Italian or Albanian-Italian as prime minister some day. Hmmm, first we may need to find a few as doctors, lawyers, government officials or even teachers. Actually right now I would be happily surprised to find a few at my son's old liceo classico - venerable and oddly elite public school in the center of Rome.

There is a long way to go -- hopefully the Obama-mania will create a bit of cognitive dissonance when set side-by-side with the rise of xenophobia and its disturbing question, "what to do with those immigrants" that has been sneaking into the public sphere with increasing regularity.

a domani,

October 29, 2008

Salad bowl

My son just kept me on the phone for an hour. After a long introduction about his upcoming activities -- lots of volleyball matches around Italy and Europe in addition to exams -- he finally got down to business. A girl. They met through a mutual friend and an evening out ensued during which he found out that her mother is from Spain and her father from Southern Italy. They met on neutral ground in Germany, where she was born, before the family finally settled in Trento. She told him that her mother always gets angry when she doesn't respond in Spanish. "Mine too," he added, "but the language is English". And so they discovered that they had multicultural backgrounds in common -- something that wasn't obvious from their sightings around the university halls.

I think people have a sixth sense about these things.

Anyway, she told him that having an American mother was very "fico"*. I guess the grass is always greener on the other side.

a domani,
* very "cool"

October 16, 2008

Madonna is back

Not wanting to dwell on the front page with its scary news about the further drop in world stock markets and even scarier news on Italian school reforms, I plunged ahead to the "spettacolo" section to read about Madonna's upcoming divorce from Guy Ritchie.

Seems to me she could have used an expat coach for her years in London to help her cross cultures more successfully. In addition to the various personal issues with her husband, she simply has never managed to feel comfortable in London, even after eight years. She has always felt like a "fish out of water", she hasn't really made good friends and she never really understood the pleasures of pub life. Vanity made her strive to appear an English lady by adopting British habits, but her heart wasn't there.

Let's give her a 6 on the Cultural Intelligence scale. (The ability to adapt effectively to new cultural contexts)

The Head -- she could have worked on her cognitive knowledge by reading a good book about British cultural ways, and a few others on cultural dimensions and cross-cultural theory to try to understand the way people behave and the underlying roots of their behavior. In addition to a personal trainer, she could have added a personal cross-cultural trainer to her staff. Then should could have worked on her metacognitive skills to build a new mental framework to help her understand the quirks of daily life.

The Heart -- I don't think she has any self-esteem issues but she could have used some help with her sense of self-efficacy, or belief in her ability to get from incompetence (cross-culturally speaking) to competence. He could have worked on her motivation or desire and abiltity to engage others -- take action to acquire local behaviors that would lead to better interaction.

The Body -- Using knowlege and motivation, actually respond appropriately to the new environment, leading to better feedback and spiraling upwards to a greater personal satisfaction.

Instead, she regularly got on a plane to NY to avoid the whole issue.

NY here she's back!!

a domani,

October 15, 2008

In change we trust

Change is in the air. Big scale change from the US elections to the worldwide financial crisis and small scale change in each of us individually.

As I rumble around getting my coaching and training business up and running, I have been thinking about what it is I actually help people do and through a series of mind jumps, it finally came clear -- I help people manage change and even be transformed in the process. They can be expats living and working abroad who are up against massive change coming at them from 360°, or, like my Italian client coming over this evening, self-initiated change as she explores new professional paths.

So, what else do you do when a concept comes to mind, but plug it into google and have a wander. Somewhere on page two I downloaded an article from a professional Human Resources development journal on, "The Myth of Change Management: A reflection on personal change and its lessons for leadership development" by a guy named Jonathan Gravelis. After having spent a career implementing change in large organizations, he embarked on his own personal change and discovered that the usual goal-setting, programmatic approach to change does not address the messy reality that enacting change generally involves. The "five-step" ect. change models appeal to our desire for illusion that structure is all you need to change things successfully.

(This is all leading up to a great "lets leverage cultural differences" moment, so hang on.)

The stress of change stems from our unrealistic desire to predict and control the outcome (idea from another guy named Firth back in 1999). So, Jonathan asks, "Should we focus on helping people learn to live with a degree of anxiety, uncertainty and ambiguity?" While it's a good idea to have a plan for change, its also important to acknowledge the unpredictable results that will come from every action we undertake. "Constant re-planning and short-term tactical flexibility are as important in change as long-range strategies." "Adaptive leadership" is the buzz word.

Any of you readers that are living and working in Italy know exactly what he is talking about -- I even have a label to your right filled with blog posts on the exquisitely Italian skill of managing ambiguity and uncertainty (which, by the way they learn at school along with Greek and Latin).

Not to mention our perceived Italian "lack of planning" , that clearly acknowledges unpredictable results by relying on constantly adjusted "just in time" plans to account for new new input from a very mobile external environment.

While living and working abroad, why not pick up some "change management" skills by learning to embrace the ambiguity and uncertainty in your life and seek out the rationale for each just-in-time planning experience that comes your way.

a domani,

October 4, 2008

a little CQ

If you don't live in Rome, or have never picked up a copy of The Roman Forum, I would like to introduce you to the monthly English-language magazine on "news and views about Rome". Over the last couple of years I have written a number of articles for them, on subjects ranging from Rome's A1 professional volleyball team to "Cross-Cultural Driving Lessons" and "A Day in Palestrina". Now I keep a column on CQ or Cultural Intelligence and Cross-Cultural Coaching.

For September's column, click Here. I am preparing another column for the November issue today -- so keep you eyes on the newstand!

Buona Domenica,

September 25, 2008

universal governance

I just saw a special on CNN regarding YouTube in connection with the videos posted by the young Finnish man who then entered into his school and shot 8 classmates. YouTube is a global phenomenon interacting with people around the world with virtually no filters or controls from above. A representative from YouTube explained that given its global nature, no one legal system would be in a position to set controls, so whatever oversight exists comes from the viewers who are invited to contact YouTube in the case they view a video that is not appropriate, one that disturbs or insults. The video in question is then removed by YouTube management. In an extreme case, like the video uploaded by the young Finnish man, contacting the police would also be advised.

This system of governance requires proactive action on the part of individual viewers and, as we have seen, this involves a "doing" vs "being" characteristic that has cultural roots. There are cultures that encourage the individual to stand out and take individual action, with the belief that the individual can and should make a difference. Other cultures, less oriented toward the individual, encourage waiting, defering to authorities and leaving the question to fate.

How do these cultural differences influence the process of filtering out inappropriate YouTube videos? Can we assume that the system, it its global extension, will properly govern itself?

a domani,

September 24, 2008

efficient and chaos

My son spent the afternoon reading newspapers on the couch as I worked on his computer (and skyped with in a new coaching client from Sweden and living in Thailand) so when we finally got out for such exciting tasks as returning a film to Blockbuster and buying bread, he was full of news analysis. He explained that Finland has the highest per capita gun ownership together with the highest suicide rate -- which may somehow explain the recent school shooting -- even though it is a county with the best school system in Europe (according to various studies), highest literacy rates, library use, math and science knowledge and very efficient social and political systems.

Then he noted that actually Trentino has the highest suicide rate in Italy and also is well considered for its educational, health, social systems, but with few guns. The US has lots of guns, a high suicide rate and things generally work. "Cancelling out the gun factor, what do these three places have in common," he asked. His conclusion was that there are more suicides where things work because if everything around you works -- people go about their studies and work in an efficient fashion, systems work and you can realize what you want to do -- those who feel like they basically don't "work" feel cast out of the system much more so than in a non-functioning place (take Naples), leading to more suicides.

I guess that means that a balance between efficiency and chaos creates happier better adjusted people.

It takes a 20 year old to get you confused. Even when he says intelligent things.

a domani,

September 22, 2008

to your health

I have read quite a few newspapers since Friday between the train to Trento and a couple of days hanging around a hospital bed where my son has been recuperating from an appendicitis operation.

Between the never-ending Alitalia drama, the fall of Wall Street icons, glue in Chinese milk and the Islamabad Marriott tragedy, this little corner of beauty and efficiency seems almost surreal.

As the effectiveness of pure market vs. Keynesian economics is debated, I look around at the experiment of Trentino where the public sector works, including the health system. Maybe the disaster of un-regulated de-regulation in the financial sector will lead to some clearer and pragmatic thinking about the public/private balance in the US health system too. How about sending over a US delegation for a study?

a domani (from Trento for a few days),

September 17, 2008

feel the fear

Back to my Cairo trip and Islamic moments.

I got to thinking last night that it must be the fear factor that brings on many a moment -- like mine last weekend. Not fear of the "other" or fear of differences, but fear of losing ones sense of self once we cross the line and acknowledge that other people -- very happily and with great conviction -- just do it their way, not ours.

Fear of betraying our own cultural beliefs, values and ways of perceiving and being in the world.

Fear of becoming suddenly incompetent in a world where you have no idea how to act and react in a given situation.

Fear of not knowing how to figure it all out, how to access information, choose the information that is relevant, build on it, apply it, develop strategies to become competent in the new environment.

Fear especially of losing your sense of self -- "Who am I" outside of my cultural context.

In connection with my coaching studies, I picked up a book while in the US last March called, "Failing Forward" by John C. Maxwell. The chapter on fear of failure is the one that stuck with me. He says that fear is normal, even a good thing in certain situations, but to go ahead, you need to feel the fear, acknowledge it, accept it and then move through it.

"To conquer fear, you have to feel the fear and take action anyway". I found that quite a liberating idea and can see how it applies to the task of crossing cultures.

Feel the fear and take steps anyway, even small ones, to move forward towards understanding and mastering alternative cultural perspectives.

Wow, I woke up with profound thoughts today.

a domani,

September 16, 2008

With the heart

I had a few cross-cultural moments this weekend.

Through a series of fortuitous circumstances, my husband and I found ourselves in Cairo for a long weekend -- under Ramadan.

We had been there before, both alone and together, so we did not need to rush about from one site to another. Instead we had a camel ride in the Sahara overlooking the pyramids as the sun set and the moon rose (ok, yes it was romantic), wandered from mosque to mosque and market to market in the Islamic and then Coptic Christian sections of town and visited an oasis about 100 km to the southwest.

Cairo was hot, dusty, noisy, dirty, chaotic and crowded -- overwhelming to the senses while inebriating and captivating. For the two days, we didn't actually fast until 6:00 pm, but we didn't sit down to lunch either. Although shops were open, most restaurants were closed and it seemed in bad taste to eat in public, so we furtively drank lots of water and discretely had a mango juice at a stand to the young boy's dismay!

As the day dwindled, we happened to be in the large piazza in front of the Khan al Khalili market while hundreds of people gathered on the sidewalks with their meal spread out before them. Families and friends were just sitting there in small groups waiting for the 6:00 pm call. We waited and watched expecting a free for all, I mean they hadn't touched food or water all day, but they very calmly began with drinks -- water, a cold tamarind tea or fruit juice -- before chatting and sharing their meal, smiling and waving to us as we walked by and continued on our way. We then wandered into a side alley that had been closed off by families sitting down to a communal meal. The organizer standing over a large copper kettle told us that it was Ramadan and the meal was free before insisting that we sit and join them for some Kushari (a rice, noodle, lentils and onion dish). I was carefully examined by all as I ate, the children smiling, the women nodding and the men staring. I was dressed in long pants and a high cut t-shirt, but my head was not covered like all the other women and my lower arms were free.

I got to thinking about what it would be like to live here as a foreigner. Besides the pollution and the noise, the idea of having to cover up all the time would be tiring. Even over a few days, I wished I could wear a cool, sleeveless top or a sundress. Even walk about without my husband.

I was surprised at the overwhelming number of women in full length garb and so many in black -- I remember many more women in Western dress the last time I was Cairo. Even at the international area of the airport there were really no Egyptian women in Western dress, head uncovered, that I could see and one in ten was with a full burqa.

Airports are good people-watching venues and I watched the women talk among themselves, stroll with stylish designer handbags against gold stitched black burqas, discuss logistics with husbands through veiled mouths, reprimand children, and laugh with friends. I wonder how well you can hear with your ears covered.

While entering one mosque, I was firmly invited by a guide to cover myself with a long flowing robe and headpiece. After ten minutes of walking about, I had to get out -- it was so hot in there, and oppressive. I needed to move freely and feel air on my neck and hands and walk swiftly.

I had a moment. It would take a lot of shifting perspectives to get myself to a place where I felt comfortable enshrouded in cloth. I understand intellectually the pride many Muslim women feel when covered, the principle of female modesty and the protection (and power) they feel, not to menion the respect they earn. Yet I still have a hard time understanding with my heart. I come from a different place.

Guess I would need to work on that one.

a domani,

September 11, 2008

illuminating parables

While on an island off the coast of Sicily this summer, I took advantage of the hot midday after-lunch time to read a book that had been on my shelf for awhile, "My Name is Red" by the Turkish Nobel prize winning author, Orhan Pamuk. It is a sort of murder mystery set in the late 1590s in Istanbul among a group of miniaturists of the Sultan, but it is much more than a page turner "who done it" and adds to our cross-cultural discussion. I love his writing and am intrigued by the little glimpses I get of another mindset and way of thinking, reasoning, intuiting. His book, "Snow" was amazing for these insights.

Anyway, one observation I wanted to share.

The main character (a sort of detective figure in the plot named Black) visits the Master miniaturist to learn more about the three remaining miniaturists in his studio in connection with their fourth colleague who had been found dead. He suggested that the younger man ask each miniaturist three questions to determine "how genuine the young painter is". These questions were around the subjects of style vs signature, time and blindness.

Black followed his instructions and asked each miniaturist one of the questions. They all responded by telling three separate stories or parables. Black would then interprete the parables, connecting how each one built on the other to determine the miniaturist's beliefs and philosophy on the subject, and thereby illuminating his soul.

Not exactly a linear, clear, direct way of going about an interrogation, but quite effective.

Let's say a different communication style, in which context plays an important role, almost as much as what is left unsaid.

a domani (actually Tuesday),

September 10, 2008

eggplants unite

Now that the rabbit has been taken care of, I turn to all those eggplants lined up in rows in my refrigerator. With the cost of vegetables going up and up, I certainly can't let them go to waste. So I open my "Ricettario della cucina regionale italiana" prepared by the Accademia Italiana della Cucina -- always an interesting place to start.

I discover what I already knew -- eggplants have their heritage in the South. The recipes all come from Sicily, Basilicata, Campania, Puglia and the Marche and they are rich, very rich with lots of frying in lots of oil. The recipes are listed in their Italian names, with subtitles in dialect and an indication of the area within the region which is home to the original recipe -- talk about "campanalismo".

Here they are:
Melanzane a barchetta from Puglia,
Melanzane a beccafico (Mirlinciano a beccaficu) from Sicily (Enna),
Melanzane a funghetto (Mulignane a fungetiello) from Campania (Naples),
Melanzane al forno from Basilicata,
Melanzane alla finetese (Milangiane a ra finitisi), Melanzane alla menta (Milangiane a menta). and Melanzane dai cento sapori (Milangiane a ri cientu sapori) all from Calabria,
Melanzane ripiene (Lumengiaine chiaine) from Puglia (Brindisi),
Melanzane sotto'aceto (Mulinciani a scapici) also from Calabria, and finally Melanzane sott'olio from the Marche.

And you thought there was only melanzane alla parmigiana! Instead, to each region, its eggplant. All joined in hot oil.

I may have to try the Melanzane a beccafico: melanzane, pecorino fresco, acciughe salate, uova, basilico e sale, fried of course....followed by a long run.

a domani,

September 9, 2008

just a hop away

hello all,

It was a long break, but I promise I am back.

After a lot of moving about in August, from Sicily to Trentino, we spent the weekend just south of Rome at Sabaudia. On Saturday evening our son had a volleyball match in nearby Latina and my husband, true to form, managed to meet a local client after the match. The result: a case of vegetables (eggplant, peppers and tomatoes) and a rabbit in a plastic bag.

I raced home on my bike on Sunday afternoon to cook the beast for an early supper before heading back to Rome, but to my surprise (although I really should have thought this one through) the rabbit came out of the bag WHOLE, head and feet and all. It reminded me of another beast story.

I couldn't run to my local butcher on a Sunday afternoon and my knives were not cut out for the task at hand, so I just placed the whole thing in a pan.

I had asked my Neapolitan friend Marina and her sister-in-law how they would prepare rabbit as we chatted over coffee at the beach and, after intensely conferring, I had their detailed and thoughtful instructions to follow, so I proceeded and hoped for the best.

In the end, I pulled it apart once cooked and it was quite tasty with eggplant and peppers on the side.

Shhhh. Don't tell Lenny.

a presto,

July 29, 2008

Happy August

I will be back after "ferragosto". In the meantime, visit my new website (the link is to your right) and send the link to five people who should know about my services.

Enjoy your holidays too!

a presto,

July 15, 2008

More on privacy

If you have a look on my links to your right, you will find "wandering italy" -- a website with blog by James Martin. I found him last year as I was googling "starbucks italy". He also had a passion at the time for the question, "Will it or will it not land in Italy". Since then, we have exchanged links and even occasionally chat over email.

The other day he wrote a post on "privacy" Italian style, inspired by my earlier one. It is a great piece with lots of insights into the privacy gap between Americans and Italians, so I am passing it on for you today. Enjoy!

Click Here.

a domani,

July 14, 2008

Style and good taste

I was on a relocation site and found a series of short interviews with people that had recently relocated to various places around the world. Each had to answer a few standard questions. I clicked on "Italy" and found a few answers.

Question 1. What three things do you wish you had brought with you?
The answer common to all five responses: seasoning packets

Question 2: What three things do you wish you had left at home?
The common answer: my clothes (or half at least).

Seasoning packets was a surprise, but then again, I have been here a long time. When I am in the US, those mystery packets confuse my taste buds as they strive to identify what exactly has bombarded them. There is never a distinct flavor -- just a sense of "seasoning" to cover up the flavor of what is being seasoned. I think I'll stick to a few basic herbs e basta. Bring on the basil or rosemary (one at a time).

While I never pick up seasoning packets when in the US, I always come back manned with ziplock snack bags. To each her/his own.

The second question was heartening. All noticed that Italians dress differently and felt a bit awkward and out of place in their baggy sweat suits and cotton turtlenecks.
"More stylish" was the phrase that came through. Putting on one's best is the underlying concept.

Style and good taste -- the Italian way.

a domani,

July 11, 2008


The Maturità has come and gone and holidays are on for all. This year held one big novità. For the first time ever, the maturità results were not posted at the school entrance for all to see. Instead, in the name of "privacy"*, each student had to go to the school office and make an official grade request to receive a printed form. So much for my recent post (here) on this public display of private information.

Of course all this change caused havoc, lines, angry students and parents all complaining about this ridiculous new layer of paperwork. One student was interviewed for the newspaper as saying, "what privacy, we have spent the last five years together in the same classroom day after day, of course we will all know each other's final grade anyway."

Another example of cultural roots fighting change.

* Interesting aside: the Italians say "privacy" in English as there is no true translation of the concept as we know it in Italian. So the new "privacy laws" are called "le leggi sulla privacy". Now try applying those, when your language doesn't even recognize the essence of the concept! In true Italian style the laws are very, very thorough, so exacting in their detail that NO ONE could EVER hope to actually adhere to them properly! I know of someone who has set up a consulting business to help offices adhere to the ever changing privacy laws.

a domani,

July 10, 2008

Free to fail

I happened to have a wander on the US Embassy site while making an appointment for a passport renewal (a new addition to security over on via Veneto) and found Ambassador Spogli's July 4 speech to those lucky hundreds who enjoyed the gardens of Villa Taverna for the occasion. It is in Italian -- I would assume very few of the Italians present could understand English -- but I will share it with you anyway (click here).
because it is a good read. THe theme I liked was that of building on your failures and he opens with the story of the AMerican revolution as beginning with a defeat and becoming a success through perserverance. The lesson is that, Libertà non vuol dire libertà di riuscire, ma libertà di tentare, "Liberty doesn't mean the liberty to succeed but the liberty to try, then try and try again."

In his travels around Italy over the past three years, he has found an archipelago of outstanding centers of excellence in many sectors of the economy, but he also found that these islands have difficulty communicating with each other across the traditional channels available in order to forge synergies. Italy, he understands, is a country that is very tied to its traditions and therefore resources tend to flow through pre-established channels. The rigid system that exists today is due, in part, by the fact that a business failure is punished by a sort of social emargination that leads to the impossibility to access new capital for a new project.

So his parting words to Italy were to give young people the possibility to try, and to fail, and then to try again. Quoting Winston Churchill who said, "Success means passing from one failure to another without losing enthusiasm." Italian young people, he then noted, are too afraid of the consequences of their eventual mistakes. "We have to limit these consequences so that young people can continue to dream and look towards the future with enthusiasm. This is the energy that will take Italy into the future."

An applause from me, mother of two young men poised to enter that rigid, punitive system where fear of failing often stifles the desire to try. Then, of course, all this talk of rigidity is irrelevant if you walk into the family business where you are nurtured and can try and fail and try and fail and then have a huge success. Look at Lapo Agnelli. He will find his way, contribute to FIAT's success, and will be stronger for all his failures.

a domani,

July 8, 2008

Your turn or mine

I spent over an hour at my local ASL (national health office)this morning. How civilized it was compared to the old days. I was received by a woman at an information desk at the door, took a number for the service I required, sat in a reasonably comforable plastic chair with the AC over my head and read the newspaper and then my book for over 50 minutes before being received by desk n. 1. I hadn't received my national health electronic card and I found out why, the computer declared me to be a (wo)man without a country and therefore without a citizenship (although I actually have two.) That settled, my tessera sanitaria should arrive within a month, mailed directly to my home address. In the meantime I have a properly stamped and signed printout as a substitute.

THe wonders of modern Italy. Anyone who complains about how things work now, should have been here 20 years ago! I LOVE those little number dispensers at the door of most offices (except my local recently renovated post office) and even at the alimentari in Sabaudia. It works, usually. THen there are those who conveniently do not "notice" that you entered the shop or office ahead of them but didn't see the machine. In this case, the number stands over common courtesy, for i soliti furbi in any case. An American friend just had it out with another woman in the pool parking lot for the same reason, she had been waiting in her car for someone to leave a spot, and just as one freed up another car zipped in and took the place. She explained that she had been waiting first, but the other woman hadn't "noticed" and that was that.

Oh well, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

a domani,

July 7, 2008

Coffee time

Time has slipped by, but I am here. Finishing off with workers banging around and making dust, lots of traveling about, guests and such.

I have a page from the Repubblica newspaper business and finance section from a couple of weeks ago sitting by my computer just waiting its turn for a blog post. So here it goes.

There is a big portrait design of Howard Schultz in the center, and yes we are going to talk yet again about Starbucks (see here and here for previous discussion).

Seems that things haven't been going so well for Starbucks in the past few years and Howard is back to shape up the company by going abroad -- 43 countries with over 4500 locations to be exact, but not even one in Italy. There is a new deal for over 150 new shops in airports and train stations across England, France and Germany in the next three years, but none in Italy. There are even 71 shops to the South in Greece and another 39 to the north in Switzerland, but none in Italy.

Of course it is easy to say that importing caffè to Italy would be a scary prospect for any company, even Starbucks, and competing with Italian coffee culture, that has its roots back in the 18th century, a futile exercise. But after all we know about the difficulties of doing business in Italy, failed joint ventures, long lead times and such, maybe it is just another Air France story.

Or is Howard just biding his time, closing in from the north and south and waiting for his golden moment, before pouncing on his prey.

Starbuck's success in Italy would certainly crown his successful career!

a domani ( and yes, I am back),

June 18, 2008

Its Greek to me

On your mark, get read, GO. The maturità exams have begun. My son arrived at school for the first day at 7:30am and left at 3.30pm during which time he participated in the "prima prova" -- an essay. EIGHT hours (???). Yes. That is the time allocated for one essay.

First all backpacks had to go in a corner and cell phones in a box. Then there were sheets of paper to be counted and signed and instructions given before the theatrical entrance of the carabinieri. Why the police you (and I) may ask. The police deliver the official envelope with the essay questions to distribute. Two hours had already passed before the essay questions were in hand. Six more to go.

Out of the five choices, M. chose the one on science and technology. He seemed fairly pleased with the final result but he wished he had managed to make it more linear. I wonder if anyone will notice? Maybe his desire for linear thinking comes from elsewhere. In any case, from what he described over supper, he covered a lot of territory.

and tomorrow, it starts all over again....this time, Greek.

will it end? When will the students know when the oral exams begin? Not until the professors figure out how long it will take to correct the written ones. Why can't they estimate that time in advance, since they have been doing this for many, many years? "By the 30th at the latest" is the best they can do as a response.

It is not to ask, but to simply shrug and follow.


a domani,

June 16, 2008

The naming game

Here is a curiosity for you. A couple in Torino want to name their daughter Andrea and the question has gone to the upper court. It seems that by Italian law, you cannot give a name to a child that gives a false impression of its sex and since Andrea is a male name in Italy, the baby girl cannot take this name and should be happy with Andreina instead. This law is in the public interest as a name constitutes a means of identification of the child's social relationships, including its sex. The lower court's decision to block this act was not deterred by the fact that Andrea is a girl's name in other countries.

My son Andrea has the opposite problem when in the States where Andrea is a girl's name. At summer camp, he just went by Andy to simplify the whole matter. People were a bit confused and he did receive mail to Miss Andrea... but everyone survived and eventually noticed that he was in fact a male.

a domani,

June 14, 2008

Grades are out

Grades are out, and I really mean out. As you walk in the front door of the school, class lists are posted on the wall with grades for each subject for each student for each grade level, for all to see.

I've always felt a bit uncomfortable with this public display of personal information. I guess Italians don't consider grades to be personal, and therefore needing privacy. THere are students that are "admitted" to the final exit exam -- the maturità -- or the next year and others that are non ammesso, or "not admitted." Those with many "credits" and others with "debits". Those with high grade averages and those who just managed to pass.

A written report card never comes home at the end of the year -- just the posting of grades and the "ammesso" or "non ammesso" by each name. In the end it is just important to have passed the year.

There is something about my sense of individualism at the root of my discomfort with this system. Grades are personal business, my business, not the group's business (my classmates). I can chose to share my grades, but at my discretion.

My son, instead has passed the last five years with essentially the same group of 25 students, sitting in the same room, with the same teachers day after day after week after month after year. Their school lives are so intimately intertwined after endless interrogations, "information sharing" during written tests, discussions, jokes, studying, being stressed out and helping each other that a strong sense of one unit has been formed -- to such an extent that it does not seem strange or out of place that everyone's grades are posted for everyone to see.

And you wonder why that core group of high school friends follows them around the rest of their lives like a life-raft.

a domani,

June 12, 2008

Parole, parole, parole

Massimo Mezzaroma, the MRoma volleyball club president, threw in the towel yesterday and did not renew team in the A-1 series for the 2008-09 championship.

"If you have a dream in this city (Rome), slowly slowly they make it die, taking the water away one drop at a time. In this last period no one in the city's institutions gave me a definitive answer. No one ever said "no, it is not possible to have the palazzetto". In these past months I heard only lots of words, a thousand promises, but nothing concrete. So, it is not serious on my part to continue like this, with no sport facility for our games, without the collaboration of the city's sponsors and institutions."

Following two successful seasons, the A-1 series volleyball team, MRoma is no more.

"this is a city that lives on words, not facts."

Or as the famous song by Mina in the 1960s says, "parole, parole, parole"
Or, perhaps better, "politics, politics, politics" (Roman style)

Or the question has something to do with communication style -- the obvious answer, "no", was never stated, just intended by a series of non-answers and non-actions, while the pond dried up drop by drop. The words said "yes" through a thousand promises while the "context" in which they were repeated, shouted, "no".

I have an embarassing story to recount from many years ago when I kept calling an office where I had applied for a job, only to hear the secretary kindly and enthusiastically tell me to call back because: a) he was out of the office at the monment, b) was on the phone, c) was busy etc... and I dutifully kept calling at exactly the time she had suggested. Finally the poor woman, in extremis, had to outright explain to me that HE DID NOT WANT TO TALK TO ME. How could I not have understood this (in retrospect obvious) situation. She had TOLD me (and with such emphasis) to call back, so I had.

Lessons learned. Now I listen between the lines and concentrate on the context.

a domani,

June 11, 2008

Culture Crossing

I would like to introduce a new "web 2" initiative that found its way to my virtual doorstep (via this blog). It is a new site called Culture Crossing, an "evolving database of cross-cultural information about every country in the world."

What distinguishes this site from the many "culture guides" on the internet is that it is a grass-roots, user-built guide -- a real live cultural being in itself, changing and growing with each new submission.
I'm impressed and I have promised to add to their guide on Italy. Why not join me and add your impressions too, about Italy and any other country you know well. "The basics" include: greetings, communication styles, personal space, eye contact, time, gestures, gender rules and taboos. There is also a section for business and another for students.

Great blog too!

Time to give back to the global community!

a domani,
(I have put this site in my links on your right for future reference)

June 9, 2008

Calcio confessions

You may have noticed that I don't have a label for posts on calcio (soccer for Americans or football for the Brits).

I have a confession to make. shhhhh. After ALL these years, and although I have seen many games, I really don't GET calcio -- I mean all the passion and excitement. Just one of those cross-cultural walls I have come up against (another being Catholic culture). So, as my husband and son watch the first game of the European championship (Italy--Holland), I quietly inched my way out of the room and skipped upstairs to the computer.

Instead, Tobias Jones, the author of The Dark Heart of Italy, being male and British, makes some interesting observations on the art and soul of Italian calcio in his book. He even dedicated an entire chapter, "Penalties and Impunity", to a careful analysis of the sport's hidden cultural meanings.

He writes: "The more you watch Italian football, the more you realize why Italy...has won three World Cups: Italians are simply very good at the game. They play the most beautiful, cultured and skillful football imaginable.
Talk to any Italian about the strengths of the Italian game, and they will always mention the two vital ingredients lacking in Britain: fantasia and furbizia -- fantasy and cunning."

"Fantasy," he continues, "is the ability to do something entirely unpredictable with the ball....the one side of football that cannot be taught. It has to be instinctive, suddenly inspired, which is why the fantasisti are so admired: they are touched by an indefinable genius." Italians have developed a calcio vocabulary equivalent to that of literary or musical criticism to underscore this geniality.

Then there is furbizia, or cunning, the "ability to tilt the game in your favour through slightly sly, but perfectly legitimate tactics." He is referring to the theatrics that go on to call the attention of the referee.

The other key difference is in the tecnica with the Italians being much more calculating and tactical.

Of course, the fans play their part too, even off the playing field. Tobias recounts evenings spent on terraces participating in heated discussions with Italian friends on the proper adjective to describe the performances of certain players. Not to forget the endless hours of television dedicated not only to yesterday's game but of those from the past that made history.

"Football, it's very obvious, is more than just a sport: it's an inheritance, the nation's sacred heirloom."

Being a book on "The Dark Heart of Italy" the chapter continues into the dark side of calcio, from the discussions that go on about presumed game-fixing that mirror discussions about the mafia or terrorist associations, and the "intimate link between football and politics."

The best response to any crises is, of course, "not moral but aesthetic. Italian football, more than any other, prides itself on its beauty......(It) remains the most stylish and cultured and clever incarnation of the sport."

I have heard a few groans and unmentionable words coming up the stairs. It's time to go on down and see what I am missing.

Maybe I will get it one day.

a domani,

June 5, 2008

Doing business

If you think that doing business in Italy is not an easy affair, you are right. I happened on a site called "Doing Business" that "provides objective measures of business regulations and their enforcement across 178 countries and selected cities at the subnational and regional level"and thought I would share the page on Italy.

Overall Italy currently ranks number 53 for "Ease of doing business", slipping three places from last year. The sub-areas that slipped positions the most this year include: ease in trading across borders, getting credit and starting a business. Ranked n. 1 overall was Singapore, followed by New Zealand and the U.S.. Italy is tucked in between Botswana (n. 51), Mongolia (n. 52) and "St Vincent and the Grenadines" (n. 54).

Without getting into the details (you can just "click" above, if the subject is of interest), it is enough to say that it was no surprise to find that "time" (sometimes twice as many days) and "costs" (up to 3 or even 4 times the OECD average for some procedures) stood out as the culprits.

Oh well, in the meantime, I'm picking up coaching clients worldwide via Skype and phone -- one way to avoid it all is to move up and out into cyberspace! Not many folk out there taking on the daunting task of Doing Business in Italy...

a domani,

June 4, 2008

Up and down

It's the time thing again.

The official trial run and authorization for the new elevator had been organized for today between 9-11:00 am. I blocked out the time in my agenda and planned accordingly to be at home for the event.

Then panic struck at about 11:30 last night. I hadn't re-confirmed by phone within 24 hours of the appointment, would they still come? I always manage to forget this little detail, I mean, an appointment is an appointment and once in my agenda, sticks, at least for me.

How many times have I been caught out by this silly idea that time can be somehow controlled into the future. I think I have made an appointment that is written in stone only to discover that it was only the "idea" of an appointment for the other party. "Ah, Signora, but we hadn't spoken again about the matter, so I assumed...."

In any case, they did come, and on time!
I think I'll even go take a ride on the elevator to celebrate.

a domani,

May 19, 2008

Cultural warriors

Thanks to Gillian once again for sending along the following NPR article (that's the National Public Radio for those non-Americans).

Talk about a cross-cultural moment or two! This group of Maasai warriors from Tanzania, well-trained by chasing after cattle 14-15 hours a day, flew to London to run a marathon. Enjoy this account of their pre-departure cross-cultural training in British ways.

a domani,

May 14, 2008

Time for a trim

It is finally going to happen today, a haircut (and a few "sun hits" as they call them here to hide those occasional white squiggly things that are suddenly appearing). Even my friends at the pool were commenting on my shaggy look this morning -- time to take action.

While my American friend Rick of Noi Salon HATES clients just showing up at his door and NEEDS to have a clear schedule to his day, my Italian hairdresser, Osvaldo (a.k.a. Charlie) has a hard time giving me a time slot. I called around 1:00 and asked if I could come by, even this afternoon, or if not, tomorrow. When he said today would be fine, I asked what would be a good time for him. "Whenever," was the response, "just drop in and we will take care of you."

Its a time thing. Since most of his customers will just be stopping by,including a few members of the new Parliament, he really doesn't know what his afternoon will look like and I may even end up coming at a bad time -- which, of course, cannot be determined in advanced.

The funny part is that I am fine with this way of operating. He is a great hairdresser, actually an artist. We have a long-term relationship (stemming from my husband having taken care of his personal and business legal affairs for some time now...) and I have a book* to bring along in any case. I just have to meet Andi at 6:15 to talk about a cross-cultural training project we are working on together -- but she will understand if I am late. In any case, we are meeting at her local wine bar, so she will surely find a friend keep her busy.

And that is how it goes for those of us who have slipped off the linear time track to end up at an odd comfort level with "flexible" and relationship oriented time.

a domani (or whenever...),

* Cultural Intelligence: People skills for global business by David C. Thomas and Kerr Inkson. So far, quite an accessible book, clearly written and practical -- more on this book when I am finished. Which makes me almost hope that Charlie is running late...

May 11, 2008

East meets West

More on sports today.

As an anonymous reader commented yesterday, there are indeed quite a few non-Italians names on the Trentino Volley team -- six Italians and six non-Italians to be exact. This is pretty standard for teams in the professional Italian championship Volleyball league which is one of the top leagues to play for in the world. What is unusual is the Eastern European block -- three Bulgarians, two Poles and one Serbian. Add in the Bulgarian coach and an Italian national that comes from Slovenia and the team was heavily weighted to the East. In fact, the playoff finals were transmitted and followed by a large public in Bulgaria!

From a cross-cultural perspective what is interesting is how these two distinct groups managed to form a true team that went on to win the Italian title. At the beginning of the year, there were a few language issues, but the newly arrived coach and his 23 year old Bulgarian star learned Italian at an amazing speed and actually used the language gap to the team's advantage. The coach would give instructions to one of the Bulgarians, who would translate to the rest of the team in a huddle so that the opponent across the net would not hear.

Perhaps the secret to overcoming cultural differences is setting a clear goal that everyone supports 100% -- in Trentino Volley's case it was making the Champions League. Throw in a few strong leaders with force of character and job is done.

There is a lesson in this.

a domani,

May 10, 2008

Porta fortuna

Siamo i campioni d'Italia!

Itas Diatec Trentino Volley won the playoff finals and are the Italian Volleyball champions -- for the first time in its eight-year history. We were there at the PalaTrento along with another 4.500 fans and our son was on the floor, the second "libero" and youngest team member. The city went crazy and the festivities are just settling down three days later. Quite an emotional time and now some big decisions are on the plate as our son has been confirmed for next year.

During the three game finals against Piacenza, there was lots of talk about what would constitute a porta fortuna, versus a porta sfiga. Waiting for the first final match to begin on May 1, we opened up the local paper to an interview with the club president. The title read, "We will surely win." My husband and I exchanged glances, "He couldn't have possibly said that, it would portare sfiga." We decided that the journalist must have made it up, and relaxed. Then my husband did his usual counterclockwise walk to the other side to shake the president's hand while saying only, "Presidente"-- it is their porta fortuna ritual. We won 3-0.

Then there was the return game at Piacenza on May 4. We lost at the tie-break 16-14.

"la bella" or final match took place on Wednesday May 7 in Trento. It crossed my mind that I should wear the same shirt and necklace as I had at the first match, my husband did his counterclockwise / handshake routine and we won 3-0.

Coaches are beginning to notice that wherever our son goes, teams win -- even if he never even enters the court. Last year's Brazilian coach said he needed him on the bench as a porta fortuna. As the last playoff match started, I was sure they would win (although I would NEVER have said so out loud -- porta sfiga) -- Andrea was down there, and where he goes, teams win!

Or as we would say, "he is just always in the right place at the right time."

Two sides of the same coin, one emphasizes the role of the individual and the other the forces of destiny.

Congratulations to Trentino Volley! As the team captain, Nikola Grbic said, "Whatever the result, we knew that we gave it all that we could, 100%. But it is still better to win."

a domani back in Rome,

May 7, 2008

A haircut away

Busy days and lots of traveling about, but I will be back!
As I told a friend today, my big goal these days is to finally get my hair cut, something that has been on my mind since before my USA trip. I seem to keep finding Monday to be a good day -- only to remember that, of course, hairdressers (as museums) are closed on Mondays.

So, when I opened up today's "google alert" and found this piece on getting a haircut in Turkey, I had to laugh and pass it along to you.

Maybe I will have better luck when I get back from Trento next week.

a domani,

April 29, 2008

happy to be home

I found this post on a blog by an American woman who lived in Italy for 15 years with her Italian husband and children before returning to her native Colorado, with the same husband and children.

There is a bit of re-entry culture shock and lots of relief at finally being able to "be herself" and not have to work so hard to "fit in".

She writes beautifully too, so this is my gift for today.

I will be away until next week and may not have online opportunities, so check back when the May flowers are finally out and the April showers are but a misty dream.

alla prossima,

April 16, 2008

Food rules begin

Have you ever wondered where all those food rules come from? Why Italians cannot eat pasta WITH a piece of meat on the same plate, or even worse, eat pasta AFTER a meat dish. Why certain foods can ONLY be eaten with certain other ones. Why they can't bring themselves to order a cappuccino after lunch and endless other rules we strive to follow or be caught in one brutta figura or another.

One answer came from a letter to the Salute (Health) insert to Thursday's La Repubblica newspaper last week. It was written by a concerned mother of an eight month old who will be accompanying her husband to the US for a week in May -- with the baby. SHe asks the pediatrician what she should do about the baby's food (actually she writes, "...ho dei dubbi, come dobbiamo comportarci dal punto di vista alimentari?" to be scientific about it all). In addition to milk, the baby now takes two meals a day of pastina or other cooked grains with either meat or vegetables. The questions was, "Should we bring homogenized baby food and powdered milk with us?"

I was sure the doctor would advise that this was not necessary and that they would easily find baby food and powdered milk in the US. But this was not the response. Instead the doctor advised that while they could find baby food in the US, it would not correspond EXACTLY to the Italian products to which their son was accustomed, particularly in terms of "palatabilità" that is influenced (I think he meant tainted) by the different gastronomic culture (different we understand to be have a negative connotation). Therefore, the mother should bring along everything the baby will need for the week, both homogenized baby food and powdered mild, properly packaged and sent in their suitcase, only bringing on-board quantities needed for the trip itself.

The doctor does concede that the baby could even vary his diet for the week, eating only dry biscuits (Italian ones) dissolved in (Italian) milk and (Italian) homogenized baby food that could even be served directly from the jar with a spoon (given the situation). The mother should not worry too much about any eventual imbalances in the baby's nutrition over the limited period of seven days.

And you wonder why Italy has the lowest birthrate of the Western World! What responsibility parenting presents and what stress to achieve such high culinary standards even while touring the streets of New York with an eight-month old.

So, that's where it all starts. As soon as mother's milk becomes a wistful memory, food rules step in to bring order (and good taste) to everyday life.

April 15, 2008

On the good side

The Third Republic is born.

To be positive, lots of new and exciting things came out of yesterday's election results.
1. No more itsy-bitsy parties that looked more like interest groups/lobbies than real parties to me. None made the cut and they will not be represented in parliament.
2. No more parties for the extreme left and extreme right -- ex-communists, radicals, and greens on the left and ex-fascists on the right have disappeared. The socialist party didn't make the grade and, amazingly, the Vatican lost much of its insidious political power.
3. We are moving towards two major alternative powers made up of only a few parties. Not a bad thing. Actually a very good thing.

There were even civil discussions on the TV last night. Each side respectfully acknowledging both the winner and the opposition and their respective roles. That's a change.

Now the PDL and the Lega will have to govern and if they don't do it well, there is now, for the first time, a viable alternative finally free of the reformed communists and other more radical left-wingers.

And the game begins!
I think I'll stick around and see how it goes, hopefully for the best of the country.

a domani (and another day),

April 13, 2008

Election day reflections

Well, the deed is done.

Just before lunch, I walked up the hill to our local elementary school, got in line for my electoral section and watched the various posters that lined the school hallway go by with their lists upon lists of names and party symbols to sort out. All those lists and names got me nervous and when it was almost my turn, I followed the eyes of the elderly man in front of me and started reading what turned out to be the school menu posted on the door thinking that it might hold the key to the voting process. We agreed that the week's menu looked good to us, but then again it was almost 1:00 and we were hungry.

It was my turn, the first name in my "seggio" (Abbot tends to be at the top of any list). I gave them my voting card and my identity card and received in turn FIVE color coded sheets.
One for the Senate, one for the House, one for the Rome mayor, one for the president of the Lazio province and one for the municipal government.

The Senate and the House sheets contained respectfully 14 and 16 symbols -- the task was to put an X on one of them. The symbols were very pretty and colorful, Italian design at work, and if you put your glasses on, you could often find the name of the "list head" somewhere in the graphics to help you identify who was attached to which symbol.

The other ballots consisted of both party symbols and names -- between one and ten symbols supporting each name. Here you could either X a name (without a preference for which party 's support) or just the party list (which includes automatically the name), or, why not?, put an X on both the list and the name (which becomes redundant with respect of the second choice). (sorry--running out, will turn photo later..)

I folded up the ballots, placed each one in its color-coded box, picked up my ID card and voter card and skipped out.

At least I had done my duty, but not with a lightness of spirit. There is a sad state of affairs and I fear my vote will not stop the tsunami of Berlusconi and his impossible media-driven machine. What can I do, but vote.

The foreign press is up in arms and truly bewildered this time around -- how is it that this man can come back for a third term. A true Italian mystery. If Italy is a county based on appearances, he is certainly the showpiece. Contrary to all logic and common sense, people believe his superficial slogans, youthful appearance and wildly improbable campaign promises.

Calls for reforms come and go but change does not take place. The country is too divided to agree on anything as overriding as constitutional and electoral reforms. So they are discussed but never come to form.

But I digress and all this has been said before and is being said again in the foreign papers. (the German paper Spiegel had this interesting article -- sent to me by a German blog follower).

What perhaps I can add is a few observations on the possible cultural roots of the Italian political system's morass.

Ministro Amato stated an important truth the other day, Italy was formed in 1860 as a state, but not a nation. It is still today struggling to find a common identity from the myriad of localized (and often historically feudal) realities. Anna Finocchiaro, leader of the PD in the Senate and a Sicilian by birth, has been given the task of preventing the whole of Sicily from going to Berlusconi. She states, "Voters here are as tied to the bosses as in the days of feudalism." The ties are formed through an endless network of favors and connections that feed on more favors and connections until this web becomes a voter block. This kind of intertwined relations and reciprocal connections does not favor nor facilitate change and this is the key to Italy's stagnation on many fronts.

Unwritten systems that have grown out of centuries of "si fa così," cannot be changed, because, on paper, they do not even exist!

While we all love and appreciate the distinct differences in Italian food from one region (and even one town) to another, this desire to covet interests close to home spills over into a need to defend small and local interests in the form of parties in the name of every imaginable sector of society.

The innate need to be particolare in all aspects of life also lends to the development of multiple parties. Everyone has to get on a particular bandwagon to achieve personal identity.

The only problem is that national identity behind a political system that works for the common good instead of defending localized and particular interests, is still to be achieved.

And reforms that would allow for such an identity to be formed, are resting in the wings, hoping to one day walk on stage -- to the applause of the rest of the world.

a domani,

April 11, 2008

Prof. Amato for lunch

Do you know where your Minister of the Interior was yesterday at 1:00?

I do.

Despite busy pre-election days and the hoopla that has been going in the news over ballot forms, from 1-2:15 he was enjoying a leisurely lunch of: risotto con zucchine, pollo al limone accompanied by mixed grilled vegetables and a slice of cake, followed, of course, by an espresso. He was scheduled to speak for the American Women's Association of Rome and the American International Club of Rome at their monthly luncheon.

I had assumed he would rush in (late) long after the lunch was over, escorted by blue-suited, blue-toothed body guard types, and instead he simply showed up at 1:00 and thoroughly enjoyed the ambiance of the Hotel Savoy, the company and the food before getting up to speak at 2:20.

He was delightful, witty and had many interesting and intelligent things to say -- just what I had expected and why I had paid for the extravagant mid-day meal. He had studied comparative law at Columbia University where he is now on the faculty and has spent enough time on both continents to have a good sense of both countries (and good English as well!).

He prefaced his talk by saying that he was more interested in the upcoming US elections than of those in Italy, but would not tell us his preferred candidate, noting that in any case, a change for the better was in the air.

To explain the tie that binds the US and Europe he drew a lovely analogy, "Although the US and Europe are different, America is like a daughter for me." We are different, indeed, and the daughter can grow up to be stronger than the father, but the tie binds, especially for the Italian family! In terms of the new world order, "This in not a time for empires, but in the context of global alliance, the Western world shares common values on which the battle of market forces takes place." Although we are different we are closer to each other when compared to the rest of the world.

Italy he described as, "A bizarre country" and "A summary of the world."

"Of course we have beauty, then we tend to be inefficient yet wonderfully efficient when we want to be. We present ourselves worse than we really are and we are very open to others while being scared of others at the same time."

"Italy is the problem and the solution. We lack a basic platform and a sense of common identity -- Italians had a state, but not a nation when it was formed. It was missing common values shared by everyone, instead tied to minor and localized identities.

But, he summarized, "somehow we always end up among the winners."

And its true! Now how do they do that I wonder...

a domani (for a special Italian election treat),

April 9, 2008

A match unmade in heaven

Will Air France take over Alitalia in the end? Deadlines come and go, negotiations and posturing continue, and the final answer is still to see.

Italy's premier financial newspaper, Il Sole 24 ore, carried an interesting article yesterday that looked back to Alitalia's failed marriage to KLM over ten years ago for some insights into today's venture. It seems that, with hindsight, the numbers didn't tell the whole story. Just as the joint venture was taking form after a two-year trial period, the two companies put together a pre-nuptial agreement regarding the soft-side of their future life together -- the cross-cultural differences that needed to be addressed.

Alitalia managers described KLM with terms such as: "decentralized, planning, methodical approach, rigid, arrogant and agressive, propensity towards partnership, English-speaking." In addition, they were accused of eating dinner too early.
KLM managers described Alitalia with terms such as: "strongly centralized, priority attention paid to relationships, non-English speaking. Management is chaotic and not structured. THey enjoy life too much and excessively use cell phones during meetings."

THe match went ahead in any case, with the Italians reducing their cell phone activity and the Dutch eating later in the evening. The forces of the market were too strong and they needed to stay together to fend off surrounding sharks. The marriage though only lasted a year, finally spliting over the question of Milan's international airport, Malpensa. KLM had invested heavily in its development as a hub only to see growth in air-traffic blocked by government intervention following protests by Milan's local government and competing airlines. KLM (as AT&T and other multinations since them) was scared off by "those untrustworthy Italians" and the high level of uncertainty around the future of any agreement.

Will the French be patient enough to see this one through? Can they stand the uncertainty and ambiguity? Travel the complex and unfathomable route to a long-term relationship while patiently waiting for their counterpart to kindly finish his cell-phone conversation?

Un chappeau if the do!
We will have to wait (and wait) to see...although some real deadlines are coming up.

a domani,

April 7, 2008

Bold or mild?

Fighting a jet-lagged daze this afternoon and going through stacks of papers as I wait for my luggage to arrive. I made my very tight connection in Paris for a 7:15 am connecting flight -- my bags did not.

Once home, showered and after my first plate of pasta in 12 days (!!!), my husband made the espresso....ahhhhh, another first pleasure of being home. Although I do enjoy a mug of American coffee in the morning when I am in the States, that post-pranzo espresso zing cannot be reproduced anywhere beyond the alps to the same effect.

To compensate,I indulged in a few Starbucks moments during my trip -- notably one while waiting for a mall to open on a very rainy cold morning to pick up Brooks Brother shirts for my brother-in-law.

I carefully studied the menu and found something based on a surprisingly simple concept: coffee and milk. It was called Caffè Misto and consisted of brewed coffee and steamed milk. To accompany such a delight I decided on a multi-grain muffin.

Confident with my uncomplicated choice, I ordered, only to find more choices thrown back at me! Did I want "bold" or "mild" coffee? Did I want the muffin on a plate? Did I want "utensils" with that too?

Choice, choice, choice, everywhere, all the time for every item ordered: type of salad dressing, cooking length for meat, potatoes or rice, cheese on top, it never seemed to end. How exhausting in general but really too much to ask before you have even had a cup of coffee!

a domani from warm and summy Rome,

April 6, 2008

Flexi time

While visiting friends and family, I discovered the obvious -- the US labor force is more flexible than its European counterpart and new technology has made it even more so. Everyone is on-ramping after off-ramping, working full or part time from home, job sharing and mixing odd skills together to explore new horizons in creative ways.

One friend has on-ramped to a full time VP position that includes a daily commute after many years of job-sharing an executive position with a colleague: 2.5 days / week plus a conference call or two. It worked for years and they both moved up the totem pole in the process.

Another friend is on-ramping into the creative art world after years of part time commercial art and being a stay at home mom. Our old group of college friends gathered for an opening with one of her works -- Brava! She is setting up a studio at home to start giving art lessons too.

A sister works from home as an editor, popping into the office once a month or so.

Another sister set up a business from her home.

The sister of a friend moved from Maine to Oregon and kept her job! By her choice she works a twenty hour / week schedule online as she keeps an eye on toddlers.

The other sister of the same friend makes money off a website and the friend herself works for a large pharmaceutical company, three days from home and two in the office (over an hour's commute) while her husband works four days a week from home in IT and checks into the local office only on Fridays.

The husband of yet another friend works most days from home, dropping by the office every so often for meetings. Then again, he travels a lot too.

Another friend has managed to keep a three day / week schedule as a doctor at a large medical center to be able to raise her children as a single mom.

My husband (a libero professionista) even wrote that he worked all day Saturday so that he can be free to pick me up from the airport on Monday.

The world of work is changing -- but at a much faster rate in the US. All those cumbersome labor laws and contracts based on categories of workers make this flexibility a dream for us. There is no way we could ever sit down with a boss and work out an individualized and mutually beneficial arrangement. It would have to fit into a pre-ordained state-dictated category of salary, obligations and benefits.

But as is true of everything Italian, there is secret route to flexibility -- the family business. It seems to me that this is the real reason there are few big businesses and a multitude of small and medium sized family-owned and run enterprises. Whatever stays in the family eludes the crippling inflexibility of outside forces. Your Dad would certainly let you attend your son's (and his grandson's) school play, increase and decrease hours as needed over the years -- while programing your growth in the company and prepping you for its management.

Ah yes, where there is a will, there is a way.

a dopo-domani from Rome,

March 20, 2008

Nice little thoughts

I have been a bad blogger of late and I do apologize, just a bit too much going on elsewhere in my life and I needed a mental break.


I am off to the States just after a quick hop to Trento for Easter, and I am SURE that I will have lots of re-entry cultural moments to stimulate my blogging fingers. So be patient and stop by next week.

Today, I finished my long list of pre-departure "things to do" in time for a bit of shopping to pick up pensierini (or little thoughts) for the trip. My first days will be in the Boston area house-hopping among friends, then there are few sisters with birthdays coming up and my Mom....

So I stopped by my favorite little stock-out shop in Monteverde and picked up about 10 small items while chatting with the owner (we, of course, have a "relationship"). Then, she individually wrapped each one with paper, ribbon, little flowers and other ornaments tied on here and there. She even used a special kind of two sided tape so that it doesn't show. Each package is wrapped differently, depending on the size, and her fancy as she debated between the red glossy ribbon or the coarse-grain yellow one.

It took forever! But what can you do but stand by in awe of the care and dedication to all that makes life "nice".

Sometimes it just takes a pensierino to remind us to think nice little thoughts.

I hope that customs doesn't open up my suitcase and trash them all!!

a domani,

March 17, 2008

Warm fuzzies

Just a quick "share". I found this entry in my "google alert" last week with a list of Italian blogs. clic here. A nice review of this blog too!

a domani,

March 8, 2008

Tell it like it is

I had a cross-cultural moment yesterday. Actually a reverse one. An American woman I had recently met at an event called specifically to inform me that I had done something the other day she didn't appreciate. She was very American about the whole thing by reflecting for 48 hours before calling, speaking very calmly and without a trace of emotion while being studiously assertive and precise about what she needed to express and finally telling me that she had called me for my own good so that I would be more aware in the future. I am sure that she felt good when she got off the phone -- she had gotten something off her chest in an appropriate, unemotional, rational way.

The problem is, I felt bad! I had been hastily judged by someone who doesn't know me or anything about me on the basis of her perspective and I wasn't put in a position to be able to think it through for 48 hours and respond appropriately!

Gotta love the Italian obsession with la Bella Figura, which goes hand in hand with other cultures' need to "give face". All that American individualism can foster an excessive need to express yourself in a very direct, clear and assertive way with little consideration of the person on the other side. Other cultures allow for getting the point across through context, while gracefully allowing for giving and receiving "face".

Italians will certainly tell you like it is, in your face, even in a very animated and very emotional way, at exactly the moment that it happens. You respond, they respond....and then it is over, poof, and you can go get an espresso together. Otherwise they will do whatever it takes to enhance your role in making the world a beautiful and elegant place, worthy of their effort at upholding belief in the Bella Figura.

I'll go lick my wounds and be back...
a domani,

March 4, 2008

Eat, drink and be merry

I have been knocked out with a fever for a few days. The good news is I happened to pick up Elizabeth Gilbert's book, "Eat, Pray, Love" just before I went down and read the whole thing between my bed and the couch as I dozed off and on.

About ten people had told me, "you must read this book" which usually puts me off immediately, especially when it has a section on Italy -- there is only so much gaggling over plunging necklines and pizza one can take. But this book is different.

Her first destination for a year of "one woman's search for everything" was Rome, where she arrived with no agenda other than spending four months discovering "pleasure" (while remaining celibate). So, what is left? Food, beauty and learning to roll a beautiful new language off your tongue. To her credit, she appreciates pleasure in all three, calling on her new Italian friends to help her understand that, "the beauty of doing nothing is the goal for all your hard work, the final accomplishment for which you are most highly congratulated. The more exquisitely and delightfully you can do nothing, the higher your life's achievement."

In Italy she was able to give herself permission to fully explore the question, "How do I define pleasure?" To discover what she likes to do, what gives her soul-satisfying pleasure. At the end of her stay, while traveling in Sicily, she discoveres that "the same thing which has helped generations of Sicilians hold their dignity has helped me begin to recover mine -- namely, the idea that the appreciation of pleasure can be an anchor of one's humanity." Creating and enjoying beauty can be serious business, a way to hold onto reality in the midst of physical and moral decay and chaos.

A wonderful way to describe Italy's gift to the world -- permission to explore the fundamental role beauty and pleasure play in our lives, without shame and guilt, because they define what makes us both human and divine.

a domani,

February 28, 2008

Left of the Church

My son threw up his hands as he got to page 10 of the newspaper over his post-pranzo espresso, "Why does the church (Church) always have its hands in politics!"

As Veltroni gathers consensus for his new Partito Democratico he must come to terms with the Catholic church to have any chance of winning upcoming elections. He has chosen a wise position that aims to include the left-leaning Catholics into his fold and distance the PD from the radical anitclericalism of the farther left. Although the PD needs the Catholic vote, he reminds them that the lay nature of the State must be also be practiced and not only preached. "We can't enter into the 21st century with a counterposition of Catholics and lay people. It would mean that Italy is condemned to a never ending Porta Pia*." He calls for a shift in language -- for example, in the place of "in the defense of values", a move towards, "promoting values", as a first step. As he walks a fine line, he asks his lay followers to be ethically senstitive to Catholic positions and to make a conscious effort to get away from name calling.

The division runs deep and the left has historically been on the other side of the divide from the Church. Now it is up to Super Walter to build a bridge to the other side, and I have faith that his pragmatic and personable ways will pave a way.

a domani,
* The conquest of Rome in 1870 that led to its integration into the newly formed Italian state (1860).

February 23, 2008

Visit China

Just a quick note to introduce you to a fantastic blog, click here, for the expat community in China.

Maybe Alan Paul -- an American expat in Shanghai with his family and contributor to the Wall Street Journal -- should tune in and learn a few things about Chinese culture. From his column, The Expat Life, (click here), I have the impression that China is a kind of Disneyland whose main reason to exist is to entertain and provide endless opportunities for expat excursions and sightseeing. His children certainly enjoy all the excitement and rushing about, but are they investing in their CQ while living in China, or will they remember only lots of five-star hotels, weird old buildings, and their friends back at the gated expat community? Certainly a different experience than that of Barack Obama at six to nine years old (click here for blog entry)and the cross-cultural skills he gained while attending an Indonesian school and living Indonesian daily life.

Just a reverse cross-cultural moment...

a domani,

February 19, 2008

Mission impossible

Well, I did it. The forms have arrived, to be properly completed by our idraulico di fiducia (or family plumber), stamped, signed and returned. Then we will receive a mysterious phone call to set up a time for its arrival -- the Contatore (or gas meter) for a small apartment we are renovating to re-rent or sell. The saga of the gas line is long and involved with a bit of intrigue, insurmontable problems, heart-stopping miracles and finally an end in sight.

I got to play an important role in this play, "the ENI connection" with the mission impossible of getting a contatore hooked up once the line had been installed. For my coaching certification, I had participated in a "power tools" class on "game vs. significance" so I thought I would try this tool on myself and invent a game to keep me from getting frustrated and angry (and placing lots of "significance" on the whole thing).

I dutifully signed the "contract proposal" that had arrived by post and sent it off with a 249 euro payment before calling the 800 number as instructed.

call n. 1: "your contract proposal is not registered." She rummaged around, while I stayed on hold answering emails, before throwing up her hands and asking me to call back later -- the computer terminal was down.

call n. 2: very polite and helpful, listened to my story, and discovered that the proposed work had already been executed (without our approval and prior payment as required), but to make a request for the contatore she would need a PDR number (punto di riferimento). After further discussion about where I might find that number, I said I would call back.

Then the game started: how many calls would it take to make it happen? Every call was a point and if I get to 10, I will treat myself to an extravagant massage. 8, a lunch out with a friend, 6, leisurely coffee after the pool and so. Now I could enjoy the calls -- almost hoping they wouldn't end!

call. n. 3: to the head of the workmen to ask him to check for a little tag at the end of the gas line in the little box with ten numbers (the PDR) and call me back:

call n. 4: I called him back -- oops, so sorry but he had forgotten, tomorrow

call n. 5: There is a little yellow tag, but it only has six numbers -- a mystery. I take down the numbers anyway.

call n. 6: (wow -- a leisurely coffee earned!): "The numbers I read off were clearly NOT the PDR and she COULD NOT place the request for the contatore without these numbers."

so I got in the car -- 55 minutes of traffic(up the Cassia)and four flights later, all I could find was a yellow tag with six numbers. But I learned that NO ONE in the ENTIRE building had managed to get a contatore, although the gas line was clearly there. I was in good company and going for the lunch.

call. n. 7: to the building administratore -- maybe she would know something about the PDR, she had even been present the day the gas line was brought up to our apartment. I left a message.

call n 8: I left another message

call n. 9: I left a third message.

But I got a call back from her secretary who took notes and very efficiently called back later with a 20 number and letter sequence -- clearly not the ten number PDR but I thanked her anyway.

call n. 10: One last try to the ENI 800 number. The woman was kind and listened carefully to my story. Then she opened up our file and Voilà -- there was the PDR. Turns out it had always been there, for any of the previous diligent call center employees to uncover. She filled out the contatore request and here we are, happily filling out forms with lots of stamps and signatures.

Mission accomplished (or almost) and to top it off -- I get to have an extravagant massage!

What's the lesson to all this -- with a little pazienza and just enough calls, someone will figure it out.

a domani,

February 17, 2008

Pasta + cappuccino = joint venture

We had a lovely lunch at Lo Scoglio on the beach in Sabaudia today, just an hour's drive south from Rome. A family from England sat at the table next to ours and we got to talking. She is on assignment from her company in England to set up a joint venture with an Italian company based in Rome while her husband stayed back in England with their two children. She commutes back most weekends while he comes down with the kids once a month. A Grandmother helps out.

We shuddered (along with the Italian couple on the other side) as they proceeded to order: plain pasta with tomato sauce, french fries, coke and two cappuccino. My husband tried to intervene to help with the menu, but they would hear nothing about fish, clams and such. The waiter said that this was normal for the British and the Germans to whom he prefers the Russians who blindly order the most expensive item and champagne.

As we waited for our orders, I asked how working in Italy had been so far. She replied that, "We are a few months behind the roll out schedule," and that it had been "more complex than anticipated." Sounds familiar. But, once they had basically excluded the Italian management from the picture, things are moving along quite nicely.

Hmmmm. I thought to myself, I wonder how successful this venture will be once the Brits have gone home and left ongoing management to the Italian company that had no say in the start-up process.

We exchanged cards when I told her about cross-cultural coaching and afterwards I considered how I would have worked with this prototype client -- a perfect example of someone who would have certainly had a less stressful and more successful experience living and working abroad with a cross-cultural coach as a partner. Maybe she would have even dared to take the family along for the year if she had been able to count on support and guidance.

I am inspired for this new profession and the potential for helping people live and work abroad at a higher and more conscious level. Need to hurry up with classes for certification and hit the road.

a domani,

February 16, 2008

How does he do that thing he does?

This afternoon I started Barack Obama's autobiography, Dreams from My Father. By page 67 and the age of 10, he had already been around the world and back, picking up many lessons and a bit of CQ to add to his IQ that speak to his success today.

On his mother's side, he had a pair of middle-class high school educated grandparents from Kansas who migrated to Hawaii via Texas and California. On his father's side, a tribe elder, respected farmer and medicine man from Kenya. His father and mother met in Hawaii, where his father had had come to study on a scholarship, married and had Barack jr. before he received another opportunity at Harvard, divorced and returned to Kenya, took up another wife and had six more children.

His mother re-married an Indonesian student in Hawaii and followed him back to his country with Barack when he was six years old, where they lived as a family until he returned to Hawaii and his grandparents for middle school.

Those CQ enhancing years years immersed in Indonesian (not expat) life left their mark as his mother wrestled with the fine line between adaptation and defining your home-country's cultural values -- she strongly wanted Barack to grow up with an American mindset and sensed the forces of Indonesian cultural values on his young mind.

As he recounts, she would list the values he was to learn:
Honesty (that hiding the refrigerator when the tax officials come is not ok even if the tax officials and everyone else expects you to do just that),
Fairness (good grades in exchange for a TV set to the teacher during Ramadan should not be a source of pride),
Straight Talk (don't lie about liking a gift if then you don't use it) and Independent Judgement (don't join the crowd and tease another kid for a funny haircut).

As she fought to transfer Kansas ways to her son, the reality of poverty, corruption and fear of security that lay all around young Barack, bred a realistic, fatalistic scepticism to counteract her efforts. She had that undying American belief that "rational, thoughtful people could shape their own destiny" that was not reflected in daily Indonesian life. She enlisted the image of his African father, the Black American heros of the day and the civil rights movement to strenthen her case that his roots and values lay elsewhere.

In this article on, "How Obama Does That Thing He Does", University of Oregon professor of rhetoric David A. Frank unravels the mystery of Obama's spellbinding oration that leaves listeners unsure of what he said, but convinced by what he means. "Obama relies, Frank writes, on a "rhetorical strategy of consilience, where understanding results through translation, mediation, and an embrace of different languages, values, and traditions."

"Obama disarms race for white people by largely avoiding the topic. When he does talk about race, he makes sure to juxtapose the traumas experienced by nonblacks with those experienced by African-Americans, but without ever equating the two. His rhetoric is designed to bridge the space between whites and blacks so they can occupy a place where common principles reside and the "transcendent value of justice," as Frank writes, can be shared.

A little CQ can go a long way!

a domani,