Why foreigners in Italy are happier than Italians

Foreigners in Italy are happier than Italians, according to figures published by Italy's national statistics agency, Istat, last week. The Local finds out why.

Why foreigners in Italy are happier than Italians
A Eurostat report in July found that more working-age foreigners in Italy are in jobs. Working Italy photo: Shutterstock

The bleak economic conditions in Italy touch foreigners as much as Italians, so why are they more satisfied with their lot?

Some 60.8 percent of foreigners polled by Istat gave their level of life satisfaction eight or more points out of ten, compared to just 37.2 percent of Italians.

It could be because, despite the employment and integration challenges, they are more economically stable: a report by Eurostat in July found that employment among working-age foreigners in Italy stands at 61.9 percent, a notch above the local rate of 59.5 percent.

Of those polled by Istat, the majority – 58 percent – said they were satisfied with their jobs, with people from the Philippines and Moldova having the most job satisfaction.

People from Ukraine and China, meanwhile, were the least satisfied with their employment.

Women and young foreigners were also among the most satisfied.

“It’s no surprise that people from the Philippines and Moldova are the happiest,” Indra Perera, the president of the Rome unit of the National Confederation of Artisans and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (CNA), which provides business services to foreigners, told The Local.

“Most are women who work as domestic helpers, so they get their accommodation and food provided by Italian families. They don’t feel the crisis as much. But it’s not so good for people working in factories.”

Meanwhile, the number of small businesses owned by non-European immigrants surged 44 percent between April and June this year as they snapped up failed Italian firms at bargain prices, Perera added.

“They have a ‘can-do’ attitude, and I think this may also explain why they are more satisfied,” he said.

“After losing their jobs many used their savings, or borrowed money from family, to buy businesses that had closed. There was no alternative.”

Perera said that foreigners are also becoming “even more conversant in Italian", which helps them to get on.

Italians, on the other hand, “like to complain a lot”, Marco, a restaurant owner in northern Rome, told The Local.

“Most of our dissatisfaction is aimed at the politicians. The country has no direction,” he said.

Rashedur Rahman Rakesh, a writer from Bangladesh who has lived in the northern Italian city of Parma for eight years, said he “feels sorry for Italians” as more foreigners are in jobs.

“From my own experience of living in Italy and travelling to several other cities of Europe, I see Italy as one of the most gentle nations of the world,” he told The Local.

“Foreigners are working, whereas Italians are unemployed, which is hard for them to accept, although foreigners tend to work more hours than that of the Italians.”

Sara, a 32-year-old street-fundraiser from Ethiopia who lives in Rome, disputed the Istat findings.

“I don’t think it’s true, Italy’s a difficult place for foreigners,” she said.

“But I think the difference is that we get on with it. The Italians do complain a lot; they don’t realize how good they have it.”

Lina Novak, a business development manager from Russia, said that "on balance, I am happy in Italy."

"It has its challenges, the money isn't great and the Italian organizational prowess is conspicuous by its absence," she said.

"But the overall quality of life, considering the climate, the food, the people, and the amount of cultural and natural treasures per square mile, is practically unrivalled in the world."

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Three stories of finding love in Italy that will restore your faith in romance

Valentine's Day has its roots in the Roman Empire, so what better way to celebrate than with some heartwarming real-life stories about Italian love.

Three stories of finding love in Italy that will restore your faith in romance
Holly and Gianluca on their wedding day in Capri. Photo: Private

“And that is … how they are. So terribly physically all over one another. They pour themselves one over the other like so much melted butter over parsnips. They catch each other under the chin, with a tender caress of the hand, and they smile with sunny melting tenderness into each other's face.”

This is what British author D.H Lawrence once wrote about Italy. We know the country has its problems, but you can't escape the romance, whether that be in Romeo and Juliet's Verona, on a street sign, like the one in Cinque Terre below, or the open displays of affection. It's no wonder that many of those who travel or move to Italy do so with a secret hope of starting their own Italian love story.

The Street of Love. Photo: bigskyred/Flickr

But as a foreigner, sometimes the idea of actually finding love in the most romantic of countries can seem as distant from reality as the many myths surrounding Italy's dating culture.

There are language and cultural barriers to contend with, plus additional fears based on the stereotype of Italians as cheating Lotharios.

However, it can be done, and here are three pairs of star-crossed lovers whose 'how we met' stories will make you want to book a flight to Italy right away.

Holly and Gianluca, who run a restaurant together in Capri

In 2013, I was travelling around Italy for a five week holiday. It was my first visit to Capri and on my second night, I found myself dining at Ristorante Michel’angelo. From the moment I walked in to Michel’angelo, I immediately felt comfortable, which as a solo Australian traveller I really appreciated.

Little did I know this meal would change my life forever.

The waiter, Gianluca (who I later learnt was the owner) had such a warm manner but could only speak a little English and I could only speak a little Italian. At the end of my meal, in my best Italian I asked for the bill several times and instead received dessert and limoncello. I thought to myself that he mustn't have understood me. All the other tables were paying their bills and leaving until I was the only person left in the restaurant.

Gianluca then placed his order pad on the table, explained that he had not yet eaten and cheekily asked me for a table for one. Finding it pretty amusing (and with a little limoncello courage), I got up and showed him to a table, lit the candle and took his order. After I placed the order with the chef, I joined his table and with the help of Google translate we laughed until the early hours of the morning.

Two weddings later (one in Capri and one in Sydney) and with two beautiful baby boys, we now run Michel’angelo together and share an appreciation for fantastic food, wine, family and a good laugh!

Laura Thayer, an American writer and art historian who lives with her husband, Lello, on the Amalfi coast

The way I met my husband is right out of a romance movie.

My mother had planned a holiday here in 2007 while I was at graduate school in the US, and I just knew I had to go along! I was studying art history at the time, so it made sense to come to Italy.

We came to the Amalfi coast on a week-long tour, which is when I fell in love with the architecture of the area … and our tour guide!

We did the long distance thing for quite a while, with a lot of back and forth, until we finally married in 2012. 

Besides the stereotypical meeting, we're a pretty atypical couple with our cultural and age differences. I didn't even know a word of Italian when we met. But fortunately, since he is a tour guide the language barrier wasn't an issue. It has been quite an unexpected adventure, but one I wouldn't change for anything. It's true … you never really know how a vacation might change your life! 

Alice Kiandra Adam, an Australian cook and food stylist, who lives with her husband, Leonardo and two children in Rome

I was a caterer and food stylist in Melbourne when I left in May 2005 for a year-long trip to Italy.

I had studied Italian at primary school, and again as an adult, and was enamoured with the Italian gastronomic landscape. I had sold the catering business I had with a friend, and with enough money in my back pocket I thought I'd go to Rome to really learn the language.

My first job was as a waitress in a restaurant in the Trastevere district. It was a totally memorable experience. At the pub next door, where we would go for a drink after our shift, I met Leonardo.

It feels like a cliché writing this, but when we met I was swept off my feet on the back of a white Vespa. So when I got to the end of my 12 months of course I wanted to stay.

Almost 11 years later and we have two children, Alberto, 7, and Emma, 6. It was after they were born that I decided to go back to working in the food sector. I missed the creativity, the markets and produce and just being in the kitchen. It has been a really slow road building up a business in Rome, but I now work with some great Italian and international photographers, teach and lead tours with Casa Mia, and have a lot of really great projects happening at Latteria Studio, which I share in Trastevere.

I love Australia, and wish it was (quite) a bit closer, but there is so much about Italy, and Europe, that stimulates, challeges and inspires me.

A version of this article was first published in February 2016.