October 7, 2009

More or less

Sorry I've been gone so long. Just got a bit too unplugged this summer. But I'm officially back with a good story and a question.

Last Friday my husband and I participated in a special anniversary event organized by the Italian Ferrovie dello Stato (national train company) to celebrate the 170 years of its first train from Naples to Portici. The participants met at the Rome termini, took the new superfast train to Naples followed by a short ride to the Pietrarsa train museum for a guided tour and dinner before returning to Rome.

The museum was fantastic, a little jewel overlooking the bay of Naples -- complete with a working steam-engine train! The dinner for 600 was catered in the one of the old padiglioni (warehouse spaces) among over 40 historic trains -- a sit-down affair with three glass and three fork settings around white-clothed tables of 12. The mandatory speeches by the autorità came before, lots of traditional music and dancing during and fireworks with a brindisi finished off the evening.

The organizer (and friend of my husband) was duly frazzled as she made sure that the various authorities and VIPS were properly seated at the first eight tables. She confided that about 100 confirmed people had not shown up and another 100 had come with same day confirmations (many of whom needed to be seated with their VIP peers). She simply shrugged, "At least the numbers balance out for the caterers" and after discretely and efficiently shifting places around, everyone had a proper seat. In the shuffle and in true Zelig style, we ended up filling out one of the reserved tables (but that is another story).

A memory bell went off from my event organizing days in Rome. Somehow back then I always magically hit my numbers for restaurants or caterers, but NEVER with the same people who had originally confirmed. 10-15% didn't show and another 10-15% just showed up. When I finally figured this out, I let go of all the worry and learned to count on the universe to take care of the final numbers.

and it always worked!

So why is it that the American organizations here in Rome keep driving themselves nuts by insisting on non-refundable reservations. How many times would I have just shown up at an event at the last minute to magically take the place of a last minute no-show. Things happen and then you are suddenly free to attend, or suddenly not.

How simple it all could be if we could reach an Italian comfort level with just letting things happen as they will.

a presto (I promise)


Madeline said...

Interesting! I've also been pondering this American habit of trying to micro-manage and control vs. the Italian tendencies to relax and roll with the punches a little more - just did a blog post on how this is relevant in business meetings. I think it's also one reason that a common Italian saying is "... pazienza..."!

Samantha said...

I agree with you both that the idea is interesting....although...I can think of too many times when a little American efficiency and organization would have benefited the event. Along the same lines there are many times I'm in the U.S. or other countries where I find myself wishing for the Italian approach to many things rather than the straight and narrow. It's a blessing I suppose to understand both and use them to one's advantage when needed!