Wednesday, September 02, 2009

FIGURING OUT THE ITALIAN WAY

Even after living here for six years, there are still so many things we don't understand about how things work in Italy. Nothing is simple or straightforward. Whether dealing with private business or government bureaucracy, there’s usually an unwritten code to follow – the right questions must be asked of the right people, and things must be done in the proper order. I’m convinced the only way to understand these secret ways is to be born Italian. And so, quite often, we find ourselves shaking our heads, confused, often amused, and sometimes frustrated. It probably would't make any difference if we understood the 'how' and 'why' of things, but I'm still always trying to make sense of things.

Although we can view our Italian bank accounts online and even make transactions online, when we wanted to know the balance on our car loan, we had to go to our branch, put in a request with the manager, and she in turn had to call Rome for the details. The manager told us to return in a few days to get the answer, all the while I’m thinking, “But they have computers, why can’t I just look at my loan balance online just like I can my checking account balance???” And like so many situations, there just aren’t answers for questions like this.

Our bank recently underwent some changes. I don’t know if it was an acquisition, a merger, or simply and alliance of two banks. The name of our bank remains the same but we now have a new website linked to the ‘new’ bank, and many other changes have taken place. For us it’s not necessary to understand the whys and wherefores of all the changes, but from what I’ve seen so far, things aren't necessarily ‘better’ and more modern, just different. For example:

Recently I locked myself out of my online access by entering the wrong password five times. I called the ‘800’ number and was told that I’d need to go to the bank in person in order to unblock the account. I asked if I could go to any branch, or if I had to go to the branch in Ponte San Giovanni. I was assured that I could go to any branch to re-set the password, so the other day we drove to Deruta because it’s a lot closer than P.S. Giovanni.

I introduced myself to the woman sitting at the first desk and told her what my problem was. And the first thing she did was call Margherita at the P.S. Giovanni branch! In the end I was unable to get the account unblocked and I’m still not sure why. It might have been because Margherita told the woman in Deruta that no, my account was NOT blocked. I made the woman in Deruta go to the login page to prove that yes, I really was blocked, but that didn’t solve the problem.

Although I still wasn’t happy, there was no alternative: we’d have to drive to Ponte San Giovanni to (hopefully) reset the password and unblock the online access. When I asked exactly why I had to come there in person, I was told that I had to sign a form – and I’m still not sure why! Was it Just to acknowledge that I had locked myself out of my own account and needed help in re-setting the password? At least in the end the account was unblocked and I can now check my balance online.

When we returned to the branch in Deruta the other day to make a deposit the woman who’d helped (or tried to help) me previously was now at the teller’s window. She remembered me, which of course is always nice, and helped me with the new deposit form. As my receipt was printing out, I noticed that the teller was looking her computer screen rather intently. She then called over her colleague, and they both looked intently at the computer screen for several minutes.

The teller then asked me “Is your residency in a foreign country?” I told her that we were residents of Italy, but that I had noticed since the change with the bank I was now able to see that my address was listed as Louisville, KY. I pulled out my Carta d’Identita to show her that we did have residency in Italy, and to show her our Italian address.

Both the tellers studied my Carta intently, then the first teller walked around the counter to hand it back to me in person. She did this so that she could show me that my Carta was due to expire in five days! Strangely enough we’d just been talking about this with friends and I had commented “We really should check our Carte to see when they expire”, but of course we never had!

Art had become concerned because I was in the bank such a long time, and had come inside to see if there was a problem. After reassuring us that everything was fine, and that they would make the necessary changes to our information, we returned to the car. The first thing I asked Art for was his Carta d’Identita. His original Carta was stolen when we were in Prague, several months before I lost mine. Just as I suspected, his card had expired in June! Oops!

Once we were back in San Venanzo we went to the comune immediately. As we entered Francesco’s office I told him we had a little problem. “Just a little one?” he joked. I explained the situation, and knew that renewing my Carta shouldn’t be a problem, but was somewhat concerned about Art’s. Francesco asked when Art’s card had expired, then told us not to worry, it wasn’t a problem. We asked whether we’d need new photos, but were told no. He said they’d just stamp the back of our cards and write a new expiration date on the back. Just when you think things are so complicated and illogical, something like this happens and it’s such a relief!

The man we needed to see wasn’t in the office, so Francesco told us to come back the next day, Friday. After a late Thursday night at the festa, we slept late on Friday and were getting ready to go up to the comune around 11 when Art noticed Francesco walking down the street, towards his home. Art called to him and Francesco said “No one’s there now, just come tomorrow morning.” I reminded him that tomorrow was Saturday but he assured me that someone would be there. I guess we’ve always just assumed that the comune wasn’t open on Saturdays, but apparently it is. Maybe it’s because they close every day at 1 o’clock and don’t re-open in the afternoon.

Bright and early on Saturday morning we were at the comune, ready to renew/extend our Carte. Unfortunately Art had laminated his card and after years of being pressed in his wallet, the plastic and paper were firmly attached to one another! Carta d'Identita -renewedWe were told that Art would have to get a whole new Carta, meaning that he would need some new photos. My Carta, on the other hand, was simply stamped, signed and dated and I was renewed for another five years. I had expected for the renewal to be good for ten years, based on something I’d read, but because it was a renewal it was only for five years. Art, because he had a whole new Carta issued, is good for another ten years.

Even more amazing to me was the fact that we weren't asked to show our current Permessi! Yes, they know us in the comune, but that doesn't mean we've kept our documents current - heck, the permessi could have been expired just like the Carte!

We’re still shaking our heads, wondering why some things are so complicated, others so incomprehensible, and other things, like this, so laughably easy! But hey, when the 'how is as simple as this, who cares about the 'why'?!

8 Comments :

At 9/02/2009 12:47:00 AM , Blogger Gil said...

The probably ask because they knoew you. Glaf you are having fun!

 
At 9/02/2009 08:04:00 AM , Blogger Valerie said...

The Italian banking is definitely a different world! At least the carte were no problem :) We've found that American bureacracy is no picnic, either, however. Don't get me started!!

 
At 9/02/2009 12:57:00 PM , Anonymous Brad'll Do It said...

And we want to live in Italy? Sounds like each bureaucracy has its own personality and quirks. Someone once told me, "There you go again, applying logic where it doesn't matter." Sounds like your experience reinforces that.

 
At 9/02/2009 01:09:00 PM , Blogger Barbara said...

You're right Brad - and I think where bureaucracy is concerned it doesn't matter if it's the U.S. or Italy, there are many, many times where logic just doesn't apply!

 
At 9/02/2009 08:08:00 PM , Anonymous Peter at italyMONDO! said...

Yup... Italy is filled with some of the most wonderful things you can see, do, eat and experience - wrapped in a nice think layer of red tape!

So many times I through up my arms when I come across another useless law or crazy restriction and say "Well... that's Italy!"

 
At 9/02/2009 10:03:00 PM , Anonymous Jane said...

yes, I do understand but what does puzzle me is that our carta is still valid--for 10 years--but our permisso has expired. We still use the carta when it is convenient to. I guess the various comune do things differently--no surprise.

 
At 9/03/2009 06:09:00 AM , Anonymous Martha said...

I found little plastic sleeves in the post office designed to carry your carta around in. Better than laminating. A tobacco shop might have them too.

 
At 9/03/2009 06:11:00 AM , Anonymous Cristina said...

Jane, if you are no longer residents in Italy you have to go to the comune and tell them and give back or have annulled your carta d'identità as using it can get you a huge fine if you are not a resident. Last I heard yuou had less than 3 months to declare that you are no longer a resident.

 

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