Living in Rome
In my first year in Rome, I met someone (an art gallerist) who told me that you could find everything you wanted in Rome, you just had to know where to find it. I’m reminded of it every time I look for something, I always end up finding it. There is one thing though that is almost impossible to find here: it is a decent job. A few days ago, I had to say goodbye to a good friend of mine, who decided to go back to her old job in Paris since she couldn’t find anything suitable in Rome, even though she had the right CV for the city (history of art). For her, it means separating the family. Her partner will stay in his job in Italy and will see her and their children only every other weekend.
She is one of the many “trailing spouses” (as they are referred to) who have difficulties adapting to Rome, and not without reasons. The city works through an intricate network of close contacts, old acquaintances or family connections. Trying to get a job from the outside without the right connections will lead to guaranteed failure, even with a brilliant CV and a knowledge of the language. I knew someone else who decided to resign and take a job in Paris or London, so his wife could get back to work as well. They too had experienced the difficulty of trying to find the right balance in Rome. Of course, one can always find a job, but the level of pay is dismal, it doesn’t even cover childcare in most cases. I experienced it myself doing a stint in the Rome bureau of a major international newspaper. I wasn’t even paid a receptionist rate to stand in for the regular correspondent when he had to travel, but I incurred childcare costs to be able to go there. I would be paid only if I had a piece published. Needless to say that the correspondent didn’t go anywhere when there was an important event to cover, so my chance of getting something published was minimal. I obviously didn’t last more than a week in the job, just because I couldn’t afford to. Examples of that kind abound in the city.
Many women are very excited at the prospect of living in Rome, but the excitement is soon replaced by disenchantment as they struggle to keep up their career. Many choose to use the time to have another child before the next move. Others take art history classes, with regular trips on location and decide to learn everything there is to know about the city (a time consuming exercise in its own right), but it is more of a hobby. However, for women who intellectually feel the need to work and thrive through work, it is extremely difficult. It feels like banging at a succession of closed doors. They never open for you. Strangely, it is mainly women who suffered from it. The rare men I know who decided to follow their wife’s career to Rome are quite happy having the time off. They use it to develop other interests and view it as an opportunity, but those examples are extremely rare. In the majority of cases, it is the women who follow their husband’s career, with the naive hope that they too will rebound.
I can understand my friend’s decision to cut her losses here and go back. She knows that once back home, she’ll be able to rebuild her professional life and the path ahead will open up for her again, but she is taking a risk. It is important not to feel restricted. In that respect, it seems that no other major European city is as restricted for outsiders as Rome is. The only place left to work is the UN, but that’s another microcosm within the city.