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,