10 Aug The afterlife: Italian style
So, I have a theory about what happens after you die:
If you’re a good person, you go to Heaven. Heaven means all-you-can-eat Thai food, comfy beds, and no washing up to do.
If you’re a bad person, on the other hand, you go to Hell. Hell means spending all of eternity in the Italian Post Office. It must be, because there’s really no place worse.
Let me explain.
The English post office is hardly the most entertaining place in the world. You waste hours of your life in queues, you can’t go there on Sundays, and some of the people who work there can be a little less than cheery. But I can confirm that the UK Post Office experience is a dream compared to its Italian cousin, the Poste Italiane.
The Poste isn’t like the Post Office. Bright red has been replaced with sterile, insipid blue and there are no shiny pens or glitter glue multipacks to distract you while you wait in the queue. For that matter, there is no queue, just an angry huddle, because this is Italy. There are no clear opening or closing times, you can’t pay by card, you definitely can’t buy envelopes, tape or anything else considered in any way useful for sending items, and if you get anything but growled at by the man or woman behind the desk, you can consider yourself lucky.
Here are some of my top recent Poste Italiane experiences:
1. The Greek and I went to our local post office to pick up a letter for him which had to be signed for. In these cases, for obvious reasons, you need to show some ID, so out comes his driving license. Naturally, a Greek driving license is written in Greek, but has everything written in Latin characters too. As soon as the woman behind the desk was handed this document, she held it out at arms length and squinted at it as if it truly disgusted her. Her lips started to pucker as she handed it back and she said, “I can’t accept this – I don’t read cyrillic”.
2. Not so recent, but worthy of a mention. A couple of years ago, I went to Sicily with my mum. Good tourists that we are, we bought some postcards to send to family and friends back home. Wanting to send them before we left, we went to the post office on the way back to the hotel one day, and stood in the “queue” for a good 20 minutes or so. Finally at the front, I asked the lady for a number of stamps. “Stamps? You can’t buy those here. Bye!”. Right.
3. I had to post something for work the other week and luckily, there’s a post office just around the corner. Knowing that this particular post office always closes at 1.30, I’d made sure to go there earlier, so it was strange that the grates were down at 11 am on a weekday morning. And then I saw the sign. As you know, August in Italy is the month of nothing – everything is closed and it’s (even more) impossible to get anything done. But this was July. Apparently, as far as the post office is concerned, July is just Pre-August, because they’d put their “Summer Opening Hours” up on the door. Closed all day on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and open from 9 to 1.30 on Thursday and Friday. Working until lunchtime 5 days a week was just too much for them. Bless.
4. A while back, my office was having a party, and we had some invitations which needed to be sent both in Italy and abroad, but they needed to be weighed at the post office as they weren’t standard letter size or shape. Being afternoon, I couldn’t go to the nearest Poste, so walked about 15 minutes to the one behind the station. To my delight, there was only one customer at each of the two open desks, so I joined the queue only to be told that I had to go and get a number, which I did think was more than a little pointless. Anyway, a minute later I was called up by the blonde lady sitting behind desk number one. Usually, being nice to the people at the post office guarantees you slightly less snarly responses, so I grinned at her and apologised in advance for “the million envelopes I have to send”. “HOW MANY?” she snapped back at me. So joking about envelope numbers apparently wasn’t funny. “Um, about 100…” I said. “Well, I’m not blocking up my desk for all those – you’ll have to go somewhere else!” she replied. I looked around – boxes, leaflets with postage options, a big yellow sign with an envelope icon on it… yep, I was definitely at the post office, but this lady just didn’t want to help me. She told me to go to another branch where…exactly the same thing happened. It was only on the third attempt, by which time I’d walked about 3 kilometres from my office and lost about 25 kilos in sweat alone, that I managed to find someone who would actually work out the postage for the bloody things. Because in Italy, being employed by the post office doesn’t mean that you’re obliged to actually do anything.
The moral of this post, then, is to be nice to people. You wouldn’t want to end up stuck in the Poste forever and ever now, would you…?