Wednesday, May 03, 2006


The worst thing about Modica has got to be the Post Office. Just the thought of the place raises my blood pressure and it takes me a long time to calm down after a visit. Many writers on Italy mention the slowness of Italian post offices in general and travellers constantly complain. But even they have never experienced the Post Office here!

I am now thinking of the Post Office in the "Sorda" district; the other one, in Modica Bassa, is, in my experience, worse. I swear they have deliberately slowed down the computer system in there! When I was in the temporary accommodation down there I began to understand why people start queueing outside before 8 am and use their elbows to push their way in once it opens.

Here in the "Sorda" the average queueing time to do something simple like post a letter to the UK is 40 minutes, I have found. [And the Post Office is one of the few places where Italians do queue, by the way.]

When I first moved into the flat I had a batch of change of address cards to send to Britain, all of which I had addressed properly, remembering to put my own address on the back, and had attached pretty animal stickers to the envelopes. I was told, after an endless wait in the heat, that I couldn't post them because the envelopes were the wrong size! [They were about a millimetre bigger than the template the clerk had to measure them by.] I said, "But can't I just pay more and post them anyway?" "Impossible", was the reply. So I had to bring them back, discard the envelopes and distinctive stickers and re-address them all in "standard" -sized envelopes. This is ridiculous! We are talking about posting cards within the EU!!

If you are there to pay a bill it is usually just as bad. People just fling their hands in the air and utter, "Pazienza" to each other.

One of the things that slows the system down is that people queue-jump to ask for a form or information - while the clerk is attending to someone else! It amazes me that they stop what they are doing to deal with the query and if they do it many times a day, which they do, then how many minutes do they lose when they could be getting the queue down by helping the customers who have been waiting? And why can't the forms be freely on display, organised and labelled?

There are seven counters: three "prodotti postali" [for posting letters and parcels], two "prodotti banco posta" [for bill-paying, etc.], one for "business" [for which you have to have a card] and one for clients who have a Post Office account. The trouble is, only one of the "prodotti postali" and one of the "prodotti banco posta" counters are staffed at a time. Sometimes, if business is slack at the "business" counter, the lady there will yell "Prego!" and take some customers from the "banco posta" queue - usually the nimblest ones who can get over, under, or around the barrier quickest!

Once, I thought there was going to be a full-scale riot: there was a queue stretching beyond the door for the "banco posta" and a young couple wanted to open a Post Office account. So what did the clerk do? - He left his counter to deal with them in another area - which took ages - and nobody came to replace him! People then started going to "Mrs Prego's" counter and all was well until a group of business clients came in and claimed, fairly, that they had priority for the use of that counter! Shouting and arguing began in earnest; I was just thinking "Great - they deserve this", as I'd have enjoyed a good riot and have often thought of starting one myself there when, finally, another clerk did appear; so everyone just fell back into line and started saying "Pazienza" again.

I will say that once you do actually get served the clerks are helpful [apart from that one time with the cards] but please, Mr-Mayor-of-Modica [to whom I vow daily to write], can't you arrange a training trip to a UK main post office for the beleaguered staff in there?

Postal deliveries, at least in my street, are a different matter altogether, you'll be glad to know! We have got the Michela Schumaker of Poste Italiane as a postwoman and why Ferrari have not signed her up I do not know: she spurns the motorbikes that the other postini use and comes in her car, zooming up the street every morning, literally running from block to block with her deliveries and then she reverses down the road at breakneck speed. How she remembers who lives where is a mystery to me, as there are several houses and apartment blocks, all with the same number, but she does! She is also nice and kind and was very concerned to explain to me exactly where I had to go to pick up a parcel when I first arrived - not the above-mentioned dreaded branch of the Post Office!

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