I have just returned from my first trip to Italy (and this will not be my last, I assure you). Italy is an unusual country. There is bountiful, abundant history textured by gorgeous art and stunning architecture, which gives you both a step back in time and a truly "living" country. But the true richness of Italy lies in its people. I am certain that the reason that anyone who has been to this gorgeous country returns over and over again is due to the warmth of the Italian culture. There is a sense of family so that you are embraced into the hearts of Italians. Welcoming, warm, balanced. Although the fast-pace of the west creeps into Italy little by little, for the most part, most stores and restaurants still shut down for the mid-day break. People return to their homes, have lunch with their families and then return to tie up business for the day.
Unlike the American culture, which seizes every opportunity to gain property and money, the Italian culture seizes every opportunity to embrace life. And that is a big win. And also...what is causing a major economic challenge. With the weak American dollar against the Euro, Italy is hard hit in its tourism revenue. And even Americans visiting are spending far less than in past years. Even though European tourists still flock to Italy, the loss of the US dollar has affected the pocketbooks of the Italian population terribly. On top of the bad economy, there is political strife at the highest levels of government and within this conflict, a clear challenge. Entrepreneurship is barely limping along in Italy. There are very few new mom and pop shops. Very few small owner operators starting up new ventures. And with no zip, no zing, no zeal for pursuit of the unknown and the promising, the Italians are facing a crisis of despair over their futures.
As one lovely gentleman said to me, "Yes, Signora, Italia is a beautiful place for a tourist to visit...but to live? Ah no. The life is too hard. The job market is impossible."
So, what happens is that with no entrepreneurs, there is very little job creation and very little turnover of existing staff. Which means no job-hopping opportunities. So many Italians are "stuck" in their jobs...possibly for life. And to kick that one up a notch, the Italian Baby Boomer generation is also just starting to look at bleak retirement prospects and little chance of continuing employment after retirement...and few opportunites for those 50 and older.
A gorgeous, gorgeous country, with beautiful people and a scary lining for 50 plussers sitting underneath the political cloud.