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?

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Embrace August

I don't know if anyone else felt it, but I can say that this summer I have worked waaaaay more than I usually do in the Summer, and probably more than even most winter months.

What gives?

Is it just the craziest summer in the History of Trieste? I ask, because I used to cry in the summer because it was like Trieste became a really long, depressing, boring movie in slow motion from about June 15th on. NOTHING was happening.

Here is my theory.

I just happened to arrive in Trieste around the time of a Big Experiment. You see, in the olden days, Triestini used to go on vacation in August. That was it. Everyone. Which had its pros and its cons.

Pro. Everyone on vacation at same time.
Pro. It sucks working in August because it's too dang hot.
Pro. In the olden days people had really long vacations and that must have been nice.

Con. Traffic.
Con. Travel expensive.
Con. No chance to influence your vacation destiny.
Con. Other countries working with Italians have to deal with fact that Italians don't work in August.

Then that last point started to pick up momentum. Those countries getting frustrated with the Italians for being so stagnant in summer and blah blah blah became a big deal. And, with that, the Great Vacation Experiment was born.

All of a sudden companies, even a couple of big fatties, said people could CHOOSE when they wanted to go on vacation. Well, one week (out of your 4 or 5 delicious weeks, sigh) would have to be in August, but the others, whatevs, people!!

So the Triestini started to disappear around mid-June and, surprise surprise, you couldn't get much done.

Then there was the Mass Exodus in the two weeks sandwiching Ferragosto, which is August 15, but let's call it Labor Day, even though Labor day here is actually May 1st, but, you get the idea, it means Summer is pretty much over, even though it isn't really, so no more going Up North, which here is not actually North, but more like Croatia or Grado or Lignano. So, you couldn't get much done then either.

Then, life would begin again in September just in time for school to start.

Long story short: if you were trying to make a living in Summer, it was, like, a wasteland.

So the Big Vacation Experiment didn't last very long. This short period of time when Trieste kept offices and businesses open in August and scattering vacation around did not seem to increase productivity. Sure, offices were open, but no one was making decisions or anything, because they were too busy covering for their colleauges who were on vacation!

Which was too bad in some ways, because it was GREAT if you were the one going on vacation, but a NIGHTMARE for companies when they realized THEY were working but their suppliers and clients were not. So, that went by the wayside pretty quick, and we were back to the August vacation thing.

Flash forward. It has been a hot summer, but people have been working anyway. I mean, a lot, and well, and I am just shocked and amazed and delighted by this.

But now I am ready to go on vacation. That's it. I'm working tomorrow then I am OUTTAHERE until August 16th or so. Just in case you are looking for me.

Spritz Morbido on the beach starting Saturday.

That's what I'm talking about.

Have a Great Summer!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Put on Your Dancing Shoes

I always wondered where people dance once they have taken all of those lessons. Now I know: the SAGRA. This is the sort of outside party that the villages around Trieste take turns having to raise money for cultural events in their paese. You can go for dinner and have grilled civapcici or chicken or ribs and french fries and there is usually a great quantity of beer and wine to be had.

There is also live music and dancing. The music ranges from folky Triestine to 80s pop. The band will have at least one accordion. The senior population will ROCK OUT in front of you-- slow rocking-- but rocking all the same.

A Triestine favorite is the Line Dance. It is always the same one. It's like the Hustle with less soul. Let's say it's more like country line dancing. If you join the line, great. Try to get in the middle of the crowd so you don't end up in the front line when the group turns. They can do this one for hours and it seems to defy genre.

Watching everyone the other day, and seeing a group of small kids out on the dance floor, it reminded me of an American wedding, maybe the only time where everyone dances and nobody cares (Thank you, Booze!). And then I thought. Dang, if you know how to dance (just having the courage to try will suffice), you can always have a good time.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Your Summer Survival Kit in Trieste

Yesterday was one of those days where we had Things to Do and People to Meet. We finished our lunch date with friends and then suddenly had 3 hours before our meeting with other friends at the Sagra in Prosecco.

We, of course, had tons of things to do at home, but it never crossed our minds to go there. Nope, we are Triestini and it was Sunday. Therefore, once we got out of that place, we were out for the long haul. That is because we had our Survival Kit packed right in the car. Here is what is in it.


1. Kid. If you don't have the kid with you then it's only a matter of time before you have to do the where's-my-kid polka, and that is a time waster.

2. The dog. The beast needs watering and walks, which can both be done best when close by. Trieste allows dogs most everywhere and people don't seem to mind usually, unless the dog is a yipper. Also, there are enough crazy dog owners in Trieste that we look normal in comparison

3. The Beach Bag. This is key. We always have our beach bag packed and ready and already in the car. It contains: three swimsuits, three towels, three pairs of flip-flops, and a plastic shopping bag (for wet clothes afterwards).

When you have your kit, you never get bored! You never know when an opportunity for a Toc (that's Triestino for a dip) will present itself.

You must always be ready. With that, we killed 2.5 hours at Barcola yesterday afternoon. Had a couple of swims, got the dog in there, too. Even caught a nap. Life is good here, even in the heat.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Death Happens in Italy, too

Italians do not like to talk about death. Allow me to do it for them.

If you live here and marry into an Italian family, you can forget about estate planning. There will be no talk about your in-laws moving into a smaller apartment or a retirement community or anything like that. There will be no talk about putting things in other peoples' names to avoid problems later, nothing. This is not to say that ALL families are superstitious about death, but many are and you will just have to cross that bridge (well, let's just say you won't be crossing that bridge, or this post would not apply to you) when you get there.

If it does happen (and of course, let's hope it doesn't), there are LOTS of things to do. I found this document put out by a Union here that supports retired people. The first paragraph talks about their indecision about putting this document together and going through with it since many people are superstitious about talking about death. Incredible!

That is not even the thing that suprised me today. What did, was the fact that that Unions or a "Patronato" can actually help you complete some of the paperwork you need to do and cost less than a Notaio.

Here is an idea of what you need to do.

1. The declaration of death must be made within 24 hours.

If the death happens at home, you need to:

-Call the primary doctor, who will have to prepare an "ISTAT Certificate,"
-Get a copy of the Pathologist's Certificate (Certificazione del medico necroscopo)
-Declare the death at the office of the STATO CIVILE of the Municipality (COMUNE, behind Piazza Unità). You give them both documents plus your valid id (not a good moment to notice your i.d. has expired!)

If it happens in the hospital, they will prepare those two documents for you. Then you just go declare the death.

2. Death Certificate (Certificato di Morte): This is available in the Municipality where the death occurred as well as in the Municipality where the person was a resident. If the death happens in the same Municipality as where the person was a resident, the Death Certificate is available immediately. Otherwise you will have to wait about 10 days for the Death Municipality to communicate with the Municipality of residence.

3. Hereditary Succession. Italian Law says there are two kinds of succession and they depend on whether or not there is a Will (TESTAMENTO).

If there is NO WILL: It's called SUCCESSIONE LEGITTIMA. In this case the law determines who inherits.

If there is a WILL: It's called SUCCESSIONE TESTAMENTARIA. In this case the Will determines who inherits. Children of the deceased have their rights, though, and cannot be "cut out." They can always question the Will and will be entitled to their percentage of the patrimony. Others who can question the WILL are the spouse and any other people who normally would be in line for the throne.

Figuring out who the heirs are is NOT SIMPLE for a foreigner. Get help on this one. Ask a Union for help as it will cost less than the Notaio. There is always someone who inherits, at least up until the 6th degree of family (who gets how to figure that out? Not me.). At that point everything that is left goes directly to the State.

4. Agenzia delle Entrate. You have 12 months to make a declaration to the Tax Authorities. They will give you something called the Modello 4 which looks something like this  and you can do this without a notaio. You use this to outline who is left in the family and any buildings, homes, or land the deceased had. If you do not meet the deadlines you are liable for fines.

5. Tax Declaration. It will fall on you to do the tax declaration that year. You have to present a MODELLO UNICO. Not the 730, even if they did that one during their life. You may ask an accountant for help on this one. As always, ask the Union first. They do 730 forms. Perhaps they can also do the Modello Unico. You can also write off costs that you incurred after the death (example: healthcare costs. Get info on this!)

6. There are some other procedures for people who are not residents in Italy, so you will want some help on figuring out what. (see this document for an example)

7. Is there a PENSION involved? Get informed. Complicated complicated. If any money is due back, for example, it will not be refunded unless you ASK for it (think, tredicesima...) and they have a really long time to do it. You or your kids may have a right to the pension as well.

8. INPS (Healthcare system) is supposed to be notified automatically by the Medico Necroscopo within 48 hours of death. So that is one less thing to worry about (according to the document I am referring to).

9. Place of work. By all means, let them know. They will help you sort out the paperwork and get the ball rolling on that. Maybe they will be a support to you as well, especially if that person was a good colleague.

10. Bank. There is some paperwork to do there, of course. If there are any automatic payments going out, inform the companies to send a paper final bill because the bank freezes the account upon death. That's right. Even if you are on the account, you can't do much with it after a death until everything is sorted out (the Succession, etc)

11. Insurance. Is there any? Notify them.

12. Any loans or rental contracts? You are going to have to deal with the other parties.

13. The Car. You will have to do a Passaggio di Proprietà, even if it is in your spouse's name. It will cost you, of course.

14. Cancel the RAI contract for TV if it was in their name (the Union can help with this, too, I believe).  This is important especially if no one is left in the place of residence or it is being sold.

15. You have to notify the people who handle the WATER, ELECTRICITY, AND GAS. In Trieste it's all ACEGAS (HERA) but there are three different numbers. You have to deal with each one separately if you call. If you go in person you can do them all at once. You will have to transfer the contract into someone else's name if there is someone living there, or just close the contract if there is not. While you're doing this stuff, contact the phone company as well. All of these entities are slow, the faster you do it, the better.

This is just a start, but it could come in handy. I am no expert, but I am thinking that if I can get you thinking about it, perhaps you can come up with an action plan before you actually need it. Actually, I was inspired today by a friend who recently suffered a loss and it fell upon him to do this work. I went through something similar a couple of years ago for a distant relative who had no children, so I had some personal experience as well. We had to learn as we went along, and that is no fun when you are grieving.

May you and your loved ones LIVE FOREVER!!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Where to Go Play

There are  a lot of parks in Trieste. Some, however, are little ghost parks and remain empty most of the time. These do not give much satisfaction to the little ones. For the ultimate play experience, you want a good mix of other kids, but not TOO many other kids. You want to be able to go up the slide once in a while (when your mom isn't looking) and not have to wait too long for a swing.

Here are my top picks for free play this summer.

1. BARCOLA. There is something here for all ages, including big muscle people who go there for a free workout. Who cares if you have kids or not! You can get an eyeful of these folks working their triceps on the monkey bars in the twilight hours. For your little sweeties, they will move out of the way. If you park your towels near the big fountain with the statue of a swimming woman, you will find the first of several playgrounds to your right (if your back is to the water).

2. BORGO SAN SERGIO. Over by the excellent library with a great kids' section there is a wonderful park with extra long slides. Highly recommended. No problem parking. Besides books, the library has movies and music cds. Awesome.

3. GIARDINO PUBBLICO. They say that it is not quite up to its glory days, but it's a classic. The first time I went here I LOVED watching all the kids playing together in all the different languages you hear around this place in the summer.

4. VILLA REVOLTELLA. The only bummer about this place is you can't bring your dog. Come to think of it, dogs are not welcome at most parks in Trieste. Anyway, if your kid doesn't freak out at the statue of Pinocchio becoming a donkey, you will have a lovely time. I like the jungle gym, but it also has a closed-off area where kids can kick a ball around or get used to in-line skates.

There are probably other good ones, too. If you know of any, by all means, share in the comment section below!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Here is What I Forgot to Say about Teaching Refugees

You can never do enough when you work with refugees. Every time we teach there are people who come in off the street and want to join the group, too. I am happy the word is getting around and I don't want to say no to anyone.

So we created a spill-over class. We may have to create a new one.

So there is another thing I learned from the refugees. When they are happy, the word gets around.