Tag Archives: Italy

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!

Bathing Suit Season in Italy 2016 Edition

14 Jun

Italy is currently in the throes of patriotic passion for the Azzurri, its national soccer team, in the UEFA Euro 2016 championship. How do I know this?

  1. I don’t watch TV. But I can tell you when a match is being played and when a goal is scored by Italy or against Italy just by keeping a silent house, because no one is on the streets during a match and the screams from the fans inside every apartment easily penetrate my building’s foot-thick walls and closed windows.
  2. There are commemorative beer bottles.

Witness Exhibit 1: the current Birra Moretti labels.


Now, before you mistakenly assume, like I did, that this is simply an ill-thought-out tribute to permy-haired soccer stars of the Disco Age, let me first show you what Mr. Moretti of aforementioned beer looks like, and then I’ll show you the necks of these here bottles.

Exhibit 2: Signore Moretti


Exhibit 3: Bottlenecks


Yes, you read that right. It says “Champions with a Mustache.” Special Edition 2016.

Allow me an aside here, will you? I am very much over the mustache trend. I was over it before it even got started. I don’t find it cute or amusing, or even comprehensible, for that matter. You see, once my tattoo artist went off on people who ask for a mustache tattoo “because they have no idea what it really means” and then I forced him to tell me despite his fear of sullying my delicate sensibilities—well folks, that pretty much did it for me on the whole mustache trend.

Babies do not need to be wearing mustachioed onesies. Just trust me on this one.


Look away! Look away! Nothing to see here! Wrong on so many levels.

But as usual, I digress. What do birra and baffi have to do with bathing suit season, you ask?

Nothing, really. Except UEFA 2016 soccer season provides a lead-in to another important season that is already upon us in Italy as well: the season of the prova costume.

The prova costume in Italy is an all-consuming thing. It translates basically to trying on the bathing suit, and whispers of it begin around, say, April or so.

But the real proof that the prova costume is imminent comes from Italian pharmacy windows.

Before we begin, I want to give you my cultural reference baseline. I Googled “Walgreens advertising” to get a taste of what the US’s largest drug retailing chain is trying to hawk to its customers.


A brief perusal gives us Dr. Oz flexing his probably Photoshopped bicep to encourage flu shots, a smiling pair of senior citizens happy for their 20% discount, and a kid nose-blowing into a tissue. Yep, standard-issue pharmacy stuff.

Now, let’s shift our attention to Italian pharmacy windows in recent weeks to help us get ready for the all-important—nay, hallowed—season of exposing bare flesh at the beach.

20160603_103056 (1).jpg

In our first example, from the fine folks at Somatoline (who featured prominently in our 2014 edition) it would appear that technology has come a long way baby. As the box promises, this “Use & Go Slimming Spray” is not only effective and easy to use, but also absorbs quickly. Hence the tagline: Somatoline Cosmetic. It works.

Welp, you won’t catch me spending €39 or the low, low discounted price of €31.20 to test that claim, but enquiring minds want to know: how, pray tell, does a spray slim? And you can bet your bottom dollar, I’m using slim as a verb here.

Further research on the shiny corporate webpage says it works in 4 weeks asterisk.

It also says it’s the first-ever slimming spray double asterisk.

Let’s delve further, shall we?

Ah, yes. The exclusive formula. You knew there was an exclusive formula, right? There’s always an exclusive formula with Latin-y or space-age sounding words sprinkled with hyphens or missing appropriate spaces or that have an X, with a TM or an R tagged at the end. And Somatoline, at least in this regard, doesn’t disappoint!



Let’s skip over what it says it actually does (which when translated into non pseudo-science speak basically comes down to some dubious claims about helping you lose water weight) and get right to the good stuff. What the hell is ReduxExpress-ComplexTM actually made of, anyways?


Don’t be overwhelmed. I’m going to break this down real easy-like for you.

  1. Caffeine. Aww, that’s cute. Because you know, the espresso at the bar only costs 80 cents. Wait! What if I spray the espresso on my cellulite? Are you following me here? (I’m fairly certain this must have been what the inventor of Post-its or Scotch tape felt like.)
  2. Carrier molecule. Um. That’s a bit sketch. It says it helps you absorb the active ingredients.
  3. Decapeptide. Christ. A Google search revealed that this is used to treat vitiligo. You know vitiligo. Sure you do. It’s that skin disease Michael Jackson had. Now, I know you must be thinking the same thing I am thinking here: slimming spray ingredient in reference/link to Michael Jackson can only mean one thing…michael-jackson-plastic-surgery-before-after
  4. Trimethyl what? This ingredient looks like supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. But I looked it up. Yes, indeedy. It is Trimethylcyclohexyl Butylcarbamate and is present in a bunch of fat-loss—ahem, slimming—creams. One advertised that it will help you “loose weight.” So this is promising, yes?
  5. Not even bothering with this. Pink peppercorn extract.
  6. Aescin. An anti-inflammatory. So this spray is as good for your arthritic grammy as it is for your pesky flab.
  7. Ginger. (“Stimulates cutaneous microcirculation.”)
  8. Dermochlorella. Basically an algae extract that they claim has firming properties.
  9. Ethyl Nicotinate and Menthyl Lactate. For that cooling feeling. I’m sure this is how customers know it’s working.

Spray away, my friends.

But wait—there’s more!

The one-month pill to skinny:

20160603_103227 (1).jpg

And the “light leg” creams for “heavy legs”:


Your local Italian pharmacy is a veritable children’s candy store of remedies for fat that don’t involve diet or exercise.

Oh, wait. The asterisks. Just FYI and all. It’s a spray that, during use, provides “cosmetic remodeling”, but not weight loss.

But you knew that already, didn’t you?

And so, until next year’s edition, as I now have to get going on the patent application for my coffee vaporizing mist. Don’t even try to beat me to it. I’ll spray the slimming mist in your eyes.

How to Know When Bathing Suit Season is Approaching in Italy

27 Apr

[Partial nudity warning: this post contains a full-on wardrobe malfunction. This may or may not interest you to know.]

Holy crap, people. This is a no-brainer. The other day I was walking to pick my son up from school (this appears to be a fruitful practice for generating blog post material) and I kid you not, within a one-block (ONE BLOCK!) radius, all of a sudden I got hit over the head like a sledgehammer by the sudden realization that OHMYGODINHEAVEN it must be bathing suit season in a matter of … well, in a matter of soon.

Why, you ask?

Oh, allow me. It’s all about how shop windows change.

Remember the pharmacy (ie, place where you go to fill prescriptions for blood pressure meds and allergies and certified clinical illnesses?) that promoted this? Well, their windows of late have changed as a harbinger of warm weather to come. Witness:


Oh, where to start, where to start? How about with the name: CELLU DESTOCK. 14 days! (exclamation point added for emphasis) I think if you just throw “cellu” into the product, it automatically communicates “this cream will banish cellulite forever” or something thereabouts.

Clearly the awesome derrière needs no additional commentary, except for my astute observation that I don’t honestly think that Cellu Destock had anything to do with that. However, let’s read what the ad copywriters have to say about it:

SHOW OFF (everything)
FEEL GOOD (in my body)
WEAR (what I want)

I might add: Oh, ladies! All in a little cream!

But hell, don’t take it from me or the ad geniuses behind this miracle product. Just read the reviews:


I love the contrast here. “Girls this thing is working! It took me a while to make a decision on buying this cream.” (really?) to “Haven’t seen any dramatic changes or improvement in the appearance of cellulite on my thighs and hips.”

Um, no. That’s because dramatic improvements in cellulite are not possible. But don’t tell reviewer #1’s husband. He said, and here I quote: “Did you do something with your legs? They look different.”

(I will not dignify that with any additional commentary, it is just too great all on its own.)

But, again: the idea that you can’t improve cellulite? GASP! THE HORROR! Take it away, Dr. Garry S. Brody, professor of plastic surgery at the University of Southern California (a place where they know a thing or two about body image):

Women who believe that they can eliminate cellulite through creams, or even weight loss, are likely to be disappointed, said Dr. Garry S. Brody, a professor of plastic surgery at the University of Southern California. “So-called cellulite is the natural anatomic contour characteristic of many women’s thighs and buttocks,” Brody said. “It is unrelated to weight gain or loss. There is absolutely no surgical or medical solution to women’s dislike of this appearance except for the psychological self-deception of wanting to believe the ads.” [source]

Ok, ok, you’re thinking: but I’m not convinced. Psychological self-deception—pshaw! you say. Show me more!

Your wish is my command:


What about if we frame our formerly-cottage-cheese-laden-thighs with our hands to show how effective the product is, and we put a big ol’ headline that says:

Cellulite is a sickness.
To cure it you have to act on the causes.
Somatoline cures cellulite and helps prevent it from returning.

Whoa! SICKNESS! CURES! Who knew?

But before we leave this (pharmacy) window, let’s look at ALL the products on offer, shall we?


This is maybe my favorite because it combines two things that people want: more sleep, and getting thin. Look at the headline on this puppy: “Get thin in 10 nights*.”

How much am I loving that asterisk?

The tag line says: Somatoline Cosmetic. It works.

I guess being fat isn’t a sickness. You can just sleep it off with this cream. 10 nights, folks!

Let’s cross the street to the profumeria, where they sell makeup and skin care products (non-pharmaceutical, obvs). Hello, window shopping!


Add a neon green line to the profile of the beautiful buttocks. Then show your whole entire line-up of miracle anticellulite products. And see, ironically, this is the one place where we see pills to cure cellulite. The subhead is “Special Perfect Body” line.


They contain caffeine. Like, you know, that other thing called espresso that they drink around here.

And for those of you growing anxious to see boobies, or rather, booby, as promised—fine. Here:


For the low, low price of €9,90, you too can have a cream that, I kid you not, is called Breast Firming and Volumizing* Cream. Volumizing! According to Dictionary.com (the venerable Merriam-Webster doesn’t even have ‘volumizing’ as an entry):

Main Entry:  volumize
Part of Speech:  v
Definition:  to add volume to, as the hair; to enhance the thickness or body of
Etymology:  1991

Etymology 1991, that’s awesome, you know that was ALL Pantene Pro-Vitamin B Complex.

Anyways, whatevs. If you want boobies with more body, buy this cream. SOS! Save Our Ship! Sinking Boobies!

What about the esthetician, right? Italy is big on these shops that do all sorts of things to save everything that’s sinking on a human body. Check out these signs in the window:


10 anti-cellulite massages cost €300. But the best part for me is the sexy woman running on a track, advertising the “Weight Loss Fitness Program” that encompasses something called a “Hypertonic Program” that inclues something called an “Electric Sculpure Massage” for €350. That scares the holy bejeezus right out of me, but I am reassured by the underlying print: “Personal trainer on request.” Oh folks, I couldn’t make this shite up if I tried.

Electric sculpture massage? Is that even legal?

A bit of cursory research into the world of electro-sculpure massage reveals that they use things like this device named “Sculpturelle,” that look like this, and say “Professional beauty equipments” on the bottom.


I don’t know about y’all, but if I was subjected to the use of an electric device applied to my body by a company that didn’t even take the time to appropriately translate the words on the device, well—hmm. But, the caduceus is the sure sign of it being an officially-sanctioned medical device. Not that the RMS people even know the meaning of caduceus, but that’s beside the point: this is professional beauty equipments, people!

Oh, sigh. So, you know. This is Italy and we need to get ready for the beach. No exercising, we have electro-sculpture and anti-cellulite pills and booby volumizing cream! This is almost getting exhausting, but I feel I must be exhaustive in my research, to offer you the full range of options. So, let’s not forget the “tummy and hips” cream:


€49,50 and it’s going to “help reduce circumference in 4 weeks” ASTERISK.


My 4-year old daughter saw this one and goes, “Look mommy! She’s standing on her toe!” and I was like, right you are, little one! Don’t try this at home!

This one is “Leg Thinning and Draining Cream, Ice Effect Formula.” This one promises to “Thin legs in 2 weeks” ASTERISK. [Are you loving these time ranges? Very important. This means I can start using it just a couple weeks before I plan to wear my bathing suit, no? But I have to be strategic with my hip and ab cream and my 10-night cream too.]

And, menopausal women? Don’t think you’re off the hook, eh? The pressure to be Photoshopped beautiful continues into post-menopausal age. Just look at your typical post-menopausal woman here:


Sorry this one is so blurry. I think quite possibly my hands were shaking from the realization that the post-menopausal woman on the box has a body that looks better than mine did at 18 years old when I was a high school cheerleader. No matter: the National Institute on Aging tells us that the average age for menopause onset is 51. So, maybe what happens is that starting now, around my current age of 37, my body starts to magically transform (perhaps with the aid of all these costly creams in the window) into a better-than-teenage body by the age of 51. Priced to move at €54 (that’s $75 for my American-dollar-carrying friends).

Well, what can I say? Please don’t tell the Italians that next week I’m embarking on this program. It requires clean eating and lifting weights, in an actual gym, where you—GASP—sweat.

Shh! If they find out, they might shame me into buying a booby-volumizing cream.


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.

American Takeaway Coffee in Italy: Finalmente

18 Mar


Or so the advertisement says, “Finalmente anche in Italia!” (Finally in Italy too!) as if people have been sitting around here in the amazing coffee capital of the known world going, “But if only I could get a takeaway American coffee in a paper cup, now that would really be something though…”

When I used to work with US study abroad students, many of whom were from southern California, I’d often hear a very heavy sigh of frustration followed by, “Ugh… I miss my Starbucks.”

At this point I was torn between two avenues of possible response:

1) Calmly but firmly educate aforementioned student about the fact that he or she was actually in the actual real like for reals country where Howard Schultz actually had such an epiphany over his amazing coffee that he was inspired to create Starbucks, and yet, strangely, the chain has never entered Italy because… ? (BTW great article by one of my favorite writers and honored to call friend, Stephan Faris, here: Grounds Zero: A Starbucks-Free Italy. *Hi Mr. F! Thanks for reading! ;-*)

2) Go totally ballistic.

3) Can’t do 2, because when I left study abroad in the mid-oughts (always wanted to use that word), it was becoming a very tidy US the-customer-is-always-right business model, in which I’d have 19 year old couples in my office complaining loudly about the fact that they weren’t allowed to share an apartment together and MYPARENTSPAYGOODMONEYFORTHISPROGRAM kind of B.S. so you know… yep, got out of that game.

And so, ever mindful of lurking #3 and university provosts calling me because their kid might not be able to get a takeaway coffee at a Roman espresso bar, I would helpfully and humbly write things on little post-its like “un cappuccino da portar via” and the students would go, “But is that big? Because, like, in the States, I get a venti.” That thar, folks, is TWENTY OUNCES of coffee, the equivalent of nearly 600 ml. Just as a point of comparison, I looked up how many ml make up an Italian cappuccino, and it’s 150 ml of cappuccino and an additional 50 ml or so of frothy foam. So, folks, an Italian cappuccino is right around 5 to 6 ounces of drink. Not even an entire cup which is 8 ounces. So basically if you ask an Italian barista for a god-forsaken VENTI, what you’re really requesting is 6 cappuccini in one cup. The mind boggles.

ANYHOO, far be it from me to criticize. Call me crazy, I don’t know, come to Rome, do as the Romans do, whatever…

But all this blabbering is really about the fact that I saw this ad yesterday in front of the Bulldog Inn Pub, on Corso Vittorio Emanuele. So, folks, honestly, if you need your American takeaway coffee, this company has you covered.

Still no Starbucks, though. Tough luck on that one. You’ll just have to content yourself with a 5-6 oz. cappuccino. [heavy sigh]

Have Yourself a Wrinkle-Free Little Christmas

16 Dec

Every day when I walk my son home from elementary school, we pass in front of a fancy-schmancy pharmacy on the corner. I call it fancy because it has prime real estate that occupies half a block, with three huge picture windows for displaying their chemical-enhanced wares.

For months now, literally since my son started school in September and possibly even before that, the pharmacy people have kept a sign in the window with syringes on display.

Two enormous, gigantic, nightmare-inducing syringes.

After we passed it once or twice, Vincenzo (rightfully) said, “Mamma! What are THOSE for?!”

Well. You try explaining DIY Botox to your son, and let me know how that works out.

I—being I—was like, “UGH. You know those women who look all puffy-faced? With crazy lips like ducks?” (Of course at this point I did a fairly accurate, IMHO, impersonation of Tina Cipollari, God help us all. I think she’s actually a he, under all that makeup. Actually, just turn to any TV show with the Maria De Filippi stamp of approval, for a perfect example of how to explain this topic to your very own inquiring five-year-old.)

Who’s Tina Cipollari, you ask? Well. I didn’t actually know her name until JUST NOW. She’s been on the outer reaches of my Italian pop culture radar for years, because she has some role to play in the show known as Uomini e Donne (Men and Women) where women compete for men or vice versa or something, which merits an entire blog post of its own, except I can’t bear to do any sort of practical research about Italian TV. I have a high pain tolerance, you see, but not that high. Even I have my limits. Anyhoo. This is she of whom I speak, oh great beacon to bleached blonde hair,  doing her part to keep the fledgling market for pink frost lipstick afloat:


Please, I beg of you: pull me back from the edge. Don’t let me digress.

POINT BEING: Fillerina.

Aw, now isn’t that cute? Little tiny filler. Ina, ina, oh so tiny and cute.

And, made by the good folks over at Labo. I like the name Labo for the people behind a chemical facial product you inject. Because Lab makes me feel like it’s made in a lab, as in, laboratory (pronounced like this: “la-BORE-a-tory” because it sounds so much more diabolical). And it also makes me think of a Golden Lab Retriever, which has always seemed like a very companionable and trustworthy dog. And if you add “o” that makes it sound sort of Italian, because you have to end words with vowels. But put the Swiss flag next to it. Because you know all Swiss women have perfect skin–they are born from the glacial runoff of the pristine Alps. Thus, the ad geniuses hit a home run with this one:


So basically what we’re talking about is a sort of Botoxy-looking product that you can shoot into your face from the comfort and privacy of your own home. Oh joy of joys. Let me show you what I’m talking about. The sign is, of late, draped in festive golden garland for that extra special holiday sparkle! Kind of makes the needles look like they want to deck the halls with boughs of silicone. Fa la la la la, la la la la.


Ok. Now is the portion of our show where I go trolling the Interwebs for totally superficial research to quell our now-aroused curiosity. Please stand by.

Oh! Well! Would you look now? Those weren’t SYRINGES! Them there’s called “precision applicators,” and that silver needle-lookin’ thing? Well, come closer you ignorant son of a biscuit …  that thar’s called a “truncated metal cannula.”

Oh, silly me! Well then. Let’s go to the videotape!

Yes, but I know what you’re thinking now. You’re thinking: “Those 25 seconds sure were awfully convincing and all, but I have just one more question: SO HOW DOES IT ACTUALLY WORK?”

I am so very glad you asked that!

The formulation of Fillerina Gel associates 6 different types of conveyed hyaluronic acids with different molecular weights and structures, with a diversified action in the various cutaneous layers, to facilitate the filling in and plumping up of tissues. The active component – Matrifull – acts over time on the skin matrix, promoting the reconstruction of the natural filling substances such as collagen I and III and fibronectin, for a visible plumping effect.

You know what folks? I can’t really go any further on this post. I think this stuff is Matrifull of shit. So. Happy Ho Ho Holidays. And please, by all means, do not teach your children about Botox. They could end up like the woman in this article, which, by the way, tells us that in 2011, Italy was in sixth place worldwide for plastic surgery, with liposuction and botox injections the most popular of the bunch.

So, maybe that explains why my damn pantiliner box was having a plastic surgery sweepstakes? I didn’t win myself a new set of knockers, just in case you were wondering.

(By jove,  I’ve never had occasion to say knockers. Come to think of it, I could have said jugs. Or just boobies. But knockers seemed like the right blend of decorum and satire, don’t you think?)

Personally, all I want for Christmas is a big ol’ box of coveyed hyaluronic acids under the tree. But only if they have different molecular weights and structures, and then only if they can provide me with diversified action in the various cutaneous layers, mind you.

Up next: Crescina. “Little growth.” Cute, no? Results with proven photographic proof:

hamilton man

But if the Hamilton/Norwood scale of male pattern baldness isn’t sexy enough for you, how about:


Well hell, folks! If it’s good enough for a retired Brazilian footballer “considered by experts and fans to be one of the greatest football players of all time” then I’m banking that it damn sure must be good enough for any balding Joe Schmoe (ahem, that would be Giovanni Sciomani, I think) walking past the pharmacy.

Thank you, Labo! I bet you guys wear white coats in your commercials, don’t you?

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.