(Before I begin – I just want to say that I hope all of you had a wonderful holiday — no matter what you celebrated….and I wish all of us a great 2013 – no matter where we are. Now on to Italy……)
We have a friend whose job is Marketing – US style – and businesses in Italy are a constant source of frustration for him. Since Marketing isn’t my thing, I’m not nearly as sensitive to the different ways to approach the idea of increasing business as he is, but I have to admit that every once in awhile I do have to scratch my head and wonder if the goal of Italian business is really to drive customers away. An example:
Perugina is a chocolate candy made in Perugia – the capital of Umbria — about an hour away from Orvieto. The company was started over 100 years ago and the candy is sold worldwide. They have to know something about attracting customers – right? Well, they have a large store on the main drag of Perugia that we went into last year. What’s the 2nd most appealing thing about chocolate – after the taste? The AROMA. And what did this store smell like? Stale cigarette smoke…..the residual smell that people have on their clothes when they’ve smoked outside (which you must do in Italy) and then come back inside. There was not even a hint of chocolate. I went into their store at the airport in Rome, and while there was no stale smoke, there also wasn’t any evidence that you were surrounded by chocolate. A US store would have piped the smell out to the street so that passers-by would be lured inside…following their noses like cartoon characters floating in on the waves of promised chocolate goodness. At least in these 2 stores, if you’d been blindfolded, you could have thought they were selling books…..or perhaps fountain pens.
Example #2 happened in the little piazza near our supermarket down in Orvieto Scalo. They have a small sandwich board set up that advertises this and that. It could be a local event, or in this case, it was the opening of a new restaurant. The name was prominently displayed along with the specialties. The only thing missing was where we could find this restaurant. At least to this admittedly untrained eye – there was no address. Good money was spent on getting the printed word out, but I guess to have a meal, you’d have to rely on the old word-of-mouth method.
And one last example: The Library. Orvieto has an absolutely gorgeous library in a stately, recently restored building not far from the Duomo. Beside books (in Italian, of course), members can also borrow movies (many with English subtitles), there are about 10 computers you can reserve for an hour at a time, and if you have your own computer, they offer free wifi. I’m sure regular users know when there might be changes to the hours, but if you only show up occasionally, you could be quite disappointed to find it closed. Usually, you can count on it being open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday mornings, 8:30-1:00. But that often randomly changes in the summer to just Tuesday and Friday mornings. I’ve seen it when afternoons –3:00-6:00 — are open on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, but when I checked the website for their current schedule, it’s just Wednesday and Thursday. There’s really no good way to know for sure that it’s open until you try the door and find it either unlocked or locked.
Now I must admit that part of the charm of Italy is the fact that it reminds us Americans of a less complicated time….the time before mass marketing, targeted advertising, giant box stores and things being open 24/7…..a time when “quality of life” was lived and not just given lip-service….a time before Greed became the #1 motivator. We say we love the idea that a family has had this shop for X years and how wonderful it is that the grandson is now running it. We say that – but then we complain that it can arbitrarily close when someone in the family is sick. We complain when things aren’t advertised enough and we must rely on word of mouth to find the newest restaurant or the revised hours for the library.
I might not be successful, but I’m going to try very hard NOT to complain in the future. This isn’t to say that I won’t “point out” some of these marketing “eccentricities”, but when I do, I’ll try not to use a whiney voice. Because let’s face it — if everything ran smoothly and you could count on when shops and libraries were open, and you knew just where to find that new restaurant – what would I have to write about?