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Five Essential Rules of Italian (Roman) Bureaucracy

11 Oct 20161011_160001


These days it takes something quite unusual to get me back on the blog, but this is a post whose time has come.

Over the course of roughly 15 years of life in Rome, I’ve learned and internalized a few precepts for dealing with the notoriously difficult and entrenched bureaucracy.

When I speak of bureaucracy, what I am referring to includes, but is by no means limited to, the following:

  • Getting a driver’s license
  • Getting public health insurance/choosing a family doctor
  • Dealing with city hall for certificates (birth, marriage, residency, civil status)
  • Dealing with the questura, central immigration, and post office for stay permit issues
  • Contesting/rectifying any errors on aforementioned official documents
  • Mailing a letter or actual package at the post office, and God forbid you are crazy enough to open any sort of financial account there
  • Applying for university/enrolling in university
  • Dealing with an Italian consulate or embassy abroad
  • Banking in Italy
  • Returning items to a store in Rome/trying to get your money back for something
  • Taxes and any other dealings with a behemoth known as INPS
  • Paying bills in any shape or form, and generally dealing with any utility company, especially publicly-owned ones such as ACEA, ENI, ATAC, AMA
  • Trying to pay for a low-cost item with a 50-euro bill

Like I said, this is a limited list, but I’ve done all of the above, some multiple times (because I am a masochist, clearly), and so far, I’ve lived to tell the tale. I have the tear stains and gray hairs to prove it.

So patience, young grasshopper, while I now impart my hard-earned knowledge.

1. In Rome, you are not entitled to anything. So please throw away immediately any mentality that allows you to think you can “make it their problem.”

This first dictum is absolutely essential. If you approach anything in Rome with the sort of approach I used to have when I lived in the United States, you will simply and utterly fail.

After telling a horrific bureaucratic tale to an Australian who had never lived in Rome, I was asked: “What happens though, if you just make it their problem?

My two very seasoned American-in-Italy expat friends and I (about 50 years of expat experience in Italy combined between the three of us) laughed with wide-eyed amusement. You know the laugh. That “awwww, how cute” one.

It took at least four times repeating “you can’t make it their problem” to get the message through, adding several more concrete and non-theoretical examples, but the concept was so foreign I still don’t think we made any real impact. I got the impression our dining guest was convinced that had only he been in our shoes, he would have been able to “make it their problem” – read: make them fix the problem for him.

This brings us to dictum 1a:


I put that in ALL CAPS because I cannot stress this principle enough. You are absolutely responsible for finding a way. If someone helps you, be grateful, but consider it an exception to the rule. You must use your own brain, your own resources, your own energy and your own elbow grease to get your problem fixed. That probably means bringing in other people you know, who have experience, for moral support and technical advice. But ultimately this is your problem to solve, not the manager’s—even if the manager created the problem for you. (I fully grasp the absurdity of this concept. You, too, should begin embracing it as soon as you are physically and mentally strong enough to do so.)

Let’s do a little trial exercise to get you warmed up, so you can strengthen those underworked, flabby bureaucratic muscles, and thus begin safely working off that extra layer of entitlement that you carry with you from years of doing business in more civilized places.

Ready? Repeat after me:

I, the client, am not always right.
In fact, I am almost always wrong. At least on the first trip.
This is why my secret weapons are persistence, determination, and patience—and not indignantly demanding to speak to a superior.

(You should probably repeat that one a few more times. Really get your heart rate up a bit.)

Humility will help you with this one. No one is getting paid to be nice to you. So just get the F over it. It never gets nicer or easier.

2. Keep your expectations super low, so that you can be pleasantly surprised when things go right, rather than abysmally depressed when things go wrong.01720_expectationsI realize that this might come as an affront to those of us raised in cultures where we’re encouraged to “raise the bar,” etcetera, etcetera. You must shake off your high standards. They have no place here.

When embarking on any bureaucratic task, get all your ducks in a row (see 3), and then, resign yourself to the fact that you probably won’t accomplish what you’re setting out to do. This way, if and when you succeed, you’ll feel like a million effing dollars and then some. Plus, it gives you a great reason to pop a bottle of bubbly.

See? Now when did a trip to the post office ever merit champagne in your past? Move to Italy. You’ll understand.

3. Start “the file.”


Aw yeah, expats know what I’m talking about here. I learned about “the file” about a year or two into my life in Rome. Let me set the scene for you. It was the umpteenth time I was getting shot down trying to sign up for my family physician and health card: this time, they discovered that my birthplace as printed on my Italian ID card was the right city, but the wrong country. You see, I was born in Portsmouth, Virginia (USA), but the clerk who had produced my ID card years prior unbeknownst to me had mistakenly input Portsmouth, (GB) … and no, the health office people were certainly not going to fix that for me. Down for the count, once again.

Meanwhile, I stepped aside and watched a man from Vietnam attempt something at the window. The clerk tried to shut him down by saying he was missing a particular document. BOOM! He pulls it out of a three-ring binder he was carrying. Then the clerk, with a look of triumph, tells him he is missing the appropriate number of photocopies (and HELL NO they don’t make photocopies FOR YOU! Please see 1 and 1a). BOOM! He pulls out a sheaf of photocopies from his binder.

In short, I learned a valuable lesson that day. Keep every paper. Bring every damn paper with you to every appointment. Keep multiple photocopies of everything on hand at all times and ready to hand over (at least three), especially passport and stay permit. Keep a sheet of ID card photos on hand as well. Why not throw in a tax stamp for €16 while you’re at it, too—couldn’t hurt. Tax returns? Check. Marriage certificate, birth certificate, divorce decree? Who the hell knows! Check! File all this mumbo-jumbo in those plastic A4 sheet protectors, stick it all in a three-ring binder, and before you depart for any bureaucratic mission, you take that damn binder with you. Watch in awe and wonder as it grows through the years. But by all means, don’t like go and forget it in a public restroom or let someone steal that sucker or something equally tragic. Then you’re screwed.

4. Don’t expect there to be one answer to your question, or even a right answer at all, or a conclusive answer, and certainly don’t think that NO is a final answer, although usually it is, except when it isn’t.


It’s completely normal and acceptable that two employees in the same office, perhaps two who even sit next at windows right next to each other, give different answers to the same question, on the same day, different days, or the same time. No one is guaranteed to know the true answer, or the right answer, generally speaking. Please see rule 1a. Knowing the answer to the question in advance is your job.

Once when I was trying to accomplish something in the ID card office, I looked over to the desk marked “information”. The man employed to provide information was sleeping. Like deep, REM-phase sleep. He slept for the entire hour-plus that I was in the office. So, I suppose we could append to this adage: don’t expect employees to actually be awake on the job. But that is maybe best reserved for our masterclass in bureaucracy. I certainly wouldn’t want to scare off beginners.

5. If you can liken all of your bureaucratic travails to the spiritual metaphor of a video game, you can even have fun while you’re at it. 

kung-fu-master-lvl-1Basically this metaphor always works for me. Just imagine that whatever you’re trying to accomplish is like being in one of those old-school Nintendo video games where each level had some sort of fire-breathing dragon or its equivalent that had to be defeated before you could pass to the next level. That’s basically a microcosm of the entire Roman bureaucratic machine.

In your video game, you will encounter many evil enemies and obstacles blocking your path to the next level, thus preventing your advancement towards fighting and defeating the Big Boss. Let me list some of them for you:

  • Strike (transport or labor union, or both)
  • Office moved but no one told anyone—you get there and there’s a handwritten sign on the door
  • Employee at window 1A isn’t responsible for that—you have to ask the person on the 3rd floor
  • Person on the 3rd floor isn’t responsible for that—you have to ask the person at window 1A
  • The person at window 1A is now on coffee break
  • The deadline for that was last week
  • No there aren’t any exceptions
  • You didn’t keep your receipt
  • You don’t have the right photocopy
  • There’s a mistake on your document (missing letter, wrong number) and it’s not their fault and they can’t fix it. Go Directly to Jail. Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200.


Here’s the thing, folks: Rome bureaucratic missions will either break you, or build you into a problem-solving superhero who laughs in the face of insult. (And then whips out a photocopy and a tax stamp.)

I raise my glass that your path leads towards Kryptonite-free triumph, paved with smiling impiegati and lots of freshly-inked stamps. Go boldly forth, and achieve greatness!

How to Dress for Summer Court in Sicily

14 Jul

Well, perhaps this isn’t necessarily how to dress, but rather how not to dress.

This gem comes to us this morning from my ex-husband, a lawyer, who had some business this weekend in Sicily.

Posted on the courtroom door of the Tribunale di Marsala:



Oh, Lord. Italy, some days you just make me happy for how silly you are. And, the ubiquity of printed signs from Word will forever remain the hallmark of public offices in Italy. See also: this, which has a delightful plethora of exclamation points to give it that extra stamp of authority.

And don’t try to get away with bikinis in the Marsala court, either. I bet they’d put a Word document up for that too.




Italian Postal Logic

10 Apr

Poor Poste Italiane. No one likes them.

Every time I write anything about the good ol’ PT, I inevitably get a random Italian commenter who hasn’t ever read my blog before (and thus has no idea how adoring I truly am of my adopted country), but somehow landed on that one post where I get all complainy, and tries to defend the PT in the comments by suggesting in some creative and colorful form that if I don’t like it I can go back to my own damn country.

Ok, maybe not every time. But lots of times, anyways.

Maybe it was calling this post “Italian Postal Service I Hate You With All My Heart” that made some readers think I’m bitter and cynical. A bit over the top? I dunno. Perhaps.

Maybe it was the one called No stamps, this is the post office.

Maybe people just don’t appreciate quality sarcasm anymore. We’ve become so jaded, haven’t we? It’s too bad all our days can’t be filled with delightful post office banter like this.

Well, as you might already know, the Italian postal service (and here I use the term “service” very loosely) is a never-ending font of things to both ridicule and belittle.

And yet, today I don’t have any complaints to add, but rather a quiz (or as they say here in Italy, “queets”) question for you.

I need your help, as a matter of fact, because no matter how I try to wrap my brain around this one, it just keeps getting tied up in knots.

Please observe Exhibit A:


Besides the fact that this is an exceedingly rare moment in that there seems to be NO ONE in the post office (I promise you there were 10 people just a couple minutes later), have a look at “What’s Wrong in This Picture?”

Well, frankly, I hadn’t noticed it. But as I was waiting in line, the one line that was formed because the number machine was broken, I overheard a woman loudly say to an elderly lady approaching the counter: “You see?! There was a reason why they turned the chairs around!”

At which point, obviously, I look at the row of chairs and discover, in fact, that they are all facing with their backs to the “service” windows, when usually they are facing the windows. The usual chair configuration does actually make sense, really, when you take into consideration that if you have your back to the NUMERICAL DISPLAY you won’t be very likely to see YOUR NUMBER when it’s called. So, you know, number machine broken, maybe chairs must be turned around? Unless, well, ok, perhaps it could stay that way even when the number machine works, maybe if you were to hold up a compact mirror over your shoulder, and/or you are a single mom of three children under age ten like I am, at which point you would certainly have at least two, if not more, eyes in the back of your head like I do.

Anyways, herefore cometh O Wise Explanation to aforementioned conundrum, according to postal patron number one. However, before the big reveal, I’d like you to take a moment and try to guess why, using your own common sense and logic, according to postal patron number one (who I assumed received this pearl of wisdom directly from the postal clerk), the postal people decided it was a good idea to turn all those chairs around.

You got it? You got your guess ready? OK. So here’s what the woman said:

“You see, since there aren’t any numbers because the number machine is broken, and since we all have to form one line starting over there, well, the chairs are turned around so that way, if the line gets long, people can sit down in these chairs, like so.”

The old woman nodded, as if that somehow made perfect sense to her.

Perfect sense.

In my mind, a comment like that deserves only one thing, and that one thing is known in my world as the hashtag #WTF.

But, this is not my world, you see. Oh no, make no mistake about it: this is the Italian postal “service’s” world. I only live in it, occasionally stand in it for long periods of time, and most certainly never sit in it with my back to the service windows, even if they do make the effort to helpfully position the chairs in a way in which I could comfortably do so.

But why stop there, I ask myself. No, dear reader, bonus: I’d also like to let you know, that if you so desire, you can get dental insurance through the post office. Will you just look at how happy that toothpaste smiley-face man is about this proposition?


Dental Postalprotection: Smiling has never been so simple. (I want to kiss the copywriter who came up with that one, really, I do.)

But wait! There’s more!

There’s an entire CATALOG of randomness that you can buy through your post office. It’s even seasonal. This one is Spring 2014. That means there are four a year, people! YAY! Look how happy the family is, sitting as they are in front of a soccer match! You can even buy a flag! Weee!


Stamps? Pshaw, you silly! But a “Dual Motor Relax Recliner”? Oh now hellll yes. Now that we have, at the low, low price of just €449,90. (Postal geniuses, you’re not fooling anyone by taking 10 cents off. We’re totally onto you and your reclining chair scheming.)


That is, unless you prefer the collar massager for 10 cents short of €55.

We’ll even make it super easy for you with a loan on one of our pre-paid debit cards: “The loan that recharges your desire for shopping.” Yes. Because we’re the post office. That’s what we do, you see.


You know what though? Shit. I’m usually not one of those “Americans Do It Better” kind of girls, but in this particular instance, I just have to get on out there and say it loud, say it proud: when it comes to useless products, AIN’T NOBODY like us here Americans.

Don’t believe it? Just try me:

(If I had been drinking milk I am fairly certain it would have come out of my nostrils from laughter at 2:15. Nice perm, BTW.)

Ok, fine. I hear you though. You’re saying, “Oh Shelley, PT is such an easy target. Move on already.” Which makes me think of an Italian phrase that I simply adore. It goes like this: “E’ come sparare sulla Croce Rossa.” We Americans say something like, “It’s like shooting fish in a barrel,” (naturally, of course, because all Americans carry at least one gun on their person at ALL TIMES), but the Italians say, “It’s like shooting at the Red Cross.” God I love that phrase. [And, by the way and just so you know, Mythbusters confirmed that shooting fish in a barrel is, in fact, easy to do.]

And before you dismiss my humble blog as pulp fodder for the ignorant masses, I’ll have you know that this dude at Yahoo questions wanted to know “Why do they say it’s like shooting at the Red Cross?” and some benevolent soul took the time to respond that the GENEVA CONVENTION prevents shooting at health workers in war zones, so it’s like attacking someone who’s defenseless and can’t fight back. Another helpful know-it-all says that it was common to bomb Red Cross encampments in war zones in all the wars post-1864 (when the Red Cross was founded). In any case, if you need a real-life, in-context textual/visual demonstration of this expression, I direct you here. I will not, can not, put a picture of Britney Spears’s buttocks on my blog. Not gan do it, not at this juncture, wun’t be prudent…

Today I had to go to the post office to pay a bill (naturally) so I decided it would also be a good occasion to mail a letter I needed to mail. A real, honest-to-God, thank you card, from a box of US stationery I had sent over from Papyrus via my ex-husband’s luggage with a real, honest-to-God stamp on it. I kid you not when I tell you that I went to the tobacconist before the post office, so I could purchase a real stamp. As I hand over the card, I am careful to bring to the clerk’s attention: “It already has a stamp on it.”

The guy behind the counter takes my letter, stares at it, turns it over a few times in his hands, marveling. (He was marveling, I swear to you, it was unmistakable.)

I was like: “What? It’s a letter.”

And he goes: “That’s a beautiful thing.”

Indeed, my friend, it is. Indeed it is.

About That Rain

1 Feb


Yesterday Rome received between 90-150 mm of rain, depending on what source you read, and Rome’s average rainfall for the month of February is 20.5 mm. I’m no math major, but if you figure that’s less than 1 mm per day on average in a month, well, um, that’s like more than 100 times more rain than usual in one day. Right?

So, yes—it rained yesterday.

Here are some pictures of the flooding.

And, in other news: while I was looking for a slideshow for you guys with pictures of the rainfall, a teensy-weensy hyperlink caught my eye. “ATAC driver with woman.” Oh, no. I had to find out more.  I drifted over to grainy snapshots. Grainy snapshots are even better, right?

This has nothing to do with the rain. Consider it a bonus gift with your free purchase.

So, apparently the other night a driver of our fine public transport company here in Rome was driving a night bus line with only his left hand on the wheel. That’s because his right hand was caressing his “female companion” who was sitting on the dashboard of the bus. Of course the article described her appearance: “tall, blond, short skirt and heeled boots.” (I was a bit disappointed as I was really rooting for it to be “short, dumpy, ankle-length sack dress and sensible shoes.”) Passengers reported that he was driving purposely slow to catch all the red lights so that he’d be free to make his moves. The headline on this one says “Scandal and Fear on the N2 line.” Scandal! Fear!

File in the “only in Rome” category. They quote a German exchange student saying he’s never seen anything like it. (You mean in Germany they don’t do these things?) A mom was riding the bus with her 9- and 10-year-old children and said, “Only in Italy do things like this happen.

Well, I can’t speak for all of Italy, but, ATAC is definitely one-of-a-kind, that is for damn sure. With the magical power of the Interwebs, I was easily led to other recent ATAC misadventures. Like the driver who was driving with his elbows while talking on his cell phone, also reportedly dodging pedestrians while he zoomed through crosswalks and ran red lights. (The elbows is a bit much, but the dodging pedestrians is really part of the hiring test, I think.) Apparently in that case a 19-year-old student asked him if he could get off of his cell phone to concentrate on his driving, and his cordial response was, and I quote: “Rinse your mouth out before you speak.” -?!?- Um? Is that supposed to be an insult? Bad breath? Witty? You’ve got me there.

In any case, at least he wasn’t in a heated lovers quarrel. Did you hear the one about the driver of the 44 who was fighting with someone (the article says “presumably a woman”) on his cell phone in broad daylight at 8 am on Via Dandolo in Trastevere, and stopped the bus, got off to argue some more, and then got back on the bus and told all the passengers to get off? After which point he turned off the bus “in service” sign, changing it to “Depot” and then simply drove away, leaving his bewildered passengers on the sidewalk? Yep. It happened.

And, of course those of you who have visited Rome for any length of time will have most likely encountered one of the transport workers’ long weekends Friday union strikes, conveniently interrupted for a few hours in the morning and evening ostensibly to bring people to and from their places of employment (where they aren’t striking).

Oh, the fun, the odyssey of it all!

So, you know. It should come as no surprise that a torrential day of rainfall shuts this city down. We can barely get around this place on normal days, after all.

Slow News Month: Sex Sells, Part 2

8 Nov

Oh, for the love. Here we go again. I mean, come on people! Have we not yet learned that SEX SELLS?

Did you see my exposé (very risqué) on how cheap ploys of boobies on magazine covers might help boost slow August beach sales?

No, you didn’t? Oh. Well then. Go here. I’ll wait.

Did you click?

You didn’t?

Ok. Let me try a different tactic. Hang on.

Sex in Ancient Rome

Ah! Gotcha, didn’t I?

So, this is my point. We are about as evolved as cave people.

Anyhoo, all that to say how pleased I am that I get to walk my almost-six-year-old son past this poster at the newsstand every day this month. That there is just your run-of-the-mill vintage booby-stroking, on the cover of an erudite BBC-mastheaded publication about history. I’ve learned that if I act nonchalant, it seems normal. So far, so good. I don’t think he gives it a second glance. I, however, beg to differ.


Here the big cover story is a cute little play on words. The term “brothels” in Italian literally translates to “closed houses.” So here, the genius copywriter went for the easy hook: “When the Closed Houses Were Open.” (Get it? Get it?! Open? Closed? So clever, right? I know. The mind boggles.) Subtitled: And if we were to reopen them?

Yeah, question mark. Don’t make that any sort of question. Please, I’m begging you: reopen them. As soon as possible.

Oh. I take it you didn’t read my other post. That one with the map?

See! You did it again. Trying to get away without clicking. Geez. You guys are a tough crowd. Here you go: Prostitution in Rome.

But, truly, folks? The best part of that cover story (besides the fact that it’s the second magazine about history that uses sex to sell, which is just brilliant), is the Sora Gemma poster.

Oh my gosh, are you serious? You’ve never heard of the legendary Sora Gemma? For shame!

Ok. So, there’s this poster that gets reproduced on magnets you can buy at the newsstand downtown. The poster is a sign that showed the price list for “Gemma’s Pleasure House” and it makes us modern-day folks have a good ha-ha because–well, come on! It’s a price list! For sexual stuff! That’s always comic gold, right?


In all the reproductions, the man’s family jewels have been discreetly scratched out. I know. Total rip-off for us ladies. But, you know. Modesty and all.

People get a big kick out of this and related signage from the fascist period, when bordellos (in Italian that would be bordelli, and BTW, the word bordello in Rome is also slang for something akin to “a big mess”) were still open and running. We like to laugh at things printed in big block letters that say “Discounts for young men if it’s their first time!” etc. The etc. being other guffaw-worthy gems like “towel and water included in the price” and the extra 5 cent charge for soap and 25 cent charge for cologne, and the pricing based on half-hour, full hour, or a “doppietta.”

Ok, wait. In the interest of accurate reporting, I must now go and research what a doppietta was. Clearly the easy answer would be a threesome, right? Because “doppio” means double, and so one would logically assume that would mean two women, no? Hmm. Yahoo answers always comes to my rescue for these embarrassing questions I never want to admit I need answers to. That way I can point my digital finger and make fun of the person who was actually brave enough to post.

Yep! Thank you! Mr. Mendez even verbalizes what I missed, in his own question about what the heck a doppietta was: “The doppietta can’t possibly be two women, because it costs less than a half hour!” Mendez, rock on. That is a very astute observation you’ve made there.

Let’s phone a friend for the answer:

il singolo rapporto sessuale doveva durare sui 10 minuti

la doppia erano 20 minuti, intendendo che uno poteva avere 2 rapporti, cosa piuttosto difficile in 20 minuti…

con la mezz’ora potevi sbizzarrirti 0_0

Nicely done, by a user named “web ser,” who informs us that the sexual act was to be completed in a span of 10 minutes. Therefore, the “doppietta” means you could have sex twice, because simple math will tell us that 10 minutes + 10 minutes = 20 minutes, therefore still coming in well under (or at least theoretically one sexual act of intercourse under) the 30 minute price uptick. He also comments that of course depends on whether one was able to actually have two acts of sexual intercourse in 20 minutes, helpfully adding “rather difficult.” Hey, web ser! Speak for yourself! You have no idea who Gemma’s clientele was, now do you? These were virile men of the fascist era! Please, do not underestimate their testosterone-laden capabilities.

Our informed respondent then goes on to state at the end of his response that therefore: “in a half hour you could really go crazy.”

Nice. Thank you for that.

Oh, folks. Good times were had by all, I can assure you. Especially by Gemma who was laughing all the way to the bank, no doubt about it.

Personally though, in my tantalizing research for this post, I also enjoyed the following:


Franca’s casino (another word for bordello, as a reader helpfully pointed out that gambling halls are called casinò with the accent on the O) has warm bidets and military discounts. It’s a win-win. Yes!

Or, how about a tip on decorum and just plain old good business sense:


Kind clients, please don’t bother the women unless you’ve already paid. (Molestare in today’s parlance is akin to bother or annoy; however, I wouldn’t doubt if this was a bit more literal back in the 40s when this was still operative!)

Hey! You want an entire revealing slide show on the topic? Honestly. This fascinates me to no end. Go.

Still resisting, eh? What if I told you you could see this picture:


And the caption says: Rome, 16 November 1949. Pieraccini responds to Merlin: “Honorable, you’ve said each woman had 100 appointments per day: that’s not possible […] Even if you considered 15 minutes per appointment, 100 appointments would take 25 hours!”

Ha, ha. I told you you’d want to go look. God, you guys are so predictable, but I love you for it.

And, in closing, let me pass the mic to Indro Montanelli, Italian journalist and historian whose Wiki profile states “generally considered one of the greatest Italian journalists of the 20th century,” who had this to say on the matter:

Il bordello è l’unica istituzione italiana dove la competenza è premiata e il merito riconosciuto.
— Indro Montanelli

In other words: “The brothel is the only Italian institution where competence is prized and merit is recognized.”

Amen! No wonder he was so great. That there is what we in the business call “telling it like it is.”

Ok. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming. That is all. Until the next history magazine puts lewd photographs on its cover, that is. Just give it a month or two.

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.

Romans, Go Forth and Vote!

24 Feb

Oh my God. Look at this:

2013-02-21 08.47.42

So here’s me, Little Miss Know-It-All, taking a picture of this sign posted on a shuttered storefront about a week ago, breezily walking by and thinking to my super-know-it-all-little-self “I’m sure I can come up with some snotty comment to poke fun at the store owner who’d post a sign on his business that says “Closed for Flu.” That’s kind of silly, isn’t it? Yes, it is.”

Fast forward to last Thursday night, when the Universe decided to show me just what it means to have to close your business for the flu, as I thrashed about all night battling a high fever and basically feeling like I was on the edge of death, or at least Dante’s vestibule of hell. Yes, folks, I was officially “Chiuso per Influenza” and let me tell you, this year’s flu ain’t no joke. I am just now emerging from my bed after 2 full days.

Can I tell you another reason why I love these handwritten signs? Because they almost always, pretty much inevitably, end up having some smart ass remark scrawled on them, in response to the main message. No exception here. Underneath the “closed for the flu” message, someone who is probably even more know-it-all than I am walked by and wrote “Why didn’t you get vaccinated?”

But, enough about the Raging Flu Monster of 2013. Let’s get on with the voting, shall we?

I don’t really have much to say (that’s particularly useful), except that I wanted to show anyone who comes from my home country (or any other country with less than like 30 different political parties), that voting here looks a *wee* bit complicated.

To answer your question—no, I will not be voting. I still have to finish applying for my citizenship, so there. Not like I’d vote if I had the chance to. Are you kidding me?

I found a paper left on a bunch of windshields by my apartment. It’s a “fac-simile” (I just love how in Italy they write it like that. I don’t know why. FAC-SIMILE. So old-fashioned) of a ballot. Now, this particular one is for Berlusconi’s party so you see that’s the symbol that’s highlighted. But what I really wanted to point out was just how super-duper fun an Italian regional election ballot is! I mean, let’s compare, shall we?

U.S. presidential election ballot:


Pretty straightforward, no? Black and white, two political parties, check the box, go drink a beer and celebrate. Not much to it.

Italian regional election ballot:


Weeeeee! Kind of makes you want to do a jig, no? I mean, so colorful! All kinds of little round symbols and pictures. A little hand showing where you’re supposed to actually write in the name for the candidate (this I don’t really understand but it’s fun). You get to make X’s on the pictures, and write things, I mean honestly people, voting in an Italian election is, well, it’s like a microcosm of Italy compared to the U.S., is it not?

It’s like the difference between Mr. Arnold Grummer being inducted into the Paper Industry Hall of Fame at the Radisson hotel (97 views, and he makes the questionable decision of revealing during his acceptance speech that he’s recently been diagnosed with lung cancer – hello, killjoy!) vs. Roberto Benigni accepting the Oscar win (it’s all about fun).

God bless Italy. Happy voting. And happy Oscar weekend too!