Today I am going to share one of the unique cultural experiences of living in Italy that is neither delicious nor beautiful (sorry). I am going to take you to the post office!
The post office in Italy (“Poste Italiane”) is a post office and so much more. The post office is a bank – you can have an account just like at any other bank (though I hear it is the least efficient bank in the country). The post office is a bill-paying center (you can come here to pay your gas, electric, etc. [your only other choice is online]). The post-office is a gathering place for retirees to get their pensions. And, I am sure there is more you can do at the post that we have yet to have the “pleasure” of discovering.
We just happen to have a post office right outside our apartment, so I have been watching the comings-and-goings on a regular basis. Two weeks ago, during ferie, I went to mail some post cards; the wait was only about 10 minutes – nothing like the terrible tales I’ve been told (if you’re wondering why I don’t just buy stamps in a machine – it’s because they don’t exist). This is how the post office works – when you go in you push a button to get a number – the button you push depends on why you are there (P = post, E = banking, A = paying bills, etc.). (It seems that there are several tellers for “A” and usually only one teller for “P”). And then ferie ended…
On Saturday the line outside the post started about 30 minutes before opening (pictured below). This was the first time I had seen a crowd and as they mostly appeared to be pensioners and it was the first of the month, we guessed it was pension day. However, as of this writing, almost a week later, the crowds have not seemed to dissipate (just looked out the window – yep, there they are). Fortunately, we had set up a bank account that is supposed to have internet banking capabilities, so when we got an electric bill with a due date of Sept. 3 I was not concerned (apparently checks also do not exist here). But then (and still now), our electronic banking was not set up correctly, AND, we missed the post man one day and had two notes to come to the post to pick up something (we assumed 2 of our boxes). Of course, the boxes were at an entirely different post office than the one outside our apartment. So, off to the post offices we went.
I could not decide if I could just wait and pay our electric bill when we went to pick up our packages, but I guessed (correctly) that that would probably entail two separate waits in any case (one for “P” and one for “A”), so I decided to brave the post office in the morning to pay the electric bill. I watched and waited, but the crowds outside the post did not get any thinner – actually the more I waited the larger they got, so sometime after 11 I decided to go down and brave it. I picked number A229 and they were currently on 181; after waiting about 5 minutes and seeing NO number progression, I decided to take a bet – that I could go back upstairs, cook and eat lunch, and still get back in plenty of time for my number to be called. I was right – it was exactly 45 minutes later that my number was called (it took about 30 seconds to actually pay the bill). Trip one to the post office was over.
When Steve got home from school we used our rental car to go to the other post office (we thought we were picking up boxes) before returning it. We made it to the post office and picked a “P” (for post – or so we assumed). We thought we had lucked out as there were 2 tellers for “P,” but after watching one transaction take literally 25 minutes, we lost that optimism. We waited about 40 minutes until we were called (we, like everyone else, acted like we had won the lottery when it was our turn). Ah, but things are never that “easy” here. I could tell from the look on the teller’s face that we had done something wrong and he had bad news – the place to pick up packages was upstairs (duh – the note said “1 piano” or “first” floor). For one moment I let myself hope that we wouldn’t have to re-do the number process up there, but, of course, we did (but just one set, no letters). I think it was about another 25 minutes until we were called (turns out, it was not boxes, but our bank cards). We couldn’t feel too badly because right behind us was another American who had done the same thing (and he has lived here almost 8 years! – interesting aside – the owner of the Rosticceria had told us about another American couple living on our street – this was the husband and here we were meeting at a post office 20 minutes away!).
All in all, it was over 2 hours of my day and 1+ of Steve’s spent at the post offices. Here’s hoping our internet banking is up and running soon…. (*live update – after 2 weeks of e-mailing, I finally received a response from the bank – our foreigner account does not have online bill-paying features…arg…)