Post Office: Sono finiti i soldi! Out of Money!
by Stef Smulders
Our lanky North-European bodies, stuck out far above the crowd of grey Italian heads. We were standing in the queue in the BancoPosta, the Italian Post office. Well, if you could call it a queue. There were several queues weaving in and out, tangled like strands of spaghetti. We didn't mind, we were not in a hurry because we had already spent days trying to open a conto corrente, a current account. We wanted an account with cards and especially a chequebook, because cheques are indispensable if you want to buy a house in Italy. When buying a house, one is required to make a number of advance payments which go direct from the buyer to the seller without any involvement from a solicitor. And these advances can be as high as 20% of the buying price. In other words, an amount of money that you would rather not carry in cash on your person. At least we don't, but the vulnerable elderly people standing in front of us seemed to have less of an issue with this because the cashiers handed them piles of fifty-euro notes counted into neat little bundles. They didn't seem to worry that they could be knocked over the head outside the post office by some rogue thief wanting to rob them of their pensions, despite the fact that the local newspaper was full of reports about mugging and burglaries.
Today was the first day of the month, the day when pensions were paid. This was the reason for the long queues in the Post office. Pavia is in fact a town of students and pensioners. Pensioners find relative peace and quiet here, together with good facilities. The students are attracted by the university and colleges. There are also a large number of secondary schools tucked away among Pavia's numerous hidden little squares, and on Fridays one is regularly taken aback by hordes of school children pushing their way forward towards the train station - not unlike the rats of Hamelin - leaving the city for a weekend at home.
We had forgotten it was pension day, but now it was too late. We really had to open this account after several futile attempts at trying to get our hands on one. Our odyssey had begun a couple of days earlier, in a local branch of BancoPosta. There it soon became clear, however, that one can only open an account at the head office. The head office occupies an enormous building in the city centre, but all counter service had been moved temporarily into a portakabin next door because of large-scale refurbishment. In order to apply for an account, you had to go to the little back room of the chief administrator. There sat Maria, who very kindly helped us to fill in all our forms. Within a couple of days we could come back to get our cards as well as our assegni, cheque book. We should be able to withdraw cash immediately, as soon as we had transferred the funds into our brand new account. And we had already done that.
Now finally, today was D-Day! Our attempt to get to our Madonna of the Post office ended in failure: a frightful looking officer was now guarding the entry to her Holiness. Apparently others had also discovered this little short cut and it had become over-exploited. There was no escape from the spaghetti queues today. We were patient: our salvation was near. As the queue in front of us slowly diminished and we came enticingly near the customer services window, suddenly panic broke out behind the desk. Someone shouted: "Sono finiti i soldi! We are run out of money!?This caused some murmur amongst the pensioner folk. The post office staff made it quite clear that there was really no more cash left. A couple of those entitled turned to leave gloomily, whilst others still tried to argue. But when the cash registers are empty, even an emperor couldn't withdraw his pension. After this incident the queue moved unexpectedly fast, and soon it was our turn. We received our cards and the cheque book, but we would need to return for our cash in a couple of days, when they had replenished their supply.
(This is a chapter from the book "Living in Italy: the Real Deal - How to Survive the Good Life" by Dutch expat Stef Smulders. For a further sneak preview and reviews, pictures see http://italiaanse-toestanden.duepadroni.it/index-UK.html)