Tag Archives: Italy

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.

Roman Coffee That is Un-Politically Correct

8 Sep

I dunno, folks. I mean, call me crazy, whatever; it wouldn’t be the first time, and certainly won’t be the last. But, yeah. I’m just thinking, time for a logo update for Moca Caffè Roma.


Maybe I’m reading waaaay too much into this. But frankly, am I the only one who sees this sugar packet and logo as an iconic example more than slightly reminiscent of blackface minstrel shows? And am I supposed to think that it was “mere coincidence” that the name of the coffee is Moca brand?

And, as an aside, Dio Mio if you click on their site. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Pseudo Barry White-slash-70s wanna-be porno music? I mean, what IS that? And, why do websites even NEED music? Bleh.

But I digress.

Nowhere on their site could I find any commentary about the history of the logo, what it’s supposed to represent, or whatever. So, I’m kind of at a loss here.

So: boh. I’ll let you be the judge. Not like I’m covering anything new here. I mean, who among us still hasn’t watched this by-now infamous Coloreria Italiana commercial? Always brings up mixed commentary.

I never saw the Fiat ad below until I did a bit o’ research for this post. Racial stereotypes aside, this commercial is just poorly done. Crappy, hack-produced creative. Trading on bullshit race stereotypes like this is just as lazy as trading on tired and worn ploys that use the old “sex sells” as a mantra and use women as objects, like the recent Philly campaign here in Italy and the other related advertising in that post.

And, I’ve discussed political correctness and racism on the blog before. It always sparks interesting debate.

What say you, o popolo, about these sugar packets? Are they, no pun intended, in bad taste? I always do research on my posts, at least cursory Google searches anyways, and no matter how I looked in Italian or English, no one seems to have talked about this before, so I guess I can draw the hasty conclusion that it’s not being perceived as even worthy of comment. Even so, these are the things I notice and think about, for what it’s worth! (Free blog. Be nice.)

More Fun with Italian Grocery Products

20 Aug

If you’re like me, you can find simple amusement in almost anything in your immediate environment, especially if it has to do with language, words, and images. So, you can imagine my delight when I ducked into the Eurospin discount grocery store on my recent trip to Sardegna, to pick up a hair brush for my twin daughters. Little did I know that I’d be walking into a fiesta of fun with product names.

The possibilities for play with these product titles are endless. Well, I guess, endless if you live in my head. If not, just enjoy the implications, like you might with my former posts in this area regarding product and business names, namely Sofass toilet paper and those security gates that I just can’t get enough of. (Watch the video in that post, if you haven’t before or if you don’t know what I’m referring to. It’s worth the chuckle, I promise.)

And, if you really have some free time on your hands, why not browse my entire curio cabinet collection of advertising gemology? Fun will be had by all, I can sofassure you.

But, without further ado, might I tempt you with these granola bars? They’re a little cheesy for granola bars, which makes for an interesting taste sensation:


You think I’m kidding here? This is not a crock of [four-letter word beginning with S]! At least, not like these other snacks, which basically give you the warning label right on the front that they’re over-promising:


And, some warm fuzzies in conclusion. What the heck is the deal with inanimate products wanting to get all close and intimate? Geez! I’d prefer my big-girl beverages and shower gel just do their assigned jobs, rather than trying to get all lovey-dovey with me.


Please note: the taste is fine-selected. I do not know what this means, but I like it.


Helpfully brand-named “Near Your Body,” yet inexplicably not brand-named “On Your Body.”

Got any more for me? As you can see, my collection is growing.

Women In Italian Advertising

18 Aug

Oh, people. Sigh, sigh, sigh. The more things never change around here, the more they stay the same. Record? Meet broken. You’ll be living in Italy for probably the rest of your God-forsaken dizzy life, spinning a sordid tale of greasy, misogynistic ploys for consumer dollars.

Folks, honestly. Today is my last day of vacation, so believe you me, I frankly didn’t feel like writing my 501st (yay me, BTW, yesterday marked 500 posts!) post today, and much less on this topic. But when duty (doodie) calls, one must, well—answer. So here is my response. *deep breath* [Inner voice: “Stay calm, Shelley. Just hold it together.”]

First of all, if you don’t think we’ve been down this road before, think again. And again. And again. And, (even without the images, simply for the verbal anachronism) again.

So, watch as history continues to repeat itself. Behold the in(cream)inating evidence:

Photo credit: my absolutely insi(deli)ghtful friend Hande, founder of Vino Roma

Photo credit: my absolutely insi(deli)ghtful friend Hande, founder of Vino Roma

For those of you who speak Italian, I’ll be back with you in just a moment.

For those of you who don’t speak Italian, good. You’re the ones who can best decode this image without the distraction of the words which are the part that is causing trouble. Question for you: what does this ad say to you? I mean, really with the image of the woman, what’s going on there? You don’t have to comment on it. I’m just giving some “food” for thought.

Anyways, whether you speak Italian or not: this is a play on words for those of us who understand the Italian language well. There’s a famous phrase in the Italian language that says “Parla come mangi” which literally translates to “Speak like you eat.” In that link, there’s a thread of responses as to what this phrase actually means. I liked these responses the best [my comments in brackets]:

mah, penso perchè solitamente si associa chi mangia molto e di tutto a persone poco fini e viceversa..quindi quando una persona cerca di fare la colta e non lo è solitamente gli si risponde così.

Well, I think it’s because usually we associate someone who eats a lot and eats anything, with people who aren’t very refined, and vice versa…so, when a person tries to be all cultured and actually isn’t, we respond to him like that.

lo si dice solitamente alle persone semplici che mangiano in modo semplice e nn “raffinato”. e quando tirano fuori vocaboloni gli si dice parla cm mangi..cioè in modo semplice

You usually say it to “simple” people [“semplice” in Italian refers to someone who is sort of a naive or ingenue type person, or another good way to think of it would be something akin to “down-home“] who eat in a sort of unrefined way. And so when they pull out these big vocabulary words, we say, “Speak like you eat”…meaning, [talk] in a “simple” or down-home way.

perchè quando si mangia in genere si è spontanei…si è se stessi…presi dalla foga del cibo e ci si dimenticano le formalità! E’ un modo simpatico per chiedere di parlare semplice!

Because when you eat you’re usually spontaneous, meaning, just being yourself, so kind of losing yourself in the passion of eating [translated loosely here] you forget all formalities! It’s a nice way to ask someone to “dumb it down” a bit when they’re speaking [again translated quite loosely here].

Anyways, folks, you get the point now.

So, translate that application to the advertising slogan above, which the Philadelphia Cream Cheese people have been ever-so-clever to twist around to this:

“Eat like you love.”

I know.

I know.

But then, there’s the nail in the proverbial coffin. The tagline.

Yes, people. Don’t think you were getting out of here without a tagline. Oh, no. Nonononononoono!

The tagline reads: [Breathe, Shelley. Breathe!] “Choose pleasure.”


No–seriously, folks. But if you think I’m the only one who’s disgusted by this cheap pandering to the … well, God, I’m not even going to say “Italian male” because why generalize in the opposite direction, right? But, I mean, who else is their damn target audience supposed to be here? For fuck’s sake, people! But, no–once again, think again.

You see, not one to rest on my laurels, I went over to Philly’s Facebook page. And, surprise, surprise, folks–now, would you look at that? I think I just saw a pig with wings gracefully glide by my window. Because 1/3 of the following female comments (i.e. math majors, 33.3%) seem to approve of this advertising. Ugh.


First lady says, “Great job on the morally depraved ‘Eat Like You Love’ ad!!” I don’t know if this is supposed to be sarcasm or what, but … mah.

Second lady says, “The new Philadelphia [this is how they refer to Philly over here] ad ‘eat like you love’ is irritating! You should be ashamed of yourselves…I won’t be buying Philadelphia anymore.”

Third lady says, “You should be ashamed of yourselves for the advertising you do!!!! If you’re so convinced that women are really that stupid, then it’s probably best that you change your advertiser (who is certainly a man)!”

I dunno, folks. I mean, we’re not treading new ground here. However, if you notice in the comment thread of those posts, the two negative ones were followed up by this:

Segnalate anche voi allo Iap. Ci vuole un minuto e più persone lo faranno più speranza c’è che réclame così svilenti spariscano anche da noi come è successo in altri Paesi europei in seguito alle proteste. E a breve manderò una lettera allo Iap in proposito che potete sottoscrivere se credete, iscrivendovi al gruppo di uomini e donne che ho fondato

“You should send a report to Iap. [Iap is the “Istituto dell’Autodisciplina Pubblicitaria” which appears to be a sort of self-governing regulating board for the advertising industry. I don’t have time right now to go through and research it.] It only takes a minute and the more people who do it, the more hope there is that these types of ads will disappear also around here just as has happened in other European countries following protests. And soon I’ll be sending a letter to Iap regarding this ad, and you can sign it if you want, by joining the group of men and women that I’ve started here.” –Facebook user Annamaria Arlotta

That is all. I will now go back to the rest of my previously-scheduled day.

*walks away, shaking head and mumbling incoherently*

(Also related, in Italian: Bukkake Ipocrita, Il Piacere di Un Milione di Amici?)

And, postscript for my Italian-speaking friends: further proof that this is of course nothing new (this clip from Che Tempo Che Fa is from 2010), and proof that even if La Littizetto has one of THE most annoying voices on the planet, still, she is brilliantly humorous, simply BRILLIANT.

Italian Bidets and Detergente Intimo For All Ages

3 Aug

Please note, if you are looking to purchase a bidet or want a real, official how-to guide, look no further: Kyle at has you totally covered! Click here: How to Use a Bidet


Wow folks, it’s a double header today! You see, when my kids leave town with their dad and grandma for their beach vacation and I am left with dirty laundry and a house all to myself, I just sit at my computer and write to my heart’s content. My jeans might have holes in them because I hate shopping, but I’ll be damned if I’m never short on words.

So here is something I just HAVE to get off my chest. I saw an ad online yesterday several times (Youtube) and every time I was like, “No, seriously. Really?”

First things first. If you’re Italian, you can skip this part. If you live in Italy, you can skip this part. But if you don’t know what INTIMATE SOAP is, then, yes, this primer is for you.

First time I came to Italy 12 years ago, I was about as “deer in the headlights” as they come. MAN WAS I NAIVE.

So I had no frickin’ clue what the bidet was for. And Lord knows I am not getting into the particulars of that here. I might have some free time on my hands, but not that much free time. Other people have covered that ground already, anyways:

How to Use a Bidet: 7 Steps (with illustrations) Why is the woman on the bidet backwards here?? And I’ve never seen a bidet with “jets” in Italy. It either fills up the basin like a sink, and you splash, or it comes directly out of the faucet and you can adjust the direction.

How to Use a Bidet “Step 1: Use the Toilet. This step is self-explanatory.” Wow. Thanks. I might have forgotten that one.

An Idiot’s Incomplete Guide to the Bidet “Editor’s note: Warning: Inevitable, perhaps obligatory, bathroom humor ahead.”

A video of an Italian demonstrating use  (fully clothed, mind you!) presumably to Spanish tourists.

OH DEAR GOD. If you speak Italian, this is like a train wreck. I have no idea why this dude was verbally explaining the process of taking a shit and what to do subsequently (probably to foreign students studying Italian in Italy), but it is absolutely comic gold and bizarrely compelling. This also makes me happy to be divorced without any men using bathrooms in my house. But seriously, I would so go on a first date with this guy it’s not even funny. If you can give a talk like this, yes, you are the man for me. Love you already.

But, no, no. I don’t need to write a “How To” guide, you see. My precious free time will be spent instead talking about a much more technical and puzzling issue to me: the SPECIAL SOAP you use for the bidet. Yes, that’s right. The intimate soap.

Frankly I think it’s all a bit of a marketing ploy, but I’m not a licensed gynecologist so I have no idea if the actual pH of my soap makes a difference. The dude in the train wreck video simply said the all-purpose Italian phrase they use for any maxim they espouse without exactly knowing why they do it: “Perchè fa male.” (“Because [using the hand soap for the bidet] is bad for you.”)  I’m sure laboratory tests have shown it to be so. Suffice it to say, that in addition to the bidet itself, there is a special soap that you buy for the bidet that is called detergente intimo, so now not only do you have to have hand soap for the bathroom and dish soap for the kitchen but don’t forget the bidet soap too.

Now. That would all be fine and good, if it were to end there. But you see, folks, what I discovered yesterday is that now the marketing geniuses have come up with a special bidet soap for GIRLS AGES 3 to 12.

That’s right. I, proud mother of twin almost-four-year-olds, am apparently the perfect target for Tantum Rosa Detergente Intimo 3-12 anni.

Besides the pink and blue fishies, I really have no clue why I should buy special soap just for my girls. Especially knowing that they’ll just dump it all into the bidet and act like it’s a bathtub for their Barbie dolls. Although I will admit that I’ve taught Paola the joys of using the bidet for the time-honored summer ritual “foot bath” and so sometimes she says “Mamma, mamma, foot bath!” and that’s good times. But let me just translate what the box says:

Rich in natural hydrating, moisturizing and soothing substances – Helps to prevent redness and small intimate discomforts

You know what though? I admit it. I will admit that I buy special bidet soap. I do. Just like I cover my neck if I’m not wearing a scarf when a cold gust blows by, or just like I don’t drink cappuccino after dinner, or just like I don’t cross arms when I toast glasses in a group. I’ve “gone native” a bit.

But I have no real idea if there’s even a point to it. It’s sort of like the bottled water thing here in Italy. Rome has like, the best tap water ever, (ok, high calcium content, I know), and yet there are about a bazillion different brands of bottled water at the stores, all with their own marketing pitch.

That’s all. I just wanted to make you aware of this phenomenon. You can go about your other business now. (Why don’t boys get their own bidet soap? Wait. Don’t answer that.)

Italian Bureaucracy is So Bad It’s Comical

3 Aug

This should be the title of an off-Broadway play.

Here’s the thing, people. Today I write you this tidbit not to complain and bitch. No, no. Perish the thought. Complaining and bitching about Italian bureaucracy is strictly for amateurs. I’m over that. No, folks, I consider myself a seasoned pro by now, so I have better things to do with my time than tell you about long lines and unfriendly clerks at the post office, and mail that never or almost never arrives. (Besides, I’ve done that many times before.)

Today I just want to have a few “ha-has” about how silly this whole thing is. I was tempted to say “how silly this whole tarantella is.” The tarantella is a folk dance from southern Italy, and Italians say that as a colloquialism to refer to the elaborate song and dance you have to do to get stuff done.

So here’s the deal. I have cell phone and Internet service in a bundle from Wind/Infostrada. When I signed up I gave them a credit card to charge each billing cycle. This month the card didn’t go through. So I call to ask why, and get a card ready to give to the person on the phone so I can get the bill paid.

You know, you figure if you’re dealing with a private and not public office, a modicum of efficiency might be had.

Well. You figure wrong, my friends.

Besides the fact that the lady was sooo annoyed because I couldn’t understand her that well so I had to keep asking her to repeat herself (at one point I heard her audibly make one of those big, put-out sighs, and I go “Listen! I’m not trying to make your job difficult. But clearly I’m American and therefore Italian is not my native language. So, you know, help me out here. I just need you to spell it, ok?”), it’s just not that easy to pay your bill.

Annoyed lady: “Well, signora, now that your card has been rejected once, we can’t accept credit card payments anymore.”


Me: “Um, ok. So how am I supposed to pay?”

Her: “Bollettino postale.”

Cue death music.

The bollettino postale (oh God, here I go, amateur hour) is the dreaded “pay the bill at the post office.” Jesus. And believe me, he’d be the only one who could help me do that in a reasonable amount of time without hassle.

Me: “But I didn’t get a bollettino on my bill. So how do I go about paying it?” (Usually the bollettino is a slip of paper you tear off your bill and take to the post office to pay with.)

Her: “Get a blank one at the post office. Fill it out with this information…” And she proceeds to rattle off indecipherable numbers and street names and I’m thinking, are you kidding me? Not to mention the fact that they don’t leave these forms out for the public, so you have to ask for them. One time I asked why they don’t leave forms out for the public. The clerk told me “Because people steal them.” I go, “Why on God’s green Earth would people STEAL postal forms?” Then it occurred to me. They “steal” them because they hoard them so they don’t have to ask for them because the postal people never leave them out for the public because they steal them. Catch, meet 22.

Droning on: “Then after you pay it, you need to fax the proof of payment to this number…one-five-wearethemostinefficientserviceintheworld-four-ten.”

Me: “Wait. What if I just want to put a new card on file? Couldn’t I just do that now with you, over the phone?”

Her: (sinister laughing) “No, for that you’d have to go to the Wind store in person.”

Me: “Whaaa?”

Her: “You have to go in person, and ask the clerk for the form. Then you fill it out, and fax it to this other number.”

Now I swear, at this point, I started laughing for reals. Which, of course, only served to piss her off further. Me: “Wait. You mean to tell me that not only do I have to go IN PERSON to a shop, but then I can’t even give the completed form BACK to the guy who gives it to me?”

Her: (completely offended) “Of COURSE not! That’s private information, signora!!”

Oh, right. Now I’M the asshole. No, seriously, people. THE MIND BOGGLES.

So obviously, after a week, I’ve gotten absolutely no where paying my bill because I avoid going to the post office like the plague. My only consolation is that it’s August, so probably no one will be at the post office except me and maybe some other poor schmuck whose card didn’t go through at Wind.

Pssst! Come in real close. I want to ask you something.

How much do you want to bet that if I call back and get a different operator, I might be able to pay over the phone with a credit card?

Lesson #1 in Italian bureaucracy, public or private: Never give up with the first employee. They all make up their own rules based on their own needs. Try a few until you are absolutely sure this is actually policy.

People, I need to hold a masterclass, I swear. I should give flipping GUIDED TOURS to new arrivals about how to navigate this stuff. So, if you were wondering about the screen shot from the arcade version of Double Dragon, here it is: I continue to contend that Italian bureaucracy is akin to a 1980s-era Nintendo video game, where you need to complete all the levels to then get to the “big boss” and if you kill him with fire power and have extra lives, you win. A.k.a. you get to pay your bill.

Game over!