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Raccomandato – It’s Who You Know

One of the meanings of the Italian word ‘raccomandato‘ is ‘recommended’.  It’s a word you hear surprisingly often a lot in Italy but not always for the right reasons.

I have lived and worked in Italy for many years and hear the word raccomandato very often.  Too often.

Italian youngsters who have battled their way through Italy’s education system are highly familiar with the word raccomandato, and the negative connotations it has.

A Common Situation in Italy

For example, there is a pupil in school who spends most of his or her time not paying attention and fooling about, but somehow this person manages to score high marks in all the important exams.  Italians will know that this person has been ‘raccomandato’, usually by a family member who has either money or power or both.

The person who has been ‘recommended’ may then find themselves in one of Italy’s top universities, and, in turn, will graduate and earn the title ‘dottore’.  But the process probably will not stop there. Indeed, these ‘raccommandati’ may well become lawyers, medical doctors, architects or politicians.

Progress Through Influence

Aside from being unfair, this system of ‘progress through influence’ as one could refer it, can lead to potential dangers.

While some raccomandati have worked hard at school and at university, others have not bothered studying because they know that that their futures are more or less assured. This means certain people really should not end up as qualified professionals, and, even worse, those with automatic qualifications can actually end up putting the lives of others at risk, such as doctors and architects.

Real Dangers

Recently in Italy there have been a few incidences of patients dying while being treated in hospital for relatively minor conditions. There is one example here, in Italian.  In this particular situation a youngster died after having an accident on a bouncy castle which blew off its moorings.  Apparently the doctors involved did not realize the extent of the child’s injuries and the poor child died a week later.  Now, while this could have been simply one of those unfortunate incidents, knowing about the widespread use of the recommendation system here, it makes you wonder how the doctors concerned earned their qualifications.

Is this Why Italy is so Inefficient?

The number of politicians who have ended up as such as a result of a recommendation could go some way towards explaining why Italy’s government is not as effective as it could be.  In fact I do know some have entered politics via the raccomandato system.

Then there is the length of court cases (10 to 20 years) and the time it takes for judges to reach decisions. Could time taken be down to the fact that certain judges are technically not really qualified?  Knowing the system, possibly.

I know of quite a few other similar situations.  Here is another one.  Down in Genova, unless you ‘know’ somebody, finding a job can be almost impossible.

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Stop reading, start speaking

Stop translating in your head and start speaking Italian for real with the only audio course that prompt you to speak.

Beppe Grillo, an Italian comic and activist, wrote a piece about the rampant nepotism which apparently exists within Italy’s RAI state television broadcaster back in 2006.

There is another good example of a ‘raccomandato’ situation in the post Highly “recommended”…. over on the blog by an English expat in Italy: Life, Lavora and Luca, by the way.

I, too, have come across raccomandati in the course of my work.

Job Seekers Fear

Italy’s fake meritocracy is well known to many of the students at the business school where I often find myself holding courses.

Many of the business school students fear that there is a very real danger of losing a job opportunity to a ‘raccomandato’.  Some students who are struggling to make themselves stand out from the crowd in an already difficult job market wonder whether they are wasting their time.

Other Italians simply accept the fact that the system is unfairly weighted against them, and head for a more merit oriented country – hence Italy’s brain drain.  The other negative effect of this form of ‘old school tie’ system is that it is possible that many Italians never manage to realize their true potential simply because they have found their paths blocked by those who have been recommended.

Solutions

How can Italians get round this system?  Fighting fire with fire, and finding someone who will put in a good word for you is one way of dealing with the situation.  But, this is not easy.

Another solution could be to attempt to find work with foreign multinationals.  These organizations may not be run by Italians who owe legions of people favors and thus are more prepared to take people on for what they are, not for who they know. More recently formed companies may also be relatively immune from the ‘raccommandato’, simply because they cannot afford the risk of taking on someone who may or may not be competent.

I know similar situations exist in other countries, but it does appear as though the situation is widespread in Italy, although I’ve no idea as to exactly how diffuse this undue influence really is.   Thinking about it, the practice of placing contacts before competence could well be one of the explanations for Italy’s poor economic progress.

Give me More Examples

Perhaps my Italian readers could indicate the number of people who are ‘raccommandati’.

Are you an Italian who has left Italy because you found you were being ignored by employers simply because you had nobody to recommend you? Let me know, if you wish.

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