Today, I tried to pay my gas bill. Gas for the home, not the car. We are the only Americans I know who have to pay their gas bill the Italian way. Most families here either have a bombola (key word in the first four letters!) or their landlord presents them the bill, they give the landlord the cash payment, and landlord pays the bill. To backtrack, a bombola is somewhat like a huge propane tank. Most are outdoors, and due to new Italian laws, must be buried underground. There is some sort of voodoo activity you can do to make sure your bombola is not leaking, there are certain people to call when it's time to refill your gas tank, coupons that must be used, and so forth. All in all, I was quite pleased when our landlord agreed to install "City gas" in our house. We still have our bombola - it sits in the backyard...a little bit of yard art for our enjoyment. But the real gas comes through city gas lines. We moved into our house on almost the last day of October. Our first bill was presented to us last week by our landlady. She told me it covered three months, but when I studied the bill, it seems to cover only the first month. Who really knows? It's higher than what we'd pay in the U.S., but not totally outrageous considering I actually use our heat! Anyway, our landlady informed me that I am to take the bill to the Post Office and pay it by January 31st. She kept telling me my deadline, wisely, since the bill is in her name!
I probably haven't talked much about it here, but this place is a cash society. There is no card swiping, credit using, sign a screen and you're done. Hand over the real money. So Nathan spends a lot of time at the ATM machine that is on his way to the parking lot at work. He brought me the money and off I trundled to the post office today. I got a late start due the handyman being here all morning, and arrived at the post office about 12:20p.m. First big oddity: you enter the post office through this one at a time entry system that mimics bird and butterfly conservatories at zoos. Push the button and enter (alone) the antechamber. Wait for the door to close behind you. Then the door in front of you opens. You're in! Yay! The post office has one of those letter/numbering systems to prioritize/call clients. Pick the letter that fits your need, push the button, out comes a printed paper with a letter/number combo ala Bingo. Now wait, wait, wait for your number to be up! My letter, "A," did not print out. I pressed the button and got a printed message that basically said, "We're not printing letter A. I elected to just press all the letters, get a number for each, then go to the first one that came available. This turned out to be a great decision as people filed in quickly after me, all pressing Letter A. They would then ask a clerk or another customer about the non-printing issue and get some sort of response that left them still standing around. Would all of us Letter As get to rush a clerk, were we waiting on a sign, on the machine to be fixed, what? Thankfully, one of my other letters got called. Once I explained what I needed, the very nice clerk explained to me that the post office closes at 1pm (every day! pretty good gig, I'd say), so Letter As were no longer being given out due to time. I can return tomorrow between 8am-1pm (although clearly, one needs to arrive by 11am for Letter A issues). Thank you, Nice Postal Clerk, for taking the time to really tell me what is going on in this country rather than dismissing me, leaving me bewildered and confused.