The day before we left Nellysford for Rome, I mailed two empty envelopes to our new address: one by regular mail and the other by priority mail. The regular-mail envelope cost 98¢ and arrived in exactly one week; the priority-mail envelope cost $13.95 and arrived in two weeks and one day. We’d asked the person forwarding our first-class mail to send a priority-mail envelope every other week to Michael’s office to see if that worked any better. She mailed it two weeks ago tomorrow—no sign of it yet. Fortunately, we pay most of our bills electronically, but other mail? Who knows when we’ll see it.
At least I understand the U.S. postal system. In Rome it’s a complete mystery. Today’s goal was to solve the mystery. I bought three postcards last week to mail to Mom, a cousin, and a friend who doesn’t use the Internet. When I bought the postcards, I asked the proprietress if she sold stamps. She didn’t, but she told me I could buy them at tabacchi.
Tabacchi are just what they sound like—tobacco shops. They also sell transit tickets, both daily and monthly (but not weekly—go figure); phone cards; lighters; pens; jewelry; candy; and other small things. This afternoon I went to the tabacchi between Campo de’ Fiori and Piazza Farnese and asked in my very best Italian (after reviewing a lesson from Senora Dupont), “I francobolli per le cartoline,” (stamps for postcards) and before I could finish, he said, “No.” Then he said in his very best English, “What country?” “Gli Stati Uniti,” I replied in my very best Italian. “How many?” he said in his very best English. “Venti,” (20) said I. “No,” he said, “You must go to the post office for so many.”
This is a typical conversation in Rome. We want to practice our Italian; wait staff, sales people, transit drivers, and other Italians want to practice their English. The butcher wouldn’t say one word in Italian to either Michael or me. It’s so cute. But I digress . . .
I knew a nearby post office, so I set off through the wee winding streets south of Campo de’ Fiori and arrived in about ten minutes. Like tabacchi, the post office has many functions. It’s a post office like the ones we know in the United States, but it also has banking and financial services, and people can pay their utility bills there.
Inside the post office were two automated machines. I think one was an ATM, and I think the other was an automated postal service machine. I couldn’t figure them out. For every button I pushed, I got the choice of a green smiley face, a yellow neutral face, or a red sad face. I didn’t know what to do with those smiley faces, so I walked farther into the post office to find three rooms, all filled with people holding numbered slips—no lines, no signs. I couldn’t figure out which room had stamps or where to get a numbered slip. I asked a woman where to get the slip and she pointed, but I couldn’t see what she was pointing at. So, defeated, I gave up.
I walked back toward Campo de’ Fiori and came upon another tabacchi. This one had 15 stamps—hallelujah! But not so fast! I had to buy two stamps for each postcard, and the price for each set of stamps was €1.60, about $2.40 per postcard. Lordy Pete! So I forked over the euro and took the stamps and my postcards to a counter to stamp the postcards. One set of stamps was a bit sticky, so I licked it and it stuck to the postcard just fine. The other seemed drier but I couldn’t see perforations for a self-stick stamp. So I licked it and tried to stick it to the postcard, and it didn’t stick. Oops! One of the women behind the counter saw my failed attempt and started laughing and telling the rest of the folks about the stupid American who was trying to lick self-stick stamps. I laughed, too, because it WAS pretty funny. She came over and showed me how the self-stick stamps work, and we laughed together. [Now that I’m home, I can see the perforations just fine, thank you!]
I’d finished two of the postcards successfully when one of the men came over with a wet sponge for me to use rather than lick the last stamp—so sweet! I thanked him and finished the job. As I left, I went over to the assembled mob watching the show from behind the counter, gave them all a big smile, thanked them for their help, and then pointed to my head, saying, “Stupida!” They, in unison, said, “Non, non” and something that sounded soothing and supportive. I asked them where to mail the postcards, and they said I had to go to a post office. My heart sank, but at least I knew where the post office was.
Back I went to the post office. I stepped inside—no mailboxes. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Then I thought to look outside. The colors of the Italian postal service are blue and yellow. The graffiti-covered mailbox hanging on the wall outside and several yards away from the front door: red!
At least I mailed the postcards, but heaven help me if I ever need to mail a package!
P.S., And speaking of hilarious mail things, here’s the mailbox for all of the apartments in our building. It’s about 18 inches high and a foot wide. Whoever walks by picks up the mail, brings it in, and lays it on a small table in the entryway. I hate to think what will happen when it rains!