So, you want to live the dolce vita in a small town in Sardinia? Eat handcrafted gelato in the middle of an August heat-wave and sail away on the Mediterranean Sea forgetting reality exists?
Sounds pretty awesome, right?
La dolce vita or the sweet life has a very colourful, sour inside. In this post I will step out of my comfort zone, to show to you – the endless Italian dreamer the sour side to paradise.
There are no beautiful photos of pristine perfect beaches or snow-capped mountains or even ancient alleys that lead to paradise. No, this post is raw facts about living and working in a small town in Sardinia, Italy.
I apologize in advance to those that come here seeking a squeaky-clean image of life, in small-town Sardinia with umbrellas and forever sunshine, but there are two sides to every coin. I find it a great injustice if I don’t share both sides of my coin here, at My Sardinian Life.
This is my story.
I have lived and worked in Sardinia for the last four years and most of the time it has been the clichéd dolce vita that we’ve all read and dreamt about.
It has also been a struggle financially, emotionally and at times physically.
I’ve written about it several times in the past: My Expat Job Struggles, My Expat Lives | Celebrating 4 Years in Sardinia, Italy, and On Being an Expat in Sardinia, Italy (where I chronicle the four countries I’ve been an expat in.)
The grass is not always greener on the other side.
Living the dolce vita in small town Sardinia is, at times unethical, unfair, and immoral. This is the dirty truth.
Now let’s get started.
What is The Italian System? Il Sistema
The word system is used a lot in Italy. You will hear it in cafés, in the piazza, supermarkets, and even on the nightly news. Il sistema.
Don’t try to understand the system, or change the system, or even ask intelligent questions about the system. And if you don’t like the system, leave.
The system doesn’t have any definitions or guidelines.
The system is administration, paperwork, politics, bizarre laws, straightforward lies, and being paid many months after a job is finished. It’s a chain of events which leads you on a trail of frustration.
The system is asking a relevant question and being told to go ask someone else, which turns into a wild goose chase.
The system is anything Italian that doesn’t make sense ethically but you are expected to understand and accept without question.
The system is working 12 hours a day and getting paid for 6.
The system is getting paid outrageously low wages.
The system affects locals and expats alike. No one is immune from the system.
My Expat Job Struggles in Italy
In a previous post, I listed different jobs prospects and different struggles I faced. Here they are again for a quick review; with an update following.
**All terms and contracts were something that I agreed to. I also expected them to abide by the contract(s) which they drew up.
I waited for this job since March and was told each week to come back the following week. This was the job that I wanted with all my heart. It fit me perfectly and I knew I was the right candidate for the job. I’d been told that I had this job, so why the runaround?
No contract, no insurance, 6 days a week and €5.00 an hour.
It was a nice job, in a nice office with a nice view. The only reason they gave me this job was because I camped out in the office for a few weeks until they said yes.
Days would go by and the only thing that kept me company was the spiders and my Kindle. Did the boss come into the office? No. The boss’s boss? No. Did anyone care to share vital information with me about this job? No. It felt, just, really … strange. Like they dropped me into a pit of snakes and hoped I would get eaten alive.
I didn’t get eaten alive, but I got a better job offer, or so I thought.
I left this job to work in a hotel as a waitress. I’ve been patiently waiting for my three weeks pay, for the last 2.5 months.
Waitress in a pizza restaurant
The first two interviews were fantastic. I had the job hook line and sinker. After waiting a week for Boss to call I went into the establishment and spoke with him. Boss was rather surprised to see me and somewhat flustered that I was even there. I asked when I can start; he gave me a start day.
I arrived on my start day and the Assistant Boss had no idea why I was there. The Assistant Boss told me they had just hired someone, and she was there that same night! I told Assistant Boss that Boss told me to come on this day. Assistant Boss called Boss and I overheard Assistant say “Oh, you didn’t know Jennifer was coming?” When Boss finally arrived it felt like Boss didn’t want me there. Boss could not look me in my eye and spoke dialect when conversing with the staff.
No contract, no insurance, €900 a month, 8 hours a day, 7 days a week for four months.
I bumped into Boss in an administration office one morning. He asked me if he could call me for summer working hours, two months after my first-weekend trail and he’s curious if I can work for him! This is the guy that forgot he hired me!
I boldly told him “NO.”
Hotel Reception – Front Desk
This was a new job for me, a job I have never done in my life. I thought it would be nice to change things up from working as a waitress. The interview went well and I was told that the first two days would be “testing” days.
I was in over my head!
Trying to do a job I had never done before and in a different language proved that I was not the right candidate. I spoke with the Head Manager who was sweet, kind and helpful. The Head Manager told me that my Italian is not fast enough for this demanding job, that my Italian is great for one on one conversations but this is not a job for one on one conversations.
It was a demanding high-volume job and I truly appreciated the trail run. I now know what I need to improve on: speak more Italian in the home, study more and forget English existed.
The Update – Hotel Reception – Front Desk
A four-month contract, full insurance, 6 days a week, 8 hours a day, €1500 a month.
The first time I tried this job I knew I was in over my head. I admit it. I have plenty of hotel experience, but I have never worked reception, in Italian! I failed. They told me. I was humbled. Thank you.
I have over 22 years working experience in the Food & Beverage sector and can wait tables with my eyes closed. It’s what I do; it’s what has enabled me to travel the globe endlessly. And I like it. I asked if there was a position in one of the restaurants in the hotel and hoped they would call.
They did call, and this is what happened …
Hotel Restaurant Waitress – Chef de Rango
One month contract with the possibility to sign on for another two months, insurance, 6 days a week, 6.40 hours a day, €1500 a month.
I liked this job. I really did. I even liked sweeping and mopping the floors twice a day, every day. Heck, I even mopped and swept under the tables and chairs!
The clients were fantastic, my co-workers were fantastic and we got to eat gelato at the end of every shift. Oh, and they also fed us breakfast, lunch and dinner (which we had to pay for, about €5.00 a day or €140 a month.)
As the days wore on and the pounds slipped away I found myself realizing that I was working 9 hours a day, sometimes ten, every day. Not the 6.40 hours stated in the contract which they drew up.
I was curious to know if they paid overtime, so I started asking questions.
My Mother always said: “No question is silly, you are only silly if you don’t ask it.”
These are just some of the responses I received for asking my question:
- That’s just the way it is.
- That’s the system.
- If you don’t like it leave.
- It’s always been like this.
- That is how they pay.
- There are people who would kill to have your job, are you nuts for asking this question?
- They don’t pay over time. They only pay the 6.40 hours.
The list could go on, but I think you get the point.
It was demoralizing, demeaning, and utterly unbelievable.
The first two weeks went swell, I lost twelve pounds, found new awesome friend-clients that live on the mainland, and I ate my fair share of homemade pistachio gelato.
One evening after a very busy shift the restaurant manager asked if I could work the following day. It was my scheduled day off, and after 6 days working 9 hours a day, I was dead tired. I was careful in my approach; I wanted to show him how much of a team player I really am. GO TEAM!
Our conversation went something like this:
Me –“It’s my day off.”
Manager – “Yes, but you will work only half a day. Just the dinner shift you will work. It’s still a day off, see; it’s only a half shift.”
Me – “Um, ok. When will be my next day off?”
Manager – “Oh, don’t worry. We will give you another half day to work as your day off.”
Me – “But … working a half day is not a day off.”
Manager – “Sure it is. Instead of working breakfast and dinner shifts, you will work only one shift. It’s a half day. And your next day off you will work another half day, just one shift.”
Me – “How is working a half a day considered a day off? I’m still here working?”
Manager – “Because you only work 4.5 hours, not 6.40 hours.”
Me – “I work 9 hours a day, every day, never 6.40 hours.”
Manager – “And, so?”
Me – “Fine. I will work tomorrow.”
At this point, I could not fathom what he was telling me.
How is working 4.5 hours considered a day off?
I went in for the shift, it went swell and I ate two bowls of pistachio gelato that night.
Around my 12th day of working in a row (remember 9 hours a day and I forgot to mention no air-conditioning as it’s an open-air restaurant. Ah, fresh hot boiling air. Awesome) I became sick during the night, both ends were exploding.
It wasn’t pleasant and I dragged my butt out of bed for my 6am shift the following morning. GO TEAM!
Everyone commented on how sick and pale I was looking. Really … no kidding, eh! I survived and didn’t eat any gelato that evening.
I was finally feeling up to par to ask the restaurant manager about my contract.
Our conversation went something like this:
Me – “Can I speak in English?” (As he always spoke to me in English.)
Manager – “No, I prefer Italian.”
Me – “I’m curious about my contract. It states 6.40 hours but for the last 28 days, I have worked 9 hours a day. 4.5 hours in the morning and 4.5 hours in the evening.”
Manager – “Oh, yes! Your contract is not right.”
Me – (thinking things will turn out positive) “OK! The new contract that you want me to sign; can we change the hours from 6.40 to 9 hours a day?”
Manager – “No.”
Me – “No?”
Manager – “No. that’s just the way it is.”
At this point, I had enough.
(I feel it’s important to add that the restaurant manager was just doing his job. He is not to blame for the shortcomings of my contract. He works the same hours as I, often more and I’m positive he makes only a few hundred Euros more.)
Me – “Saturday will be my last day.”
Manager – “Ok.”
I managed to work the next two days; at this point I had worked 14 days in a row, 9 hours a day and they only pay for 6.40 hours a day. An extra 20 hours a week was stolen from me.
On my last night, it was a showcase of extraordinary affairs. At the end of each shift, we gather around the manager’s desk for a slight review of the evening and this night was no different.
Manager – “Things went swell, everyone had a great time, and you, you and you need to move faster.” Etc., etc. …
Restaurant manager turned to me: “Can you do me one favour, please? Please? Please? Just one favour?”
Me – “A favour? What?”
“Can you work tomorrow, just half a day? We really need you?”
Invisibly I rolled my eyes in the back of my head.
Me – “I have just worked 14 days in a row. Tonight is my last night, I told you two days ago. I’ve been sick with vomit and other not so nice things.” I almost started to cry, I was weak, tired, and sick of all the games.
He turned his back to me and said flatly “So.”
Me – “No, I will not work tomorrow. Tonight is my last night.” I turned on my worn out heel & walked out.
Seconds passed when I heard a co-worker scream my name “Jennifer, the manager wants to speak with you!”
He. Wants. To. Speak. With. Me? Now what?
I walked back to the pow-wow at the manager’s desk. He promptly handed me a Comunicazione Licenziamento document to sign.
What is a Comunicazione Licenziamento?
It’s a dismissal notice.
Wait a second … I didn’t get fired. I QUIT!
I told him I wanted a photocopy, he obliged. I signed it and turned again on my trusted heel and left the building. This time no one followed.
So why did I decide to quit this job knowing there are no other job prospects knocking on my door?
- It’s demoralizing to work 9 hours a day and only get paid 6.40.
- It’s unethical.
- I can’t suck it up and swim.
- It’s impossible for me to agree to these terms after signing a contract stating otherwise.
- I refuse to believe in the system.
- I was not informed before I signed the contract that they did not pay overtime.
- Working a 5-hour shift, on your day off, is not a day off. And you can’t recuperate it by giving me another half day to work.
- I need, require and want one day off a week.
- I will not give you 20 hours of my free time, each week. I’d rather watch snails crawl.
- I am not one for hypocrisy and contradiction.
This doesn’t just happen to me. It also happens to my husband who was born here, his uncle, his uncle’s second cousin, our neighbours and even the little ole woman who sews patches on school uniforms.
Everyone says that it’s normal, that it’s the system. That it’s just the way things are done in a small town.
Normal? It’s normal to overwork and underpay employees when the unemployment rate is so high?
Hire more people, the jobs are there.
I’ve been free of work for almost a month; I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on the nonsense and scandal I may have created. And you know what? I don’t care; I don’t care for the reasons listed in the bullet points above.
What I do care about are the thousands of search enquiries My Sardinian Life receives each month searching for:
- Jobs in Sardinia that people don’t want
- Expat jobs in Sardinia
- Cost of living in Sardinia, Italy
- Jobs Sardegna
- Living in Sardinia
- Moving to Sardinia
- Life in Sardinia
- Sardinia expats
- English jobs in Sardinia
What I hope to do is create a bit of reality for those looking to move to a small town in Sardinia. It’s not easy and at times it’s not fun. The last thing I want to do is discourage you from living your dream. If your dream is to live and work in Italy, then live your dream, dream your dream. Just keep your eyes wide open before you pack your bags and hop on a jet plane.
Living the dolce vita is a cliché. The grass in Italy is the same colour in Canada, America, Brazil and the world over.
In life, there is always sweet and sour and the only sweet that came out of this was the nightly bowls of pistachio gelato.
I feel it’s important to add … I virtually know of several expats who have lived the dolce vita in Sardinia for two, five and ten years. They are successful in their work and happy with the choices they made. But, I believe it all depends on where you decide to lay your head.
These are just my honest experiences and feelings and I hope it puts into perspective the reality of being an expat in small town Sardinia.
What are your thoughts?