It would be naïve to say that there are no systems in Italy. It would be more accurate to say, there are few systems I understand in Italy. It took me three weeks to mail a package to my sister. I visited four different post offices in four villages and gave up after an hour each time.
A neighbor recently told me that when the wait got consistently too long in the town post office, they added a coffee and biscotti service instead of more post office employees. In all my post office attempts, I was the only one visibly in a hurry and visibly frustrated by the “lack” of systems. Of course there was a system, I just couldn’t crack the code.
The man at the window kept beckoning his friends who came in hours after me. There was a number system but it didn’t seem to hold a candle to “who you know.” I remember looking around during my final attempt and seeing people laughing, drinking coffee, talking, and lounging and I just wanted to scream, “HOW DO YOU MAIL A PACKAGE!”
Thankfully, my husband was up for the challenge. He decided to be first in line, before the post office even opened, to eliminate the number machine variable. The only way to do that is to be number 1! Even so, it was about relationships. The post master wanted to understand who he was, where he was living, what was he sending, why was he in Italy, when was he leaving and how he felt about Italy so far. It was not interrogating my husband at all. He genuinely wanted to know and understand and relate! Guess what? He and my husband are now on a first name basis. If Ron walks in, he is beckoned to the window because he took the time to crack the code.
The beauty about the difference in Italy versus many of the systems in place in the U.S. is that because they are based on relationships, the interactions are personal and meaningful. The kids received ski lessons with Fabio as their big Christmas present. We tried to email, to call and to check the internet for ski school information. All of those things would have given us the information we needed in the United States. Here, we got in the car, drove to the mountain and waited for someone who looked like a Fabio to ski down the hill. We then proceeded to attempt to communicate with our limited Italian and set up a time for the kids first lesson.
The result? Fabio is completely invested in the kids. He treats them to hot chocolate in the lodge and knows how to tease them lovingly, all in a foreign language. The men in the rental shop rub our daughter’s cheeks and help her tie her shoes after she turns her ski boots in. The staff behind the Nutella crêpe operation call the kids back if they can’t see over the counter and proceed to pile powdered sugar and dolce on top of their crepes until the kids smiles warm their antarctic cheeks.
The systems here seem to lack efficiency based on U.S. standards, BUT Italians don’t care about U.S. standards. Based on my limited knowledge, the criteria for success in Italy is about the quality of the interaction not the speed with which you are moved through. It is much harder to measure the value of human interaction, but it is something you can’t help but feel when you are in this remarkable country. Italy is my slow travel sage.