The Firm

So, we weren’t a very good fit for the whole Corporate America thing. I guess maybe we should have tried somewhere less brutal than Southern California. We just weren’t into the hour commute (both ways!), the fierce competition with colleagues, and the boss who told Tony, “I know you’re into your family. I want someone who’s into his job” (translation: you need to take your work home every evening and weekend if you value your job).

Fast forward to this summer, when we were in Ireland, doing contract work. Out of the blue, the fantastic Italian mayor who granted Tony Italian citizenship (yes, that’s included in the job description of a mayor in Italy) contacted us and said he wanted to fly Tony to Italy to interview for a job in his company. In the end, it turned out to be more of an on-the-spot offer than an interview.

Of course, we were dying to move back to Italy, the land of milk and honey and parmesan and prosciutto. The only problem was, we weren’t sure if we could live on the salary they were offering, even in small-town Italy. Until Tony’s soon-to-be boss (who owns the company) explained all the benefits. They included the regular things like health insurance, retirement plan, and sick leave. Also a cell phone (although they never call him outside of work hours; it’s strictly a perk), a MacBook laptop (to Tony’s great delight; Apples are much rarer in Italy than in the U.S.), and a car that his boss said we could use all we wanted as a family car. And they fill it up with gas every week from the company tank. He also gets paid for some phantom thirteenth month, and a fourteenth month goes into his pension fund, or he can take it out if he wants. Add to that somewhere around forty days of various types of paid time off (now we know why the whole country takes off for the entire month of August), and it was starting to sound pretty good.

So we moved back to Italy. When Tony started work, his boss told him that his job for the next few months is learning Italian, and that the product he is supposed to market won’t be available for about a year. His commute is ten minutes, and he eats a nice, leisurely lunch at home with us. All-in-all, things seemed pretty low-key and non-stressful, and that’s really what we needed after the rollercoaster we’ve had since we left Italy two years ago. That is, until they finally gave him his official contract, and it said it ended in December.

We did some quick research about employment contracts in Italy and discovered that the Italian economy basically revolves around a type of contract called tempo indeterminato, which means “unspecified time,” or in other words, forever. Having a tempo indeterminato contract is the equivalent of having a good credit score in the U.S. No bank will ever loan you money without it, and people won’t be as happy to rent you an apartment either. Tempo indeterminato also means it is basically impossible for your employer to fire you.

Tempo indeterminato sounded pretty good. And it also sounded pretty descriptive of how long Tony’s boss had said he wanted to employ him in that interview/recruitment pep talk. So the next morning, Tony marched straight into the middle of a meeting said boss was conducting, and explained in carefully practiced Italian sentences that he didn’t like the December contract. In fact, once he got to the end of his speech, he ripped the contract in half right then and there.

I guess in Italy the rule is, the more emotional the better. His boss loved the whole thing. In fact, he picked up the mutilated contract and ripped it in half again himself for good measure, after launching into a long and emotional speech about how happy he was that Tony wanted to be with the company forever. Tears were in his eyes as he said to Tony, “we will be married.” I guess tempo indeterminato is the corporate Italian version of “until death do us part.”

So we’ve married into the family. Actually, it feels more like an adoption. We’re now actually known as “dependents” of the company. This is both an emotional and a material connection, and it’s not just rhetorical. In fact, the other day Tony’s boss called him in to tell him they’ve decided they want to do something more. They’re remodeling the top floor of the office building into an apartment for us. We move out of our temporary housing and in there in two weeks. Pretty soon I’ll be able to tell you the good and the weird of living in Corporate Italia. I guess the only thing better than working from home is living at work. Right?

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