Finding Balance | A discussion of old traditions and new realities

Two days ago I posted a blog (read it here) about the new laws put in place by Monti to stimulate growth for Italy’s struggling economy.  The law now allows storekeepers the right to stay open 24/7 including weekends and holidays.  Italy in general doe not seem to be ready for this change.

One of my readers and fellow bloggers, Debra at Bagni di Lucca and Beyond, made a comment that has had me thinking more about the clash between old and new.  As any traveler knows, if you show up at noon pretty much anywhere in Italy you better hope you don’t need anything emergently.  About the only thing you can do between the hours of noon and 3 is sleep or find an open restaurant for a long lunch.  Debra wonders how much money is lost during those hours.  She also points out that many people now commute to work and the traditional siesta has lost its usefulness in those situations.

One of the things I love about my time in Italy is the change of pace, people here don’t seem to rush as we do and are able to enjoy the moment.  I don’t feel enslaved to time in Italy.  Of course this  can become inconvenient (waiting 45 for the rental clerk to reopen his store because he decided to take an extra long lunch break, making sure my child has everything she needs before the stores close up for the day) but well worth it in my opinion.  The quaintness of an age old tradition is a comfort in my travels, something I pine for when back home and stuck with my long work hours.  The siesta is as much a part of the cultural fabric that I have come to expect from Italy as the little old ladies chatting on the bench.

But times are changing.  Times are hard.

As anyone knows that has been following the news in Europe, Italy is and has been in trouble.  The unemployment rate was 8.6% as of the end of the year, but for the ages of 16-25 that rate is a staggering 25%.  Finding work for the young and upcoming generation is an incredible challenge and frustration.  What opportunities could be available by embracing longer hours?  Is it worth sacrificing the energy of the youth for the nostalgia of a time past?

Other subtle changes are happening as well.

I had a long conversation with a man in Rome about the dangers the Italian family is facing.  He bitterly reported his own children had yet to have children of their own.  The birth rate in Italy for the year 2011 is now at 9.18 births per 1000.  That is almost half the rate as here in the US.  I imagine much of this has to do with the increased cost of living, more women working outside of the home and economic pressures.  Also, the world has become a smaller place for this generation.  Many youth have moved away from the family in search of better opportunities.  Across Italy age old techniques and skills are at risk of being lost because no one is left to step forward and carry on the trade.  We quickly cry out ‘what a shame’ but many of these dying fields are not financially profitable.  Not at all.  As in barely eking out a living.  I honestly can’t say I would stay in the same small town that my family had lived in for generations just to keep tradition when I thought I had a chance to better myself somewhere else.  A good example is the production of Sciacchetra wine in the Cinque Terre.  At this very moment there is no one to replace the makers of this amazing traditional wine.  And no wonder, the work is back breaking and the rewards are not monetary.  At an agriturismo in Umbria, one of the owners has founded a school for the children from as far away as Rome and Florence, that teaches them how to make bread the traditional way.  Who would have thought that Italian children aren’t being taught how to make the basics at home.  His own granddaughter, having no interest in the family business (or cooking for that matter) has moved to Rome to teach.  When we close our eyes and wish we were born Italian, we see a big hearty family sharing homemade dinner by the fire that has burned for generations.  That image might soon be one of the past.italy travel

I often wonder though, is one better with more money and more things?  At the moment I am anxious to be rid of the material items that continually add stress to my life.  I have gone full circle and now see how my family, my time is priceless.  I wonder how Italy will fare with these changes, how the fabric of its culture will be woven with the coming times.

How do we balance old and new?  I would love to hear from you.  Thoughts, perceptions, predictions.

copyright 2012  Andi Brown, Once in a Lifetime Travel

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About the author: Andi Brown

I am passionate about helping people create vacations that are perfect for them through personalized travel planning, itinerary review and small experience focused tours. My services put an emphasis on the experience of Italy, getting my clients away from the tourist crowds and into the heart and soul of the people. I believe in working with family run businesses at great locations with attention to the details. If you can dream it I can make it happen.

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  1. Debra Kolkka - 2012-01-13 at 2:15 am Reply

    I think siesta has outlived its usefulness in Italy because there are so few people living traditional lives. It may be quaint to keep a tradition of having a 3 hours break in the middle of the day, but it simply isn’t practical in most people’s lives. I wouldn’t want to see it go simply for financial reasons, or to suit tourists, but tourism is a huge part of the Italian economy and many people make their living from it in various ways.
    It saddens me that I see most Italians shopping at big supermarkets. What will happen to the wonderful small delis filled with delicious things, and the street markets such as the ones in Bologna.
    I love Italy and would love it to stay the way it is, but I can’t see that happening. Several larger cities have abandoned siesta. Rome, Florence, Venice and Milan spring to mind. Some small shops still close and it is good that they have a choice.
    Unfortunately the idea that Italians sit around under an olive tree having long family lunches is just an idea. Most have dreary office jobs just like the rest of us.
    I hope super Mario can do something to improve the lives of working Italians, especially the young people, for whom life is looking pretty grim right now.

  2. Diane Bonita - 2012-01-13 at 12:13 pm Reply

    I agree with the above. When traveling throughout Italy and Sicily, you come to realize that the shoppes, indeed, do close for the afternoon siesta, something here in America we can both appreciate and question. Life has changed! Yes, how many Italians are home with their entire families, eating a large meal, drinking homegrown wine, etc.? Has there been market research to determine whether the economy could be boosted if the stores would stay open in the afternoon. I for one have been on cruises and tours where time is limited and I was ready to spend my US dollars on a beautiful piece of jewelry, or art, or clothing, or linens, to only find that the store would not be opened until after 3pm and I could not be there to make my purchase! I have also stayed in Rome at a more leisurely pass and know what restaurants open later in the evening and enjoy the costume. The more things change the more they stay the same. Here in America stores are open 7 days a week and now there is the outrage of large department stores opening Thanksgiving and Christmas! If you have to force your employees to come to work on their holidays, then that is a shame. In the end, what is most important in life, is FAMILY. Can the Italians work through the afternoon and still be close to their families and possibly enjoy the extra income? Maybe more family time in the evenings when the children are home from school. It’s certainly worth a try!!!!

  3. Loribeth - 2012-01-14 at 7:14 pm Reply

    I remember here in the U.S. when stores started being open 24/7… I think that was a mistake. It has created a society that thinks it should have everything immediately when they want it. There no need to plan for anything, because everything is always available, which makes mean less.

    Changing the law in Italy to allow businesses to be open 24/7 changes he dynamic of the Italian experience and lifestyle. It will change the culture… Being open more hours MIGHT increase profits, but ultimately it steals time from Italian business owners and Italian employees… Life will become about work, as it is here is the States, rather than life being about life.

    One time my boss complained that I always turned down overtime and he questioned my commitment to my job. I told him I work to live; I do not live to work, and that my commitment will always be to my life first and my work second. I will work hard when I am at work, but I will not let work take away from my life.

    I think Italians will find that they will be asked to give up more from their lives for the sake of their work.

  4. onceinalifetimetravel - 2012-01-14 at 9:20 pm Reply

    Thank you to everyone for your input. I have enjoyed reading what you have to say and will be closely watching Italy as it finds a way to transition in this economic climate.

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