National Strike in Italy Means No School for You

17 Oct


Oh, love. Here in Italy the fun never ends.

So today when I went to pick my son up from elementary school, I found this sign taped to the school gate:


It says:

On October 18, if the school gate is closed, it means that the number of employees joining in the strike is such that the minimum conditions necessary for providing scholastic services cannot be guaranteed.

In a way it’s sort of even more flowery and convoluted than that translation, but in other words: bring your kid to school tomorrow at 8:30 am like you do every day. Then, if when you get here, you see the gate is closed, that means: NO SCHOOL FOR YOU!

When I got there this afternoon, various moms waiting for their kids began to notice the sign.

“Was that sign there this morning?”

“Did you see that sign before?”

Everyone agreed that it was the first time they’d seen the sign. And then the courtyard chatter grapevine had it that the teachers had already decided that they weren’t going to participate in the national strike anyway, but they couldn’t say so, but in any case there shouldn’t be anything to worry about.

In the end, no one really knew anything for sure, except for one thing: if the gate was closed, school would be closed.

I mean, just look at the sign. So Italian, in that it’s fully initialed. They are VERY big on official announcements having the “scarabocchio” of initials—that scribble that conveys such … officiality? Officialdom? Total and complete bureaucratic officialness?

It’s well known that scioperi (SHOW-pair-ee), or strikes, frequently interrupt daily life in Italy, and 9 times out of 10 (unscientific estimation on my part), they take place on a Friday. My only theory as to why this is, would be that it provides for a nice long weekend. Such a downer to strike on a Wednesday and then have to go back to work the next day!

National strikes like the one planned for tomorrow, however, are more disruptive than the typical transport strikes that occur on average once a month (again, unscientific data based on the fact that I ride the hulking, cumbersome and fickle beast known as Rome public transport to get around this city). In a national strike, it seems that more or less the whole country basically gets a day off. At least, the whole country that’s employed by the state.

I just typed in “sciopero” in Google and it automatically filled in the remainder for me: 18 ottobre. Nice.

So, tomorrow’s strike involves the entire national public administration, and La Repubblica reports that the reasoning behind this one, including the national demonstration here in Rome that will mean gridlock for anyone trying to move through downtown tomorrow, is to call for “a serious national plan for employment” and to protest “against all forms of temporary work.”

Italians still feel very strongly about iron-clad work contracts that virtually guarantee they can never be fired. When, in the past, I’ve told Italians about how most employment in the States is governed by an “at will” agreement, they are incredulous. I try to explain that despite the fact that yes, in theory you could be fired at any time for no reason whatsoever, in practice that generally doesn’t happen, and usually an employer will take reasonable steps to document and give fair chances for improvement before simply canning someone for poor performance or indiscretions.

Yeah–no. They don’t care. All they hear is “You can just be fired? Just like that?” which usually is a nice segue for them to begin berating the lack of public health care in America, with the requisite “I once heard a story about this guy…” that always ends in a person dying mercilessly on the curb of the ambulance lane in front of the greedy American hospital, because said dying person was without insurance. Bonus drama and relevancy points if it was an Italian tourist. Super extra bonus points if the said dying person was actually dying because his son accidentally shot him with one of the many unlocked guns he kept at home for no other reason than everyone knows that every American household has an unlocked gun cabinet full to bursting.


And, as if this whole strike-gate-closure-suspense weren’t already enough, can I tell you a little story from this morning too, while I was waiting for the bell to ring to let my son into school?

Ever since Vince started school last month, there have been a few times he’s mentioned to me that there’s no toilet paper in the restrooms. The first time, I thought it was maybe a fluke. The second time, I thought maybe a coincidence. The third time, my son actually started to think that quite possibly his mom was a total idiot. “Mom! I told you! There’s no toilet paper in the bathrooms!” I mean, the kid’s nearly six. He should know whether or not there’s TP to be had.

This morning I decided to ask around. I approached one of the moms who has been the kindest to me and nonchalantly asked, “My son told me the strangest thing: he said that there’s no toilet paper in the school bathrooms. Could that be?”

She smiled, not condescendingly, but sort of knowingly, and said to me, “We bring it ourselves.”

I told her that I had, in fact, told my son to bring his packs of Kleenex (that I am required by the school to keep him supplied with in his backpack) to the restroom with him. His response? Another “mom’s a dummy” one. “Mooommmmm! But THOSE are for blowing my nose!”


My bad.

Nice mom then added helpfully, “We’re taking up a collection.”


A collection? So that we can supply our children with toilet paper should they need to make use of it in the school restrooms?


You know, though, it’s not that uncommon. When my ex-husband had an outpatient surgery once, in a private clinic that accepted the NHS coverage, there was no toilet paper in the bathrooms either. Like, as in: on purpose. I had to actually go out to the grocery store and bring him rolls of toilet paper for his inpatient clinic overnight stay.

Oh man. Speaking of toilet paper brought back a REEEALLLY old post of mine. I mean, old as in seven years and one week ago. Kind of like the beginning of the ol’ Gettsyburg address. Four score and seven years and one week ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent, toilet paper.

Seriously, you should read this. I hear the girl who wrote it is a real barrel of laughs.

Anyhoo. I’ve got half a mind to just not even go to the gate tomorrow to even see if it’s closed. But just half a mind. Not sure how the other half feels yet.


7 Responses to “National Strike in Italy Means No School for You”

  1. triciatierney October 18, 2013 at 2:18 am #

    In the little hospital where I had gave birth prematurely – thus, unplanned – had nothing. Never mind no toilet paper — no toilet seats even — fun squatting after giving birth… no silver ware for the, delicious (at least), meals. All in all, pretty funky. Down south in a pretty town. But the statue of Mary’s lightbulb crown in the hallway was always lit and there were lovely flowers around her too. I love Italy. (really)

  2. Shelley Ruelle October 18, 2013 at 9:20 am #

    Wow! Yes, I do too. I don’t highlight these things to bitch and complain, but rather because they are the cultural “quirks” of my adopted country. Every country has its quirks. I’m blessed that the teachers in my son’s school are fantastic, caring, and very professional and experienced educators. At that point whether I have to contribute to pay for TP or whatever isn’t as relevant as having my son in a place where he can receive a safe and quality education!

  3. Shelley Ruelle October 18, 2013 at 9:21 am #

    As an update, the school was open. When the custodian arrived, parents gave him a round of applause. 😉 He said “I can’t afford to strike!” They responded en masse “Neither can we!” 😉

  4. Andy Troiani October 18, 2013 at 11:21 am #

    Great, you have not «three preschool children» anymore! 😀
    Welcome to the hell!

  5. simcek October 18, 2013 at 12:24 pm #

    Just one thing: saying that Italians have iron-clad contracts that virtually guarantee they can never be fired is on the same level of the unlocked gun cabinet in every American household.

    Let’s fight clichés. United we stand.

  6. gmtnunez October 21, 2013 at 12:38 am #

    The lack of toilet paper is something that astounds Americans abroad and yet is somehow widely accepted in so many other places. One of the first things my host mom in Chile told me was to bring toilet paper with me, always.
    And then there’s the whole thing about not being able to flush it…


  1. Scenes from a National Strike | AZinItaly - October 18, 2013

    […] was a national strike held today in all of Italy. I first learned about it from Un’Americana a Roma when her post hit my inbox this morning. I next checked out the website, Wanted in Rome, which […]

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