It is a little over a month after my arrival in Italy. I am in my classroom, planning three lessons for later in the day. I’m not getting all that far, as I keep being interrupted by my special needs stalker, Francesco. He latched onto me a few days previously, as I went into reception to photocopy materials, and hasn’t left me alone since. Stella, in an act which probably seemed hilarious at the time (and, to be fair, I’d probably have done much the same thing had I been in her shoes), egged him on and brought him to my classroom to ask me out for pizza. Unfortunately, this has backfired in that he now knows where I am, and keeps coming into the classroom every five minutes to ask, ‘School? You? Domani? Yes? I love you!’ Even if I weren’t madly busy, this would be annoying by the second go, and it has been going on for three days now. Arg. How does one politely turn down someone with special needs, who is a good 10 years too young, and speaks minimal English? It’s a kicker and no mistake. I settle for pointedly closing the door behind him as he leaves and hoping that he gets the message.
No such luck – there’s a knock at the door. Sighing and fixing a rictus grin onto my face, I turn to face him, opening my mouth ready to tell him for the eleventy-twelfth time that I’m busy, dammit. ‘Fra … – oh, hi, Oliver!’ Oliver is my boss. We don’t usually cross paths very often, so I’m a little concerned that he’s come to my classroom. I rack my brains thinking which kid has ratted on me for giving them a dressing down, but can’t think of one. ‘Kate, the bank have called. Your account is ready.’ This is momentous. Wheels were set in motion for this the day after I arrived. This being Italy, however, nothing happens quickly. I don’t have a contract yet, either. É cosi. ‘Can you come now and sign the forms?’ Not really – I have way too much to do – but if I want to get paid in the next couple of days, I need to get this sorted out, so I grab my keys and follow him out, mentally waving goodbye to my lunch.
In the car, Oliver prepares me for the experience that is an Italian bank. ‘Make sure your hand is warmed up – you will have to sign about a hundred forms.’ I laugh. He looks at me. Oh. He means it. I flex my fingers. His phone rings and he gropes in the footwell for his bag. ‘Pronto.’ Clearly the message about mobile phones and driving hasn’t reached Italy. The phone conversation carries on as he parks (despite myself, I’m impressed at his managing to parallel park while holding a mobile phone to one ear), gets out of the car, locks up, walks over the road to the bank, enters the doors, and for a good 10 minutes further as I stand like a lemon in the lobby. Oliver is rarely off the phone, I have discovered in the short time that I’ve known him.
Entering an Italian bank is a bit like entering MI5, I imagine. Or maybe the space shuttle. You must ring a bell, at which point the outer door slides open. You then step into, in effect, an airlock, and the outer door closes automatically behind you. Only then will the inner door open and let you into the lobby. In the lobby is a cashier, who eyes you suspiciously. However, as I’m with Oliver, I’m allowed to pass without comment. Phew. We walk to the Director’s office. This, again, is very unlike English banks. For a start, all I’m here for is to open an account – when was the last time an English bank manager dealt with such a menial task? Also, her office door is wide open. I suppose with such fearsome security at the front door, there’s no need for her to shut herself away inside as well.
We go into her office. She doesn’t speak English and I speak minimal Italian, so Oliver is translating for the pair of us. As predicted, my hand goes numb from signing so many documents. It’s a little unnerving signing without reading, but I have no choice. I just have to hope that I’m not signing away my firstborn child to Berlusconi or anything like that. Oliver explains that the bank account that I’m opening won’t have any charges attached (yay), but that there are conditions attached (boo). Firstly, if I use my card at other banks’ bancomats, I will be charged for doing so after the first 30 withdrawals. Secondly, I will be charged €2.50 for each ‘movement’ (Oliver’s translation). I laugh at this and mime making single steps through the bank, while totting up €2.50 for each one. Oliver doesn’t find this as funny as I do. Oops.
I am handed my cash card and an envelope containing the PIN. Bizarrely, the PIN envelope is part of a huge pile of such things, and the reference number for it is written by hand into a big logbook. It may well be the same in English banks, but I’ve never seen it happening before. Intriguing. I am also given what is known as MR PIN. Basically, it’s a little gadget that auto-generates a second PIN for added security when making transactions online. Oliver reverently mutters something about algorithms. I look dubiously at what appears to be a more soberly-coloured Tamagotchi. Oh, and – surprise, surprise – if I lose it, I have to pay a charge. Whoopee.
Finally, a good 40 minutes after we entered the bank, I appear to have a bank account. Hooray! The bank manager and I shake hands and ‘piacere‘ each other, and Oliver and I return to the front door, where we go through the exit airlock (separate from the entrance one). Once we are outside, he laughs and tells me that banks are usually much more serious than that. Blimey. Still, at least it’s all done now. Until three days later, when they phone to say that there were some forms they forgot to ask me to sign …
Photo by David Muir on Flickr