Sharp Monica

An honest voice in Italian paradise.

Rules and Systems

Italy loves it some administrative bureaucracy. A prominent feature of Italian life, at least for the expat, is the time and effort placed on enforcing systems that no one will really follow or understand. Or care to follow. Or understand. Because it all started out such a good idea, you know, to ensure order, but then, who has time for that? and anyway, don’t we all understand how it works, or should work anyway, and we’re pretty much following the rules, except when we’re not, so….

I blame the Roman Empire, then Napoleon.

I have two stunning case examples to illustrate:

Firstly, Victor’s school lunches. These are administered (as far as I can tell) on a separate budget and fee schedule. He gets (as previously mentioned) a handsome pranzo each day. He pays for these meals with a small book of paper tickets, stapled together in sets of what look like 20. Someone has made these booklets. We buy them and then write in, by hand, his name and the date that the ticket is to be used for said lunch.

Except, you know, they feed him anyway.

And no one really cares if he gives the ticket or not. What, they’re going to let a five-year-old go hungry? At midday? In Italy?

“Where are Victor’s lunch tickets,” Jason asked me last Friday.

“I don’t know – I never saw them again after that one day you showed me the booklet after you bought them.”

Mutual shrug.

Meanwhile, Victor: “They always make me eat the first round. Then I get seconds. But I never eat the third round, which is just bread. I hate bread. Too crunchy.”

These. Pretty much. But in Italian.

Second case in point: building numbers. Yep.

I’ve never been to Japan, but from what I’ve read, I bet the Japanese are not at all fazed by this multilayered historic numbering system.

I need to find the office co-op that I have reserved on I paid 25E for it, soooo best get on it. This office space website works just like airbnb, except for workspaces. So you peruse, chat with hosts, then reserve; all payment routes through the website, and after you pay, you get a phone number and a full address.

Should have known it would be challenging when Gianni was so slow to respond to me with a proper street address.


Red numbers.
Black numbers.

Interspersed somewhat evenly? if haphazardly? Up and down streets.

“It’s easy,” Jason said. “There are numeri neri and numeri rossi. Just find the black 18.”

I am on it, I thought. I can do this.

So I ride my bike deep into Campo di Marte neighborhood, closely inspecting the numbers and trying to not get hit by traffic (smart purchase, that helmet.)

Red numbers, Hmm.
And black numbers. Okay.

So easy!

WHAT. What are the other numbers? What are these blue numbers? Are those like close to black? No one mentioned blue numbers.

WHAT! What are these brass numbers? Do they could as red or as black?

Is it blue? Or black? Does indigo count as a kind of black? How dark is this blue, anyway?

I don’t see an 18 anywhere anyway, not in red, or black, or blue, or bronze.

I take off my helmet and call Jason from my Italian handset because I am still carrying two handsets like I am a Wikileak informant or a gun runner. I am pouring sweat.

“I don’t see an 18 anywhere,” I tell him.
“Did you see a black one?”
“No, I don’t see anything that looks like an 18.”
“Go ask in a bar.”
“Why is everything so hard here?” I know as I say it that not everything is hard here. But the 10% that is hard is really confounding because logic cannot help you through it.
“Welcome to Italy,” Jason croons, as he does when he is reminding me to be patient.

I look down the street at Bar la Sosta again and decide I cannot brave that particular language challenge at this time.

Plus I am wearing the wrong shoes, my hair looks like a cavewoman, and I still have this laptop backpack that screams dork so hard that even my coworkers make fun of me when I use it on work trips. And I am toting it around Florence, sweating.

I walk around some more.
A confused Italian woman asks me if I know where something is. “I am looking for an address too,” I tell her.

Blue numbers. Black numbers.
Bronze numbers.
Bright red numbers.
No 18.

I finally call my contact Gianni. “I can’t find the black 18 B on Via Massaccio.”
“Oh,” he says. “We’re on Via degli Artisti.”

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