(image by Aaron Escobar on Flickr)
Last week, I attempted to do some Christmas shopping. (Still haven’t managed that, by the way. Nada. Zilch. Niente. Oops.) Anyway, I parked the car in a pay and display bay in town. Reasoning that this is Italy and everyone spends their entire lives sticking it to The Man, I didn’t bother to buy a ticket. Unfortunately, half an hour later, cold and wet, I returned to the car to find a soggy parking ticket slowly melting onto my windscreen. Burn, baby, burn.
As the ticket dried out at home, it became legible, and I realised that the fine was, despite being the maximum, only €5. Score! Comparing this with London, where the discounted early payment fine is usually upwards of £50, I considered myself pretty lucky. However, a chill struck my bones as I realised that there was still the small matter of Italian bureaucracy to deal with …
A few weeks ago I attempted to buy a PAYG mobile. All I wanted was a SIM card that I could slot into my existing phone. Simple, no? Well, no. Even with Alex there to translate, it took a good half hour to sort out. I had to produce both my passport and Codice Fiscale (a bit like our National Insurance number, and without which you are unable to do pretty much anything). These were then photocopied in triplicate, and many complicated instructions issued. Finally, I was deemed able to take the SIM card. However, there was a ridiculous comedy moment when I tried to hand over the required €10. The assistant recoiled as if I had just offered him a handful of poo, rather than perfectly good legal tender. Thinking I had misunderstood his request for the money, I brought my hand back to my side. However, he then repeated that it would be €10. Puzzled, I tried to give him the money again. Again, he pulled back. Belatedly, I realised that he didn’t want the money to be passed hand to hand, but rather for me to place it on the desk. This is a peculiarly delicate Italian habit, and it always confuses me. Inevitably I do the wrong thing and try to put the money on the counter when the cashier is expecting me to hand it to them directly, and vice versa. It’s resulted in a few coins being dropped on the floor, and much embarrassed Itanglish burbling.
Anyway, given my experience with the phone, I feared the worst when it came to paying my parking ticket. Poring painfully over the instructions, I worked out that I had 10 days to pay before they started issuing fines and chasing letters, so decided to leave it until my day off, when I would have all day to sort things out. Envisioning something rather like the Post Office, where you are issued with numbers as you enter, which are then roundly ignored by everyone, I decided to head in early. Also, as I wasn’t quite sure where the place was in town, it would give me plenty of time to get lost.
In the event, I found the office easily. However, the blinds were all pulled down on the windows and the door closed. I checked the opening times again; nope, it SHOULD be open. Not that that necessarily means anything: this is Italy, after all. As I vainly hunted for a doorbell, however, the entry system buzzed and the door popped open. Stepping inside, somewhat nervously, I was faced with one woman on a reception desk. Not what I had expected at all. Offering my best smile, I said, ‘buongiorno‘ and tentatively showed my parking ticket, hoping that she would understand and direct me to the, no doubt hellish, room of shouting Italians in which I should pay. Unsmiling, she tapped something into her computer and gestured for me to hand her the ticket. Still not quite believing that I wasn’t about to be directed to the seventh circle of hell, I passed it over. She typed a few more things into her computer. Then, brusquely, she said, ‘cinque‘. I handed over €10. More tapping. A receipt was printed out, €5 change slapped onto the desk, and that was it. Unbelievable! In and out within 5 minutes, with no call for Italian bargaining, and only €5 down. If only Italian life were like this more often.