The dust has settled and the positions within the restaurant are now defined and structured. I have officially been relegated to “The One Who Does Those Tasks.” An honorable title I know but the position allows me the opportunity to listen and learn the lives of my fellow co-workers. From prepping pasta, to grind herbs, to even sealing octopus into small plastic bags each activities gives more insight to the inner machine. The inner-mechanisms of this restaurant is absolutely my co-workers with little emphasis on the head chef Mariano and front-of-house Jean Franco. This is made more shocking as I only have four co-workers with them being Helena, Emilia, Cesar, and Jean Franco. They come from all walks of life but they exude dedication and intensity about their job. They also all have larger families and relatively stressful circumstances that demand that they work and keep working with every table, every dish, or every spot to clean being paramount to their life.
In the US I have seen time and time again with my many of my co-workers in restaurants that all of their lives rely on their job. This dependence is for their families, children, or for their quality of life but often times it goes too far as they start to dedicate to much of their time and life to their jobs. They begin to lose the very things they started the job for to begin with. Comparing this type of work life with my co-workers it is somewhat-similar but with key exceptions. My current co-workers have this drive behind every action and task. Where in the US someone washing plates, cleaning floors, or serving tables would do the job but visibly show their dissatisfaction and do it without passion. My Italian co-workers put so much passion and drive behind the menial that it is shocking. To me this speaks for the whole of Italy as it shows that the passion and commitment to work is deeply ingrained in each Italian.
Work means everything here in Italy. Simply walking around town or traveling around Italy shows this truth. One’s job screams family, tradition, and long standing commitments. When you go to Dal Moro (a local sandwich shop here in Arezzo) you don’t find a minimum wage worker or hates their existence. One day you could find a father whose commitment for his craft has been past down from the soul of his father and another day find his son behind the counter already carrying the mantle of his father. You could even look at Bar Stefano (a “cafe” in Arezzo) with the whole family working there and their rich history with establishment. Just a few months ago the Bar was very close to shutting down due to family emergencies. These relationships speak volumes about the value that Italians have for their work.
For me this work has been intriguing and relaxing. At the start it was a bit stressful and awkward as I carved out a spot for myself amongst the staff but it allowed for some interesting moments of too much spaghetti (I mean I had to eat three huge bowls of the stuff) and exploding bags of pasta (that one is on me). The language barrier was also a little terrifying at first but now my co-workers and I speak in a broken and simple form of Italian that consists of concepts and questions instead of actual sentences. It is actually quite fun but not very helpful when it comes to speaking in my Italian class; it kinda makes me look insane but at least I am talking right? But above all else this internship has been very relaxing. As I work through Monastery (My peers and I live in a Monastery as a dormitory) politics, exams, mountains of homework, and the constant travel, the time to just cut and prep food while learning recipes and lifestyles from Italian locals is heavenly. It is kind of ironic when the day is over and the most relaxing part of the whole day was when I was in a hot busy kitchen cooking zucchini and eggplant over an even hotter grill.
To get to this state was not easy but the concepts that we discussed in class helped tremendously. I had to be assertive with what I want and need especially since if I don’t appear competent I am certain I would be washing dishes all day every day. With the transition of classes I had change schedules with Mariano and that was stressful since the language barrier and I didn’t want to come off as rude but with the help and guidance of both Lucio and Charlotte (Staff here at OUA) I was able to make a proper decision. Now Mariano and I both have a better schedule that allows me to learn more and Mariano to use my talents to their fullest.
Another hurdle that our classes help me traverse was that of gestures and idioms. Since Mariano and most of the staff at the restaurant are from Sicily they use A LOT of gestures. I’m talking chin flicks, arm slaps, face palms, tornado arms, dimple drills, and more; name it and I have seen it. Some are more self-explanatory but many are a bit confusing but with the help of class and the Monastery’s chef Fabio (who really only teaches me rude and crazy idioms) I am able to understand “key” points of conversations or who in this particular moment is a massive idiot.
Overall I am excited that I am working in a restaurant. It a very relaxing since it is so different from my major and career path. It gives me the opportunity to focus on the culture of the region and how the common Italian worker lives their life. Which is made all the sweeter after spending hours on huge Calculus equations. This internship is the perfect window to the inner machine or the heart of Italy in terms of family and personal values. From those with jobs past down from generation to generation, to friends working for friends all for the support of their respectively families. All that I want from this now is to be a part of this drive and family orientated system that impresses anyone that has the time to get to know it.