A Day at the Italian Post Office

Ciao Readers!

Today I am going to share one of the unique cultural experiences of living in Italy that is neither delicious nor beautiful (sorry).  I am going to take you to the post office!

The post office in Italy (“Poste Italiane”) is a post office and so much more.  The post office is a bank – you can have an account just like at any other bank (though I hear it is the least efficient bank in the country).  The post office is a bill-paying center (you can come here to pay your gas, electric, etc. [your only other choice is online]).  The post-office is a gathering place for retirees to get their pensions.  And, I am sure there is more you can do at the post that we have yet to have the “pleasure” of discovering.

We just happen to have a post office right outside our apartment, so I have been watching the comings-and-goings on a regular basis.  Two weeks ago, during ferie, I went to mail some post cards; the wait was only about 10 minutes – nothing like the terrible tales I’ve been told (if you’re wondering why I don’t just buy stamps in a machine – it’s because they don’t exist).  This is how the post office works – when you go in you push a button to get a number – the button you push depends on why you are there (P = post, E = banking, A = paying bills, etc.).  (It seems that there are several tellers for “A” and usually only one teller for “P”).  And then ferie ended…

On Saturday the line outside the post started about 30 minutes before opening (pictured below).  This was the first time I had seen a crowd and as they mostly appeared to be pensioners and it was the first of the month, we guessed it was pension day.  However, as of this writing, almost a week later, the crowds have not seemed to dissipate (just looked out the window – yep, there they are).  Fortunately, we had set up a bank account that is supposed to have internet banking capabilities, so when we got an electric bill with a due date of Sept. 3 I was not concerned (apparently checks also do not exist here).  But then (and still now), our electronic banking was not set up correctly, AND, we missed the post man one day and had two notes to come to the post to pick up something (we assumed 2 of our boxes).  Of course, the boxes were at an entirely different post office than the one outside our apartment.  So, off to the post offices we went.

I could not decide if I could just wait and pay our electric bill when we went to pick up our packages, but I guessed (correctly) that that would probably entail two separate waits in any case (one for “P” and one for “A”), so I decided to brave the post office in the morning to pay the electric bill.  I watched and waited, but the crowds outside the post did not get any thinner – actually the more I waited the larger they got, so sometime after 11 I decided to go down and brave it.  I picked number A229 and they were currently on 181; after waiting about 5 minutes and seeing NO number progression, I decided to take a bet – that I could go back upstairs, cook and eat lunch, and still get back in plenty of time for my number to be called.  I was right – it was exactly 45 minutes later that my number was called (it took about 30 seconds to actually pay the bill).  Trip one to the post office was over.

When Steve got home from school we used our rental car to go to the other post office (we thought we were picking up boxes) before returning it.  We made it to the post office and picked a “P” (for post – or so we assumed).  We thought we had lucked out as there were 2 tellers for “P,” but after watching one transaction take literally 25 minutes, we lost that optimism.  We waited about 40 minutes until we were called (we, like everyone else, acted like we had won the lottery when it was our turn).  Ah, but things are never that “easy” here.  I could tell from the look on the teller’s face that we had done something wrong and he had bad news – the place to pick up packages was upstairs (duh – the note said “1 piano” or “first” floor).  For one moment I let myself hope that we wouldn’t have to re-do the number process up there, but, of course, we did (but just one set, no letters).  I think it was about another 25 minutes until we were called (turns out, it was not boxes, but our bank cards).  We couldn’t feel too badly because right behind us was another American who had done the same thing (and he has lived here almost 8 years! – interesting aside – the owner of the Rosticceria had told us about another American couple living on our street – this was the husband and here we were meeting at a post office 20 minutes away!).

All in all, it was over 2 hours of my day and 1+ of Steve’s spent at the post offices.  Here’s hoping our internet banking is up and running soon…. (*live update – after 2 weeks of e-mailing, I finally received a response from the bank – our foreigner account does not have online bill-paying features…arg…)

Italy as a Buddhist Meditation (or “the Green Day concert that wasn’t”)

Interesting title, yes?  I will try to explain…

Sunday we went to Bologna for the I-Day Festival, with our favorite band headlining – Green Day.  I had bought the tickets online months ago (95 euros) and even talked about it in an earlier blog.  This was a big deal to us and we had been looking forward to it since before we moved here (imagine your own all-time favorite – the Beatles or the Boss or Lada Gaga).  Here’s what it took to go to the festival: 1) since the last train back from Bologna leaves about the time Green Day was to take the stage, we had to figure out how to get home (couldn’t stay overnight as Steve had work in the morning), so 2) we decided to rent a car (98 euros, plus gas and tolls); 3) to get the car we left home a little after 8:30 a.m. and walked 40 minutes to the bus station, took a bus (12 euros) to the Florence airport, then took the shuttle bus to the rental car place (will be repeating in reverse to return); 4) Steve bravely navigated us to the outskirts of Bologna where we promptly got lost and 5) in my baby-Italian eventually got directions from some nice pedestrians.  We made it to the fair grounds about 1:00.

There was already quite the line of folks waiting to stake out a good spot on the lawn (all open seating). Green Day wasn’t scheduled to appear until about 9:00 (there were earlier bands), so we had planned to go into town on a bus to have lunch and go to my (still) favorite gelateria – La Sorbetteria.  At this point I’ll make the long story shorter – after unsuccessfully trying to get into town on a bus, we gave up and decided just to go into the fair grounds and pay too much for crumby fair food.  After quite a wait in line I was reminded that some bathrooms (in this case porta-potties) in Europe are still the hole-in-the-floor kind (ACK!).

MUCH to our surprise, the fair grounds were huge, and had an impressive array of (normally priced) food selections from across the globe.  There was sushi and African food and Indian food, and of course, many varieties of Italian food, to name a few (photo, below).  We chose a seafood restaurant (yes, they pretty much built an entire restaurant in a huge tent) and had the most delicious, typically leisurely (2 hour) Italian meal.  Never in a million years did I expect to get to eat mussels in a garlic and white wine broth and the yummiest assortment of fried seafood (“frito misto,” pictured below) at a Green Day concert!  So far, so good (well, after the bathroom part)…

At about 5:00, after seeing how many people had entered the actual concert area, we decided we’d better go stake out a spot and hunker down until Green Day arrived.  Just staking out a place was its own cultural experience, but there we were – the anticipation building. From the number of Green Day t-shirts in the massive crowd (pictured below), it was apparent we were among fellow fans (we had also spotted shirts on the bus and in the airport in Florence).   From the title of this post, you already know where this is going, but that’s almost beside the point – it’s what happened after that that’s the real moral of the story.

At about 7:30 (after Social Distortion left the stage), someone came out and matter-of-factly announced (I wasn’t sure I was understanding correctly, but I was) that the lead singer of Green Day was ill, the concert was cancelled and please exit to your left.  Steve and I were in shock – what the heck?!?!?  Were they serious?!?!?!  Was this a joke?!?!?!  After all the time and effort and expense it took to get here?!?!?!  And then it happened – we expected to look around at 20,000 other upset people, all angry and disappointed (and maybe an overturned porta potty or two) – but everyone else looked….fine.  More than fine – they looked to be in the same happy, festival-going mood they were in 5 minutes earlier.  Wow.  It was a little hard to comprehend….

And then we wondered – how could we let ourselves be angry and upset and disappointed when everyone else looked so nonplussed?  We couldn’t.   And that is how Italy is a form of Buddhist mediation – teaching by example how to let go of attachment and expectation and suffering, and just going with the universe as it unfolds.

Ciao.

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