Life Abroad: Surviving the Italian Post Office

It’s no secret that the Italian post office is hell. Small boxed-shaped buildings, the ufficio postale replaces flames with little old ladies, torture with numbered tickets and inefficiency. Then of course there are the poor, spiteful devils who work there.

*shudder*

*shudder*

Past post office visits include:

– Trying to buy a roll of stamps only to be told they were out.

– Having to pay for packages that in theory were already paid for by the sender.

– Trying again to buy stamps only to be told they didn’t have any.

– Packages being stuck in customs for over a month before they even told me that.

– Waiting over a month to receive mail.

– Having an entire package that arrived in Italy be labeled as “lost” three days after its arrival.

– Trying to buy stamps but being told they didn’t have any.

When I finally, out of complete frustration, asked how a post office could possibly exist if it doesn’t have stamps (about the only tangible product a post office needs to supply) I was met with a brick wall of obstinance. After the visit ended with me yelling through the plexiglass in vain it seemed the best thing to do was try to avoid the dreaded government building all together.

Now, however, I couldn’t avoid it. Not my first time navigating the Italian post office, I considered myself an expert, or at least expert enough to know to mentally prepare myself for the struggle ahead. I needed to go to pay a small bollettino or tax and get proof that it was paid. Easy, right? Like I said, I’m an expert now, so I cleared an hour of my schedule Monday morning.

Pushing through the glass door I saw only a handful of lost souls in the dingy room. So far so good. The first thing to do is push a button to take a number.

The dreaded buttons

The dreaded buttons

I looked at the small box that spits out the numbers, only there was more than one button. A for postale, E for servizi finanziari and C for something else, I won’t translate them because this is about as much as they meant to me as well. In it to win it, I clicked A … then E. I figured that would cover my bases. Sitting across the room from the crowd, I decided to distract myself from the anxious beeps of the numbers being called by examining the others.

There was the old man wearing gray socks under his sandals who got there shortly after me. He seemed confused about the different options on the machine, eventually leaning over to ask a man in a suit something, insecurely holding up his ticket. At least I wasn’t the only one. Then there was the woman with a feathered haircut, clearly not a beginner but confused nonetheless. She approached one of the windows when it wasn’t her turn to ask a quick question, holding up her ticket to show the teller. Ah, also this woman was confused by the machine. Glancing at my A and E numbers again, I felt relatively confident that I’d get to the correct teller with one or the other.

Don't do it!

Don’t do it!

The scoreboard beeped and the feathered woman stood up, triumphant. Suddenly, a tiny elderly woman shuffled fast in front, opening her wallet before she was even to the window, “This will only take a second” was her excuse. Dejected, the feathered-haired woman stood awkwardly behind the woman. I gave her an understanding smile, it’s happened to us all.

Just then A15 beeped out aggressively on the scoreboard – I was up!

“I’m sorry, I don’t know if this is an A or E problem but I need to pay this bollettino,” I stuttered. “It’s a C,” the woman responded dryly.

Nevertheless with a sheepish smile and a firm stance she relented, quickly doing the work of whoever the C teller was and giving me my correct change back, a “have a nice day” nowhere in sight. No matter, I was free, done of my tedious Monday morning obligations and home before it rained – a 25 minute operation at last!

Bursting out of the post office I jumped on my bike, taking the long way to correctly follow the one-way roads instead of going the opposite, quicker way, definitely more righteous than the post office tellers or ditching old ladies. Following the rules I still got the job done – and in less time than originally expected!

One swift pedal down and I saw the sandaled man, still looking confused, another swift pedal and I saw the feathered hair woman. We nodded knowingly at each other, weary but triumphant.

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One Response to Life Abroad: Surviving the Italian Post Office

  1. Pingback: What I’ve Learned From a Year (and a half!) Abroad | From Italy, With Love

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