As a self-confessed ‘Italophile’, watching the coronavirus pandemic unfold in Italy was absolutely heartbreaking – as I’m sure it was for everyone. A beautiful country full of wonderful, loving people was brought to it’s knees as Covid-19 spread rapidly and claimed over 33,000 lives.
On March 9th, the government of Italy under Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte imposed a national quarantine, restricting the movement of the population except for necessity, work, and health circumstances.
The UK soon followed suit, but our lockdown has been nowhere near as strict as Italy – so it was lovely to see Italians returning to some sort of normality in May as restrictions lifted, restaurants opened and people returned to work.
I spoke with a few wonderful Italians to find out how they’re coping with their new normal. I hope their stories will give everyone hope that slowly, but surely, life will be sweet again…
Martina Fenoaltea, 27, from Asti
Martina works as a shop assistant in a jewellery store and returned to work on Wednesday 20th May. Understandably, she was cautious about working in a role where she is constantly dealing with the public – but she soon adapted to the new normal.
Speaking to Uspire, she explained: “I was very shaken because I didn’t know what the impact with the public would have been, I had a thousand worries and the fear of not being able to work as serenely as before. Mine is a job where I am in close contact with the public and I was afraid it would never be the same again.
“It felt like I was back at the first day at school! I was excited and I thought to have forgotten also the things that I was usually doing. But, from the moment I entered the shop, and client after client, my work proceeded calmly.” Sadly, the day-to-day of Martina’s job has changed as Italy attempt to avoid a second wave of the coronavirus.
Martina revealed: “Certain habits have changed. Customers cannot enter without a mask, they must use the gel to disinfect their hands before coming in, and we must keep at least one metre away from each other.
“Certain jewellery can no longer be tried on, such as necklaces, leather watches and jewellery made of unique materials because it would be harmful to use specific products to disinfect them.”
She continued: “So in some ways, many things cannot be done as before and it’s neither pleasant for staff nor for our customers. I realised most of them pay close attention to the rules and I think this pandemic has made us change for the better.
“We respect each other more and are much more understanding than before. People are kinder. We all wear the masks, which are now an accessory for everyone. . . but let’s smile with our eyes!”
Francesca Bottinelli, 25, from Como
Francesca, 25, is a student from Como who previously lived in London for five years. She moved back to Italy one year ago, and was supposed to finish her studies in Interior Design this July.
Sadly, her learning has been disrupted and she’s now having to do her lessons online and will finish her course in December instead. But fortunately, Francesca’s social life has resumed to some “normality” as she was finally allowed to meet up with her friends for an Aperitivo two weeks ago.
Speaking about being reunited with her pals, Francesca said: We met in one of the popular plazas in Como. There were a lot of people. but all of us we were one metre away from each other – except for a few seconds when we took the picture!
“It was so good, we had a couple of drinks, we chatted. We had seen each other before via video chat but seeing each other face-to-face was really good. It was weird though because there were no tables and only three of us could go and buy drinks at once.”
Commenting on how life has changed in Como, Francesca continued: “The streets are still empty apart from when you go to work, but I hope it’s going to return to normal as soon as possible!”
Giuseppe Romano, 25, from Asti
Giuseppe is a chef who decided to return to his hometown of Asti just before England went into lockdown. He usually works in Mayfair, London, but wanted to be close to his family during the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking to Uspire about when restrictions were lifted a few weeks ago, he said: “The situation is very strange, but it was so nice to see my friends. We played a game of poker and I cooked them all dinner.
“We are wearing masks, anti-bacterial gel, and we stay away one metre from each other. There was so many people in the centre during the first few days when the bars and restaurants reopened.”
Beppe has been helping his father out at his pizzeria on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. “I finish at 10pm so after I have time to go out and drink, but the clubs and discotheques are not open,” he added.
“It’s certainly not a normal situation, but it’s much better than it was as people are not as scared and they want to stay with their friends. I feel like now we have some normality in Italy.”
Giulia Felici, 28, from Rome
Giulia, 28, owns her own beauty salon in Segni and reopened her store on Monday 18th May. The turnaround was a bit stressful, to say the least, as salons had initially been told they wouldn’t be able to open until at least June 1st, but were suddenly told on May 15th that they could reopen in a matter of days.
“Luckily, we are an industry that is ready for anything, and I – like many colleagues – had started looking for all the devices required to guarantee a safe opening; all this at my expense, which added to the previous ones, made me realise that I needed to return to work immediately,” Giulia told Uspire.
“My industry, along with hairdressers, has been seriously affected because we had to stop working during our peak season.
“However, none of us knew the best way in which to deal with a pandemic and the important thing is that we have been able to start again – something that many small businesses have not been able to do.”
She continued: “So yes, for now I have fewer customers per day, and they have to respect cleaning times between each customer, and it will take a while for me to get on my feet again, but at least I have been able to as many others haven’t. I promise there is a smile under my mask!”
Giorgio Bellanca, 45, from Tuscany
Giorgio is in Maremma in Tuscany, where he lives and works on the family farm. He previously lived in the UK for 15 years, but decided to return to Italy earlier this year when his parents retired.
Speaking about how the pandemic has affected him and his family, Giorgio told Uspire: “From a personal standpoint we are amongst the lucky few.
“We live on a farm in the heart of the Tuscan countryside, so social distancing is nothing new to us, but dealing with forced isolation from our very close knit family has been very difficult on all of us, but I think more so for my parents as they miss their daily visits from the grandkids.”
Giorgio continued: “Of course, I miss my partner as he is stuck in Sicily and I am here but we know that it won’t be forever and we are looking forward to spending the summer together.
“We really have been less effected than most and are truly fortunate to be able to live in such a beautiful place surrounded by the people we love.”
Nicolò Palmieri, 27, from Rome
Nicolò is from Rome and helps to run his family business, retail company Edil Palmieri, which was first launch in 1962. Slowly, but surely they have returned to work in the last few weeks and are getting used to a different way of working.
“This past week has been a new normality, as a small company we care about the relationship we have with our customers, we spend time with them, and we share the challenges of their projects,” Nicolò told Uspire.
“Unfortunately, the pandemic forced us to interrupt this approach and we learned how to work in a new way and implemented free shipping costs, and a dedicated sales line for both our professional and private customers.
“We felt that we couldn’t let the virus have an impact on our values, and our customers are really appreciating the effort we have made to ensure this doesn’t happen.”
Explaining how it felt to return to work, Nicolò continued: “It was great because I have been able to experience this new normality. I love challenges and this pandemic forced me to find new ways to express my values in life and at work.
“I think social isolation affected my mood, more than coronavirus itself, so now I feel more positive and excited to take back my everyday life and the relationships within it.”