Friday, January 20, 2017

Send the Kids Skiing!

There seems to be a stark contrast between parenting styles in Trieste.

On the one hand, there are the mothers who see themselves as combat soldiers in a constant struggle to defend their children against their tyrannical teachers who assign too much homework, and the schools that provide inadequately delicious food to fuel their children. They monitor their children's time, schedule them abundant play time so they can be children. They vow to never let their children ride the bus unaccompanied by an adult until at least 3rd year of Middle School and are the administrators of the parents' whatsapp group.

Then there's our group of parents from Little Sweety's first grade class. Case in point.

We get a little flyer one day about a ski class for the kids. Five saturdays from 6:30am to 6:30pm. Not much more info on the sheet than that, which is an invitation to call. So we did. And the information was the total price, and how to participate.

1. Drop your kids off (with the skis they rent or buy ahead of time)  in a big parking lot at 6:30a.m.
2. Fetch them at the end of the day.
3. If you give them 6 euros they can eat lunch.
4. Bus costs 12 euros total for one day.

No info on what they are supposed to bring, or what to wear (I have skiied twice in my life. Not an expert).
No form to fill out (oh yeah, we'll do that next week), no emergency numbers for any Just in Case situations. No possibility to pay (hah?) before the kids go to their first lesson, our babies, without us for a whole day.

Saturday morning the kids, who are a little nervous, hop on a giant bus with Slovenian licence plates that is (hopefully) heading to a place in Italy where people ski two hours away.

And all of this seems, like, Fine, at the moment of drop off.

And, frankly, ALL DAY as I got more stuff done than I can remember in recent history on a Saturday. Time flies, in fact, and since 6-year-olds don't have phones, we don't really have any updates, so it goes even faster!

The lady on the phone said they would be back between 6:15 and 6:30p.m..

It is 6:15 on the dot and we are waiting with the other parents in the parking lot. We exchange comments like Is this normal? Who are these people again? Do we have a phone number for them? Do they have ours?

I start to wonder if the over-protective mom-squad was right. What if they don't come back. What have I done.

Then, at 6:29 the bus rolls in, the kids get off, they are happy and bursting with energy. They see a patch of ice and immediately go and try to make snow balls out of it (we live in Italy, remember) and throw them at each other. The chaperones are cool as cucumbers. They say the kids were good. They mostly listened, only a couple of them got lost, but then they found them, so, yeah, it was a good day.

But... can we pay?
Well, we are really tired now, how about next week?

Awesome. Can't wait for next Saturday!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

How to Have a Vegan Over for Dinner

Tired of your busy social life and want a break from all of those dinner invitations? I have two solutions.

1. Have a kid.
2. Tell your friends and family you are following a Vegan diet.

I know what I am talking about. Believe me!

Number 1 makes you temporarily Untouchable until your friends either embrace the Lunch thing or you find other people with kids to hang out with. Don't fret: that will happen at three years old when little Sweetie goes to scuola materna. 

Number 2 is more difficult to navigate. At first I thought this was only the case for self-righteous pains in the arses who are judgy and annoying. But, actually, it turns out to be the case even for those of us who are perfectly charming, easy-to-please, non-judgemental, wonderful people!

When I was just merely vegetarian, see, people treated me with fascination and slight pity. What do I eat if I don't eat meat? How do I get my protein (news flash, a POTATO has enough protein for a day, people, and it is not particularly protein rich, just saying.)? Wouldn't I just die for a nice steak? (No. A can of tuna, yes). It must be so complicated not eating meat, but at least you have fish. No fish either? Wow. Can't imagine that. Well, I am cutting down, too. Hardly eat red meat anymore. Mostly chicken, cold cuts, that sort of thing... To the meat eaters I didn't pose much of a threat, especially since my not partaking left more tartara for them...

My mother-in-law still has a hard time with the concept. She asked me nearly every week for six years if I was Still a Vegetarian. For her, my diet choices were problematic. She felt it was her responsability to offer another option and sometimes that pressure was overwhelming. Until I pointed out that I could just eat everything except the meat. Her solution was to provide large quantities of Cheeses and egg products to make up for the lack of meat. To her that made sense.

Then I cut out dairy and eggs.

That was when MY life got better, but those around me got WORSE.

Oh, being a Veggie wasn't bad enough?! What did we do to deserve THIS?!? (Did I tell you Triestini have a tendency to take things personally?)

Let me offer two solutions from the Vegan perspective. We are not as different as you think.

On my plate, the Starch is the star. I do not care about carbohydrate issues. I eat as many of them as I want, and at any time of day (nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah!)

Just put POTATOES, BEANS, LENTILS, RICE, OR PASTA in the area where YOU would normally put a hunk of meat.

For everything else, you and me, we are cool. I eat the veggies and the salad just like you do.

See? It's not so hard.

I am even happy to bring a dish to pass so you can try something yummy and new, too. Just ask!

Ok? Are we clear? Can we have supper together sometime again? Because I miss our little talks. And Red Wine is vegan, my friend. Another thing we have in common!

Planning a Family Reunion

My family lives in about 7 states total. We, like many other American families, do not see each other very often. Every few years, however, we make a plan to come together and party like nobody's business. Normally the meeting place is near the home of one of the ELDERS. My mom's house, or my Aunt and Uncle's place. Makes sense-- the Boomers have space and money, the salt and pepper of a good party. This year we changed the rules. Well, actually, it was about 3 years ago, which was when we started to plan our European reunion in Trieste for this summer in June. In the end there were about 23 of us in Trieste, we worked it all out, and we had an awesome time. Since a couple of people have asked how we managed to do it, here are some guidelines in case you would like to do something similar.

1. Start planning 3 years in advance. This gives everyone time to save up, get off work, get a passport or renew their old one, and mentally prepare.

2. Plan for 3 days with one BIG party on one of them. We make our Big Party on Fathers' Day because in the US it always falls on a Sunday in June. That is the day that all guests MUST be in town. This gives people wiggle room to make their plans and get a good deal on plane tickets.

3. Unless you live in a place like Rome, Venice, or Florence, don't count on everyone wanting to stay in your town just because you live there. Some members of my family got their tourism out of the way before coming to Trieste, others started here and went off to other places they hadn't seen yet after recovering from our party. Trieste is a great home base for trips to Venice, Rome, Slovenia, etc. Ryan air flies out of Trieste and Treviso, too. Easy jet flies out of Venice.

4. Lodging. Help your guests by giving them different options as to where to stay. Hotels always have airconditioning, which Americans appreciate when it is hot as a mofo in Trieste. I had people sleeping at friends' places, my house, in a residence (hotel where they clean once a week) and at a hotel. Everyone was happy. You provide the resources, they make their own plans. I think that works best. Put people close to busses so they can be self-sufficient. Everyone stayed downtown, so that made transportation easy, too.

5. Activities: We planned a series of things to do that people could opt to participate in... or not. We made everything we could Kid Friendly. 

Guided walking Tour of Trieste
Family Italian language class
Treasure hunt at the farmers' market
Cooking class
Dinner made by family with chef Federico
The Big Party

6. Transportation. Trieste is largely a walking city and my people stayed downtown. Those who did not were within feet of a city bus stop. There are also taxis and my family used those too. When we went up to the Carso to our party, we rented a bus to take 20 people and the other handful went in cars. If you want to rent a bus, try just over the border in Slovenia,  and there are places in Trieste, too. Be careful, though, weekends are much harder to plan in the summer because of all of the other little day trips people organize. The train is always a good idea and kids love them. They key is putting people in a position to be autonomous.

7. The Party. Finding the appropriate venue is not easy in Europe, especially if your group is big. We opted to go up to carso and have our party at a wine-producer that also has the Best Osmizza in the world. We worked out a price per person ahead-of-time and a menu. They gave us a great deal. My family drank A LOT of wine, so we threw more money in over the course of the evening.

Final thoughts.

8. You never know who is going to come. We had some last minute confirmations, and other people didn't come who we thought for sure would. No biggy. Do not take these things personally. Love the ones you're with.

9. Let your guests be part of the plan. You can give them information and guide them, but, ultimately, the success of the shabang is up to everyone, and that takes the pressure off.

10. Don't forget the family portrait. They are dippy as hell, but you just HAVE to. Our uniform this year was the Italy soccer shirt. I found them on sale at Lidl for cheap cheap cheap and bought one for each person, including the Italian components taking part in our reunion. They made for an awesome picture and a rocking souvenir!

11. Create a closed Facebook page of your event. This helps people get psyched up and becomes an online journal of everyone's trip. Afterwards people share their photos and videos here. I still go back to ours and look at it sometimes and remember how much fun we had.

12. Other Communication. Important info should be shared on Facebook and email for those who don't DO Facebook, especially in the time leading up to the reunion. In Trieste you don't always have wifi, so your family should know that you can also make meeting times and places just like in the olden days. Europeans use Whatsapp much more than imessage, by the way. Some of the family members NEVER communicated directly, but that was okay because there is usually a spokesperson in each family that just naturally speaks on behalf of the others.

13. Home Base. We used the Italian American Association as a home base, since it is centrally located, there is wi-fi, a bar downstairs, and I was often there.

Conclusion: Keep your plans flexible, give people options, make sure there is plenty of wine, and you can't go wrong when you are planning your next reunion!


Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Great News in 2017 for us BUS PEOPLE

Exciting news from Trieste Trasporti. The price of an individual ticket has actually GONE DOWN, which is the first time in the History of the World that I have seen this happen (or at least in the last 13 years I have been living in Trieste. Once it stayed the same for two years, but this decrease is a first). The price will go down from 1.35 for an individual ticket (60minutes) to 1.25.

Second bit of news: Kids ride free with a valid ticket-holding adult up to the age of 10! Kids shorter than 1 meter (you measure this when you get on the bus at the front. There is a line there marked one meter) are always free.

The difference this year is that kids taller than one meter need to show a special I.D. card issued by Trieste Trasporti proving the age of the child. You can do this online for 5 euros, but if you go directly to the office and do it, it's free. I did not take the bus with my sweetie every day, but over the course of 2016 we still managed to spend 199.80 on Bus Tickets for my 6-year old. Yes, I keep track of these things (so you don't have to).

The price of year-long bus passes also stays the same this year. If you buy it online there is a 5% discount. You can pay with a credit card or, if you have an Italian bank with online banking, you can choose the "My Bank" option, insert the name of your bank and do it through home banking. That is what I just did. It cost me  euro 326.33. I then request an invoice and send that over to my accountant and part of it gets written off.

Just wanted you to know!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Did you know...

...that if you are American (dual citizens have a slightly different option) and have a Partita Iva in Italy you are supposed to pay into the AMERICAN Social Security system and NOT INPS for your retirement??!


Hey, me neither. But there is this agreement here from 1978!! You want the Italian version for your Commercialista? Here you go.  Here is an overview of the agreement in detail, but in English. 

I will walk you through the process as I do it. This should be fun!!

More to come.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Speaking Foreign Languages has NOT Made me Smarter

I was just reading an article about how bilingualism makes you smarter (I love those kinds of articles, by the way), and I was just about to feel very smug and intelligent when I remembered what I did yesterday.

I was at the IKEA at Villesse and we were about to leave when little Sweetie and I decided to go to the bathroom before we got into the car for the ride back to Trieste. We are trying to cement in the habit of going even if we don't "have" to, because the urge usually hits us as soon as we get in the car and have missed our chance.

So, we went into the FAMILY BATHROOM. A very sweet idea. Two toidies together. Little toilet for Little Sweetie, Big Toilet for Big Mamma.

Only one problem. No hooks for the purse, no changing table or similar to put the purse, what is one to do?

Easy. Put your purse into the Little Sink for Little Sweetie, which is just next to the Big Sink for Big Mamma.

Yes, GREAT IDEA, especially since it is an Automatic Sink that turns on whenever anything (which should actually be your HAND) blocks that little dark circle that activates the torrent of water.

For the full effect, don't notice it right away. That way you fill up your purse.

Waterlog your electronic devices.

Dump out your purse, swear like a sailor, yell at your kid for mocking you and repeating those terrible words you are allowed to say but She is Not.

Curse IKEA for being so darn green you can't even find a paper towel to throw on the floor to prevent an accident for the very next family to use this amazing facility.

Yes, do that. Hold your extra battery's plug hole close to the vent (which you put on high) in the car. Pray you have half a bag of basmati rice left in your cupboard to put your phone in when you get home, look forward to that 48 hour wait to see if it will work again, blow dry your journal, hang your permesso di soggiorno up to drip dry and have an Excellent Day!

Friday, September 30, 2016

Italy Vs USA: The Banking Edition

Americans believe:

I will make MORE MONEY NEXT YEAR. I can spend NOW.

Italians believe:

I may NEVER MAKE MONEY AGAIN. I'd better save today.

American banks and Italian banks also think differently, especially when it comes to credit. American banks love to give it. Italians do not. The average American has a walletful of cards to choose from. Italians, not so much. Banks stateside and here on the old continent differ on Customer Experience as well (Disclaimer: the thoughts, opinions and declarations of this blog are purely personal and not meant to reflect the thoughts, ideas and/or opinions of all ex-pats living in Trieste, although they often do...) Americans care about it, Italians don't.

I was in my large, unfriendly Italian bank a few weeks ago gathering information on my very expensive credit card (1) and debit card (1) to make sure I could use them internationally and find out how much they would hose me for getting cash abroad.

Here is why I hate my bank (and the hospital and schools and public offices and basically all other Italian Institutions): NO RECEPTION DESK. You walk in and it's like entering a wild jungle. No clue where to go, who to talk to, everyone is pretending they're busy.

The only thing I understand at my bank is what the ATM does.

Finally, a lady came out of one of those private, off-limits offices peppered around the perifery and I walked in (I am probably not supposed to but there are no signs telling me what to do and I pounce on the opaque). I asked the kind (and obviously important) person who I should talk to. Oddly,  he said HE was the one (miracle!). He was even nice. Most people who work in these places are, once you get their attention, and that is the hardest part. He printed up all of the information I requested. When he felt like he had satisfied my every banking desire, he changed the subject and raised his tone of voice to communicate EXCITEMENT about a NOVITA'!

Actually, he was required to get my signature on an18-thousand-page document explaining the change in conditions on my credit card. This was pre-empted with a sales pitch:


Excuse me? This is the news? Isn't that why we call them CREDIT cards?*

So, let me get this straight. The ONLY advantage of my having a credit card up to now was that I could wait a month to pay rather than have my purchases (which I can afford because I don't spend money) come out of my account immediately with my debit card?

And I am paying 40+ euros per year for that?!

This bank (all Italian banks) is on the brink of collapse. I think about how much I pay in fees (started out as a free account but that change was another 18-page document to sign) for my account and products that are redundant. And to make things worse, I have to practically break into someone's office to get anyone's attention!

But I get like this every time I come back from the States. Forgive me.

I went back to Wisconsin last week. What struck me was this: it didn't matter where I went-- people were Deeply Concerned about my finding everything I wanted to find. It was a little much at times, but, I also had the feeling that even my lamest whim would be treated with Absolute Urgency.

My mom's bank is comfortable and inviting like a friend's living room. It has puffy chairs for when you have to wait (but you never do) and a machine with free (and good) coffee.

I mean, is it really so hard? Note to Big Unfriendly Italian Bank on the Brink of Collapse: let's work on our communication skills, shall we? And while we are at it, let's sharpen our long-term vision rather than short-term gain.

I am taking my business online, I decided, once I pay the fees to close my bank account (yes, it costs you money to close!!). The service is basically the same, but at least the webpage gives you clear and transparent information.

So there!!

*I pay my balance off every month because I learned good credit card habits when I worked at Bank One in the credit card department in college (my worst nightmares include a headset and a ringing phone that I have to answer like this: "Bankcard Customer Service, This is Karoline. Bankcard Customer Service, this is Karoline..."). Want a cure for the shopaholic blues? Work with credit cards.