It’s kind of nice – in a “OMG! I Can’t believe it!” way.
That, after all these years here, Italy is still able to shock me.
One could call it stupid, of course, but that would be unkind. One could call it jobsworth, which it certainly is. In so many ways, Italy is so flexible – you can smoke in some restaurants/bars, even if it’s illegal; if you want something done, you CAN get it done, somehow. But, in certain situations, no amount of stonewalling really works (unless you have several hours to spare, which I didn’t) and so I gave up on it. Or, rather, gave in. But, let me tell you the story of my …… Trip To The Post Office!
I arrive in the car park. I see there were few cars so I was hopeful that there would also be a small queue. I entered the Post Office and saw there was NO queue. I think this is possibly the first time ever that there has been no queue. In any post office in Italy!
However, all the counter staff were occupied.
The postal section (I was sending a parcel) only had one position open. The customer who was there, after a few minutes, was called over to another counter. I could see that the “assistant” (although it should be “notassistant”) was obviously busy doing some general paperwork.
So I waited.
Eventually, some assistant from the other end of the counters, called “next!” I showed I was sending a package (by holding the package up) and she wagged her finger at me and shook her head to say “no” and signaled for the woman behind me to come.
I’m a patient guy. I wait. Surely, I think, the notassistant who is actually sitting on the postal counter will stop what she is doing and serve me? But no. The lady finishes at the other end again, she calls “next!” Again, it was still “no” for me.
I was, by now, a little frustrated. I vowed that, the next time a counter was free, I would go up anyway. And not move until they served me.
A counter a couple up became free. This time I was accepted. In my bad Italian, I explain that I want to send the small package to England and I want it to get there in a couple of days and, preferably get a signature. She goes to ask the miserable notassistant. After a few minutes, she calls me down to the notassistant. I know her (I go to this post office quite a lot and there are two of them that do the post; both older ladies, one of them loves me and the other, this one, I think hates everyone and the whole world, probably for even existing!) and everything is just so much trouble.
“It’ll cost €30,” she says, expecting me to change my mind about sending it.
“That’s OK,” I say. She regards me, much as I assume Paddington Bear would regard me if I told him something he didn’t like. There was an unsaid, “Are you sure?”
But I was sure.
She next looked at the address. She read it out loud, as best she could.
“There’s no number,” she states, “There has to be a number.”
It takes me a moment to understand what she is saying. She’s right! There is no number. There’s the house name, the road name, the village name, the county name, the post code and the country. There just isn’t a number for the house. Here, in Italy, every house has a number, even if, sometimes, there is no name of the road. This is in addition to the post code. In the UK, of course, whereas there is often a number, in the small villages or if your house is really big and important, there isn’t always a number. In this case, there is no number. I try to explain.
“There is no number.” I’m not really sure what else I can say.
“It has to have a number otherwise we can’t send it.”
“But, there is no number for this house,” I add. “In England, the post office know that it has no number. It’s a small village and some houses don’t have a number.”
“Well, it has to have a number.” She is adamant. She goes to give me back the parcel.
At a different time, in a different place, I would have argued the toss. I would have stood my ground. I would have insisted. I was, quite frankly, shocked at the stupidity of her.
I was also a little angry. Not really angry as much as frustrated. How does this bloody country work? I mean how is it possible to get anything done? I want to kill her. This, in particular, is the most downright, shockingly stupid thing I’ve ever come across. I do realise that if I was sending it within Italy, I would need a number. But I am sending this to the UK. “Don’t you get it?”
I want to say that. But, of course, I don’t.
“But,” I add, “how can I give it a number if there is no number?”
The woman to whom I had first gone, pipes up, “It’s not the post office in England,” she explains, “It’s the post office here. If there is no number, they will return it.” This is helpful. Although, quite honestly, it is simply wrong.
I want to say, “At Christmas time, I sent these people a Christmas Card, using this same address, and my friends got it OK. So you are wrong.” However, siamo in Italia (we are in Italy) and I know that arguing with these people does not work whether they are right or wrong. These are the people who can “decide” whether something happens or not. If I don’t accept what they say, they just won’t do it. And there’s no one I can go to to fix this. I have to either go to another post office (and hope for the best) or send it another way. Or, I have to, somehow, solve this problem so that they will send it.
“OK,” I say, a little exasperated but trying hard not to show it in case they decide that accepting it at all is too much trouble. “If I write “1”, is that OK?”
I get several minutes of explanation of why they need a number which, to be honest, I don’t listen to. I repeat, “I’ll put a one.”
“It won’t go until tomorrow,” I am told. Whilst this is not the first time I’ve heard these attempts to dissuade me from using the postal service, they seem to be being persistent today!
“It’s OK,” I reply.
“Where is the telephone number?” Oh for fucks sake! I don’t know if I have it. My phone battery has nearly died. Can I get a number, assuming I have one, before it dies? If I don’t have their number, can I send a Facebook message AND get an answer before my phone dies?
“We must have a telephone number,” she adds, “because they will phone before delivery.”
I almost despair. I know (and, maybe they know), that no one will phone. They will try and deliver and, if no one is home, they’ll either leave it at a neighbour’s or take it back to the depot and make my friends collect it. In this case, if I can’t get the number (if I have it) from my phone, I’ll just put something down. After all, they won’t know if it’s right or not.
My phone lives. My contacts also list a phone number! I am in luck.
I fill in the slip of paper. It has my address, my phone number, their address (with a “1” against the street name), their phone number and two of my signatures.
“What’s inside?” she asks.
“A box,” I reply. She looks at me as if I am stupid. I smile. No, that’s not true. I grin. Yes, it seems stupid to have a box within a box – but it has the distinct advantage of being the truth. Inside the inner box is some foam. Rather special foam, I admit, but foam nonetheless. It’s like having a rather largish box for a watch, with the blocks of foam that you have inside ring/jewellery boxes. It’s true! Although I can see, as you read this, you, too, think it sounds stupid. I can’t tell you more just in case my friends read this. It’s a surprise, you see.
I try to explain. I think they get it. She says, “You write it in English, in this space.” I do.
She then “processes” the slip. This takes some time. Eventually, she tells me it’s €30.50 which, in fact, is only €1.50 less than the cost of the present! Still, it will be worth it for, I think, it is a most unusual present.
I can, I am told, track it on the Internet. I already know this, but allow her her moment of satisfaction at my special surprised expression.
I pay the money and take away my copy of the receipt.
My trip to the post office is done. I thank her (even if I think she really doesn’t deserve it) and thank the first woman on the way out.
And I’m out.
“Breathe!” I tell myself. “Just breathe, and remember that this is SO worth the effort.”
Now we shall see if that is true. In a few days or whenever the last delivery is made
In the meantime, I have survived the Trip To The Post Office!
Update: the present was a box which contained a foam-like substance. the idea was to imprint your baby’s foot into the foam and it would remain forever (so you had to be careful doing it). I don’t actually know if they did do it but the idea was the thing any way!