"Umarells", the pensioner stars - Look who's looking!

Hands clasped behind their backs, slightly bent forward - the typical posture of the so-called standing pensioners. Older gentlemen who observe. 

You find them when parking, in rear-end collisions, but especially in front of (public) construction sites. The standing pensioners from the Italian city of Bologna, known there as "Umarells", are now famous throughout the country. And now they are even coming to the cinema.

Title Umarell
Technical discussions among experts, as here in Rome, including
Photo: Stefano Petroni/(CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The chronology of a success story, retirement my arse...

  • How it all begins: Blogger and writer Danilo Misotti from Bologna started his blog about Bologna's standing pensioners in 2005. A bit affectionately mocking, but always with great respect. He gives the phenomenon of construction site observers a name: Umarells. The interest is so great that Misotti publishes a book in 2007 ("Umarells").

By the way, the term "umarell" comes from the Bolognese dialect. Omarello or omaretto literally means "little man". Usually used affectionately, mockingly.

GDP is not growing, but the life expectancy of the "Umarells", to whom at least one bank holidays should be dedicated, is increasing.

...from the table of contents of the book "Umarells".

The beginning of a hype. The standing pensioners are celebrated in the social media: People who - no matter what the weather - are committed to public safety, although they are usually not thanked for it. On the contrary.

More and more people all over Italy are starting to take an interest in the seniors from Bologna.

sarra screenshot
Umarell service in Pescara: Insight thanks to windows
Screenshot: Sarra Servizi Immobilaria

Misotti has already written two sequels ("Umarells 2.0" and "Umarells per sempre"). And now even great cinema is coming.

The shooting of the first pensioner film started on 28 May. The idea for the film came from director Adam Selo, who had approached Masotti to propose the project. Due to the pandemic, filming had initially been postponed for safety reasons.

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City distributes items to pensioners

  • The official recognition as observerIn 2015, the Adriatic city of Riccione paid 11,000 euros to pensioners for observer work. Among other things, the senior citizens were to count the number of trucks on the municipal construction sites. Purpose: to control deliveries and prevent theft.
umarell screenshot
The "Umarell" adapts to the ambient temperature
Screenshot: Facebook/Umarells

"After not drinking much water, not eating fruits and vegetables, after going out in the hottest hours, the Umarell deserves a treat," a post on the Umarells Facebook page.

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How an Umarell gets on TV

  • The first awardIn 2015, the village of San Lazzaro di Savena (near Bologna) gave its first award to a retired person. The senior Franco Bonini becomes "Umarell of the Year". His prize: a day as a site manager on a municipal building site. 

First the local media report, then all of a sudden virtually everyone. The star Umarell gives interviews for television and newspapers. He is the star guest at the "Miss Italia" pageant. In the past, the city hardly took his suggestions and hints seriously, but today he is its most famous citizen.

umarell award
More on the Facebook page Umarells

He can hardly pursue his actual activity of observing road construction sites undisturbed. People often recognise him, ask him about the conditions of the construction sites. If a sign is missing somewhere, if there is a closure somewhere - Bonini usually knows.

In 2018, the city of San Lazzaro di Savena appointed him honorary construction director in gratitude for his commitment. And once again Bonini makes national news.

The hype around Umarells

  • For a good cause: The cultural association "Succeed solo a Bologna" (translated as: "succeeded only in Bologna") offers the "Umarell" card in 2016. The money from the sale goes to the restoration of Bologna's churches.  
pieazzetta in bologna for the sprightly pensioners
In Bologna, the Umarells have their own place
Screenshot: Comune di Bologna
  • For gamblers: A game app called "Umarell" will be launched in 2016. The aim of the game is to build and control construction sites.
  • Advertising models: Fast food giant discovers the standing pensioners for its online campaign. Instead of a skinny model with a burger, there is wisdom and experience.
burger king, pensioner, models, advertising
Umarells as advertising model for a fast food giant
Screenshot: BURGER KING

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The Umarells get a piazza

  • Public tribute: The "Advisory Commission for the Naming of Streets" in Bologna allows the renaming of a public square to "Piazzetta degli Umarells" in 2017. Inauguration in 2018. The street sign is stolen in 2019.
  • Cult status. Even in comics, the pensioners from Bologna come to late honours. The "Micky Mouse" magazine ("Topolino" in Italy) is dedicating Umarell Gerindo Persichetti a whole episode.
stehrentner on may 1
From the Facebook entry: "The Umarell celebrates May Day by going to abandoned construction sites in a waistcoat to check on things. There's still work to be done on safety footwear, but it's only a matter of time."
Screenshot: Facebook/Umarells

  • Annual planning: A Standing Retired Calendar has been published for several years now - and demand is high.
  • Service: In Pescara, real estate developer Sarra is installing windows in the construction fences at three building sites at the end of 2020 - for better observation. (Photo at the top)
  • Analogue gadgets: Since 2021, the board game "La Giornata dell'Umarell" has been available. (translated: The Daily Routine of the Umarells).

The breakthrough!!!

  • The big breakthroughIn December 2020, the word Umarell will be included in the official Zingarelli dictionary (equivalent to the Duden in Germany or the Oxford Dictionary in England).This will then make the Stehrentner world famous. Newspapers and online services all over the world reported on the phenomenon - until today...
umarell lexicon
Zingarelli Guardian Book entry

This is how the standing pensioner is described in the Italian dictionary: "pensioner who, usually with his hands behind his back, walks around construction sites to check, ask questions, make suggestions or criticise the activities that take place there".

Lo Zingarelli, Vocabolario della lingua italiana, Zanichelli 2021


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written by Annie Kayser, first published 12 December 2021, updated 29 June 2022

Cover picture/Montage:Photo: Stefano Petroni/(CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Sources: Umarell's Facebook page; Bologna Today: "San Lazzaro esaudisce il sogno degli 'umarell': "direttore dei lavori" per un giorno"; La Repubblica: "Riccione, il Comune paga i pensionati per sorvegliare i cantieri"; Vita.it: "A Bologna nasce la card per assistere ai cantieri"; Comune di Bologna: "Inaugurata in Cirenaica la Piazzetta degli Umarells"; loZingarelli 2021