Bayonets and Seed Trays

A friend recently asked me if I’d seen anywhere selling bayonet light bulbs like the ones used in the UK. I didn’t bring any lamps with me when I relocated so never gave it a thought. Suddenly it dawned on me that something so trivial could become a major problem, if you’ve packed up your home, had it shipped abroad only to discover all the light bulbs sold here have screw fittings. I’ve been looking ever since and enquired without success at the hardware stores and thus far haven’t been able to locate a single bayonet fitting bulb.

Also on the lamp theme, I brought some treasured lampshades over from the UK only to discover after the re-wiring of the homestead that the Italian Edison bulb holders are slighter smaller than the UK ones, so the lampshades kept falling off the fittings. In the end treasured lampshades ended up in the wheelie bin.

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Another thing that can annoy you when living here is the electricity, or rather lack of a decent amount of it. The basic electricity supply in Italy is a measly 3 kilowatts. This means it takes a while to get used to the fact that you can’t have a multitude of appliances working at the same time. For example if we turn on our oven and induction hob at the same time, which is usual when cooking, we have to turn off the hot water to prevent the trip switch cutting the supply. How often at the start did we forget and when the washing machine was on pop some toast into the toaster and ping no power, or one of us would be drilling something while the other decided to plug in the kettle – yes you guessed it – ping and no power. It is possible to pay extra for up to 6 kw, but we’re now used to it and if anything it’s made us more aware of wasting energy.10885254_10152487089332187_5949779206277870703_n

One thing that initially drove me round the bend was the lack of seed trays – Yes I know surely they can’t be so important to be a cause of madness, but yes initially they were. The reason being is practically every Italian citizen has a patch of land where they grow fruit and vegetables for the table. They can be seen in January and February buying seeds and potting compost. So you’d expect them to be able to buy seed trays, because we do that in Britain. But this isn’t Britain it’s Italy, and my local garden centre looked at me quizzically  when I asked for some. “Seed trays?” she responded, almost mocking. “Trays for seeds.” – I felt at this point that I was in a rejected Two Ronnies sketch – I mentioned the lack of these to a friend who said, “Why have a special tray? I use the polystyrene trays that meat comes in and then throw them away.” I was about to mention that I don’t think I could use polystyrene in my electric propagator, but decided that it was best to leave the conversation there.

Did I solve this problem? Yes I had some posted from B&Q in the UK.

Rip Off Britain’s

One of the first pieces of advice I was given when I first talked of purchasing a house in Italy came from an English woman in L’Aquila. The advice was, “Don’t trust the Italian’s, as soon as they find out you’re English they’ll rip you off. Make sure you get quotes in writing etc. etc. blah blah blah…” I know of so many Brits who have moved here that actually believe in this nonsense. I am under no illusion why statements like this are rife in the ex-pat community, they either originate from one person having a bad experience and then the rumour-mill kicks in or they’re the result of fear.

I can understand if someone has a bad experience with a tradesperson they will be naturally disgruntled, but how often is the ‘bad experience’ down to incompetent communication? I know of people who have complained about tradespeople when the actual problem was a lack of language skill. One that springs to mind is a man who asked an Italian builder to construct a wall for him while he took a trip over to the UK; the man explained that he wanted a muro di mattoni and then flew back to England. Upon his return he was horrified to find at his restored cottage a nice new red brick wall. An argument ensued and the builder explained that he had done exactly what he had been asked to do. It turned out the customer wanted a wall made of reclaimed stone to match the walls of his cottage, but had not asked for a muro di pietra vecchia,  Here, I think there were two mistakes made, the first was flying back to the UK, therefore not being on hand to supervise, and the second, probably relying on Google translate.

But to get back to my initial reason for today’s blog entry. Without thinking, ex-pats often hand out nuggets of advice like the one I was given, I understand when people say I want an English builder because then there’ll be no language problems, this makes perfect sense if you speak little or no Italian. However, to blindly say I want and English builder, because the Italian ones will rip me off is nonsense. And to be honest my experience has been quite the opposite.

Before we started our renovation we obtained three quotes for the work in total, two were from English builders and the third from an Italian, the British builder’s quotes turned out to be the most expensive. Now I’m not saying there was any duplicity involved or any intention to rip me off, I’m just stating a fact. In the end we chose none of the people who gave us quotes and went along with the advice from our architect and the comune, (council) and hired someone local who they recommended.

However during the renovation there has been times when we have needed to look for extra personnel for specialised jobs. For example, I wanted the rear of the house clearing of weeds, tree stumps, a tumbledown brick shed and years of neglect. I asked around and got the following quotes:

British builder – Delivery of JCB €50. Hire of JCB €85 per day, Hire of operator €180 per day Job length 2 days. Total €580

Italian Builder – €40 per hour maximum time 3 hours. Total €120

The Italian builder came over and true to his word did the job in two and a half hours and even dug us a trench for a water pipe for free. Total €100

Again I’m not suggesting any intended duplicity took place, but surely a qualified builder would know a three-hour job from from a two-day one?

We pretty soon discovered that, despite the recommendation of the comune, the original sewage system, an ancient fossa biologica was not really fit for use and that we’d be better off  erring on the side of precaution and having a new septic tank put in. So we asked for a few quotes, stating that we’d like a tank suitable for a four person household, we actually stressed the make and tank reference number we required and here’s what we received:

British builder 1 – Tank €1050. Excavation and installation €150. Two men at €180 per day. Total €1560 (delivery estimate 2 – 4 days)

British builder 2 – Tank €1200. Excavation and installation €200. Three men at €150 per day. Total €1850 (delivery estimate 2 – 6 days)

Italian builder – Tank, including collection from supplier €800. Excavation and installation €200. Total €1000

Now in this instance we had already done our homework and knew that the tank cost the trade price of €700 including taxes, and our Italian builder would charge us a €100 on top of this to collect it from Guardiagrele, approximately 24 Km away. what we couldn’t understand was, even if there was a delivery charge of €100 on the British builder’s quotes why was the same tank now €250 and €400 more expensive?

Once again I’m not suggesting any intended duplicity took place, I’ll leave it to you to make up your own mind.