There are many things that the Italians are good at, pizza is one, pasta obviously and football: I’m reliably informed. But there is one thing that the Italian people excel at. Waiting. Everywhere there’s a piano piano mentality, (slowly, slowly). They really do show off their waiting skills at the post office. Here bills are bi-monthly, meaning if you don’t have direct debits set up you have to endure a minimum of six visits per year. “Direct debit,” our builder says, “You might as well give your Bancomat card to a stranger and tell him your pin number,” Banking options other than cash are still relatively new here and many of the older generation are sceptical about security.
Friends posted on Facebook that they had got engaged in Florida and I thought, I know, I’ll send them a card, so it’s there for when they get home to the UK. Now having only previously posted postcards before I remember that any guide book tells you to buy your stamps at the tobacconist. So I write out the card and drive to the local Tabacchi, I ask for francaboli, (stamps) and am told they don’t sell them. I try another three and get the same response. So there’s nothing for it but to go to the post office. I decide on the small one in Altino as the larger one in Casoli is bound to have its usual crowd spilling out into the piazza. In fact so busy is the Casoli office, they post traffic police outside in the morning so that people don’t block the road. I have experienced the Italian post office before and know that when people joke about taking a flask, book and a packed lunch they’re not being ironic but telling the truth.
A week ago I used the Altino P.O. to pay some bills for a friend and was lucky enough to only wait for thirty minutes before I could deal with the woman behind the counter. Now what you need to know is that the office has two sportelli (glass windows/counters), one is for P.O. bank products and the other is for P.O. postal products. You can pay bills at either window, but only withdraw money at the bank window or buy stamps at the postal one. So I join the throng of people already waiting, three women are sat against the back wall chatting animatedly, the other seating contains a mixture of men and women of various ages. I squeeze in behind a display stand next to a young man who is sweating and smells ripe and a woman wearing an overpowering perfume, thankfully both fragrances cancel out the other. I count fourteen people, seven per window if all are here to pay bills. Twenty five minutes later I count thirteen people. Now maybe it’s a requirement of the job with post office workers the world over that the staff must work with the momentum of a corpse. Another twenty minutes pass, and five more people join the queue, asking who they follow. I’ve ascertained that I follow the perspiring youth. Forty minutes later, the youth has finished his transaction, but sadly he’s at the bank products window. Confusion reigns, isn’t the Englishman next. I explain that I need to wait for the postal products window, a late arrival sees a chance and nips into the vacant space at the window and a man reprimands her for not working out who is next in line. Eventually the window I want is vacant, I make my way over, the old lady is confused wasn’t she after the Englishman, but why isn’t he at the other window. Consternation ensues and a man explains to her what’s happening and that she should have used the window that’s now taken by the interloper.
So after seventy-five minutes of waiting, it’s my turn. “One stamp to England please,” I ask. The woman behind the counter takes my letter and sticks a stamp onto the envelope, removes the sum total of seventy cents from me, for the transaction then says, “Instead of waiting, next time go to the large tabacchi across the road,” (the only one I haven’t been to.) “They sell stamps.”
Have you ever tried to smile through grinding teeth, it’s difficult