Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Going postal ... again

I started writing this post a couple of days ago, but I had to stop, because there was this loud ringing in my ears. It must have been my blood pressure soaring into the stratosphere with such speed that it rendered a high-pitched resonance, making rational thought a lost cause.

The ringing's now gone, and thinking has now lost the certifiable edge that prompted my early misgivings, so I can get on with it.

It's the Italian postal service. Again. Or perhaps more precisely, it's the misnamed mail/package delivery industry at large, this time in the (dis)guise of UPS, who, after this episode, I might take to referring to as UPyourS.

Now I never had a problem with UPS in the USA, but it seems once a piece of mail floats into Italian air space, it changes composition. Packages are condemned to dark corners because, well, I'm not really sure why, although this most recent episode did offer a hint.

To tell the truth, my envelope wasn't ignored, it was simply maltreated - one glance at the address, quite obviously out in the country, and it was labelled as undeliverable because it didn't have a valid street address. Now our big red letterbox with its official municipal plaque, not to mention the official cadastral record, would clearly beg to differ. But official records be damned, what did they do? Mark it for return to sender. They simply didn't want to have to drive all the way out to our place, a mere 10 minutes from the nearest town.

A desperate phone call to the HQ in Milan, and things were rectified. Our error (yes, ours)? No phone number on the address label. Now duly supplied, they called to get us to drive into town to pick it up. My wife (who took the call) refused: "This is your job. You are paid to deliver it to our door." Still they resisted: "It's out in the country." "So what? It's your job." Eventually - in the interests of actually getting our hands on said package - a compromise was reached: drop it off at the local store, about 1km from our home. In the end, the store owner, who we obviously know, brought it to our house, in spite of our protestations that we'd pick it up.

When you relate the story to locals, in a rising crescendo, all you get in response are sympathetic smiles, but no surprise: "This is how it is". We've been through it before: falsified delivery attempts ... mis-transcribed telephone numbers when they stick their own labels over the carefully-written number ... tracking numbers that change when they enter Italian postal space ... and parcels that disappear into the ether of post office neverland. And whenever we transgress the most important rule of Italian addresses, we get burned - there is only necessary piece of information necessary on an Italian address: the phone number.

But I still can't help myself, and I get upset. I know this is the ultimate test of integration into the culture here - accept it, it's not going to change, and because of this, it serves no purpose to get upset.

As almost every book on Italians written by Italians will tell you, there are no set rules in Italy - everyone has their own set, and they believe in them unquestioningly. Nothing is set in stone either - last week's rules are just that: last week's rules. This week things are different.

Things work the way they work, not the way you think they ought to. And if someone follows a different set of rules from your own, you need to change yours to accommodate them. In some perverse way, I guess this is why we came to this country - to become more tolerant, accepting, and calm about everything. If only we'd known...