Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Some things just die hard

Just poking around to make sure the wound is still there...


I try my best not to rant here. Who wants to read a rant? And I often feel guilty for my bitching about Italy, and think I should write a bit more about the things I did and still do love about it. But the fact is that I left because I was sick to the gills of trying to live and do business there. And this is a rant. I can't help it, so bear with me.


I run my own business. I have for years, and I've enjoyed some success and satisfaction. I work from home, usuallly in my pj's with my dog curled up warming my feet. My kids are never home alone, never had to go to daycare or sitters, and they think their Mom's job is pretty cool. I adore learning snippets and details about things I probably would never have known a crumb about if I didn't have this job. I've acquired a small ocean of eclectic knowledge that I enjoy and revel in. I love the Italian language, as I've written here before, and hope that my brain won't whither as quickly as it might if I wasn't working in two languages.


The problem is the Italian way of doing business. Roughly 80% of my clients are Italian. Over the years, I've culled the long suffering, whining, slow paying bunch. While when I first started out I ran my business the Italian way, accepting low rates, incredibly slow payers, impossible deadlines, and plain rudeness, mostly because I didn't know any better, I soon learned to run my business as if I were an American. Maybe the other expats out there can relate to the this. That when in Rome stuff really gets into your head, and soon you begin to forget who you really are. The end result is a group of professional, punctually paying, respectful clients that are a pleasure to work with.


But today... today I had one of the exquisitely Italian business encounters that still seem incredible to me. Someone who still owes me money for two past due invoices from April and May wrote to tell me that in Italy everyone was closed for holidays in August. As if that has anything to do with invoices from April andMay. She also added the usual that's just the way it is here in the Bel Paese...


That, of course, is total crap. But I've been gone for a while. I boiled over and wrote a scathing reply, which I won't repeat here, firstly because I wrote in Italian, and secondly because it was quite nasty. I have a series of threatening letters I send to these people going from mild to firm to threats of legal action (the legal part always works), but today I just plain lost my patience.


I think the real problem here is that I've been issuing my husband's American invoices with this beautiful, poetic little phrase at the bottom-


Payment due in 15 days. Overdue accounts subject to a service charge of 1% per month.


Quite ironic, really, since his clients here in America give me a check at the same moment that I hand them the invoice...

9 comments:

Rebecca said...

Hilary and I run our own business too - and the collecting money side of the whole thing just really really sux - I'm often tempted to ask people how they would like it if they simply weren't paid on time by their employee, how they'd like it if they had to wait and wait and wait.....

But because we make kitchens and are often owed thousands by the time we finish a job (most of which we need to pay our creditors, of course) I don't like to get the 'customers' upset...

But a job with overtime, and sick days and holiday pay can sometimes be very, very tempting.

sognatrice said...

Your advice here (and yes, I saw it in there!) is well-taken; I think if more expats really stood up for the more American way of doing business (i.e., paying and getting paid), we would all be better off over here.

Like you said, sooner or later you end up with fewer of these headaches b/c people know you won't put up with it. And when we're talking about businesses that only native speakers can run (mother tongue teaching/tutoring and/or translating), well there's no reason that at least our little group should have to deal with this every single time. Fine, mistakes happen, etc., but we all know it's all too common a problem here.

(My OH is still waiting to get paid by the comune from work in June.)

Which reminds me that I need to write a nasty letter....

Jennifer said...

Haha! I know the feeling. I only have one client who pays late. Always pays late. As in we have a written, signed agreement establishing the terms of payment and these terms are only met when I refuse to do any other work until I receive payment for outstanding invoices. But my other clients are pretty good at paying within 30-60 days. Some 90. Which is isn't bad for Italy, haha, here I am slipping into that "When in Rome" mentality.

How did you manage to work with your boys at home? I have tried and tried, but cannot get anything done with my two-year-old here. I wish that worked for me. How did you do it?

jen said...

i am dying with curiousity about what your business is now.

anno said...

I once worked freelance for a guy who made the mistake of buying a new Mustang -- and showing it off to me! -- when he owed me for two months of invoices. I started looking for new work immediately and dropped him as soon as I could.

I hope your letter works.

jennifer said...

Hi Rebecca- overtime, sick days and holiday pay... looks good to me, too, sometimes. But then I realize that I would have to actually get dressed to go to work!
Sognatrice- yes, there was a small bit of advice in there from my 15 years in Italy. One of the things I learned in the latter half of my stay was that Italians actually respect you more (in a strictly business sense) if you're a hardass. And if you're expensive. They just assume that means you're better! :-)
I knew you would relate, Jennifer. I don't accept 90 days from anyone. I just put my foot down there. Especially when I was paying VAT. As far as my kids, I started out slow and only worked part time when they were smaller, and my second child happened to be a major sleeper, and his brother entertained him alot, too. I only started true fulltime work when my first boy went to asilo.
Hi jen! Well, my business is the same, only with an 8 hour time difference to deal with. My husband has opened up a custom carpentry business, and hasn't stopped working for a day since he arrived. And he is making 3 times (seriously) what he was making in Italy!

jennifer said...

Hi anno! My letter will work. If it doesn't I will post the name of this non-payer on all of the translator mailing lists and directories. Translation is a pretty small world, and if your name is tarnished, it's pretty hard to clean it up. Rightfully so.

Brillig said...

Oh my goodness. What a big fat pain. (And we don't mind your ranting--since even your rants are poetic!!!) I hope it gets resolved soon!

Jen said...

Ugh, Jennifer, I feel your pain. I used to work as a contractor for a University and sometimes my pay would be so late, I'd have to really scratch my head to remember what I was being paid for. And that was here in the states! Sheesh... I'm sorry your Italian customer was so inappropriate on this.