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Tag Archives: Banking

A walk in the park

19 Jan
Sometimes a park is just a park. Sometimes it is Italian. Sunday we took a long walk in Villa Ada, Rome’s second-largest park (Villa Doria Pamphilj is the largest) and happened upon some photo-worthy sites.
To look at a map, Villa Ada is close to our home, but it’s a bit of a PITA to get into on foot. We’ve walked along the periphery many times and waded into the shallows, but finally, we had time and good weather on our side so we ventured a bit farther.
One of the busier paths, Villa Ada. We stuck to the woodsy ones, while most of the Italians embraced the sun.

One of the busier paths, Villa Ada. We stuck to the woodsy ones while most of the Italians embraced the sun.

The grounds and house were once owned by the House of Savoy, Italian royalty. From this family sprang four kings of Italy and also beloved Queen Margherita. Eventually, the estate was purchased by a Swiss gentleman, Count Tellfner, who named it for his wife, Ada. The Savoys bought it back again in the early 20th century turning it into the royal residence until they were ousted in 1946. In the 1950s, it became a public park.
Today Villa Ada is a sprawling landscape of paths, frequented by dog walkers and runners, but it also contains some surprises.
Egyptian Embassy, Villa Ada.

Egyptian Embassy, Villa Ada.

The Egyptian Embassy occupies the old royal residence. It was given to Egypt by the Savoys as a token of their gratitude for the assistance provided during their exile in 1946. Imagine walking through Forest Park in Portland and coming across armed soldiers guarding a foreign embassy. Yeah, it’s that weird.
Rounding a corner in a distant end of the park, we came across an equestrian center, 3C – Country Club Cascianese. There were riding lessons in session in the lovely January sun, and it has an air of exclusivity about it, although I always think that when horses are involved. Quite a contrast to the Egyptian Embassy.
Equestrian center, Villa Ada.

Equestrian center, Villa Ada.

We’ll have to go back to explore a few more paths, and there’s an entire quarter of the park we didn’t get to. Much like our beloved Hoyt Arboretum in Portland, after a few visits we should know our way around. 
In the category of NOT a walk in the park, we had an interesting visit to our bank this week. In fact, we had three visits in two days. Ric’s debit card was cracked and required replacement, so we ventured into the main branch of BNL on Via Bissolati. We had to wait about 25 minutes to be served (there’s a take-a-number machine), but the teller was able to give him a new card and PIN on the spot. We were impressed! No waiting for the mail to deliver it to our flat! Who says Italian systems are inefficient?
All’s well until we stopped at the market on the way home. With a huge line at the cashier, my BNL card wouldn’t work.  We trotted down the street to the Parioli BNL and tried my card in the ATM. The ATM took my card! Said it was deactivated! A very nice teller in this branch retrieved it only to tell me my card was no good, that I had to go back to the branch in the center to get a new one and that she needed to destroy my card. She cut it up. 
So off we went the next day to BNL on Via Bissolati. Here the teller told me that my card was perfectly good, according to the system. “It didn’t work yesterday,” I said. He asked to see it. “No, I told you, the woman on Viale Parioli took it and cut it up.” He told me she was wrong, and since I did not bring the card to him, we should file a denuncia (a formal complaint about the “lost” property) with the Carabinieri!
I was doing this in Italian, and I hate it when they tell me “no” because then I have to enter into the realm of the Italian argument, and my skills really suffer. I am just not that eloquent and my pre-rehearsed sentences collapse in a useless heap around me. But one has to push back. If you take the first no and walk away, you absolutely will make things harder for yourself. So I pushed back. “Just because his colleague at the other branch made an error, it should not be my problem,” I told him in grammatically incorrect Italian. Much to my surprise, he agreed and said “Well next time, bring the card here if it doesn’t work,” and he went on to issue me my new card and PIN. Thank God he backed down because I am no match for an Italian who is up for an extended negotiating session!
I am pleased to report that both of us now have access to our funds, but it certainly was not a walk in the park.
Click on the photos below for a better view.
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Things are different here

30 Mar

Banking, shopping, mammograms: there are many differences here in bella Italia.

Banking was invented in Italy. In fact, the oldest bank in the world is Monte dei Paschi di Siena, which is in deep doo doo over some questionable transactions…but I digress.  We needed to open an Italian bank account so we could pay some local doctors’ bills. The process of opening the account was akin to closing on a house, only more difficult. It took several days and 3 visits to the bank, but no money was deposited until the account was open and we had a fistful of documents in hand to prove it. Only then were we allowed to deposit money.

And about depositing money: We get reimbursement checks from various sources that we deposit here rather than send back to the U.S. for deposit. One day I popped into the bank with four checks, totaling about $150. No deposit slip is necessary; you just tell the teller your account number. For a deposit of four checks, 10 pieces of A4 paper are generated. Each check requires two (one for me, one for the bank), and the deposit itself requires two (same drill). I signed five times to deposit four checks. They are very nice people, very accommodating, and the experience is very personal, as opposed to the no-human-touch-required ATM deposit.  As long as our balance is correct…but many trees sacrificed their lives.

On the other hand, no trees are harmed in creation of bank statements: everything is electronic and self-service. When we opened our account, we received a random-code-generator token for secure access. It’s quite efficient and more advanced than the 3 online banking systems we access in the U.S.

Paying bills is a matter of making a wire transfer. If you want to pay a doctor’s bill, unless you are paying in cash which is quite common, you need the doctor’s International Banking Number as well as bank name. Simple and not too costly. I marched into the bank armed with this information only to be asked by the teller “what is this payment for?”  Hmmm, seems a bit intrusive and personal to ask what I am paying a doctor for. How detailed to get? I mean what if you had something rather, um, sensitive and personal done? Do you blurt out “pap smear” or “wart removal?” (Neither of which were involved I might add.)  I opted for a rather vanilla “medical consultation,” then hours later realized that without an invoice number, perhaps the recipient of the payment might find information beyond the patient name useful in matching payment to service.  Still, a potentially awkward moment; No HIPAA rules here. I’m sticking with “medical consultation.”

Campo dei Fiori

Campo dei Fiori market. Let the vendor select your produce or risk a scolding.

Shopping has oh-so-many differences from the U.S.  First, it can be rather disjointed. Megastores are few, and out in the suburbs. One may need to go to many stores to accomplish what a stop at Target would do. I like small businesses and wandering around Rome, so it’s an opportunity to poke my head into various establishments. But sometimes it is hard to know where to go to get what. Light bulbs, for example, are most likely in an electrical shop, although there are some in the larger grocery stores. Need a curling iron? Don’t try a beauty supply store; go to an appliance and electronics shop.  Cosmetics? A profumeria of course.  If all else fails, try a ferramenta, which is a household goods store with everything from toilet paper to wine glasses, but in the tiniest stores!

Store hours also need to be considered. The larger grocery stores are usually open continually, but a ferramenta or an electrical shop might close from 13:30-16:00. A large wine shop near us does this, even on a busy Saturday, as does Ric’s favorite men’s clothier. They re-open from 16:00-20:00. Since one does not eat before 21:00, these are prime shopping hours.  Even the electronics giant Euronics takes la pausa on Saturday and they close on Sunday, limiting recreational shopping. Quality of life versus consumerism: interesting concept.

At the outdoor markets, like Campo dei Fiori (think large Farmers’ Market in the U.S.) one never touches the produce. Let the nice vendor help you. Be prepared for questions like “What are you going to use them for” when you ask for tomatoes: “For sauce or to eat?” You’ll get different tomatoes based on the answer.  Or the fish monger might ask “How many people is this for,” then argue with you about whether you are buying enough. (He’ll also want to know your method of preparation.)

Rabbit babyfood

Pat the Bunny? No eat the bunny, Babyfood in flavors attuned to Italian tastes. I have not seen equine….

In the grocery store produce department, one dons a plastic glove, then bags, weighs, and prices one’s own produce. You won’t forget to do that more than once,because if in a moment of American-ness you get distracted and head for the checkout, the cassa will send you trotting back through the store to price the goods, holding up the entire line while you do so. Che imbarazzante! (I’ve only done it once.)

Milk is sold in shelf-stable cartons that do not have to be refrigerated until after opening, and eggs are always on the shelf at room temp.  There is a staggering variety of pasta of course, and the best tuna ever, packed in olive oil. Who needs mayonnaise? Ethnic foods (Mexican, Thai, Chinese) are impossible to find in a regular store. There are specialty shops, but I have not sought them out yet. However, if your infant likes parmesan cheese, salmon, or rabbit, there’s a baby food for that. 

mammografiaThis picture says almost all you need to know about getting a mammogram here: there is no virtually useless “gown.” Just strip to the waist and belly up to the bar. I was warned by the Embassy Health Unit what to expect, and provided a paper gown to take along, but geez, really, did I want to be la Americana there with the Italian women, the only one shielding her girls with a flimsy gown that was mostly coming off anyway?  So I went along with local custom.  But there’s one more surprise for those of us from a sheltered, HIPAA-indoctrinated, North American, law-suit inspired environment: many of the mammographers are men. 

As I entered the office of the senologist (breasts are their only business), I saw a man in scrubs with long gray hair, a little wild, who resembled an aging 60s rock musician. “Please God, don’t let that be my mammographer,” I pleaded silently.  I waited with the other women and was relieved to be summoned to an exam room by a lovely young woman; Take off everything from the waist up and so we begin. But could this be a straightforward get-it-done process? Of course not! She’d get me arranged in the machine then open the door to the adjoining suite and ask a question. She set me up again, and with my breast pressed inextricably between two plates of glass, open the door to the reception area and talk to another person. At one point she left me hanging (literally and figuratively) for about 2 minutes while she went through yet a third door and talked to someone else! At the end of the session she motioned to the chair where I had left my clothes and said I should make myself comfortable (Si accomodi usually means make yourself comfortable, have a seat;  but I now know it can also be used as for “lay back and relax”) and wait for the doctor. To me comfortable  (and relaxed!) is fully dressed, so I began to suit up. I had just put my bra on and had my arms in the sleeves of my blouse when a man in a white coat opened Door Number 3 and my tech beamed with a cheery Ciao bello! Buongiorno! As they consulted over some technical issue (I don’t know if he was a doctor or a computer technician), I buttoned my blouse and donned my sweater. Standing there awkwardly I asked if I should wait. “Sì” and another wave to the chair.

About 40 seconds later in sweeps another young woman who escorts me into the room where I thought the aging rocker was. Yup; He’s the doctor. I figured he was going to give me the “all clear” and I’d be on my way.  Huge office with a desk on one side, mammograms up on the large computer screens, which the doctor is studying. On the other side of the office is an exam table, which the nurse escorts me to and tells me to undress. I ask: “What are we doing?” “An exam” she says, perplexed. I had heard they do ultrasounds on most everyone…. So I strip to the waist again and lay down (Si accomodi!), only to be left there, half-naked and certainly not comfortable, while the doctor makes a phone call and the nurse comes-and-goes a couple of times. They ask me for my last films (not handy – they are in Oregon), and finally the doctor does the ultrasound.  I give great credit for thoroughness.  My favorite part (tongue firmly in cheek) was when he motioned bare-breasted me 20 feet across the huge office to see my mammogram close up, and then back again to the complete the exam.  My only question is why they even allowed me to dress between the two exams. I suspect an Italian woman would not do so, would know she was moving on through Door Number 1 for the sonogram.

In our own environment we know pretty-much what to expect, and I think in North America medical personnel tend to explain — maybe even over-explain — what you are to do, what is going to happen, what to expect. Here there seems to be a great assumption that one already knows what to expect. And of course in North America we have huge body-consciousness/privacy issues. Not worth having here….

I can hardly wait for a trip to the gynecologist.

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