The Italian traffic

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In Italy traffic is mostly chaotic. The further south you go more chaotic traffic is. In fact, I live here in the Northern Italy and in the beginning the local driving style scared me even if the Italians claim that here the traffic is calm and people drive in an organized manner. Sometimes it seems that the road signs are only decorations at the roadside. For example, speed limits, from our village to Como the speed limit of 50 km/h is valid for most of the way. Rarely, however, I drive 50 km/h, the average speed is usually a 60-70 km/h depending on the traffic. Today, it is almost annoying, if someone drives in accordance with the speed limits. Usually, these law-abiding drivers, are older women driving an old Fiat Panda. In many motorways in Italy there is the Safety Tutor  system, i.e. the system measures the average speed of a car within a certain range. With this system, speeds have dropped and rarely nowadays, it happens that in a few seconds a Ferrari blinking lights appears from nowhere behind you.

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Urban traffic is, let’s say, interesting. In every intersection, there are several cars side by side, regardless of the number of traffic lanes. Generally, as many cars as fit, and then surprisingly these cars proceed their they in harmony in different directions. Traffic circles, have become very popular in recent years and there the Italians have their own rules. The most important is to use indicators so that you indicate “inward”, i.e. in the direction of rotation, as otherwise there is a risk of getting hit by somebody that is entering the traffic circle. I have seen the police forces use the indicators this way. Very rarely I have seen someone using the indicators so that they indicate when leaving the traffic circle. You can stop the car in practice everywhere for a brief time if you put your blinkers on. Once in one of the main roads in Como a car had stopped near the intersection with the blinkers on, as a result traffic got jammed because instead of 4 lanes there were suddenly only three lines available without any warning. But no one used the horn, because this car was obviously stopped only temporarily. The traffic is very flexible and aggressive here.

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Traffic control here is almost non-existent. Only the Safety Tutor system in motorways and in recent years in urban areas several speed control cameras have been installed. As a result, people are speeding, but when there is a speed control camera they drop the speed to 30 km/h (even though the limit is 50 km/h), and immediately after the camera they speed up again. I’ve lived here for 17 years and I have never been test for alcohol. Sometimes in the evening, there are these controls, but I have never been stopped. Here in our small village after the many diverse types of village celebrations the police could catch several drunken drivers, but I have never seen any controls after these celebrations. Old men sit in the mornings at the bar and drink several glasses of white wine and then they drive home for lunch. No police control ever. On the other hand, in Italy, today we have very tough penalties for drunk driving. If a certain limit is exceeded, the driver loses the car to the state and driver’s license is confiscated. In Italy, in the driving license there are a certain number of points, and the various offences reduce this number of these points. If the score will go to zero, you must participate in special “recovery” courses to gain some points.

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Every now and then I have got stopped and the car papers have been checked. Near the Swiss border there is quite often the Guardia di Finanza (financial police) executing some controls. However, once I was stopped and the police was so excited to find out that I’m Finnish that they didn’t stop a truck that came across the border illegally, because that border is not for commercial traffic. They preferred to talk about Finland and how one of them had been there 20 years ago. Many years ago, local police stopped me twice within a week. The second time I was in a hurry to pick up the children from school, so I said that he stopped me a week ago and still I was the same Finnish lady, but now I was in hurry to pick up the children. He kindly told me to continue the journey and stopped the traffic so that I could continue my way immediately. In Italy, there is always a human aspect, also in traffic control.

 

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What has happened to the Italian public sector?

Traditionally every Italian thinks that the public sector is a pure disaster. Therefore, every time I’m prepared to get a nervous breakdown when I must deal with the public sector. I was extremely surprised when I noticed that in several occasions I got very good service from public servants. This is exceptional, because the Italian public servants think that they are something divine and can act like small dictators.

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Finally, we decided to change our Finnish driver’s licenses to the Italian ones. First, we went to the local office to ask what we must do. There was a very friendly man that explained everything and then in the end asked if we were doctors. He said that he thought all the Finns here are doctors. After we had purchased all the possible documents and took them back to this same office again there was another friendly man. He checked everything and then said how long it will take to get the new ones. After about one month I tried to call the number he gave, but no answer. Then I found his work e-mail and thought that I can always send a mail, but as usual he won’t answer. In less than two hours he answered that our new driver’s licenses were not ready yet. Then I mailed again after a couple of weeks and again he answered almost immediately and this time he said that we can come and pick our new driver’s licenses.

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Another experience I had with my son. He was supposed to have a medical check-up and I knew that for these specific check-ups there are long queues. But this time I acted like an Italian. I knew that there works a doctor to do these check-ups that I know, not very well. When I phoned to get an appointment, I mentioned that I would like this specific doctor to do the check-up. Immediately the lady was extremely friendly and I got the appointment for the next day. When the doctor asked one certificate and I had to make another appointment. I sent an email, because I didn’t have time to try to call ten times. This time the lady called me to make an appointment. Extremely good service according to me.

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Here in Italy there have been some meningitis cases. I sent an e-mail to ask if my kids need a vaccination. They answered the next day and said that they will contact me later to make an appointment. The queue is about 3 months, so now I’m waiting for an appointment.

 

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Culture shock

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I was talking with some of my son’s teachers. For my great surprise some teachers made me some really weird questions, like “Why did you move to Italy?” Actually this question didn’t bother me, just a silly question according to me, because it is none of their business why our family decided to move here. Anyway, then they asked why we chose the previous school and why we changed the school. My son went to a private school still last year, but this year we moved him to a public school for personal reasons. This question together with some other comments opened my eyes.

surprised.pngIn the public schools there are teachers that consider private schools as a places where rich parents put their kids to pass the school without studying. This is the problem here in Italy. I have always thought (before time here in Italy) that private schools offer excellent education and that students are followed more personally, because parents pay usually quite high sums for those schools. This is probably the situation in other countries, but not here in Italy. Here many, not all, private schools let students pass the exams very easily and the preparation is often below standard.

scuola.jpegAs a result some of the new teachers thought that my son is one of those lazy, rich students that has never studied, because he came from the private school. I explained very clearly that unfortunately there are no this kind of public school near us, so that I could have sent my son. Now my son is big and in the mornings I take him to the train station and he takes the train. But 5 years ago I didn’t feel letting him take a train, because some mornings train might be late one hour or doesn’t come at all. Now you wonder why I take a big boy to the station, the answer is that there are no buses going to the station from our village. Once he came home with train and bus, it took 2 hours. Therefore I’m working as a mamataxi also this year.

cultureshock.jpgYears ago we foreigners made a decision about the school without knowing the reputation of private schools in this country. Now after all these years I pop in to these attitudes and somehow I feel that the teachers can never understand that we didn’t choose the private school for the same reasons as many Italians do. There will always be kind of cultural gap between me and the Italians. I act as I have learned and been socialized to do, but it is not always the same way the Italians do. Still I’m judged based on the Italian way of doing things.

ita-fin.pngPerhaps the hardest thing being a foreigner in any country is that you will always be a foreigner – your way of thinking, acting is the foreign way, not the local.

Inefficiency

Italy.jpgI know that in Italy things don’t work always, but I guess it is difficult to exceed the inefficiency of an Italian school. In the mid July I contacted the new school of my son and asked for a certification of enrollment. They told me to send an email and that they would call after a couple of days when the certificate would be ready. I waited a week and called the school. They hadn’t seen the email –  they obviously don’t use email. During the call this lady at school found the mail and told me that they would call me when the certificate is ready.

segreteria.jpgI called the school again after a week of silence. Unfortunately the person I had talked earlier was on vacation and the other lady couldn’t do anything. Again I was asked to call when the other lady returns to work. Just a couple of days before we left for vacation I called the school. The lady in question didn’t know anything. So, I decided I will call again in the end of August when the school might be open again.

segreteria2.jpgLast week I called once again the school. The lady couldn’t do anything because the other lady was on vacation and strangely the other lady happened to be the person in charge of these kind of services. Therefore I called this morning again. I had to spell the last name 4 times, explain 3 times that my son didn’t go that school last year. The result was that the lady couldn’t find the papers of my son and asked me to call again tomorrow. So, tomorrow I will again call the school.

surprised.pngI just can’t understand what the problem is. I’m sure they have ready modules to fill in and just print them. They have all the information of students there – or at least I hope so. I just have to think about this incident as a new experience in a country that always surprises me – in a positive or in a negative way. However, I have to admit that today I had big problems to stay calm and friendly. Let’s see what happens tomorrow. Unfortunately these kind of experiences are not rare in Italy. Either everything happens smoothly or like in this case things just get stuck and don’t proceed. As an individual you can’t do anything, you just have to be patient and pray that something happens in future and you get your problem solved.

 

 

The Italian way of eating

aaa.jpgThe Italians I know are mostly persons without weight problems. Also, according to some studies Italians are slender compared to other nations in Europe. When I`m writing this it is Easter Sunday and the Italians are getting ready for Easter lunch. I have had an opportunity to participate in several Easter lunches and after a couple of lunches I don´t want to eat anymore any Italian Easter lunches. 

happy.jpgA typical lunch begins with an aperitivo and some stuzzichini. After this guests get seated around the tables and the real eating begins. First one gets served several antipasti, and I mean several. There might be about 10-15 different antipasti. Some are vegetarian, or something with meet, or with seafood etc. I personally love this prelude phase, but the problem is that this is only a prelude. The real symphony is still ahead.

 
primi-piatti-facili-e-veloci.jpgAfter these wonderful, delicious antipasti it is time to have some primi piatti. Primo is traditionally some pasta or a portion of risotto. Sometimes there are several kinds of pasta. At this moment I´m exploding and can´t think about eating anything more. Naturally, while eating you accompany all these delicious dishes with a good wine. Therefore, I usually start to feel dizzy at this stage.
According to me, a normal person can´t eat anymore, but the Italians can.

 

Now it Spiedini-di-Calamari-e-Gamberi.jpgis time to taste some delicious secondi piatti. It can be meat or fish or vegetarian. Then you have contorni with these meals, usually vegetables or French fries. Naturally you drink some delicious wine with your secondo piatto.

 

 

Hotiramisu.jpegwever the symphony is not over yet. To crown the lunch there are dolci. The desserts here in Italy are fantastic. Just to think about tiramisu, panna cotta, profiterol, gelato or a variety of pasticcini.

 

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How the Italians can eat all this will always remain a mystery for me. The same thing happens at Christmas lunch. These lunches take a whole day, however there are pauses, but still it is a huge amount of food they eat during these lunches. Still Italians are mostly slender , so I can only admit that I envy them and their ability to eat too much without being fat. Lucky Italians.

Call centers

angry client_ccThe call centers are sometimes really irritating. Just when you are working and concentrated a phone rings and you answer without watching the number. Then it starts: “Hello, are you Mavi, I’m Rita and I would like to know what company is you electricity supplier for the moment? Could you tell me the sum of your last bill? What is your average daily consumption?” At this point I usually answer that I have no idea and I don’t have time to search old bills and then I just interrupt the call. I know thy are people that are just doing their job and they have to make deals to earn money. But if I’m looking for a new electricity supplier the first thing I do is to check on the Internet.

CC2In the worst cases these call centers have tried to sell something to children. Then there are persons that call you and when you answer they interrupt the call –  they get paid on the basis of number of calls. This according to me is so rude that I block the number immediately. We have a pay tv at home and this company calls me regularly. Usually they offer football channels, because we don’t have them included in our package. Well, I always tell them that no one is interested in football and they remain silent. In Italy it is not possible that exists a family where nobody is interested in football – well, may be there isn’t such a family, not even ours.
cth14I often wonder how efficient this kind of telemarketing actually is. Personally I usually get irritated when somebody starts selling a product that I’m not interested in and the person keeps on selling after my first “no thanks”. I have never bought anything from telemarketing, once I was lured to change the telephone operator and later I heard that I wasn’t the only one.

queue-priorityOften when we contact a bigger company we talk to a call center. For example my Internet provider has a call center. They are always very kind and they never find any problems with their lines even if I’m without an ADSL line for the moment. But strangely immediately after the call my ADSL starts to work –  but the problem naturally was in my equipment that in a magic way got repaired just in that moment when I phoned the call center. It is wonderful to have some magic in this world. Then there are call centers that never answer. A couple of weeks ago at Como there was a bigger blackout that lasted several hours. When people tried to contact the electricity supplier nobody answered, so people called fire fighters to get some help. How many times I have called a call center and then I have listened 10 minutes some old pop song that is interrupted by a gentile voice that recommends to stay on line for not loosing the priority in the queue. Usually I get enough in 3 minutes and I close the phone. Once I remember I had to talk to an operator and I waited over 45 minutes. For some strange reason I haven’t used their services after that experience.

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The corruption

corruzione.jpgItaly is known for mafia – the word mafia is an Italian word. Also la cucina italiana (Italian cuisine) is well-known and everybody knows pizza. Then maybe (hopefully) a little bit less known fact is that Italy is a very badly corrupted country. Every year Transparency International publishes the corruption perception index. Italy’s rank is 61!!! Finland is the second least corrupted country. Ten days ago Guardia di Finanza (Financial Guard) arrested the responsible of the healthcare system in Lombardy. Yesterday MIUR (Ministry of Education, University and Research) made a blitz to some private schools due to some irregularities.

Cecenia-a-scuola-di-corruzione_large.jpgI’m extremely surprised to read that here in Italy and in this case in Lombardy there are private schools that promise to pass the students from matriculation examination if parents pay a nice sum of money. In some schools students didn’t even go to school, but despite of their absence teachers marked them as present at school. Teachers gave positive votes automatically. This all functioned, because some families were ready to pay tangenti (bribes) to secure that their child got through the school and received a diploma. As a foreigner I’m still shocked about this –  especially because one school involved in this scandal, is the school that I know pretty well.  Once again I feel that I will never learn to understand this country and the Italian mentality, maybe my handicap is being grown up in the Finnish culture.

wpid-guardia-di-finanza6.jpgThen about 10 days ago Guardia di Finanza arrested some important politicians here in Lombardy. I also learnt that one of them lives here in our neighborhood.  In this case some politicians helped their friends win some call for tenders and naturally then the politicians got some benefit from these arrangements. There was one society that won always the call for tenders in orthodontics. The police intercepted phone calls where responsible persons mentioned that the material they used was of inferior quality. They created fake waiting lists in the public healthcare system and advised patients to use the private sector.

vernazza1.jpgItaly is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, Italian wines are fantastic, la cucina italiana world famous. Therefore I wonder why they want to ruin this country. There must be some historical roots in this corruption culture and I’m afraid we have to go as far as the Roman empire to find the roots. In the normal life one doesn’t see corruption or mafia (at least here in the Northern Italy). Nobody wants to corrupt me and I don’t even know how the corruption works in practice. Unfortunately after all these corruption news, I wonder should I move to another country, can I accept that corruption is widely accepted and considered as something normal. On the other hand I love this country and I don’t want to move away, but there is always this but in my mind.