We left our bags at the entrance of the coffee place, walked to the bar, and asked the barista for two espresso shots.
“Normal?” she asked. Italy is espresso-normative. Even macchiato would be different from “normal.” Yes, we said.
We were hours away from our departure from Italy and we thought we’d stop by to get our last coffee. My sister and I sipped it while standing, as Italians do, and the barista asked us where we were heading to.
“Israel,” said my sister. “We live there.”
The barista looked surprised, yet curious. Most of her friends who emigrated from Turin had moved to London, and she’d never heard of anyone who moved to Israel.
“I went there to study chemistry, and stayed,” explained my sister. “I have a great job in research.”
While taking our empty cups, the barista smiled. A sad smile.
“My best friend studied biology in Rome. She wanted to be a researcher, and she was also good at it, but she soon realized that she would have to work without being paid. There’s no money in research here. She had to feed her children, so she ended up having a completely different carrier. She spent five years of her life working for a dream she could not achieve in the end.”
I nodded silently. In my mind, there is no room for the words “work” and “unpaid” in the same sentence. Yet, here in Italy, it’s a common practice. I, myself, was often asked to write articles or offer marketing tips “for free.”
I walked away from the coffee place, thankful of the path I’ve chosen. Thankful that when I say that I believe in my dreams, people don’t think it’s weird.
In Israel, the country I live in, the vast majority of students have part-time jobs. They do because that’s how their society works. On the contrary, I’ve heard of many Italian friends who tried to get a side-job while studying, and couldn’t. “We only look for cashiers with experience.” “We only employ full-time baristas.” “How old are you? You look too young for the job.”
There is a widespread mistrust, an apparent phobia for the younger generations in the Italian workplace. And I can’t help wondering: Is it the society that doesn’t allow for a change, or are the new generations not fighting hard enough to change the system?