You would assume that the easiest and most common activity done at a post office would be to buy stamps and/or send a letter. Ah..but not so in Italia. One day a few weeks ago my friend Sarah and I decided to venture to the post office to buy stamps and send some postcards. First, we got lost trying to find it and had to ask for directions in which the lady that we asked told us in Italian and we only understood a few words. But enough that we knew we had to walk straight ahead and "grande!" Sure enough we walked a few blocks and then just around the corner was the biggest post office we'd seen yet in Milan. So we ventured inside. I wish I had a picture of the crazyness and chaos we entered. There is not just one (or maybe 2, 3 at the most) counter as there is at most American post offices but at least 10 if not more. We had no idea which counter we were supposed to go to and realized we had no idea how to say stamp in Italian. We went to the nearest window and they sent us to a different room. We walked up to that window and they sent us back into the previous room to window "#3." That would be fine if the windows were labeled with numbers! The 3rd window from the right? from the left? So we asked another individual who sent us to an entirely different building a few blocks down the road. Really?! We entered this building to find it was even more confusing than the first and a lady who saw us struggling and, praise God, spoke English told us our best bet was to just go to a tabbacheria and buy stamps there and put the postcards in a mailbox ourselves. At the nearest tabbacheria we struggled to communicate the words "buy stamps", "mail postcard", "different price than letter?", "cheaper stamp than letter?", "no we need stamps to mail to the United States" but after help from another English speaking Italian we finally had success.
This week, my second attempt at buying stamps resulted in me walking for 30 minutes to 3 different tabbachierie who either didn't have stamps or stamps only for Italy. I went home with no stamps. But fortunately the next day I was successful on my first try at a 4th tabbachiaria. Oh, and this time not only could i say stamps (francobolli) but I could form the entire question! Maybe I am learning Italian afterall. :)
Again, you would assume the easiest and most common thing to do at a bank is to get some money. Ah sigh but once more this is not always the case in Italia. When I got down to my last euro from what I had exchanged back in the States, I decided to take my travelers checks to the recommended bank by our program. IES informed us that banks charged less commission for exchanging travels checks than change offices. I headed to what we will call for purposes of this story (because I forget the actual name) Bank Italia and walked up to the available clerk. More prepared than with my stamp situation I asked in Italian if I could change my travelers checks for euro. The man looked at me and my blonde, pale American friend and replied to us in English, "We do not change travelers checks here, you must go to the change office." So I asked him where it was and he replied in ITALIAN. Great thanks a lot buddy. This time we didn't catch any of his directions except go out that door and then.... So, not wanting to pay a ridiculous commission I walked a little ways until I found another bank. "You must go to Bank Italia for that. We don't do that here." Perfect. Just perfect. In the end I went to a change office and lost so much money it made me nauseous. So I went and spent more on a gelato and called it a day... ;)
3) Education about the harmful effects of smoking and second hand smoke
There is not much to say about this except that Italians smoke everywhere, all the time and with no regard to those around them. Just walking through the courtyards of my school for less than 3 minutes, my hair and clothes reek of cigarette smoke from walking through the clouds that fill the air. Didn't these people have the D.A.R.E program?! Clearly, they have never seen the healthy lung vs. unhealthy lung slide show. And I still haven't figured out how everyone isn't keeling over from lung cancer. It's really quite sad actually.
4) peanut butter
For what ever reason, I have always loved peanut butter. It's great on sandwiches, in candy, by itself, on ice cream, etc. If I don't have peanut butter for long periods of time I find myself craving it. So, after a month in Italy I realized I was really missing my pb. Unfortunately for me, this essential food in my life doesn't seem to be on the food pyramid for the Italians. The grocery store nearest to where I live only offered one brand and one kind of peanut butter. A lot different from the multiple brands, multiple kinds (crunchy, smooth, low fat, regular, pb and jelly mixed) that I am used to staring at for minutes on end sometimes trying to make a decision. One option here (at least at my supermacato, although others may have more): Sugarless peanut butter. Let's just say it doesn't taste the same. But it will do for now.