Showrooms in Italy start all meetings by serving clients bottled water, espresso, and tea biscuits on a tray. And no matter who you are, you will be serving clients within 5 minutes of them sitting their purse down or perusing the collection. It’s all apart of the sell! It’s standard business etiquette that is taken very seriously, so you have to pay attention, because as soon as you get that sharp glance, it typically means you’re not moving fast enough. On my first day, the other intern pulled me aside and showed me how to use the espresso machine and where they kept the extra coffee disks, sugar, and tea. And surely enough if she was busy, I was expected to be on cue!
As unrealistic as it is, neurotic bosses actually think their subordinates can read their minds. My advice: Play into it! Study, watch, and do, but don’t over anticipate major decisions (like assuming she will want pink invitations sent rather than lilac).
Girls will be Girls! Don’t let em’ get to you!
God knows I worked with a number of smart alecky twenty- something’s that thought fashion was fun and would pay their bills temporarily, while they were in search for some billionaire boyfriend. No matter how stupid and shallow some of the conversations may be, just nod and laugh! Don’t take anything too personal, be professional, and choose your friends wisely! Remember, if she gossips to you, she will gossip about you! If they don’t want to include you, fine! Show that you are more than comfortable going to lunch by yourself, and when they finally ask if you would like to eat with them, tell them you’re busy and maybe you will join them another time! It’s okay to be a little b*tchy once in a while in your own way, trust me people will not mess with you if they see they cannot get to you! Why are some people such a pain in the neck, well they are learning you by testing you in little ways. I never joined a sorority, so I did not learn this until I got out in the workforce. But, it didn’t take me long!
In short, if you can’t get along with women, you may want to find another career outside of Fashion, because wherever you see beautiful clothes, there will always be women involved! Surviving these environments will mean mastering the skill of listening without giving your opinion, people will grow to not only trust you, but love you and will always want you around.
There was one girl who was just difficult and gave me a hard time the first week. Oh she would mock me, make sarcastic little remarks, and roll her eyes! She thought that because I did not speak fluent Italian that I was just another dumb American here in Italy trying to get a little culture. Sadly enough some people feel that interns may be coming to taking their jobs and its just an attitude you may have to cope with early on until your coworkers feel you out. Everyday she would observe me closely and and in due time she saw that I was there to do my job, so she started speaking to me, and asked if I would like a coffee here and there. I just had to give it a little time.
Learn who has the most influence in the office besides the boss. Who does the boss go to for advice? Sure you may not see them talking, but they may come in together, take lunch at the same time (code for meet me in the lobby), or you may find out that this person watched their dog while they were out of town. It’s important to treat everyone well, but make sure to definitely create a positive impression with this person! In the showroom, our golden girl worked part- time, although she was second in command, thank God she didn’t flaunt her power.
However, she was big on everyone staying busy and could come up with the most creative assignments (stocking closets, shelving fashion books). So before I could even look bored, I always made sure to go ask her what needed to be done next!
Where’s the Technology?
Italian businesses are not as invested in technology as American companies. It’s just the reality of some establishments. This can be bad and good depending on how you look at things. So don’t look shocked if you have to share a computer with another intern and there are missing buttons on the keyboard, or that you have to push down on the space bar twice to make a single space. In some establishments that’s just the way it is. Will it take you longer to get your work done? Yes. Will you get frustrated at times and want to scream? Yes. At this time step away, have a healthy snack or make yourself an espresso. And remember, this is an experience that you as well as everyone in your internship program is going through and later on that night you will be laughing about it over a glass of vino. Take it all in Stride!