Bologna Inside - Second Edition

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5 > WORK



The first rule in the Italian work environment is to be as formal as possible, until directed otherwise. Use the third person Lei when speaking with superiors and colleagues and most importantly, use proper titles. Italians often refer to their boss simply as Direttore (Director) or Presidente (President). The title Dottore/Dottoressa is used when addressing anyone with an undergraduate university degree. It does not imply that the person is a medical doctor or holds a Ph.D. in any discipline. When in doubt about someone’s academic credentials, aim high with Dottore or Dottoressa and wait to be corrected. Both school teachers and university professors use the same title of Professore/Professoressa, but only the later get Chiarissimo/Chiarissima placed in front.

Juggling two toddlers and holding a full time job without any relatives to help was quite a task back in the ‘80s and still is now. Just getting the kids accepted to the asilo nido was a challenge as our dual income put us at the bottom of the list. I pointed out that I would lose my job if they didn’t take my kids! Planning holidays with my husband was hard - everything had to coincide with our two companies and the availability and high cost of summer camp (which only take children over age 3). Some weeks were covered by an understanding mother-in-law, others with teenage babysitters. Now myboys are in high school and on their own…bigger kids, bigger problems!

Marybeth Pounders

Other titles to learn include:

Avvocato: lawyer, university degree
Ingegnere: engineer, university degree
Geometra: surveyor, professional school degree
Ragioniere: bookkeeper, professional school degree (not to be confused with commercialisti, who are instead addressed as Dottore/Dottoressa)
Cavaliere del lavoro: knight of the working order, special awarded title, does not require a degree of any kind


Forget about casual Friday - Italians are elegant seven days a week. Appearances matter in any culture, but people really take note here. You may be surprised that professional women dress more revealingly in Italy as exemplified by the décolletage sported by tv journalists. Femininity is celebrated and it is acceptable for women to shed nylons in the summer.

Biglietti da visita (business cards) are also key to making an impression. Consider having personal cards printed with your title, name, phone number and e-mail while you are looking for a job. You will then have something to slide across the table during the requisite exchange at the start of an interview.


Face-to-face meetings are a very important element of Italian work culture, preferred to telephone calls and e-mail. A “get down to business” attitude can be considered abrupt, so take the lead from colleagues or your interlocutor about how much small talk should proceed the meeting agenda. Meetings can drag on for hours without seeming to accomplish much. That’s because the real decisions are made in side meetings or over a meal. Here however, there is a careful balance to be maintained - Italians don’t like to mix business with pleasure and you should never whip out a notebook at the table. It does seem acceptable to place your cell phone next to your plate - it shows that you may be expecting a very important call. Wine may be ordered, but these are not martini lunches and sipping on one glass is plenty. If it is not clear who is paying for a business meal, insist, but just enough. Rather than spitting the bill alla Romana (Roman style), it is more appropriate to say that you will offer next time.


The adage about not discussing religion or politics also applies in the Italian workplace. If you make the mistake of letting anyone know your political viewpoint, make sure it is the right viewpoint (or as usually the case in Bologna, the left viewpoint). Do your best to at least glance at the morning headlines so you can follow the day’s exchanges at the espresso machine.


While it is true that Italians love their ferie (vacation), the stereotype of Italians being lazy is definitely not true in Bologna. Bolognese are incredibly enterprising and the work day usually wraps up closer to 19 than to 17. In addition to stores, many companies are also open on Saturday mornings.

Italians will joke about the quarto d’ora accademico (being 15 minutes late), but business meetings usually start on time and it is brutta figura (poor form) to show up with an excuse about the heavy traffic.

One stereotype that is unfortunately true is that males dominate the boardroom and women are still fighting against the glass ceiling in terms of hiring, pay and promotion.

Italians take their professional titles very seriously. I’ll never forget that when working with a medical doctor, I used “Dottore,” thinking surely I couldn’t be wrong. Yet since this doctor also taught at the medical school, I was embarrassingly corrected that he should be referred to as “Professore.” It seems that when someone teaches their profession at the university level, “Professore” trumps any other title. Just when you think you know all the titles and rules, someone throws something new out at you. Fortunately, as a foreigner, you are more likely to be forgiven, but you will definitely score points if you pay close attention to these titles.

Allison Hoeltzel

Working Parents

While Italy’s maternity leave is not as generous as other European countries like Germany or Sweden, it does have some interesting options for dipendenti that not everyone knows about. Normal maternity leave is five months - two before the birth and three after.However, if your job is judged to be low-risk you can stay at work until the last month of pregnancy and get an extra month at home with your baby. After the obligatory leave, there are an additional eleven months (six for the mother and five for the father) at reduced pay. When our daughter was born, we faced the same dilemma as all working parents without nonni - what to do once I’d finished my obligatory leave. I didn’t want to use up my entire leave allowance but I also didn’t want Eleonora to start day care too young.Luckily, that year the Italian government had decided that fathers as well as mothers were entitled to have the two hours per day of paid leave for the child’s first year - the allattamento or nursing entitlement. Amazingly enough, the bureaucracy was simple - a one-page form that my husband handed in to his office and INPS. He did have to put up with some teasing, however; he was the first man to “nurse” in his workplace. Since I am fortunate enough to have a flexible job and an understanding boss, we decided that I would work part time in the afternoon and that my husband Andrea would take the two hours so he could be home by 14.By working in shifts, we were able to take care of our baby until she entered day care at fourteen months. For us, it was the perfect solution and it enabled Andrea to be a more involved father than many of his friends and coworkers. I was happy that my shorter work day meant that I was able to continue to breastfeed without ever having to pump. This system also enabled us to set aside paid maternity leave to use during the neverending Italian summer with no child care. You can take paid maternity leave until your child’s third birthday; unpaid maternity leave, however, may be taken until your child turns eight. An unanticipated bonus of having dad stay at home with the kids is that he NEVER complains that the house is a mess, or dinner isn’t ready or about the laundry overflowing the hamper - he knows firsthand the reason why!

Alexa Sinel