Friday, March 23, 2007


Looking back at the week's posts, it occurs to me that I have been rather grumpy and it's nearly a week since I posted a food picture! I haven't even been down to Eurochocolate, as the cold, damp weather has caused a flare-up of my arthritis. [I will try and get to the festival tomorrow or Sunday.]

Thinking again about the bureaucracy that has irritated me this week, I never cease to marvel at the Italians' ability to put up with the waiting, form-filling and literal rubber-stamping that accompanies every single transaction, not to mention their tolerance of inefficiency! The different attitudes that the Italians and the British have regarding this is perhaps best summed up by a conversation I had with friend Irma about that persistent bugbear of mine, the post office: "Oh, I go back at siesta time if the queue is long", said Irma. Apart from the fact that going back later, without a car, to an area of the town in which I have no other errands to do would be very inconvenient for me, my instinctive reaction is that it is not for me to go back when the queue is shorter, but for the post office, as a public service, to operate efficiently whenever it is open.

Yet it is this very patience and forbearance, along with attention to detail, which make Italy the country it is: Little shops survive because Italians have the patience to go to them and maybe the many pleasant courtesies that you exchange as you carry out your day to day business come about precisely because you just have to talk and ask questions during all the long transactions! Anything you buy will be gift-wrapped for you free of charge upon request and this practice continues because Italians care about detail and are willing to wait while it is done. [It can often take a very long time, as the shop assistants are fussy about the finished look of their packages; I have often seen them decide that one is not pretty enough and start all over again!] Would we in Britain, at Christmas, say, be prepared to wait while the parcels are wrapped, over and over again, at shop after shop? I doubt it, with our frenetic lifestyles.

I just wanted to end the week by reiterating that I happen to love this fascinating, beautiful and often exasperating country!


Anonymous said...

as a man who is the world's worst gift-wrapper I think this is a fab idea. I clearly wasn't paying enough attention when Brucie's 'Generation Game' was challenging contestants to 'Wrap a Rocker' [chair, not dancer].

I agree the delays and bureaucracy must be frustrating, but we throw the baby out with the bathwater. Fewer queues at the bank, but if you need to phone them up at the branch - well you can give up on that idea.

In many cities [places like Bath and other Roman towns are an honourable exception] arcades and little shops have been replaced by a homogeneous monoculture of big chain stores with no character.

And if one is living in a rural area the post office queues have been removed - by closing them !

I notice that some towns fight back by trying to adopt the Italian 'Cittaslow' state of slow food town - like Llandeilo in Wales. Though it is taking them some time to be accredited...oh the irony, but then Rome style slow food wasn't built in a day...

We only have ourselves to blame- if we say 'Oh, these old shops are so lovely' but don't spend our dosh there, or go to bloody Tesco then as the old saying [so true of much in life] goes 'Use it, or lose it!'

Lee said...

It's difficult to learn patience in such things, particularly after one has led a frenetic existence. I understand completely. I hate queuing and try to escape from queues whenever I come upon them. Sometimes it's impossible to do and each day I'm getting better at it! I always set up a plan when I go out to shop and hate back-tracking or having to make a couple of trips...and I I would be far worse if I had to walk to the shops! Luckily, up here on the mountain it still has a "village" atmosphere so it's not too bad at all...but down on the Gold Coast...forget it! That's why I hate going down there and do so very rarely. I think I'm spoiled now after spending time here on the mountain and some of the other small areas I've been in...and of course, living on the islands.

jmb said...

It is amazing to me that Italians accept this huge bureaucracy as if it is the norm and there is nothing to be done about it. Their willingness to accept it perpetuates it and they are not really the most patient people in the world.
Also in this day and age when almost all women work outside the home, how can they afford this time.
I think it must be because they have such a sense of tradition that they put up with it. This is the way it has always been, therefore it must continue to be so.
Have you ever read Tim Parks books, Italian Neighbours and Italian Education? If you don't know him, he's a British author who married an Italian and lives in Verona. These two books are an hilarious look at Italian mores from the Englishman's point of view. His novels are good too.
Not sure if I sent this twice, sorry

James Higham said...

I know what you mean by grumpy. You had that situation, I had a group of people not turn up after I'd gone to the centre specifically to see them. The grey skies don't help. Things will get better - let's believe this.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hello, anon. Oh, yes, it's a fab idea - you just have to be prepared to wait while they do it! I still sometimes forget that they will do it and then curse myself because I'm not artistic at gift-wrapping! I remember those Brucie programmes! Phoning a bank or somewhere drives me crazy - I want to speak to a person, not a machine and I don't want to be told how keying in my details will make it quicker because it doesn't! But believe me, anon, you haven't lived till you've tried phoning telecomitalia when the internet connection goes down! Ital friends are always asking me why we have the "same" shops in every city in Britain! I miss chain stores for some things, though. I agree with you about Bath - it does have shops of individual character and it's one of my favourite cities in Britain."Use it or lose it" - you are right! Hi, Lee. Well, I try to plan but you can never tell how long you'll have to wait here! And, of course, in shops people don't queue so you've got to be quick off the mark if you think you're next! You do, indeed, seem to be lucky where you live. jmb, I agree completely: I want to scream sometimes that it doesn't have to be so slow! I think it's also because a lot of Italians - and Sicilians in particular- don't travel abroad much if at all [because they would say they have everything here and in a way they do!] so they don't realise there are more efficient ways of carrying out their attractions. I do know of Tim Parks and like his writing very much. He is very funny about "residenza" permits!
Hi, James. that must have been infuriating for you. I hate it when people are as inconsiderate as that. As you say, grey skies don't help. I can't stand being cold as it sets off all sorts of aches and pains and I broke my glasses too! Oh, well - an excuse to get a more fashionable pair!

Anonymous said...

Welshcakes - your reference to the internet / phone company telecomitalia reminded me of that other utility company in Italy which rejoiced in the handle 'powergenitalia'..!!

Talking of black lacy underwear, I was at the theatre today seeing 'A chaste maid in Cheapside'.

Loads of heaving bosoms, fishnet stockings, corsets and revealing skirts..and that was just the men!

How they coped with learning to walk down stairs in high heels I wouldn't like to guess...

Although I think you would have been very amused by a scene in which a 'Welsh Lady' [yes, the full costume, including the stovepipe hat..] seduces a young man who had been rather shy up to that point..

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

That seems to have been an entertaining show you saw, anon! I'm a "Lucy" fan; did you ever see the episode where she gets a part as a dancer in a film and has to walk downstairs in high heels and heavy headress? The video still makes me laugh.

Anne in Oxfordshire said...

I am really thrilled when I go to small shops where they pay attention to detail..not that many in Britain. Over here it is all rush rush rush. What about the customer. Sometimes (mostly) they don;t give us the time of day. And a lot of our small shops have closed down. What a shame. Enjoy Sicily, wish I was there.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Hi, Anne. Yes, small shops have their charm but sometimes I long for a dept store where you could spend the whole day! [Not that I ever did - something to do with "greener grass".] I do appreciate where I am really!


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