Job Advertisements Italian Style

IMG_2462This is a sign posted on a shoe store window advertising a salesperson position. It says:

We are looking for a trainee/salesgirl; age limit 29 years old; show up with resume and photo

Unfortunately in Italy, a job announcement like this is normal. There is no sense of age or appearance discrimination here.

Like many other foreigners, I can’t get used to seeing this, and it borders on making me laugh and making me angry. It is illegal to practice age discrimination in the United States and in many other countries. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen, but if you are so inclined you can sue an employer if you feel you have been wronged (see here for an example).

From the beginning of my time in Italy, it seemed to me that Italians were overly concerned with people’s ages in both a professional and social context. When I learned how to draft an Italian resume (based on the European guidelines for curriculum vitae), I saw that there are places to put your birth date and photo. This didn’t sit right with me, since I think that an applicant’s age is no one’s business and that he or she should be evaluated based on their skills. I’ll talk about the photo in a second.

In social situations, I felt that people asked for other people’s ages more often than I was used to. I even noticed this in newspapers and magazines. In the Italian version of the TV guide, for example, the actors’ ages are always listed in parentheses right after their names. How is that relevant?

The advertisement also asks for a photo. What is implicit though not directly stated in this case is that the candidate be good looking. There is a phrase in Italian that shows up often in job advertisements, and it is si richiede bella presenza. That basically means “you must be attractive” to apply.

That’s another thing that you just can’t say in many countries. Besides showing one’s personal appearance, a photo can allow employers to discriminate based on gender and race as well (which are additional problems in Italy). According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, it is prohibited to ask for an applicant’s photo before a job offer has been made and accepted. Again, that doesn’t mean that discrimination based on appearance doesn’t happen (with studies showing that more attractive people tend to get hired more often), but the fact that it’s blatantly stated in Italy points to cultural differences.

Bella presenza is usually indicated on job ads seeking people who will have contact with the public, like salespeople and flight attendants. I don’t see why that is so important. I’d rather interact with someone who is polite, helpful, and really understands the product or service (because I usually have lots of questions) regardless of their physical appearance.

I bought a pair of shoes in that very store (where they hung the advertisement) in January, when almost everything is discounted by 50% in Italy. What most interests me is that the salesperson be patient, since they have to get the shoes for me (no self-service in many places) and I usually have to try on many pairs to find something that fits.

There is more I can say on this topic but I’m not interested in turning this post into a rant. There are both favorable and unfavorable aspects of Italy, and the same thing goes for my native country (see here). What I think is most important is that we open our eyes and think critically about certain cultural assumptions and their consequences on individuals and society.

What are our standards of beauty and how much do they differ among individual people and parts of the world?

Do people’s looks influence their ability to do their jobs? Do we get different service from people who fall along different parts of the attractiveness spectrum? Are you going to buy more from a conventionally attractive person? Whatever the answer, is that a good thing?

What are our prejudices against people with various kinds of looks? Do we have different expectations based on someone’s appearance?

What are the consequences of society placing so much importance on physical appearance?

Feel free to chime in in the comments.

This entry was posted in Expat Life, Italian Life. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Job Advertisements Italian Style

  1. Lucy says:

    I can’t get over it either, it makes me so mad! Then I just have to remind myself that I can go back to the UK if I want to have a better chance of finding a job not based on my appearance.. I’ve heard so many women here gush about how lucky they are to have been hired despite being in their “baby making prime”. Wtf? So Italy just doesn’t hire young women? I just want to kick Italy in the head sometimes xxx
    Lucy @ La Lingua : Life in Italy

    • Michelle says:

      Hi Lucy, I hadn’t heard those comments about the “baby making prime”. My goodness. I was reading some questions that employers in the US are not allowed to ask, including the obvious “Do you have kids?” “Are you planning to have kids?” etc… as well as lots of other questions all the way down to “What is your native language?” (to prevent race discrimination). I just have to take a breath and remind myself, ‘Different culture…’

  2. Pingback: There Are Signs Everywhere » Simply Italiana