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??!

No??

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:

"STARTING NOW, YOU CAN ROLL OVER  YOUR BALANCE ON YOUR CREDIT CARD AND PAY IT OFF IN 3, 6, OR 12 MONTHS WITH A LITTLE BIT OF INTEREST!!!"

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.






Friday, September 16, 2016

It's Time for the PROVA(s) Everyone!

September marks the beginning of a new academic year for those who teach, and those who study, not to mention the handlers  parents of the latter. To celebrate, I thought we could have a moment to contemplate the wonders of CHOOSING AN AFTER-SCHOOL ACTIVITY to keep the kids out of our hair a couple of hours a week help our little sweeties grow and become conscientious, strong, independent Team Players.

Here is what you need to know.

Age 3-5: You have Ultimate Control. You know exactly what you are doing, because You are the Mom/Dad and You. Know. Best. 

Activities at this age are both Athletic Opportunities moments for socialisation and certain Success in Later Life Positive Experiences. Choose Wisely. In fact, this is your Last Chance to give your babies that oh-so-important  competitive edge  Sfogo that only Learning through Play can provideIt will also ensure they will Not go to State School like you did prepare them for a rich and varied cultural life. There is Music class, English time, etc. I mean, come on! Everyone knows that soon the window will be closing on your child becoming properly imprinted for Physical and Mentally Superbness.

I and 98% of Triestine parents suggest swimming. Make sure you choose a pool the babysitter and/or Nonni can get to without complaining too much. The first two lessons are free. Your kid will enjoy the heck out of those and in some pools you can even watch your little seahorse and dream of Olympic grandeur at the same time! Lesson Three, when you have paid for an entire year in order to get a 5 euro discount, your kid will cry and carry on and you will hate yourself for the next three months until you become desensitised and hand over that screaming banshee without even batting an eye. Their problem now.

"See you in 45 minutes, Sweetie!!"

Age 6: You know what you want but all the other girls are doing Gymnastics (and the boys are doing Calcio)! You are powerless against the Triestine Forces of Conformity.

Social pressure becomes nearly unbearable when kids get to elementary school. This is when parents understand the Truth. We are not as all-powerful as we once thought. While we still control the pocket-book, we desperately want our children to love us, and this becomes increasingly difficult in the Triestine context unless you submit to the idea that:

"Children should be Happy" in their after-school activities,

and

"Children should not have too many activities so that they have time to play and be kids."

No more asserting your Will on the wee-ones without coming under direct scrutiny by your Triestine husband, the Triestine Nonnis, and the Triestine community at large. Find refuge with the other ex-pats who believe neither of those statements to be true as long as you have a Long-Term VISION for your child's future (which, of course, you DO).

However, this is a battle you cannot win.

You may have liked the Pool after two years of getting used to the routine, the ego-strokes of having your kid convocato to participate in competitions (which start at age 4 if your child is particularly *ahem*  aquatic or has that certain, shall we say, aquacità), but it is about to End. 

She is done with the Pool. Hates it. Can't stand it. Too many laps. Too Boooooring. 

To prove her point, she has spent the entire summer perfecting her cartwheels hundreds of times per day and doing handstands against her bedroom door just like her gymnastics-going friends showed her... and, while you HATE HATE HATE the idea of change when you KNOW all Great Athletes (not that this is important) started Very Young, you have to admit:

There may be some Potential here... 

But. Where? Welcome to the mid-September Triestine parent rat-race! It is the season of the PROVA. Like at the swimming pool, there are two free lessons for your kids to Love before you plunk down the cash and they begin to hate it but you no longer care.

So, you start asking around because Everyone has an opinion about where you should take your kids to gymnastics. Basically you have to ask yourself these questions.

1. Do you want to create a champion?
2. Do you want something close to home?
3. Prefer something in Slovene?
4. Want something that is Not Quite the Best?
5. Is it important for your gym to be financially secure?

For any question that has particular meaning to you, there is a gym that is right for you. If you want to save time, however, just find out where her friends are planning on doing the Prova and piggy-back along with them.

The kids will fall in love with the same place, anyway (so you could skip the prova in theory, but that is pretty courageous), so that's one headache less. Actual lessons will begin in October. It will be a twice-a-week commitment until school gets out. It will be at the worst time ever for your schedule, but at least you can carpool.

It is no longer about your hopes and dreams (which are crushed by now anyway) but rather what her friends are doing and logistics.

And, in the end, that is okay, too.




Tuesday, September 13, 2016

100% Chance of School this Week

This means: do not try to get anything done at any kind of office at all this week, because there will be no one there to help you. This is not the bank's fault, or any other institution suffering from lower than usual numbers this week.

Pre-School:
These parents are not there because they are suffering from the dreaded INSERIMENTO period where they  leave their children crying and screaming and desperately reaching for them for one hour one day, then two hours the next day, and so on until they reach their final destination: the full half day (after lunch) or the full full day (after lunch and snack). Once this is achieved these parents can officially begin the rest of their lives.

Elementary School:
No one told them but parents are supposed to be PRESENT for the first hour or so of school to get information from the teachers they probably missed at the meeting scheduled for an equally inconvenient time this summer. Then there is the mandatory coffee break with the other parents to catch up on the gossip of the summer, discuss the difficulty of finding the right notebooks and melt-downs over proper backpack designs.

Middle School:
Ditto on the school meeting. No one knew. But besides that, there is the problem of the HALF DAY of school rather than the FULL DAY of elementary. These parents have to figure out what the hell to do with their kids after lunch. Some of the challenging questions include: Is my kid Small or Big? If I let her go home alone will the cops bust me for child abandonment? Am I supposed to support her while she does her homework or can I just go back to work?

High School:
These parents are the ones holding down the fort for their colleagues at work during the first week of school. Meetings are not an issue until after report cards come out and teachers meet with them to discuss their so grown up but will always be your little angel's fine performance.

That is what is happening this week. So don't get frustrated. This is just part of life if you live in Trieste. No biggy.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Zero Percent Chance of Rain Today

Don't let the rain outside fool you. It will NOT rain today. It will be perfectly sunny until Thursday. Put your umbrella away, people! weather.com does not lie!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Talking Taboo: Squatters Rule

I am back in the office again after an exciting two-week visit to Thailand. One thing I notice when I go on trips to new places is the communication that goes on in the bathroom. You can learn a lot about a culture through their powder room stalls.

Trieste bathroom banter is particularly entertaining, I must say, and, much to my delight, I found that potties in Thailand did not disappoint. In fact, they were similar to what we find in Trieste.

Could it be they speak the same potty language?! It could explain the number of Italian expats smattering the place!

Here is what they have in common.

Both places have carefully placed Notes to "goers" on how exactly to use the toilet. I am yet to encounter a public restroom in Trieste that does not remind people through clever limericks that you should:

1. Aim for the center of the toilet bowl
2. Clean up if you miss.
3. Flush.

This is true even in the toilets of reputable Triestine companies whose only users are colleagues or, possibly, a few outsiders doing (ahem) jobs on the inside (like me). Some of the notes are written in clear frustration in INSISTENT CAPS and signed by "Your COURTEOUS colleagues in IT," for example.

I don't know if the boys' rooms have notes in them, though I can tell you that there is usually a message directed specifically at the SIGNORI in the women's loos on the wall just above the toilet itself saying "Can you read this? If so, you are in the WRONG bathroom. Yours is next door!"

The Thais are much more efficient in their communications, but the result is the same.

My favorite is the IMAGE reminding people not to stand up on the toilet and squat to do your business. Google that. You won't believe how many images come up.

You can have two reactions to this.

1. WTF?? As in, it Never Once in my Life occurred to me to put my feet on a toilet seat and I have seen a lot of toilet seats in my day.

This is what we normally have a tendency to do, and we have such a smug and superior tone as Westerners (Aren't we just the CRAPPIEST?!).  Now articles like these look at this as a strict THEM problem especially when it happens on Our Turf.


2. There must be something more to this. Remember that etiquette rules are a little window into that culture (think of George Washington's Rules of Civility. I like number 100.)

What you learn from the picture is that the traditional toilet used there is a squat toilet, or what we Americans lovingly call a Turkish Toilet and consider "primitive." It is this idea that gets us into big trouble the moment we pull into the Stazione Centrale on that creaky train inbound from Venice desperately holding it until we can find a clean and civilized toilet.

But there are no toilets at the Station, I am sorry to report! No siree!

Instead, what we are faced with is a kind of toilet (it is porcelain, it has a hole, it has a flush) with two feet prints next to the oversized bowl as the only indicator of how to use it. In fact, were it not for those two feet, we would probably ask ourselves where the hell we are supposed to sit and require our own little picture taped to the wall, so Thank God.

What it does NOT say is what way to face to do your business. Worse, who are you supposed to ask? Listen, since we are friends, I will tell you that I have the best success (and I have tried all combinations) with facing the wall for number one and facing the door for number two. It is a question of gravity and aim. For boys, I would have to give the same advice. With the squat, men and women are truly equal.

Why the squatter, you ask? Well, in Trieste as in Thailand, it is all about hygiene. It's the whole touching something with your bare bottom that has been touched by other bare bottoms thing. Thais and Triestini just think that is a little gross.

Plus, the added benefit is that squatting is great for your thigh muscles.

Silver lining, you know?