Shaun is the Owner of the Paradise Beach Backpackers Hostel in Forio, Ischia, Italy. He loves the occasional step aerobics class and is a self proclaimed genius. He spends his days waiting at the bus stop, worrying about the hostels reviews, and entertaining different conspiracy theories. His attention to detail and superior sense of cleanliness makes him the ideal candidate for hostel management.
Greg Kamradt: So you're running the Paradise Beach Backpackers Hostel. What made you choose Ischia?
Shaun Williams: I was sick of looking at cities in Italy. While traveling through Italy I decided to find a place with beaches. I was trying to get to Sicily but the ticket machine wouldn't give me the ticket. I missed my train, so I thought about it and thought I would go to Ischia. I decided I didn't want to go to Greece and someone recommended Ischia.
GK: Where did you stay your first night in Ischia?
SW: Another hostel (smirk on his face)...The Ring Ho'l (makes sure I spell it right)
GK: So when did you decide you wanted to start another hostel?
SW: When I was working for them, they were so bad at what they did I thought I could do it better. I tried to persuade them to do it better but they wouldn't listen.
GK: So how long after you started working for them did you decide that you wanted to start a new hostel?
SW: Three or four days ha!
GK: Ok, so it sounds like there are a lot difficulties when trying to run a business in Italy. Is that an Italian thing or a Ischitani thing?
SW: Everyone says its an Italian thing, but when I go to Naples I feel like they are fast and efficient because I've spent so much time on the island and I know it takes a long time to do anything on the island. You have to keep pushing and pushing and pushing. I think there is a thing called the Italian negativity where if you suggest and idea, "I'm going to the shop to buy shoelaces," they will come up with all the ideas in the world about why I don't need shoe laces, "You won't get the right color, those shoes don't work well with shoe laces, there are no shops on the island that sell shoe laces." There is the Italian negativity, and there is the Ischitani, which is a different breed of negativity. Yeah actually, you have two types. One actually goes out of their way to try and cause as much trouble for you as possible and the other are very generous and very helpful but don't really know what they are doing because they've never done it before. You see, the Ischitani are very, very rich. . .
GK: Really they're rich?
SW: . . .Very very rich and most have them have grown up not having to worry about money. Their biggest problem each day is having to choose which pocket to stuff all of their notes into, umm which coat to put on. So they don't need to work very hard. In fact, they work for 4 or 5 or 6 months a year and then take a 6 month holiday. Um, so starting a business on the island is something that most of them, even the accountants and people who sell buildings, they don't know what they're talking about. So, many people have learned from me about what I've done. They've said its never been done before.
GK: So it sounds like you're kind of revolutionizing the island?
SW: Oh my gosh, um no, no no, um ha, no I've brought the island kicking and screaming into the 19th century... and I'm proud of that.
GK: Do you have any funny stories about a business difficulty you've had?
SW: Nope, just every single thing I've ever done.
GK: Every single thing?
SW: Um, Telecomm rang me one day when I didn't have an account (phone number) after three months of waiting. And they asked me for my telephone number. They said they can't process my application for a telephone until they have my telephone number. And I said, "well they haven't given me a telephone number, because um, I'm waiting for them to give it to me. For the application to be approved." And they said, well we can't approve it unless you give it to us. And after some conversation, Telecomm said, "well its this number here isn't it." And they read it to me and I said, ". . .yeah ha, I suppose so, you tell me." And they said, "yes, yes it is. . .well we can't process it until its written here on this form". I said, "yes. . .okay." And there was a long pause...silence....as everyone thought about the implications here. After a while I said, "well can you write it on the form?" They said, "Nooo...no you have to write it yourself and fax it back to us." So that is just one example. It goes on this all the time
SW: Every single thing you do. Even today buying the plug. I've taken four trips, four trips to the pluming shop for the adapter for the plug. I've even been lectured by the pluming shop on how I suffed it up because they said I needed a standard Italian plug, which they gave me, but it doesn't work. I've taken photography, I've now taken four photographs of the plug to get an adapter. Different angles, different ways of looking at it.
GK: Ok so those are the business difficulties on the island, what are the positive things about the island?
SW: The weather, the beaches, the scenery, the food.
GK: Whats your favorite food?
SW: Well the food is better in Italy, much better in Italy. On the island, Italian food is generally good. Um my favorite food would be. . .pasta. No no ha, favorite food in Italy would be. . .
SW: . . .No no no I have never liked pizza much. Probably spaghetti alle vongole. Some seafood dish would be good. But it varies, they do meat very well. Fish very well. Pasta obviously. Some restaurants do vegetables very well and some do them horribly.
GK: Whats your favorite attraction to see on the island?
SW: The girls..... Ahhh you mean scenery wise?
GK: Yeah scenery, the mountain, the hot springs, St. Angelo...
SW: I think I've lived here too long to have a favorite attraction now. No, I think the mountain, I don't know...beaches, I like the beaches. I'm a beach person...a beach man.
GK: Ok so running a hostel, obviously you get a lot of people coming through the doors. Lot of interesting people or characters. Is there any specific person that has stuck with you over the years as being particularly interesting?
SW: You? Um ha no ok. No so there is more of a type of person I suppose. You notice people with. . .1 in 50 seem to be different from other people. They are. . .
SW: No it doesn't matter if they are introverted or extroverted they are just people who you want to know. Like um, I don't know what the word would be in English but um, maybe we do in the old sense...like grace...graciousness. They seem to rise above everything.
GK: Is that because they are wise or knowledgeable. . .
SW: No no they can be dumb, they just seem to be. . .they are people who you. . . its very hard to describe. You can feel it when they arrive at reception. Most people don't have it. But one in every so often, every so often you meet the person. Everyone wants to be their friend without them wanting everyone to be their friend. They are nice people who are very warm in their personality and you can just feel that.
SW: Also with ages, you start to not notice ages after a while. Because it is very important in Italy to know a persons age because people get ranked by their age. Because at a certain age you must be married, have a certain type of job, number of kids that you have. The Italians rank people, and we do too a little bit in our society. But running a hostel, it starts not to matter after a little while. Some 80 year olds are more like 18 year olds in spirit, and some 18 year olds turn up and are just so heavy in spirit. You can almost pick the person that is going to write the bad review, not because, not because, you've done anything wrong but because they've set out to just have a miserable life and you can feel it. Ok, maybe if I've spat on their bed and poured wine on their sheets maybe they can write a bad review. Some people are just looking for the reason, and I think they spend their life doing that. Whereas most people, many people, don't.
GK: So we've covered a lot of topics, anything else you'd like to add?
SW: Oh yeah, the french write bad reviews. The french go in that group I don't like.
GK: Let's save your nationality generalizations for later.
SW: We'll I'm not going to generalize everyone, just the french. They should stay at home ha. (He is joking throughout this whole thing). (Speaks into the Mic) You hear that??!
GK: Do you have any closing remarks about running a hostel in Ischia? That the masses should know before they come and visit?
SW: If you come to Ischia don't come to the Ring Ho'l and there is another stupid hostel ha in Forio that you shouldn't stay at either. Um but you'll meet the guy because he is hovering around our gate right now to meet any..um any um...young girls.
GK: Hm. . .in the bushes?
SW: Um well I don't know where he is. He looks like a freak and acts like a freak too. And he's only set up the hostel to grab the girls. Unlike me, unlike me, I've set up the hostel to save the world.
GK: So whats the long term plan with this? Whats the next goal?
SW: Um. . .start another hostel. Paradise Beach Backpackers Hostel Brand. We might play around with the name a little bit.
(Phone rings, Shaun gets up and answers it)