And the Italian State said: Let them queue…

My good friend Tonino recently sent me a link to an innovative new app to help Italians and us foreigners living in Italy save time and sanity when running daily errands or wrestling with the national bureaucracy beast. Take a look at this (transcription below):

Sending registered mail, buying a sandwich, visiting a museum or picking up a certificate…

What do all these things have in common?

Queues, queues, queues!

It has been estimated that the average person spends more than a year queuing.
That’s far too long!

This is why we’ve invented the Qurami app. Qurami gives you back your time because it tells you which offices in and around your area have the shortest queues. It tells you how many people are in front of you but most importantly, it allows you to get a number and join the queue on your smart phone, even before you get to the office where you need to be. In the meantime you can get on with doing other (more enjoyable) things. Qurami will alert you when it’s almost your turn and gives you enough time to get to the relevant office. Get your time back by downloading the Qurami app!

Despite the advantages this app offers in terms of efficiency, I would urge newcomers to Italy to avoid using it for a while. You cannot claim to have truly experienced Italy and all the random encounters its queuing “system” offers until you’ve “been there and done that”.

Contrary to what many northern Europeans think about Italians, they seem to me to be just as fervent in their protection of unspoken queuing parameters as any Brit. What differentiates us from northern Italians (Italians from other parts of the country may well use the “push-and-shove” method) is that while we tend to opt for a black or white “giving them what for” or “mustn’t grumble- grin-and-bear-it” approach, they prefer to mix things up a bit and are not afraid to test out their “subtle” queue dodging tactics. Meaning they will often, for example, just walk in and ask you if they can skip to the front of the queue to ask “a quick question” or “quickly” hand something to the cashier. Quickly is always relative in the Mediterranean, so if you’re in a hurry, put your foot down – maybe not in English, as they’ll be sure to try to recruit you to give lessons to their son, daughter, Tom, Dick or Harry and unless you’re looking for extra cash or a free caffè, it may not be worth another two hours of your time.

In some establishments – I’m thinking of the main branch of San Paolo bank in Piazza san Carlo, the agenzia delle entrate at Porta Susa or the ophthalmology centre in Via Juvarra 19 – there is a ticket system with a display board. But the ticket systems often offer so many options, the user is left baffled. Only a few weeks ago I was at the Cellini clinic for a foot check-up, where for the first time ever there was someone to advise all the old biddies and myself on which of the 8 or 10 options on the screen we had to press to print out the right code to take to the cashier to pay the ticket for our doctor’s visit. It’s wonderful to observe how people – particularly the elderly – bond in such situations: they go from seeking reassurance – from someone equally as baffled as them – that they’re waiting in the right place etc., to telling them about the entire life story of their grandson who had to have root canal treatment. You can see the variation in expressions on the other person’s face as they try to match each comment with the right facial expression, when really they’re wishing the speaker would kindly leave them alone – this is not always the case, I must admit.

Perhaps the Italians deliberately chose to turn their noses up at that famous saying “time is money” (coined by Benjamin Franklin apparently), out of pride, in order to obliterate the painful memory of that train they missed some centuries ago … the Industrial Revolution! The effects of this seem to have trickled down to the 21st century, spreading the pain to foreigners like myself. Any bill-paying, bureaucracy-respecting task in Italy takes time, time and more time. Employers should offer staff extra days on top of holidays just to get these chores done. Registering with a doctor for the first time can take you anything from a few hours to several days or weeks, until you get the paperwork right. Picture this: You move to Italy, stay temporarily in one town, get your tax code and residency there but don’t register with a doctor. You then move to another city to work and want to register as a resident there, mainly so that you can register with a doctor. This is a problem as your land lady doesn’t want to you to provide the civil registry with the address of the house you’re renting so she doesn’t have to pay the dreaded TARSU (the trash tax!). Finally you resolve this and queue up at your nearest hospital at 7.30 am to finally (hallelujah!) register with a doctor. Only to be told that you need to go back to the town where you previously resided, register with a doctor there, then de-register, then register in your new city (getting annoyed…).You call up the health service offices in your old town and they tell you you don’t need to do anything of the sort, you can register from scratch in your new city (No comment…). Note the progression in emotions: Hallelujah > getting annoyed > no comment: If you’re looking for thrills, Italy is certainly a roller-coaster of emotions!

Decades of deep huffing and puffing should have put Italians at the top of any world yoga championship. They are second only to the Greeks at exhaling in frustration when forced to wait for prolonged periods of time in line or when they don’t understand how a system works. An attempt to resolve this bafflement with those around often leads either to copious heavy sighing, or worse, to a contagion of confusion, accompanied by a dramatic exit and the proclamation: “I’ll come back tomorrow…” Well, maybe one never gets anything done but you’ve got to admire the unwavering faith in the tomorrow! I’ve witnessed this in person on a number of occasions at my local ufficcio postale on Via Maria Vittoria, 24.

At the post office you can only pay in cash (there’s a strong cash mentality that stems from a long tradition of not trusting banks (quite justified) and of falling back on the family resources rather than get in debt. Perhaps we ought to learn something from the fact that the post office requires a minimum annual salary before they will issue a credit card.) or by Bancomat (debit card), not by credit card. Getting in the know about what payment methods are acceptable in what establishment (pharmacy for example only accepts Bancomat or cash) is vital if you want to save time. In the UK I paid by card everywhere, even on nights out, and never gave a second thought to it.

As The Telegraph’s Melissa Morozzo della Rocca says in her own entertaining article about queuing in Italy, “when living in Italy, you can’t help but join in complaining out loud to nobody in particular in the post office and being British about it gets you nowhere but perpetually at the back of the queue.” Queuing need never be boring in a country that is not your own. It offers a perfect window from which to observe the country’s culture, habits and learn about show its various systems work… or to get through that book you never make time to read, or maybe it’s all part of a cunning plan conjured up by the Italian State: give people enough empty time o think and one sparky mind may actually be struck by a bolt of inspiration and bring about some change.