A busy and efficient restaurant in Via Gioberti, barely 20 paces from Termini station, enshrines a rarity. In the Europe of today, with the accent on labour mobility, he should not be rare at all, but in conservative Rome he is a surprise for those who can spot him, that is. His performance gives nothing away.
John Rogan is a waiter from Ireland. While Irish staff in Irish pubs now almost come with the bar, an Irishman who has managed to insert himself unobtrusively into such a quintessentially Italian environment leaves diners with their mouths open.
How did he do it? And what is he doing in Rome? Rogans story is typical of many English speakers in the city. I fell in love with an Italian girl I met in Ireland. I followed her out here. I was with her for seven years. Were no longer together. But he thought he would stay on in Rome. He did not feel ready to go back and settle down in Ireland yet. I think Ive got a bit of travelling left in me. Scusi! A hand in the air beckoned him away.
Affairs of the heart have drawn many like Rogan to Rome. Jim MacManus met his Italian love in London. Donatella was studying ballet; he was living in a squat. He fell in love with Italy while commuting across Europe to see her. Marriage and a move abroad seemed the answer, though Donatella still hankered after England, and would have got her way had MacManus not landed a post at La Sapienza University in Rome, teaching English.
Daphne Wilson-Ercole, who has been in Rome for 50 years, was about to return to England after a year spent tasting the joys of Italy when she was deflected at the last minute by a quick-thinking Italian. Now I have a family here.
The prospect of returning to friends in Turin and Venice, and impatience with a flooded basement flat in London in the winter of 1963, drove Avril Eades to Italy for an intended year-long break, which is still not over. She too has a family.
An American lady now ensconced here first came to Rome, as she happily confessed, in search of romance. I just wanted to be bowled over. She was.
However Father Jonathan Boardman, for three years vicar at All Saints Church in Via del Babuino, reckoned that only 25 out of 100 English-speakers are in Rome for sentimental reasons. A further 25 are the professionals teachers, wizards at the European Space Agency in Frascati, business people with giants such as Unilever or advisers to big law firms. The rest are either diplomats and military personnel or young people students, teachers of English and the like.
As for business, it has always preferred Milan to bureaucratic Rome as a base, recalled Andrew Calvin, head of the Rome chapter of the British Chamber of Commerce in Italy (BCCI), whose members number between 25 and 30. But Britons do descend upon Rome in periodic waves, the latest started off by privatisations in Italy in the early 1990s, he said. In this, he was borne out by Brigid Gardner, principal of St Georges British International School on Via Cassia, who disclosed that many parents of her 650 pupils work for concerns trying to show Italian firms how to be more enterprising, or how to make things work better. British Telecom, for instance, had sent out people to advise Telecom Italia, thanks to which you can now dial 5 to book a call if the line is engaged. Though on the whole, says Gardner, nothing much seems to have changed.
The frequency with which Britons look for jobs in Italy on the BCCI website seems to imply the presence of many itinerants in Rome exploiting the European Unions go-and-work-where-you-please rules. Not a bit, apparently. Calvin repeated that Italy was still not a flexible market.
A victim of its apparent rigidity is Simon Macbride, a 27-year-old barman from Glasgow, who lives in the Monti district. He has been trying to move into the Italian hotel industry in vain. Theres discrimination here, he stated baldly. They keep things in the family; the jobs go to people they know. If youre not Italian, you dont get a look in. If nothing turns up within a year, Ill have to go back home. A pity really because I like it here so much.
Philip Allan, headmaster of St Stephens School on the Aventine hill, opened a small window onto the American scene. The view did not differ too much from the one seen from St Georges except that many of the schools parents work for UN agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organization. Some are from Italian emigrant families seeking to set down roots in Italy again. More parents than before are into business, while a lucky few are here on a sabbatical.