From In A Tuscan Garden, published anonymously 1902
Two months went by before I was sufficiently free from the plague of work people to have leisure to turn my attention to the out-of-door department. No doubt, even in civilized England, workmen now-a-days require some supervision; but here, in democratic Tuscany, where the “I am as good as you” spirit prevails, if you leave them alone for ever so short a time, you will find something has been done the direct opposite of what you wished and intended. Italians are the most conceited people on the face of the earth, and have a very annoying habit of finishing your sentence for you, instead of listening to what you wish to say, and it is best to wait till they have finished assuring you that they perfectly understand your wishes, before quietly, but very decidedly, requesting them to listen to your explanations instead of favouring you with theirs.
The English idea that foreign workmen are better “all round” men than us, is a great mistake, and in no country are trades more specialized than in Tuscany, where an upholsterer capable of making up carpets and curtains knows nothing of polishing furniture. For that a polisher must be called in, and he, in his turn, is quite ignorant of the mysteries of varnishing. To find a “handy man” in a Tuscan country district is very rare. We had to buy our experience of this sort of detail; and once, in early days, when I had settled with an upholsterer to polish up the old furniture left in the house, it was smeared in such a way that it had all to be re-scraped. The excuse given by the individual was that it was not his trade, and to the further question why in that case had he undertaken the job, the reply was, “that it was necessary to leave something for the others to do”. This benevolent view did not commend itself to us, and, later on, when this man called to ask if we had no work for him, he was told that his services would not again be required.
We had an excellent cabinet-maker in the house, repairing the old furniture which had been left in it, for about six weeks; this man was quite an exception to the general rule, always came for orders before beginning any job and went carefully into measurements with the Junior Partner. And our Scotch maid was clever at upholstery, but even with these advantages we found it better that one of us should always be at home during these first months, for, so surely as we were both absent, something was done that had to be undone the next day.
But in January I began to think it would be well to take advantage of the magnificent weather to have the ground well trenched and manured.