Over the weekend I noticed my phone (home phone) stopped working. I could get a dial tone (European style...funny 2 beeps...not a tone). I fugured it was some local outage and it would be up and working again soon.
I checked again on Sunday...still doesn't work. Some nice Italian lady tells me why in a message I can't understand every time I try to dial out. Monday - still not working. I decide it must be that I have not paid my bill.
People warned us about this when we arrived. The "quaintness" of Europe and Northern Italy. Quaint is a euphamism for "beyond belief." You see what has happened is that my phone service was turned on in Jan. and sometime after that a "bill" was created. I say bill, but I really mean an arbitrary line the telecom italia phone company drew saying ok he needs to pay us. Rumor has it they actually send out bills, in paper, by a mailman. I've seen mailmen out and about, but I've never actually received mail at the house since we moved here in early December. Ok that's not completely true. One day the mailman delivered mail to our house that belonged to the business next door. A second time I found "un-addressed" mail from the local recycle program...you know the annoying mail that would go to every address regardless of who lives there (route-sort style). It was a message about where to get new bio-degradable bags and where to drop off your used cooking oils (I'm not convinced that wasn't placed in the mailbox by the trash/recycle people). But I'm digressing. No real mail for me in the Italian system since I've been here (4+months).
I ask my friends at the cell phone store on base (becuase somehow they get the joyous task of being my middle man for telecom italia - I'm sure with no payment for being the middleman). They call someone and then hand me a sticky note saying my bill is due and please go pay it. Of course...it's quiant here.
I ask the gentlemen how I might pay the bill. He suggests I go to the bank or post office (yeah like the Post Office really exists) and tell them I need to pay my bill. The very official looking white sticky-note with a funny design/grid on one side will serve as my notice. $173.50 euro. ($249 for those of you who don't know the current exchange rates). I ask again...how I pay the bill. He mentions you just tell the bank you want to pay telecom italia and they will do it. I've learned not to question advice like this. Go with it, it's quaint.
I go to my "local" bank. It's really an american bank disguised as some military international bank on base. The bank worker tells me they do this all the time (payments without a real bill and confused american customers). I ask if I am suppsoed to get a bill. She responds yes, but I realize her logic train is not making all the stops before it's final destination. I excuse her because she grew up in the quaintness. I get a printed receipt and head back to the cell phone store, you know because the mobile phone store is somehow motivated by making sure my home phone works so I don't need to pay for a cell phone? Quaint.
I hand the BX mini-mall cell phone person my receipt for a "paid bill", I keep the sticky. She glances at it and rolls her eyes. Not because of the hassle but because I'm using the fake local bank. I resist the urge to go all IG on her, and just ask "is that a problem?" She says no it will just take longer. I ask for a better suggestion, and she recommends the other local bank on base with a more italian name. They will go quicker she says. I mention I do not have an account at that bank and they would not be interested in helping me. She comes back and says no they will pay your sticky, errr I mean bill for 7 Euro fee. That's hardly a deal. Did I mention my bank only charges me $2 fee to pay my sticky. She then suggests I go downtown to the local Tobaco store. In Italy Tobaco is more regulated by the government than in US. It's kind of like Liquor stores at rest stops on the interstate in New Hampshire. Somehow they think it helps to limit who can sell tobaco and regulate the taxes and business. Apparently the large blue T for tobacco store (pronounced Tabachi) also stands for Telephone (that's not really true, just trying to be sarcastic and bitter). She says you can pay your bill direct to Telecom Italia in that store. No middle man (except the Tobacco guy...but I don't bring that up). I ask if they accept credit cards...no she says, they take cash only and slightly smiles. Quaint.
Just to be clear I have no idea what I am really being charged for or what I paid for...Good Gravy.
There's a reason they fell from being the rulers of the world a few centuries ago.