“And I can’t even get cheddar!”

Italy is just as frustrating as it is beautiful.  This is not a surprise, but that does not make it any easier to navigate the nonsense and to bolster my reserves of patience.

During the first day of orientation for new teachers, our director talked about the importance of recognizing culture shock, even when it doesn’t seem like the country is that different.  He said it is especially hard coming from the US, which is “Top in the service industry, number 10.  They do everything for you.  Pack your bags, carry you to the car . . . “

We laughed knowingly as he continued, “I lived in Tanzania where we often didn’t have running water.  I’d call the water company, but that worker there often had no running water for months.  Why would he care if I was out for days or weeks? Tanzania is about a 1 or 2 in service.”  He drew the numbers on a timeline on the whiteboard.  “Here in Italy, we are at a 5 or 6.  It’s not that bad, but it’s different.  You won’t get the service you get in the states.”

When I first arrived on August 22, my top priority was getting Internet.  3 days later, I finally found a shop that spoke just enough English to help me choose sim cards, get an iphone, and sign up for ADSL Internet.  ADSL?  No cable or fiber optic?  Nope.  But ok, I’m good just to get connected.  After an hour of discussions (yes, seriously) I had my vodafone base station which would work with ADSL and an Internet key to get online right away.  “Someone will call you in 15 days,” said the sales rep Simona.

“15 days?”  I was shocked.  I thought a few days with a long window of waiting like in NYC.

“Yes, the technician.”

But will he speak English?  Oh geeze . . .

And I still couldn’t leave the story because of a Vodafone system flaw that did not allow them to connect my brand new just purchased Sim card with the brand new iphone, both bought together in the store.  Customer service kept the sales rep on hold and gave them the runaround.  Hours later, they figured out a fix and sent me on my way, connected and happy tho drained.  I had jumped through my first hoop.

Running the internet off the key was slow but at least it granted me instant access.  Over the next two weeks, I learned, with massive difficulty that the station can run the wifi off the key, which would save me from overheating my laptop with the key plugged right in.  Before that could work, though, I had to wait for an automatic system download that unfroze my brand new box and allowed me to use it.  I had tried calling customer service, a toll line, and asked “Parle Inglese?”

“No.”

And then I didn’t know what to say next other than goodbye. Nobody they can even transfer me to?  Ahh, Italy.  I was going to have to get used to my complete lack of ability to communicate as I rapidly try to acquire a working rudimentary grasp of the language to communicate.

So with the wifi working, I had jumped through another hoop.  Yet, 18 days had passed and STILL no call from the technician.  Then, at last, I was in the middle of my 5 hour mandatory Italian culture class at the prefettura, when I received a phone call and deciphered “Vodafone” in the Italian and soon learned the technician was coming on Tuesday between 10 and 11.  yes!  I didn’t get to choose the date, but it’s ok.  I got coverages for work, stayed home and at 10:15, they were at my door.

Wooh!  I’m getting ADSL.  Gonna jump through another hoop.  Movies, Skype, faster downloading, and back to my normal surfing techno geek lifestyle. Yay yay yay!

“There is a problem,” said my technician in a mixture of Italian and English.  “I must get my colleague.”

An hour and lots of drilling and fumbling later, the technician said, “It still won’t work but we will switch it on tonight,” and they were gone after helping me sweep the debris.

I eagerly checked my box every time I walked by the Vodafone station, but no ADSL.  Days passed, nothing.  I went to work and explained the situation to the admin who sent the realtor over.  The realtor did not speak much English, but the next day, I learned that the landlord’s son lived there, and they tried to get ADSL, but it didn’t work so he just always used the Internet key.  They turned the phone lines off to the building because it is so old.  “What???”  You can’t rent out an apartment with no phone lines.  And it was just beautifully renovated . . .I have marble flooring and even some US outlets.  But no phone line?  WTF?  I don’t get it.

“Isn’t that something the realtor should have told us?” I asked dumfounded.

“Yes!” said the admin all knowingly.  “But this is Italy, a country that has 5 different types of plugs.”

“Oh yeah, I have an iron and can’t figure out where to plug it in.”

The admin sent over the school’s electrician to try to activate the phone line in the house (on the landlord’s dime).  The electrician poked around for 2 hours, wires dangling everywhere, and he only spoke about 3 words of English.  With the help of google translate and a few calls to the admin, we were able to call vodafone.  Even though Telecom Italia, the phone company, did the installation, you can’t call them directly because they were subcontracted by Vodafone. So Vodafone created a ticket and said a rep would come to fix the line in 3 days.  “Aspetta.”  Wait.  They always want you to wait.  Nonsense, wait too long and nothing will get done. And I paid 35 euros for ADSL I was not getting, meanwhile an Internet key is 14 euros a month.  And this service is slooooow and doesn’t work when it’s cloudy.  NO.

So I waited, and of course that was Monday and now it is Friday and I still don’t have ADSL.  The admin said, “It’s a fine line between patience and yelling and getting aggressive.  After we’ve waited enough, then it’s ok to say ‘How could you do this to me?  Fix it now.'”

“Will I get a refund for the month I couldn’t access it?”

“No . .. but we can try.”

While all this was happening, my bank card was misdirected to the wrong address because the school wrote 38, when my address is 38C and there are about 10 other 38s on the block including one solid 38 apartment building.  And the Italian post, being notoriously slow and unreliable . . . sent the card to who knows where.  The bank sent another one 2 weeks ago, and it still hasn’t arrived, so they walk me over to the bank to withdraw money with me . . .  And I JUST got the code to access my online account.  When I returned home after another stressful frustrating day dealing with bank and ADSL, I check for my bank card, but alas, just a BILL from Vodafone for the installation fees.

OMG . . .

And of course, the next day my shipment from the US was about to arrive.  Hurray!  But I tried contacting the UK company to let them know about the notoriously tiny streets of Genoa, which an International Shipping company should really take into consideration.  I take a day off from work at the suggestion of my school’s director who said, “It is important for you to relax and get settled.”

So I waited.  Waited for the phone call from the driver the day before, which I did not get.  I continually contacted the company to make sure they had my Italian phone number and an address where they could deliver the goods easily.  They could not come on my tiny ancient Roman road  . . . they’d have to park nearby, so I sent very detailed directions.

Shipment day arrived.  I woke up early as I knew I’d be the first delivery. I waited by the phone, kept checking the phone, and even turned on my old phone just in case they didn’t give my new number.  At 12 noon, I was informed that my truck broke down 2 hours North of me and they were stuck waiting repair.  I’d hear from my driver shortly.

5:30pm, no word from the driver.  I wrote to the UK office, who said they’d probably come tomorrow.  Frustrated and exhausted, I contacted work to arrange coverages on standby so I could run over to my apartment for the delivery.  (They also offered I could take another day, but that is too many days away from the kids).

Freed from the apartment, I hiked to the supermarket.  I say hike, because I have to literally hike up a steep hill to get there and lug the goods back.  As soon as I sat down to have some chicken and cheese, my old international phone rang.

“Hello?”
“Hi, we have some boxes and a sofa for you,” said a friendly Irish voice.

Soon I learned that they did not have my new number or get the directions.  They said they were 300 yards from me and wanted to carry the goods down that crazy hill. No way dude, too far and steep.  They were stuck by the school and after 40 minutes on the phone, I got them to the street I needed them to be to get closer.  BUT . . . the truck was so high that it wouldn’t fit under the highway overpass.  They had to park on the highway and walk down with all my boxes, electronics and SOFA from the highway, down the stairs, and down a little winding steep street that led to my door — maybe 150 meters.

It started raining as they were finishing, and I offered them food and whatever they wanted.  I also had no money to tip them for their extraordinary efforts so I asked if I could go to a bankomat to pay them.  “It’s not your fault.  Dont’ worry about it.”

And they were on their way to Monaco.  Such nice guys, and everything arrived intact.  I had my things.  Whew!

Earlier in the night, as they were unloading the truck, I called my dad at my breaking point, in absolute frustration and just needed to VENT.  I said something very similar to the following in a rambling monologue:

“I’ve had enough.  This is ridiculous.  This country is so broken.  Nothing works.  I can’t even receive packages.  I can’t get money.  My ADSL doesn’t work.  I can’t even buy cheddar!”  I was so serious, but even as I said the last line, I realized how ridiculous it sounded, but it’s a valid complaint.  No variety, so shut in their ways, fearing global influence, fearing anything non-Italian, that we can’t even have cheddar cheese.  All Italian, all the time.  And that philosophy seems to have permeated the lifestyles, where they do things the Italian way, even if it doesn’t make the most sense.  Whatever . . .

In my rant, I added, “If I could get back on a plane, I would.  I’m done.  It’s a frustrating place to live.  Teachers left last year because they were so frustrated with the nonsense.  The school is trying to help, but it’s ridiculous.  Someone already left this year after 2 weeks.  2 weeks!” I was so loud that I think neighbors heard me, so there goes my reputation in the neighborhood — there I was being a spoiled New Yorker Ugly American, unable to adjust to “normale,” the way things are done here.

“It’s good for visiting,” said my Dad.

“No it’s not.  It’s frustrating for that, too. T hat’s why I avoided it for so many years.  I’m done with this country.”

As I said the words, I knew I didn’t mean them.  I instantly felt bad, like I had just talked badly about a boyfriend.  I didn’t want to betray my Italy, my host country that offered so much to me: beauty, happiness, peace . . .  Italy had changed my life.  I just had to navigate this nonsense.  One hoop at a time, I’ll get settled, I’ll learn more about the culture and the language.  And at the end of the day, it all still makes much more sense and is way friendlier than working for the DOE in NYC.

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