I came to Italy with certain expectations. Nothing grandiose, just everyday, stereotypical things, such as everyone will drive like madmen, I’ll eat way more pizza than can possibly be healthy and the bureaucracy involved in getting anything done will drive me mad. I’m pleased to say that I’ve been proved right so far on all of these fronts, but the outcome hasn’t been quite as expected.
Bureaucracy is a case in point. Yes, it can be an absolute nightmare. For instance, since mid-January we’ve been trying to tax our car, but because we bought it in Turin and the car is registered to our address in Milan, nobody seems to want our money. Piemonte don’t want it because the car isn’t registered there anymore, and Lombardia don’t want it because the car isn’t on their system. Many visits to the local Automobile Club office, phone calls, emails and scanned documents are yet to solve the problem.
In a few months, we’ll be moving to Piemonte, by which stage we will no doubt have just managed to register the car in Lombardia. It’s anyone’s guess what will happen then…
On the other hand, we just spent a couple of days changing the utilities for the house we are buying into our names. In the UK, this would most likely have involved a series of frankly exhausting phone calls involving hours of hold music, lots of unnecessary entering of account numbers and some very confusing conversations with people who had no idea what to do with the information they were being given.
In Italy, the experience couldn’t have been more different. Rather than calling a freephone number, we went, with the lady who is selling us the house, to the various local utility offices and spoke to real people, face-to-face and got everything done in no time.
At this stage I should probably point out that when I say we spoke face-to-face, I mean my wife did. My Italian remains dreadful. I stood at the back nodding, smiling and occasionally saying “si” at what seemed like appropriate times. This is my masterplan for integrating into Italian society. They’ll never work it out…
At Bra Gas (when will I stop chuckling at the name…) the manager even gave us his mobile number and said to call him if we have any questions and he’s happy to pop round any time. Now that’s service!
I think this weird relationship between chaos and cohesion sums up my Italian experience so far. The stereotypes are largely accurate, yet at the same time, things just work in their own, often bizarre, way.
I guess the driving is the perfect example. Every day I see people get away with overtaking manoeuvres that you could generously call reckless, it’s rare for anybody to even slow down, let alone give way at roundabouts and traffic lights are often treated more as a guide to what you could do if you were so inclined. Yet, I’ve not seen any road rage, have rarely been stuck in a traffic jam and personally I find it all strangely liberating. You know what people are going to do and you’re prepared for it. In the UK, if someone pulls out in front of you or reverses down the slow lane of the motorway because they’ve missed their turn-off it’s a shock. In Italy it’s an inevitability. It really shouldn’t work, yet somehow, it just does.