Sicilian dolce far niente or how to pretend not to work in Southern Italy

Sicilian Decay


Sicilian’s have a bad reputation when it comes to employment, so if you are the competitive type a move to Sicily is not going to better your career. One popular joke describes the typical islander work environment as one Sicilian doing all the work and five others looking on at him. It’s probably truer to say one Sicilian being paid and the others pretending not to do anything but secretly working and getting paid ‘under the table’ as no one can afford the taxes.

There is something about the South, all over the world which inspires a laid back attitude to life coupled with decadence, idleness and corruption. It could be the heat, the poverty or history?

Sicily has always been the most downtrodden, taxed, molested, dominated and trampled part of Italy. If you read anything about the islands history you will be surprised by an endless diatribe of conquests, violent wars, pestilence and persistent subterfuge to most major world powers from the middle ages to modern times. No wonder Sicilian’s are so hedonistic as in their past everything has literally been taken away from them.

Unemployment is a concern throughout the peninsular, many Italians are forced to invent their own jobs. Over the past decade for example there has been a succession of young Italian creatives who have set up online businesses to export their own creativity and creations overseas. Unfortunately thanks to the current economic crisis Italy is experiencing a massive ‘brain drain’ as many brilliant Italian entrepreneurs and students are leaving to work overseas, as many industries are closing down in Italy and moving offshore, tax levels are on the hike and the economy is going in the wrong direction.

My own experience in the Sicilian work environment is almost as long and convoluted as the Sicilian penal code. As a foreigner you will be starting off with a distinct disadvantage and I discovered as an ‘extracomunitaria’, or as someone born out of Europe my academic qualifications and even drivers license are not recognized in Italy.

I cannot tell you how many dead ends I came across while trying to have my degree recognized so I could teach in Sicilian schools or at least continue my studies. Someone told me I’d have to redo my entire degree. One politician said he’d validate everything with his big magic authoritative stamp and even promised me a job as a ‘mother tongue english specialist,’ I’m still waiting on the phone call!

I have long since given up on the academic side of work and as for my drivers license is concerned I will continue renew my ‘International’ one until I find the time to swallow my pride to sit the written and practical tests together with skintight-jeans-wearing, eye-shadow-smeared high school children.

Since coming to Sicily I’ve become a master of odd jobs and doing-all-kinds-of-shite-to make-ends-meet (this title is so on my resume) from: secretary in my husband’s architectural office, translator, interpreter to tutor of unmotivated ‘liceo linguistico’ (language based high schools) who are a special breed of young adults forced to study the likes of Shakespeare, D.H Lawrence and James Joyce in implausible Literature programs when they are unable to string a simple sentence together in English. It is difficult enough to explain the significance Hamlet’s ‘to be or not to be’ monologue to a bored American/English/Canadian or Australian student, but you can imagine the hours of fun doing it all in Italian to a student who is studying English only to make his parents happy, it’s really a barrel of monkeys with much screeching and gesticulating, mostly on my part.

Nowadays my English students have almost disappeared, my work boils down to tricking people into occasionally publishing my articles. I did a little work in the tourist industry over the summer but I prefer to define myself as a writer, blogger and mother. Not the most glamorous situation and pitifully pathetic when it comes to being paid but terribly satisfying on an emotional level.

There is always plenty of work in Sicily but Sicilians have a problem with the payment side of things, so unless I want to get all aggressive like Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire, yelling ‘show me the money’ down the phone, I tend to avoid confrontations or occasions which will potentially leave me empty pocketed.

Most of my work in Sicily has been either underpaid or not paid at all. That’s not to say there aren’t work opportunities in Italy, there is a huge tourist industry and in the major cities foreigners will find work opportunities in I.T, fashion, language teaching and childcare areas. You’re not going to become a millionaire but you will find a way of making a living to stay in one of the most fascinating countries on the planet, even if this may involve lowering your standards or getting a second job as a waitress or shop assistant to make ends meet.

In small town Sicily, where things are usually much more slow-paced and the time in between work is getting longer, there is nothing to do other than adopt a Sicilian ‘dolce far niente’ approach, an attitude of pleasant idleness, which has become almost a torture for this workaholic expat who keeps slamming her head forcefully into a wall of culture shock, which I always forget to lookout for.

Living in the moment is normal for Sicilians but I worry about my savings, career and future and so these are difficult times for this Unwilling Expat. Sicily is perfect for reflection, writing, history, food and wine and finding stories. Work is not important as life tends to disrupt employment in Sicily.


4 thoughts on “Sicilian dolce far niente or how to pretend not to work in Southern Italy

  1. An incredibly honest no nonsense approach to work in Sicily, I am going to add “and doing-all-kinds-of-shite-to make-ends-meet” to my CV.. 🙂
    There is an Italian professor of English who I occasionally meet for a drink, his English was learnt from reading D H Lawrence , Shakespeare and the rest of our notable authors. I really try not to collapse in giggles when he says ” would thou likest another glass of wine dear sir”

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    1. Yes, moving to Sicily will enrich your CV! If only those Liceo students could have such a vocabulary, I wouldn’t mind talking Shakespeare with someone 😉 I wish thee the finest sabbath day on this post tempestuous November morn …

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