Rip Off Britain’s

One of the first pieces of advice I was given when I first talked of purchasing a house in Italy came from an English woman in L’Aquila. The advice was, “Don’t trust the Italian’s, as soon as they find out you’re English they’ll rip you off. Make sure you get quotes in writing etc. etc. blah blah blah…” I know of so many Brits who have moved here that actually believe in this nonsense. I am under no illusion why statements like this are rife in the ex-pat community, they either originate from one person having a bad experience and then the rumour-mill kicks in or they’re the result of fear.

I can understand if someone has a bad experience with a tradesperson they will be naturally disgruntled, but how often is the ‘bad experience’ down to incompetent communication? I know of people who have complained about tradespeople when the actual problem was a lack of language skill. One that springs to mind is a man who asked an Italian builder to construct a wall for him while he took a trip over to the UK; the man explained that he wanted a muro di mattoni and then flew back to England. Upon his return he was horrified to find at his restored cottage a nice new red brick wall. An argument ensued and the builder explained that he had done exactly what he had been asked to do. It turned out the customer wanted a wall made of reclaimed stone to match the walls of his cottage, but had not asked for a muro di pietra vecchia,  Here, I think there were two mistakes made, the first was flying back to the UK, therefore not being on hand to supervise, and the second, probably relying on Google translate.

But to get back to my initial reason for today’s blog entry. Without thinking, ex-pats often hand out nuggets of advice like the one I was given, I understand when people say I want an English builder because then there’ll be no language problems, this makes perfect sense if you speak little or no Italian. However, to blindly say I want and English builder, because the Italian ones will rip me off is nonsense. And to be honest my experience has been quite the opposite.

Before we started our renovation we obtained three quotes for the work in total, two were from English builders and the third from an Italian, the British builder’s quotes turned out to be the most expensive. Now I’m not saying there was any duplicity involved or any intention to rip me off, I’m just stating a fact. In the end we chose none of the people who gave us quotes and went along with the advice from our architect and the comune, (council) and hired someone local who they recommended.

However during the renovation there has been times when we have needed to look for extra personnel for specialised jobs. For example, I wanted the rear of the house clearing of weeds, tree stumps, a tumbledown brick shed and years of neglect. I asked around and got the following quotes:

British builder – Delivery of JCB €50. Hire of JCB €85 per day, Hire of operator €180 per day Job length 2 days. Total €580

Italian Builder – €40 per hour maximum time 3 hours. Total €120

The Italian builder came over and true to his word did the job in two and a half hours and even dug us a trench for a water pipe for free. Total €100

Again I’m not suggesting any intended duplicity took place, but surely a qualified builder would know a three-hour job from from a two-day one?

We pretty soon discovered that, despite the recommendation of the comune, the original sewage system, an ancient fossa biologica was not really fit for use and that we’d be better off  erring on the side of precaution and having a new septic tank put in. So we asked for a few quotes, stating that we’d like a tank suitable for a four person household, we actually stressed the make and tank reference number we required and here’s what we received:

British builder 1 – Tank €1050. Excavation and installation €150. Two men at €180 per day. Total €1560 (delivery estimate 2 – 4 days)

British builder 2 – Tank €1200. Excavation and installation €200. Three men at €150 per day. Total €1850 (delivery estimate 2 – 6 days)

Italian builder – Tank, including collection from supplier €800. Excavation and installation €200. Total €1000

Now in this instance we had already done our homework and knew that the tank cost the trade price of €700 including taxes, and our Italian builder would charge us a €100 on top of this to collect it from Guardiagrele, approximately 24 Km away. what we couldn’t understand was, even if there was a delivery charge of €100 on the British builder’s quotes why was the same tank now €250 and €400 more expensive?

Once again I’m not suggesting any intended duplicity took place, I’ll leave it to you to make up your own mind.

Prodotto in Italia

When I grew up in the 70’s, ‘Made in England’ was the watchword for anything you needed, it was seen as a mark of quality. However, the UK the marketplace is now flooded with cheap imports and very little of what people buy is manufactured in their own country. I grew up in the heart of the pottery industry and am proud of my heritage. Knowing that the mere mention of the town of Stoke on Trent, anywhere in the world, meant people instinctively thought of top quality china and earthenware, was something to be proud of. Sadly this is no longer the case, the idiots that ran the major china manufacturers became greedy and farmed out the production abroad, weakening the brand, creating unemployment and all for nothing. The increased profit they craved never materialised, and the doors opened for cheap china products from Poland, Russia and the East to flood the market. If only in those greed laden 80’s someone had, had the sense to say, no, maybe the town would still be synonymous with pottery rather than unemployment.

100_6465The Italians are very proud of what they produce, here, you very rarely see anything manufactured outside of Italy. Clothes from China are few and far between, kitchen showrooms boast, loudly that everything they sell is made in Italy. Even saucepans, washing-up bowls and toilet rolls have, prodotto in Italia stamped on the packaging somewhere. And surely this makes sound economic sense as well as keeping people in employment.

Here, prodotto in Italia carries the same gravitas for the Italian people, that made in England once did for the English.

The Italians are fiercely defensive of the heritage of their products, nowhere can a hard cheese made outside Emilia-Romagna be called, Parmesan, if your vinegar doesn’t come from Modena don’t even think of calling it balsamic, and if your curing ham outside of Parma, just call it prosciutto on the packaging.

Italy has more protected foods and wine than any other country in the European Union, and to keep them safe they all have the DOC, denominazione di origine controllata certification. So important is this heritage, that anyone manufacturing and falsely labelling a protected product faces huge fines and even imprisonment.

Sadly, there’s always someone who’ll deceive you and many products outside Italy that claim to be authentic may not be. The most common fakes on the market being olive oil, gorgonzola, parmesan and parma ham, with the greatest number of fakes being sold in China, Australia and New Zealand, Back in the UK, I’ve actually seen olive oil on the shelves of a well-known supermarket that is marketed as Italian. It has a typical Tuscan scene and the Italian flag on the label and the following wording on the reverse; ‘ may contain oil from various sources in the EU’.

Back in the 80’s two well-known pottery manufacturers in Stoke on Trent, had their china produced in Malaysia, it was shipped back to Stoke and there the final decoration was added, be it gilding or lithographing. The back stamp was then added, which led people to believe the product was a genuine piece of Stoke on Trent china. No wonder the industry died, if only we’d fought as hard as the Italians do.