Tuesday, March 09, 2004


In preparation for our new entertainment center being delivered, we went to the electronics store to buy the surround sound system/DVD player/VCR. We knew that the DVD player we had bought for one euro with the TV wouldn’t play our U.S, zone 1 DVD’s, but Art had seen a surround sound system that had a DVD player AND a VCR. We knew that we could have the DVD player “hacked” for 20 euro to play our DVD’s, so that wasn’t a big consideration. I wasn’t wild about having everything together…being the negative person that I am, my first thought was, “what happens when one of them stops working?” But, in the name of saving space, and in the name of saving money, I decided to go along.

As luck would have it, the system we had seen was sold out! So, Art looked around, and found another system that had only the DVD player, and then a separate VCR. Amazingly, these two things cost less than the system we had originally seen. We tried one of our DVD’s to see if it would play, but unfortunately, no. Oh well, just figure an extra 20 euro. And with the money we saved, we were able to buy the stands for the rear speakers and still save money.

Art also went ahead and started the ball rolling for the satellite TV. After filling out all the paperwork, we discovered that we couldn’t pay with our credit card! We couldn’t figure it out…we had bought quite a few things in this store, always with the credit card. Then we discovered that it was because ours was a foreign credit card…but no, that couldn’t be right either. Then we discovered that it was the SKY TV people who wouldn’t accept the foreign credit card, not the store itself. Okay, what are our options? We made a quick trip to the nearest Postal ATM, and just paid the set-up fee in cash. Okay, it was a small problem, irritating, but it’s Italy. So we’re starting to expect these things.

Now we have the initial set-up paid for. The guy now tells us we’ll have to pay for a year’s worth of service in advance. Ouch, but okay. And we know: no U.S. issued credit card. Then he tells us…no cash either! What?! He explains that we’ll have to go to the Post Office and get a bollettino…not sure about that spelling, but we assume that this is something like a money order. He tells us that we’ll be contacted within 48 hours to set up installation. We go home and wait.

Since our Post Office in San Venanzo is only open in the mornings, we decide it would be best to go ahead and buy the bollettino….the salesman had told us how much our service would cost per month, and multiplied it by 12. We headed to the Post Office. If you’ve been reading this blog for long, you know that this is not going to be easy. Going to the Post Office ALWAYS takes longer than we expect. It’s ALWAYS more complicated than it should be. We’ve also decided that while we’re there, we’ll go ahead and apply for an Italian MasterCard. We had the opportunity to do this when we opened our account at the Post Office, and decided we didn’t need it, but now we think it might be a good idea to have one. Of course this will add to the complications.

Once we arrive, we ask about buying the bollettino for the satellite. We’re told that we can’t buy it until we have an account number. Which I guess we won’t get until the installer comes. Okay. Move on. We ask about the credit card. Fabio is busy, and asks us to come back at 12:30. Okay, no problem. We want to talk to Fabio when he has plenty of time.

At the appointed time, we returned to the Post Office and went back to Fabio’s office. He filled out the paperwork for the MasterCard…whether we will be approved is anyone’s guess! How long it will take is also unknown. At this point, we are learning…don’t ask too many questions…keep things simple. Then I make a mistake…I break the rule…I ask a question. What I don’t understand is what if the installer comes in the afternoon, AFTER the Post Office has closed for the day? How will we pay? So Fabio, ever helpful, calls the satellite people. After pushing the usual zillion buttons to get a real person, and after being put on hold, he finally tells us…you pay AFTER it’s installed. We still don’t understand, but we’re not going to understand any more by asking more questions, so we leave it at that. I trust that it will work out okay.

And to make up for all our troubles and inconvenience, Fabio offers us two phone cards, good for five minutes each. I’m guessing that these are his way of making up for not being able to recharge my phone card when I was there last week. I’ve already decided that when I’m ready to recharge the new card, I’m going to have it done in Marsciano. Fabio just seems to be the poor soul for whom everything that can go wrong, does go wrong, at least with us. We gratefully accept the phone cards and leave. It won’t be until we try to use the cards several days later that we discover that the cards aren’t valid anymore…they expired on January 31st! Poor Fabio…he tries so hard, and it’s always something!

To continue on with the satellite installation, we finally had to call the SKY people. They told us that they were running behind, and that someone would call us soon. And sure enough, a day or two later, someone calls to set up installation for Tuesday morning at 9:30. Perfect. We’re ready. And Wendy has said that she’ll put the first year on her (Italian) credit card, so we won’t have that to worry about.

It was close to eleven when the installers arrived. They apologized for being late, and then asked where the TV was. Art told them we had two, one upstairs and one in the kitchen. The head installer told him that we could only have one TV hooked up. I was wishing that Wendy was here, so we could ask more questions. In the U.S., it was possible for us to have more than one TV hooked up, but they both had to show the same channel. Of course, if you wanted to buy more than one receiver, then it was possible to watch different channels on each set. All we really wanted was the good reception, but Art told the guy that the TV upstairs was the main one. After taking a look, he wasn’t happy with the situation. I’m not sure why, but it didn’t seem to be anything that was insurmountable. They started to work.

A short while later, he told Art that he couldn’t do the “normal” installation, because of the trees in the park behind us. “Normal” installation consists of installing the dish, called a parabola here, on the side of the house. Because of the orientation of the house, and the trees, we would need to mount the dish on the roof, and this would require more…more time, more work, and of course, more money. Remember, it’s Italy.

Since Gilberto was still working across the street, Art talked to him, and Gilberto and the installer talked. I think the work was something that could be done by either one of them, but Art preferred to have Gilberto do the work, and the installer agreed. Gilberto said that he could do what we needed, but would have speak with Mauro first. Art called Mauro and let Gilberto explain the situation to him. Because Gilberto had wet cement at his project across the street, it wouldn’t be possible for him to do our work today. Maybe tomorrow or day after tomorrow. The satellite guy left his number and told us to call him when the work was complete. I’m still unclear about what will be done. It doesn’t really seem to matter. I’m hoping the costs will be about the same as the antennae we were supposed to have installed but decided against…that way we won’t owe Mauro more money. No matter how much we try to save, and think we have saved, there’s always something that seems to come up, resulting in more money being spent!

As for the paying one year in advance, Wendy had called that morning to ask us who told us we’d have to pay a year in advance? The salesman at Euronics, of course. Well, she was there at Euronics to pay with her credit card, and all she had to pay was for the first two months. Maybe this is because it’s on a credit card, not through the Post Office. Maybe it’s because she has an Italian credit card. We have no idea. And how could she pay before the system was installed…did we now have an account number? Oh…now Art tells me…the account number is at the top of our paperwork…what that confusion was all about, I don’t know. Bill paying in Italy is so different than it is in the U.S., and it’s always interesting!

One bit of good news….a while back, on the SlowTrav message board, there had been a discussion about DVD players. For those of you who don’t know, DVD’s, and DVD players are “zoned”. The United States is zone 1. The discs and the players are specifically made for each other. Europe is zone 2. Zone 2 DVD’s won’t play in a zone 1 player, and zone 1 DVD’s, like the ones we brought with us from the states won’t play in zone 2 players, which is all they sell here. We had heard about a brand of DVD players that are “multi-zoned”, but they were $400+. We asked for advice on the SlowTrav message board, and as usual, got helpful advice. Someone told us that we could go to a place in Perugia and get our player “hacked” to play all zones for about 20 euro. Then Cristina, the moderator of the “Living in Italy” forum, told us a bout a website to check. At this site, you can type in the brand and model number of your DVD player and can find out if there is any way to change the settings without having to open up the machine, which voids the warranty.

When we checked for the system we had bought, a Philips, we discovered that by simply opening the tray, and hitting 99990 on the remote, the player would now play our DVD’s! Amazing! This was almost as good as finding out the directions for the system were also in English! So, not only did we save the 20 euro, we also saved a trip to Perugia, and the possibility of voiding our warranty. This probably won’t ever be a problem, but who knows? This was a wonderful shortcut that I guess the manufacturers plan for but don’t really publicize; I don’t fully understand all the reasons for the different zones to begin with.

This reminds me of the Beta/VHS mess back in the 70’s and 80’s. Everyone knows that Beta was, and still is, the superior system. Why VHS came to be the dominant system, I don’t know. Professionals still use the Beta system; it’s just not around for home use anymore, or at least not easily. Now it looks as if we are seeing the same situation with CD’s and with digital cameras. I always assumed that the dash ( - ) in CD-ROM, was just that….a dash. Now I find out it’s really a MINUS sign, and that there are also CD+ROMs, as well as a third, lesser known format. Didn’t these people learn anything from the Beta/VHS thing? And with digital cameras, there are also multiple formats, making it very confusing when you’re trying to buy a new card. I followed the recommendation of the man at the camera shop when I bought my Fuji digital. My camera uses an XD card, which he assured me was not only better in many ways, but was also the next “new” thing. I think that’s the same thing they told me when I bought my BetaMax.


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