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Italian problems: Figuring out the post office (and how to get through the door)

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Italian problems: Figuring out the post office (and how to get through the door)
Getting mail delivered in Italy is not always straightforward. Photo: DepositPhotos
12:04 CEST+02:00
When Anne Rose and her husband moved from California to Puglia, they found that simple, everyday tasks were no longer that simple after all. From missing mailboxes to confusion at the post office, here's how they dealt with the challenges during their first two months in Italy.

Finally in our own little apartment after one full month in a hotel, I was more than eager to start cooking meals and settle into a normal life. Or as normal as it could be, considering we were still in the throes of filling out paperwork

We knew Italy was a foreign country – don’t laugh - but I didn’t think it would be foreign in every respect. Even something that I thought would have been simple, such as setting up utilities. Nothing was simple.

Our trusty relocation specialist took us to the garbage office to set up an account. That took about half an hour, with passports and codice fiscales being handed over and documents signed, all while our assistant was translating.

Italy's beautiful Puglia region is famous for many things, but efficiency is not one of them. Photo: Depositphotos

One problem was that my husband’s last name begins with a W. What’s the problem, you say? There’s no W in the Italian alphabet so it stumped the clerks everywhere.

He couldn’t change his name just to make things easier for the clerks, but wrong misspellings have haunted us to this day. A favorite was to convert the W to an N.

Then our assistant drove us to the outskirts of town to actually pick up our garbage bins. They don’t deliver them to your house; you have to go to the garbage yard to get them yourself.

The fellow at the yard turned out to be Italian, but was born in Brooklyn and so held dual citizenship. Our assistant chatted with him for a bit. There were no garbage bins to be had. All gone. But, since we were American, he found some old bins in the back that we could have. Hurrah!

Back to the apartment to drop off our garbage bins. Four all together. One for organico (organic), one for vetro (glass), one for carta (paper), and one for indifferenzia (everything else). Taking recycling to a whole new level.

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Now the question was where to store these four bins since we’re in an apartment in the Old Town facing the street (and the bins are NOT allowed to be on the street until it’s time for pickup). We found a cubbyhole along our staircase, and that’s where they sit, so we get to walk by our garbage on the way to and from our door.

There was some confusion whether our street address was a number three or number five. Some documents said three; others said five. That took some straightening out.

We were told we had to buy a mailbox since apparently landlords don’t supply one. Ok. So we bought a mailbox, my husband affixed it to a nail hanging from the stone wall of our apartment next to our front door, and we proudly hung a number three on the front. That lasted one day. The next morning our brand new mailbox had been stolen.

Back to the hardware store to buy another mailbox. This time we hired a man with a drill, since my husband has none of his tools here, who drilled the mailbox into the stone. It’s not going anywhere now.

So, great, we have a mailbox, but we have learned that the postal carriers do not deliver packages! Isn’t that interesting? We had ordered quite a few items online to supplement our meager household furnishings, and became quite familiar with the postal receipt that said ‘we couldn’t deliver a package’.

Italian mailboxes. Photo: Depositphotos

After numerous instances where we were definitely home all day without a peep from the doorbell, we realized that they just don’t deliver packages. You have to go to the post office yourself and collect it.

The trick is in knowing which post office. The one in town, or one of the two in the neighboring town?

Paying bills is another adventure, since banks and post offices don’t operate like we’re used to in the US. You pay your bills at the post office, not the bank.

The post office can issue you a credit card. There’s even a special ATM at the post office where you can withdraw money, pay bills, or top off your credit card. The post office can pretty much do everything - except deliver a package.

READ ALSO: Ten things to know before moving to Italy

We received a garbage bill that we could pay monthly or for the full year. Of course we had to pay that at the post office. This was when it was discovered that the garbage office had put in one wrong digit in the codice fiscale so we had to hightail it to the garbage office to get that fixed (across town of course).

The lady fixed the mistyped digit and I asked–so funny–why we couldn’t pay the garbage bill at the garbage office. I’m such a crack-up. Heresy! You pay the garbage bill at the post office. Period. But but… if the garbage office sends out the bills, that must mean they have an accounting department, so why can’t they accept payment for the bills they send out?

That made no sense to them. Just not done. You pay the garbage bill at the post office. Don’t ask why. It just is.

When we finally made it back to the post office, and after waiting interminably for our turn again, we opted to pay the year in advance just so that we wouldn’t have to go through that rigmarole again. Too exhausting.

It’s those kinds of experiences that are so frustrating. Something that I think should be simple and take a few minutes becomes an all day, complicated affair. I don’t understand it, and it tires me out.

Oh, I haven’t mentioned how you enter the post office. Don’t laugh, but there's a secure entrance. You stand in front of the door a certain distance, the door senses you’re there, and it automatically opens. You walk in, but not into the post office. You walk into an enclosed space. Turn around and the door senses you’re there, and the door to the actual post office opens. You’re in! You made it.

A branch of Poste Italiane. Photo: Depositphotos

This takes time. So when there are, say, ten people waiting to go in the post office, you’re looking at five minutes or more to get in. But wait! The people leaving the post office have to go through the same door, in and out, so add another thirty seconds each for those people, too. You can see how easy it is to get gridlock traffic.

On our first attempt to enter the post office, we didn’t realize it was one person at a time. So, my husband and I enter together, and that’s where we’re stuck. An Italian recording came on, but we didn’t have a clue what it was telling us. Neither door opened. We couldn’t get it, and we couldn’t get out. We started hitting buttons. Nothing. I started to panic, wondering how long I was going to be stuck in that space.

I knocked on the glass walls of our enclosure, hoping that someone inside the office could give us a clue what we were supposed to do. But they looked at us blankly, and I realize they probably thought what stupid people we were, who couldn’t even figure out how to enter the building. My husband finally used his brute strength to peel open the doors with his fingers. Whew! Back on the sidewalk again in fresh air.

We never did make it into the building, but we were glad to be out of that enclosure. We decided to wait until someone could show us how to enter and exit.

READ ALSO: Italian problems: Driving seven hours (in a heatwave) to sign a form

Back in the US, I sure as heck knew how to get into and out of a building. But something as minor as entering an Italian post office had us stymied.

Did I mention that we pay the man next door for our water bill? Not sure why. It’s just how it is. At least we don’t have to go to the post office to pay the water bill!

Not to say that this isn’t the most adorable town. It is. People are kind, friendly, hospitable, and more than happy to go out of their way to help you.

For example, our electrician drove us to three different post offices (two in the next town) so we could pick up a package. It took him two hours, and while we kept saying ‘that’s all right; we’ll take a bus back to town’, he kept insisting he would escort us, no problem.

Walking the streets of our little town is like the opening scene to Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. I kid you not. People wave out their windows, call out ‘buongiorno’ and ‘buonagiornata’ to us with big smiles. Us, strangers in their midst. We love this welcoming spirit.

Despite the frustrations, we're glad that we moved to this corner of the world. We're enjoying a less stressful lifestyle - at least after those first two months!

Anne Rose is President of Cameron Park, CA-based Celebrate-Travel, a boutique travel agency specializing in custom-designed leisure travel. She is passionate about travel and loves helping consumers experience the joys of travel. Prior to owning a travel agency, Anne served as Director of Communications for a multinational corporation, owned a marketing agency, hosted radio programs, and taught seminars on communications, publishing, and marketing and practiced nursing in various environments. She is currently residing in Italy while pursuing recognition of dual Italian citizenship. Follow her adventures on her blog.

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