“Piano, Piano”

Ciao Readers!

I had mentioned this saying (“piano, piano”) in a post last week and a few people e-mailed or commented asking me what it means.  I thought I would take this opportunity to explain, as well as share how it plays out in our adjustment here in Italy.   “Piano, piano” basically means “slowly” or that everything will happen in due course.  A “piano” is actually a floor of a building – like “piano 3” – so it more literally means “step by step.”  When I was in school in Bologna and I would get frustrated at not picking up a concept right away, my teachers would advise “piano, piano.”  This encapsulates the approach you want to take here in order to remain upbeat as opposed to exasperated.

A few days ago, I have to admit I was getting frustrated and had fleeting thoughts of “what the heck were we thinking?!?!”   Some of the things that I was letting bug me:

The electricity/ a/c situation – we have been here over 2 weeks and the electrician and a/c repair man are still out for ferie.  At first I admired the vacation mindset here, but after 2 weeks with intermittent a/c (which, if I haven’t explained, are individual units limited to certain rooms; the rest of the house will remain a sauna regardless), and a fear of blowing out my remaining mini computer, the charm has started to wear…

Our packages – it is still a daily surprise 1) if any packages are going to arrive that day, and 2) if we are going to have to pay for them to be delivered.  So far twice we have had identical packages come (the latest were boxes for pictures) and we have been charged for one, but not its twin.  Every time a new package is on its way, customs in Milan either calls our realtor, calls here, or just mails me forms to fill-out.  Each time its a different customs person and they each seem to have different ideas what goes on the forms and whether or not the box will cost to deliver.  So far we have filled out forms on about 12 boxes, 8 have come, and none for the past few days.  Each arrive in various states of squashed/smashed, but I was actually expecting that.

The paperwork – you seriously have to do more paperwork for everything here.  I can’t think of one transaction that has taken a single form.  From changing over the gas, to getting a pay-as-you-go cell phone, to sending mail.  And don’t even ask about opening a bank account – literally 2+ hours and about 20 signatures (the lawyer in me is aghast that I am signing all of this stuff I really can’t read).  On an entirely other level is immigration – though from what I know the US immigration process is no picnic either.

“Otherness” – it’s an interesting lesson to be the outsider (“stranieri”).  I remember when we were traveling in small towns in Japan, sometimes people would literally cross over to the other side of the street when they saw us coming; once they even refused to get into an elevator with us.  I suppose that is how we treat certain groups in the U.S.  Here it is not that stark, but the fact that I can’t communicate well is frustrating.  I think to the unobservant, lack of communication and lack of intelligence become one in the same (think about Stephen Hawking without his talking keyboard).  Several times here I have completely understood what was going on (like why our wifi wasn’t working), but my inability to communicate effectively had people thinking I was just dumb.  These are a few of our many challenges/frustrations.

However, today was a new day, approached with the “piano, piano” frame of mind.  Our Sky tv box (and lots of cables, cards, usb key, etc.) came today – complete with installation instructions (yes, of course in Italian only).  At first I was exasperated – giving up hope that I could manage to complete my first cable tv installation with only Italian instructions.  But ya know what?  Steve and I laid all the pieces out, and between the photos in the instruction manual (of a completely differently configured box), my few words of Italian, and some new-found patience, I magically accomplished installing Sky tv (again, YAY me!).  We followed this accomplishment with a leisurely lunch out and then found the local public pool and passed the afternoon in sweet relief from the heat.  No boxes came, a gas contract came which I can’t make out, and our other a/c has joined in making that horrific noise, but the tone of the day was different.  I feel relaxed.  It’ll all work itself out.  I recall “what the heck” we were thinking.  As they say, “piano, piano”…

Quirky Italian Red-Tape

Italy has LOTS of bureaucracy, much of which makes no sense.  This is not just me speaking from an ethnocentric point of view, this is what I have been told time and time again by Italians I have met (and have begun to experience).   I am sure once we move we will get to experience even more first-hand (which I will of course explain, with photos where appropriate), but for now I will share some of the quirkier red-tape I have already encountered (disclaimer – this is from personal observation, if it is not the “official” rules, feel free to correct me!)…

Stamp your ticket or pay a fine! In almost every train (except where you have a seat reservation) and on all buses, not only do you need to have a ticket, you need to validate it by stamping it in a machine (in trains, you do so in the station; in buses on board).  Unfortunately, not all tourist have read Rick Steves’ travel advice and realize the importance of validation.  If you don’t validate and get caught, it’s a €50 fine (“multa”).  No exceptions, no excuses.  Not only are you given a fine, but you are expected to pay it IMMEDIATELY.  On one bus in Rome we watched as the “bus police” told a tourist who did not have cash on him that they would accompany him to a bancomat (ATM), and sure enough, they escorted him off at the next stop!  If, as happened to me several times, the validation machine at the train station is not working (there’s lots at big stations, so we’re talking dinky ones), you need to actively search out the conductor to validate your ticket before they come around to check.  You are now officially forewarned!

Receipts, receipts, everywhere –  In Italy, receipts are MANDATORY.  Not only are they mandatory for the merchant to give (restaurant, mini-mart, veggie-stand, you name it), but they are mandatory for YOU – the consumer!  You must hold onto your receipt (ask for one if it’s not given) or you can be fined!!!  This obsessive need for receipts is one of the reasons for the next quirky cultural aspect…

No Garage Sales –  there are no garage sales in Italy.  A couple of weeks ago when I had posted about our “moving sale,”  my Italian teacher (who checks on my blog for topics to discuss in our Skype classes) asked me about these kinds of sales in the U.S.  She seemed genuinely surprised when I explained that you can find one on just about any block every weekend everywhere.  From what I understood (remember, this was all in Italian), if you wanted to have such a sale in Italy you’d need to 1) apply for a permit, 2) give all of your customer receipts (.25 receipt for that used cup anyone?), 3) file forms afterwards and 4) pay taxes.  So, while it is theoretically not impossible, you can see why it’s not done.  Apparently, if you want to sell anything in Italy you take it to a consignment store.

Your Choice – 1 or 4 year lease ONLY –  Okay, I still really don’t understand this one, but have been dealing with it on our new apartment.  All lease contracts in Italy are not only signed, but then registered with the government and only two types are acceptable – a year-long lease or a 4-year lease.  You might wonder (as I did) – “what if I know I want to live in the apartment for two years?”  Well, you have two choices there as well – take a one year lease, then another one-year lease, OR take a 4-year lease and then break it in a perfectly legal way (by giving 3 months notice).  I was very leery about a 4-year lease when we know we may only be in Italy for 2 years (Steve’s initial contract), but every single Italian person with whom I consulted (including our realtor) assured me that this is done all the time and totally normal since you are forced into a 4 year lease whether that’s your intention or not.  Logical, yes…?

There are many more areas where you must jump through hoops – I already told you about my efforts (customs forms, fees) to get a small box I had mailed from the US; there is also the matter of needing an official “fitness letter” from a doctor before you are allowed to participate in any organized runs (5k’s on up).  The scary part is I am pretty certain that I have only scratched the surface of red-tape with these experiences/information.  Stay tuned for more stories (which I am sure will be much funnier in hindsight than while I am experiencing them)!

%d bloggers like this: