Thursday, 24 March 2011

Fratelli d'Italia pt. 4

Bus timetable 1.43Image by marc e marc via FlickrI'm on a roll, and these ones shouldn't take me too long.
  • Banks - I often felt that in England, the banks were rather lacklustre in their customer service. I worked all week, and had the day off on Saturday. Why did they usually close early? So I wasn't too pleased to find that it's even worse here. They mostly seem to be open in the morning even on weekdays and I think some days they're just closed, like bars. Bloody skivers. One time I had a cheque to pay in, so I had to pop in before going to work; how rubbish is that? I seem to recall hearing that Italian bank charges are among the worst, if not the worst, in Europe. Service please.
  • Tobacconists - This one's not annoying, just intriguing. Where do you go to buy bus tickets? Why, the tobbaconist's of course. Silly me for not thinking of that.
  • Prices at bars - I was opining about this one at work the other day. You can never see the prices in Italian bars. They're legally required to display them I think, but basically they're usually "on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the Leopard'." What I don't get is why. Surely a bar with reasonable prices which advertised them better would get more customers. No?
  • Display of opening hours - It happens that since I made a note to write about this, I've seen a lot more opening hours, but still - quite a lot of the time you have to guess when shops/offices are going to open. For a native it's not too hard to guess, unless they're gratuitously unpredictable (and sometimes they are: mon-wed-fri in the morning and tue-thu in the afternoon with 2 hours on sat for special appointments, for example), but even then there's usually a margin of about an hour where you're not sure when you should go out. Is it too much like hard work to put a sign up?
  • Bus timetables - I'm a graduate. I find it hard to understand Italian bus timetables. They seem principally to be composed of a highly detailed grid of exceptions (not on holiday, mon-fri only, mon-sat only, only during term time, not from june-august). There's very little regularity, so every stop has an individual entry (not like the summary "every 1hr" kind of thing you get in Blighty), making the visual prospect quite daunting from the get go. They tend to be geared towards schoolchildren, so you have buses every 5 minutes in the morning and every once in a blue moon during the day. If you ask the little old ladies who populate Italian bus stops if they know what's going on, they'll tell you it's a mystery to them as well. No wonder everyone drives everywhere. I seem to remember that Thatcher woman justifying cuts in the public transport budget by suggesting that if you see a man on a bus over the age of 14, you're looking at a failure. Very Italian.
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Saturday, 19 March 2011

Feast of St. Joseph

from via Wikipedia
Today is the feast of St. Joseph, which means that it's Fathers' Day in Italy, so this is my first ever Fathers' Day - it's a nice feeling.

Luckily, none of the following will be expecting a card, but happy Fathers' Day to my Dad, my brother Adrian, who's also a new father, my brother-in-law Lorenzo, whose little girl turned 1 recently, my father-in-law Carlo, and me mate James, with his two wonderful little girls and a further wonderful child in the oven.

Unfortunately it's a day mixed with sadness in Offagna. A father of two little girls took his life tonight.

To you, O blessed Joseph,
do we come in our tribulation,
and having implored the help of your most holy spouse,
we confidently invoke your patronage also.
Through that charity which bound you
to the immaculate Virgin Mother of God
and through the paternal love
with which you embraced the Child Jesus,
we humbly beg you graciously to regard
the inheritance which Jesus Christ
has purchased by his Blood,
and with your power and strength
to aid us in our necessities.

O most watchful Guardian of the Holy Family,
defend the chosen children of Jesus Christ;
O most loving father,
ward off from us
every contagion of error and corrupting influence;
O our most mighty protector,
be propitious to us and from heaven assist us
in our struggle with the power of darkness;
and, as once you rescued the Child Jesus from deadly peril,
so now protect God’s Holy Church
from the snares of the enemy and from all adversity;
shield, too, each one of us by your constant protection,
so that, supported by your example and your aid,
we may be able to live piously, to die holily,
and to obtain eternal happiness in heaven. Amen.

(Ad te, beati Ioseph, an ancient prayer to St Joseph)
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Thursday, 17 March 2011

Fratelli d'Italia pt. 3 - 150 Year Anniversary Edition

Garibaldi comoImage via WikipediaToday, as fate would have it, marks 150 years of Italian unity. Hurrah! A lot of Italians aren't sure it's worth celebrating, but most people will be enjoying the day off to think about it. Anyway, it's nice timing for resurrecting my series on Italian quirks:
  • Extravagant waste - This would be another thing to do with Striscia. It's a funny sort of programme; does a little bit of lots of things. One of the things it does is a bit like Watchdog, but it doesn't limit itself to consumer affairs - it deals with dodgy affairs at a political level too. One of these is wasted public money. Local councils, regions or whatever, pay to develop schools, hospitals, parks, you name it, which are then instantly abandoned. It's not too hard to explain in itself, just common or garden corruption. What I don't understand is how no-one ends up in prison for it. It's clearly a crime people aren't particularly afraid to commit, because it keeps on cropping up on Striscia, but why on earth not? It might be a bit tricky to pursue the mafia, but local politicians have offices; they're in the phone book and everything. And then, it's spectacularly obvious. It's public money wasted in a gratuitously extravagant way - in bricks and concrete, and whatever one uses these days. I mean, short of building a Wasted Public Money Memorial Hospital and then driving through the streets in one of those van with loudspeakers shouting "I am pissing away your taxes!", I'm not quite sure what you'd have to do to get arrested around these parts.
  • Precarietà vs. Cushy Public Sector - I'm rewriting this one, apparently at a distance of 5 months from the first attempt! Here's a funny thing; in the world of work, Italy has two diametrically opposed problems at the same time. Monica tells me that part about the public sector is improving, but anyway. Chronologically, the first problem is that, apparently, public sector workers are practically impossible to fire. Perhaps this says more about employers not wanting to go through disciplinary procedures, but I couldn't tell you. Anyway, they can, by common consent, get away with murder and keep their job for life. Tim Parks told an amazing story about a woman who apparently clocked in at the office, left her coat on her chair and prosituted herself all day for years until someone decided to check what the hell she actually did. The other, more recent problem is precarietà ("precariousness"), the term that Italians use to indicate that someone is on a short term contract, like practically everyone in my office for example, and especially the young. The disastrous social effects of widespread precarietà are obvious, with workers struggling to find the stability that they need to settle down, something which helps to explain why the average Italian waits so long before marrying and having children. How the hell can a government not intervene in a matter like this? Anyway, not much use waiting for Berlusconi to do anything about it. He's too busy trying to save his wrinkly (no matter how hard he tries) skin.
  • Facebook - Now, seriously. Facebook is all well and good. I like Facebook; I use it. But it's not news. Something to do with an Italian love of gadgets I expect (apparently they're second only to us in wasting time on mobile phones), but every so often there's a story about Facebook on the news, about Berlusconi being annoyed about the groups that criticise him (thousands, obviously), groups that offend people with Downs syndrome, FB-based lobbying groups (as much of a waste of time here as anywhere else, I assure you). Then of course, every programme has a Facebook group, and one of our biggest clients insists on trying to do viral marketing through FB apps - trust me, it would take a seriously compromised immune system for that particular virus to take hold. Get a grip! Who gives a cazzo volante? It's only a chuffing website.
  • Strikes -  So... why do Italians strike? I fear the answer can only be because they like striking. I'm definitely in favour of the principle of worker solidarity and striking, and Italy, like us has a long history of socialism and collective action. But here it's so futile; it's devalued currency. I can only really see it as a day off. Apparently the bus drivers strike every year, to coincide with the new school year. But how did it get this way? What happened to the Italian left that they complain so much and achieve so little? Anyway, wiser heads than mine have been trying to answer that question for a loooooooong time.
  • Scusa, ma... - I like this one. If you were translate this literally, it would be "Excuse me, but...". The perfect starting point for a quintessentially British phrase right? Such as "Excuse me, but I appear to have become enveloped in flames. Unfortunately the pain is exquisite. Could I possibly borrow some of your water?" In Italian, it's quite another story; there's no apology going on, it's a popular way of preparing the interested party for criticism. To take it to the extreme (as it might be understood on television for example, in one of the many 'healthy' debates), you might translate it as "Pardon my frankness, but I'd like to explain why you're a moron...". It's not always so pronounced of course, but in any case, sorry doesn't always mean sorry. Quite often it's the prelude to a thorough takedown.
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