Back to Reality: the “Rientro”
The holidays are over and everyone is returning to work, school or whatever they were doing before the break. In most countries, it’s a pretty straightforward affair, but in Italy, it’s so traumatic there’s even a name for it: the so-called “rientro” (literally, “re-entry”).
August is traditionally when Italy, including its main cities, effectively shuts down, although in recent years the customary month-long hiatus has given way to a shorter break of a week either side of Ferragosto (15th August), a holiday originally instituted by the Emperor Augustus for 1st August. Its literal meaning was “Feriae Augusti”, or the festivals / downtime of Augustus (although a lot of the Italian-speaking expats I know jokingly wish each other a happy “Iron August” in English because it sounds like “ferro” – or iron).
Like so many things in Italy, although the roots of Ferragosto are pagan, it subsequently became a Catholic festival. In fact, it marks the Assumption of Mary, when the mother of Jesus ascended to Heaven.
But let’s bring the topic back down to Earth. The “rientro” marks a profound socio-psychological schism in the Italian year. Being surgically detached from the beach and returning to the office in a suit and tie requires the average Italian to reorient themselves back to their pre-holiday frame of mind: It leaves them in a condition that most Anglo-Saxons would associate with the end of a 12-month sabbatical or round-the-world tour of several years’ duration.
The “rientro” itself lasts for weeks, even months. In fact, September can even be a quiet time as people are still coming back. A lot of courses and programmes don’t really get going until October.
As the summer break approaches, Italians clear the decks, putting off any important meetings or decisions until “after the holidays”. There is a massive scramble to get accounts settled and loose ends tied up: anything that could impede total relaxation during their vacation. Consequently, there is a huge backlog of delayed or postponed business in September and the following months.
The “sweet spot” when people are back at work and ready to do business is, however, surprisingly short. Even by mid-October, Italians are starting to think about Christmas, so any important decisions that were deferred until after the summer may well be shunted forward in time to the New Year. Since there is a similar, although less marked, reorientation in January, plans can easily slide into the period “after Easter”, by which time people are already planning their summer holiday…
If you are arriving in Italy from a North European or North American country, this tendency towards procrastination can be incredibly frustrating. (The word “procrastination”, by the way, derives from the Latin word for tomorrow, “cras”: it literally means putting something off till tomorrow, although in reality, it’s going to be more like “next year” rather than the following day when – and if – something actually takes place.)
In fact, the longer you live in Italy, the more you need to think in terms of years not days, weeks or months to set up or execute a project. Although, once you have got something off the ground, Italian consumers and partners are much more loyal than Anglo-Saxons: they really are in for the long haul, so although it can take a lot of time to make anything happen, once it starts you can enjoy the type of long-term business relationship that’s something of a rarity in the English-speaking world.
Since most Italian workers, especially older ones, tend to have permanent contracts (known as “indeterminate” contracts in Italy) and change their job far less frequently, the extended annual summer holiday and concomitant relaxed “rientro” are really part of the culture: if you’re coming back to work, so is your manager, all your clients and anyone you work with. Be prepared to describe your holidays to everyone you meet and to hear about their vacation at length and in great detail. In the public sector – and Italy, remember, has an enormous number of state employees – the return to work is a shared experience that requires a gradual easing back into routines. You may well find accessing some public agencies takes longer than expected and that key decision makers are still out of office.
The change in temperature and climate has a profound effect on Italians: as the days shorten and the mercury sinks, autumn fashions start to appear on the streets of Milan: Fashion Week itself is round the corner. The theatre programme gets going, although the “Prima” (or “season opener”) of the city’s world-famous Scala opera house doesn’t happen until early December, which is also a holiday week in Milan.
Schools and universities get going again during the “rientro”, of course. Italian schools have a 3-month break and if you teach – even adults – you might want to do some revision as a large chunk of everything your students learnt before the summer will by now have desiccated, evaporated and form something of a trace memory, rather than being information, grammar or vocabulary they can actually remember or use.
So, we’re back. We have emerged, slightly dazed but hopefully refreshed, from our frazzled holiday space capsules and splashed down into the busy pre-autumn. (Compared to London or New York, it’s still pretty hot and feels like summer.) Autumn and spring are by far the best periods to be in Milan, so enjoy yourself and take every opportunity to sample the wide range of cultural and leisure activities on offer, many of which you will find details here on EasyMilano.com.
About the author
Robert Dennis is a writer and Business English teacher based in Milan. He has been teaching for other 30 years both in the UK and in Italy. A long-time collaborator with John Peter Sloan, Robert published Business English (Gribaudo) in 2020. The book was launched with “Il Sole 24 Ore” and sold in newsstands throughout Italy. Robert has a website for people who want to learn Business English: Pay As You Learn.com. The site features keywords and phrases, audio and exercises to help professionals improve their language skills. A graduate in English from Oxford University, Robert is a regular contributor to Easy Milano who often writes about plays staged in English in Milan and other cultural events in the city. He is also a translator and “buongustaio” who loves Italian food! robertdennis.it
Easy Milano is the online publication for the international community of Milan. We offer practical tips, key information and essential insights about living and working in Italy. Easy Milano has been assisting English speaking expats in Milan since 1999.
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