On October 22, 2012 at a meeting in Italy organised by Assolombarda [all links in Italian unless otherwise stated], an association representing industry and service sector businesses in the Milan area, Elsa Fornero [en], the Minister of Labor, Social Policies and Gender Equality, declared: “Young people leave school and need to find an occupation. They also can't afford to be too choosy, as you say in English. They should, and this is something I always tell my students, ‘Accept the first [job] offered, and once inside you can take a look around'”. [Translator's note: Elsa Fornero was previously a professor of Economics at the University of Turin]
Her statement, which was made at a particularly dramatic moment on the unemployment front, especially among young people, immediately provoked controversy, as it was interpreted as an accusation against young people that they struggle to find employment because they are “picky”. According to the latest statistics from ISTAT, youth unemployment in Italy stands at 34.5% among 15 to 24-year-olds and around half of young people only have temporary and often underpaid jobs. Italy has the third highest percentage of NEETs [en, Not in Education, Employment or Training] of all the European states, after Bulgaria and Greece, with ever increasing emigration rates leading to a so-called “brain drain”.
The Minister then further explained her comment, declaring that she “never said” that young Italians were picky and that “they are prepared to take any job, because it's true that young people today are in a precarious position”. Fornero explained that her comment referred to a situation which was widespread in the past, when the refusal to do work they considered beneath their abilities was a commonplace attitude among young Italians, whereas, she said, “today young Italians cannot afford to be picky”.
This clarification did not succeed in halting the controversy provoked by the comment and the term ‘choosy’ quickly became an online “craze”, often being used sarcastically to criticise the Minister's declaration.
Twitter provided plenty of plays on words under the hashtag #choosy — including the following:
On Facebook, many people people have commented on the declaration equally sarcastically. The musical group, Lo Stato Sociale [The Social State], for example, posted a series of parodies of film, book and song titles, adapted to the key of choosy, encouraging their fans to add to the list.
Meanwhile the website Generazione Choosy [Generation Choosy] has created an automatic gallery of all the images connect to this affair uploaded to Instagram.
Not all the initiatives were as light-hearted however. The tumblr blog Choosy Sarai Tu (You're the Choosy One) gathered more serious criticisms and accusations, reporting on those facing problems with unemployment and underemployment. Many people seized the opportunity to vent their own resentment, sharing their own experiences, often that of highly qualified young people with few professional opportunites. Also among the contributors were many people with qualifications which, up until a few years ago, were highly valued in the labour market. Among the various letters uploaded to the site, was one from a girl who, 4 years after graduating with a degree in construction engineering and a series of internships and fixed term contracts, wrote about finding a job in a technical studio where she is paid only 5 Euros an hour. Meanwhile, there are also those who work for just 3 Euros an hour, despite a first class degree, as reveals the letter reproduced below.
Several contributors expressed their intention to leave Italy, while those already living overseas expressed their certainty that working conditions are better. This reflects a national reality in which, according to the latest ISTAT data, a third of young people are planning to emigrate.
On the other hand, others played down the controversy, stressing the importance of adaptability and describing young people who are still reluctant to accept jobs which do not match their expectations. On the blog of the youth organisation RENA, Irene Borin shared her experiences in France, where she started out working as a babysitter only to become, thanks to a fortunate encounter in this job, communications manager for a banking group, the profession for which she was trained in Italy and in France:
Capisco perché sia valsa la pena di non essere schizzinosa e di accettare di fare la babysitter prima e la tuttofare poi. Capisco perché un ministro, o più semplicemente un adulto di buon senso, possa consigliare ai giovani di non essere “choosy” ma di rimboccarsi le maniche e di cominciare da qualche parte. Non è certo rimanendo chiusa in casa a mandare CV che avrei trovato il lavoro che svolgo ora.
I understand why it's worth your while not to be picky and to accept being a babysitter first and then do everything else afterwards. I can understand why a minister, or any adult with some common sense, might advise young people not to be “choosy”, but to roll up their sleeves and to get started somewhere. I certainly wouldn't have gotten the job I have today by staying at home and sending out CVs.
Last but not least, there are those that have reacted positively, looking beyond the controversy, and decided to launch Io Voglio Restare (I Want to Stay), an initiative which aims to get people working together to improve working conditions for young Italians and to prevent Italy becoming a country that people only want to leave.