One of the goals that I set before coming to Sicilia was to shadow my host mother or father in their career so that I could experience an international business situation. Today, I achieved that goal! My host mother had to meet with the overarching agency that she coordinates with to rent villas, and she invited me to come along. Francesco helps her with her work because he enjoys it, so the three of us went to the meeting this evening.
I immediately noticed that meetings are far more informal than in the United States. In fact, work is generally much more casual in dress and manners. Most men here wear jeans and a polo, or dress shirt, on a normal day. Women usually wear nice jeans or pants with a nice shirt. Suits are only for extremely important days, or for weddings. The mannerisms and conversations are relaxed and casual, and are not strictly about business or the task at hand. The people here are generally informal with one another because they care about making others feel welcomed and comfortable. There is not a strict start and end time to the meetings, which you could assume from observing Sicilian attitude towards time and organization. If someone says, “meet me at 6”, it is most likely going to be 6:30, or maybe 7:00. If a meeting is running late, there is no rush to end it. People here work until the job is done, but enjoy it along the way.
I think that the greatest difference in business matters, and general interpersonal interactions, between Italy and the United States is the listening style of Italians. The Italians and Sicilians listen to understand, while Americans listen to respond. The Sicilians will offer every possible solution to a problem to demonstrate that they have listened and grasp every angle of the situation. It is evident that Sicilians listen with their hearts to every word, even in business, simply by the expressions on their face and in their tone of voice. I think this is what America has lost in many aspects of life. We are so focused on time and convenience that we forget to value the interactions that we have with one another, and do not focus on the moment that we are in. I think that if Americans could make a conscious effort to adopt this listening style, it would only make our work in business more thorough and would leave customers more satisfied. If one thing is consistent across the world, it is that people want to feel valued and important. The Sicilians have mastered this art.