Living in Italy can be a Kafka-esque experience. It’s not a new observation, indeed it’s something that Tobias Jones alludes to a lot in his highly enjoyable extended op-ed book The Dark Heart of Italy. But we’ve been having such fun (*gritted teeth*), here are a few more first-hand experiences of Italy’s apparent love for the Catch-22 scenario.
My favourite has to be Fran going to collect an ID card at FAO – the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation that her organisation, Bioversity, has a relationship with. (They’re not part of FAO, but FAO can be considered the mothership.) So Fran has to go to the FAO offices, an impressive modernist block near the Circo Massimo that used to be the Department of Italian East Africa.
“Hello, I’m here to collect my ID card,” says Fran. “OK, ID per favore,” replieth the security guard, or words to that effect. See where I’m going with this? It brings to mind the scenes in Terry Gilliam’s masterpiece Brazil with Rene from ‘Allo ‘Allo (Gordon Kaye) manning the desk of the Ministry of Information, confounding the enquiries of Jill (Kim Greist).
My least favourite has been going on for the past three months, but nearly caused us both to have nervous breakdowns yesterday through sheer exasperation.
Three months ago we ordered internet for our flat; while we wait, we’re relying on dongles. This isn’t great, as it’s expensive and the data is limited, hence we’ve not been able to enjoy such basics of modern life as BBC 6Music and Skyping family and friends, something we’d really like to be able to do at Christmas, per favore.
A couple of weeks, a guy from Telecom Italia – which still own the infrastructure, despite deregulation – came to check the line. The ironically named Fastweb, which we’d opted to order broadband through, had been suggesting that the hold-up was due to Telecom Italia, so this gave us hope.
After our umpteenth schlep to a Fastweb shop, and our umpteenth instance of the same absurd scenario where we asked for an update, and a sales assistant tapped away at their computer for 10 minutes, then said “OK, someone will call you to arrange an appointment” (rather than them actually arranging the appointment there and then; they can’t, apparently as it’s a different department), we finally got a call, and a time and date for one their technicians to come with our router. We thought, “Yay, we’re on the home straight.” We naively hoped this might mean line activation. We also, naively, hoped they might actually turn up on the appointed day. I can cope with an hour or two late, as long as they actually just arrive.
Fran had even arranged to work from home, so she was available to discuss the situation with the tecnico, as my Italian is too rubbish in the inevitable event of complicated explanations (like a plumber explaining to me why our bathroom radiator doesn’t work, but that’s another, tedious, story).
Now, sure it’s unprofessional and just plain rude for the tecnico to neither turn up or contact us to tell us why s/he couldn’t turn up, but it wasn’t entirely unexpected. There had, for starters, been an enormous storm the night before, as Rome has a tendency to grind to a semi-halt after a bit of heavy rain.
And, to be fair to Italy, getting broadband, or indeed, any telecoms sorted in Britain isn’t ever straightforward either. Indeed, British telecommunications companies are notoriously bad at basic communications. BT can, for example spam you with gratuitous promotional junk mail, but try calling them, and you’d be lucky to get away with 15 minutes of expensive hold followed by a garbled conversation to someone in a call centre in India. But at least you could, in principle, call them.
Yesterday, as the late arrival looked more and more like a no-show, Fran tried to call Fastweb. Or as we call them, Slowweb, or Noweb. Ho ho. Grrr.
The problem was that the 192 192, or 193 193 or whatever number she’d been given didn’t work from her mobile with an Italian SIM, her mobile with a UK SIM, or my mobile with a UK SIM. So she called another number. And they gave her another, normal, number. Which didn’t work. So she called another number. And got another number. Which, even did give her some automated menu options but not the option she actually needed. Now, in such cases, you’d think that holding would give you a human, eventually. But oh no.
So basically we had another telecoms company where we couldn’t actually communicate with the department we needed to reach, and where the people we could reach couldn’t even connect us.
Maybe we could call them if we had a land line. But we need them to activate our land line first. My head hurts.