I am sweating. I am gripped with fear.
I am at the post office.
This errand, in particular, I have been avoiding for weeks. Yes, we ordered some sneakers for R from amazon.it (don’t judge…it has been a lifesaver) and no, they didn’t work out. So yes, with my prepaid packing label taped to my package (yes, I had to do a lot of research just to find tape), I mapped out the way to the closest Poste Italiane and walked there.
When I arrived, rehearsing in my head, over and over “devo restituire questi pacchetti” (I have to return these packages) and “ho già pagato per speditimento” (I have already paid for shipping), I took a number and took my seat.
When you arrive in the Poste Italiane, you are greeted by a yellow machine which asks you, by way of touchscreen, to indicate what you need to do that day. Do you need to get a loan for a motor scooter? Do you need to ship something? Mail something? I pressed the icon with the little package on it. I figured it would take about five minutes.
The place was packed with people and dogs. The (maybe) ninety-year old woman next to me told me that the line was not moving, it seemed to be stuck. She asked me then, smiling, if I was one of the carabinieri…a police woman. She indicated the stripe on my track pants…and my black derby shoes. No, I said, smiling, I am not. “Questi pantaloni sono a moda, adesso”…(these pants are in fashion right now), I responded.
“Ahhh”…she nodded….”a Milano…tutti sono sempre a moda….”
In Milan, everyone is always in fashion.
And then she told me that she was in a huge hurry and began to make faces at a nearby corgi.
Now it is twenty-five, thirty minutes that I am waiting. Everyone is waiting. Still, I am sweating.
Rehearsing my phrases in my head.
The dogs, maybe five or six of them, all interestingly tan in color, begin to notice each other. They had, up to this point, been quiet and disinterested. (Non mi interessa, they are thinking).
The woman next to me gets her turn at the service window. She is ecstatic. Before she leaves, she approaches me again. She wishes me “Salute, Signora Carabinieri”. She is grinning from ear to ear.
Finally, at the fifty-five minute mark, they post my number on the screen.
I walk to the window.
“Primo”, I begin, “il mio italiano non è perfetto, allora…mi dispiace”. (First, my Italian is not perfect so I am sorry.). Then I begin to tell the woman behind the window that I just need to drop off the packages…with the phrases I have been ruminating on. She nods and ushers me to a separate glass cubicle with security windows on both sides. She indicates that I am to put my packages inside the small cubicle and close the security window on my side. At that point she is able to open the window on her side to retrieve my packages.
We go back to our original service window (“sportello”) and she begins to cut all the paperwork off of my packages and totally repackage my packages. And talks to me the whole time. She works very, very slowly.
Finally, after twenty minutes she hands me receipts and tells me that I am finished.
She tells me that I have prepaid my shipping. (Yes, I thought so)
I tell her that she has been so kind, I thank her and wish her a buona giornata.
I am exhausted.
a not-so-different story than might also occur in chicago. i have been blessed with a teeny-tiny post office in lakewood, new jersey that is quick and ultra-polite, even when paused for some neighborly chit-chatting. our post office here in firenze is vicino il supermercato coop. takes your number and do your shopping. they’ll be waiting when you return.