Friends of friends, a good way to get things done most any place in the world. But in Italy, it is pretty much the ONLY way to get things done. Research, planning, attention to detail and persistence have gotten us pretty far in daily life in the U.S. Italians, so we were told by one person, don’t really trust people they don’t know. So planning and detail won’t overcome that. Persistence, so we discovered, is actually viewed by the Italians as a bit offensive. I guess it is perceived as indicating they are not living up to our expectations. So here we must learn to deal with domani (tomorrow) and go with the flow. A real challenge for two control freaks but not totally unexpected.
Larry and I are not particularly religious but there have been times during this last year that we were sure some force was guiding us and clearing the way for this grand adventure. We seem to have an equivalent here in Italy which we call our “Italian Angel”, which seemed appropriate in this setting, and she has been working double-time since we arrived in Ascoli.
On our second business day in Italy our mission was to find where to obtain monthly bus passes. After a couple misses we were directed to a branch of the comune located on Piazza Arringo that handles some transportation issues. We enter and ask the first person we see if she speaks English. She refers us to a very pleasant gentleman, Mario, who doesn’t speak English either (but we discover later he lives upstairs from our landlord next door to us and is an expert adviser on local restaurants). He takes us to his boss, Cinzia, our first in-the-flesh Italian Angel, and we instantly hit it off. She speaks some English and understands much more and her attitude is “it’s good, we need the practice.” She explained that even though Italians must take two years of English in school, since there are few English speakers in Ascoli, they quickly loose their skills. When we told her we were settling in Ascoli she looked at us and asked the inevitable question “why?” When we told her because there were no American food chains here, she laughed. She explained that the amazement of the Ascoli that we are new residents is that they all dream of moving to Southern California so our choice to leave there seems unbelievable to them. It seems people everywhere take their home town for granted and with the recession, they see Ascoli as becoming less desirable every day.
Cinzia knew nothing about monthly bus passes, but immediately set about seeing how she could help us with more important issues. First, she and Mario took a list of local restaurants and marked what they thought were the best – priceless! Then we said we thought we needed to go to a post office to acquire the package to complete to submit for our permission to reside (permesso di soggiorno) but weren’t absolutely sure. She nodded and made a few phone calls and next thing we know Mario personally walks us over to the main post office and introduces us to the manager who hands us over to the clerk who has the paperwork we need. However, they have a take-a-number system so she indicates that we must take a number and wait our turn. We take a number and it immediately comes up, so we then return to the clerk and proceed – both of us smiling. Procedures must be followed!
The next day we return to the comune office to thank Cinzia for greasing the wheels on that task. Now we just had to figure out how to fill them out correctly as they were in Italian. We asked if she knew someone we could pay to help us. She makes another couple phone calls and then we had an appointment for Saturday with foundation that helps immigrant workers fill out their paperwork for free! (Still odd to think we’re immigrants.) During the conversation we had told her we would be looking for an apartment for the longer term. Cinzia again makes a few phone calls and on her lunch hour takes us to look at an apartment a friend of a friend has for rent. It was not what we were looking for but all this help is incredible! The next time we see her she has made us an appointment that afternoon with a real-estate agency (agenzia immobiliare) just down the street owned by a lovely woman named Cinzia (we will call her Cinzia V.) to help us find an apartment. (We only know 4 people in town and two of them are named Cinzia-what are the chances?) The way our new friend, Cinzia M., responds to our profuse thanks is, “life is very hard so we need to stick together and make easy what we can.” She has surely done that and we are grateful.
Backtracking to Tuesday afternoon, we go to the bank with the requested paperwork but they tell us they have not heard back from Rome yet so they took our phone number and said they would call us when they got the okay from Rome. Larry stops by on Wednesday afternoon and is given a you-really-are-being-a-pest look. So he decides to chill and give them the time that they need. Meanwhile Larry is fretting that something is wrong or they misunderstood what we wanted. Everything he had read said there should be no problem getting a non-resident account (although we’d pay higher fees), and when we got our green-card we could then convert it to a resident account. Patience, maybe tomorrow (domani).
Meanwhile it is Thursday and after two trips a day every day to the phone/internet store, we finally get our phones squared away but our internet box is still not in. We go to our afternoon appointment with Cinzia V. and, like Cinzia M. she understands more English than she speaks but makes a stellar effort with an Italian/English dictionary in hand. She and Larry somehow manage to communicate impressively by repeating or rephrasing their comments. We hit it off well from the get-go and she showed us an apartment that afternoon.
So by Friday afternoon we had domani’d ourselves through an entire work week and the only things we had accomplished were facilitated by our Italian Angel, Cinzia M. On Saturday we finally got our internet working and our permission paperwork filled out in Italian. Fortunately our list of friends is growing.