Posted by: debrakolkka | May 11, 2011

Sometimes Italy really drives me nuts

Italians are notorious for not following rules. You will see people lighting up a cigarette directly under a No Smoking sign or overtake beside a No Overtaking sign (yes, there are road rules in Italy, I have read the rule book from cover to cover when I had to go through the hideous experience of getting my Italian licence). But sometimes they follow rules to the letter even when they are ridiculous.

Recently we were shopping for a new kitchen for the Vergemoli house at a large group of shops near Pisa. Later we were having a gelato near the supermarket Ipercoop. I thought I would duck in to buy a couple of things. I walked into the shop and was immediately shouted at by 2 assistants (and I use the term loosely). They informed me that I had come in through an incorrect entrance. I said that I was sorry and that I would not do it again, but that was not enough. They shouted again that I had to leave the store and go through the correct entrance some distance away. I thought they were joking and replied that I was already inside the shop and what would be the point of walking out and coming in again – not good enough for them. They insisted that I leave. I pointed out that if I left I would not be re-entering – ever.

These 2 fools insisted that I leave. They did not offer a reason why it is necessary to enter in a particular place. They were not polite. They shouted and waved their arms. To say that I was furious would be an understatement.

I will never set foot inside that shop ever. They have lost a customer permanently. Take note Ipercoop.

If you want to read about the horror of obtaining a drivers’ licence in Italy click here.


  1. Hi
    Yes they can be infuriating
    I had an experience with the post office in a small town in Toscana.

    Went in and I was the only one in the post office while three attendants behind the counter looked down, at each other or anywhere but me. After standing in the line for a few minutes by myself one of them said “you must have a number”
    So off I trot (two metres away) get my number and bingo “service was activated”
    Oh well I am just a stranieri…probably not meant to understand.

    One day I will pluck up enough courage (stupidity) to go for my Italian licence

    • Post offices are a law unto themselves in Italy. There is almost always a very long wait to do anything because people pay most of their bills at the post office and this seems to take ages. I have to steel myself for a trip to the post office. We have a couple of very good people at our local branch now, but that has not always been the case. There was a man there awhile ago who practically refused to sell me stamps. He wanted me to leave the letters with him and he would stamp them later. After quite a lot of things didn’t arrive I insisted on stamps, which made him very cross. Imagine wanting to buy stamps in a post office – what cheek.

  2. This was some years ago, but I remember the time in Italy when, in the absence of ATM, I asked for a cash advance on my Australian Visa card over the bank counter.

    This required filling in a form which included, ‘Owner of credit card?’ Answer ‘Me’.
    ‘Purpose for which cash will be used?’ Answer ‘Buying stuff.’

    This was fine with the teller. It just required something to be written in each box.

    In Eritrea (former Italian colony) a friend told me a story about buying a hammer. He too had to fill in a form including, ‘Purpose for which article will be used?’ Answer ‘Hitting things.’ Fine. Thanks for your custom, Sir.

    • He might have said it was for hitting shop assistants.

  3. The shop rant has happened to me too, for exiting through wrong place, was expected to go back in and exit again! Obviously I didn’t!!Can’t remember which shop, not Ipercoop though, so there are clearly others out there like this pair!

  4. It’s hard to believe they can be so petty. Mostly they are not much interested in serving you. I was dumbstruck that 2 people attacked me at the same time. When did you ever get 2 people wanting to actually help you. I will be at the bar tomorrow at around 8.30.

  5. Sometimes people can just be bananas. Obviously it’s not limited to the Italians, although all the ones I know are pretty bonkers. Of course, we Aussies and my own Chinese family can’t really talk.. 😉

    • I know you can have bad experiences all over the world, including Australia, but they take it to another level here sometimes. It is like everything here, it is either wonderful or bloody awful.

  6. I am so LOL. First of all, I too have lived through the nightmare of getting a license. Very funny in hindsight, but not at all pleasant. And you are totally right about this insistence at times on rules that serve no purpose. (I notice it particularly in two camps. 1. people (like these) who have what I call “caribinieri mentality”…i.e. they’re in a position to lord what little control they have over you so they do or 2. people who have no power whatsoever and are lazy and simply don’t want to help you because they’d have to do a little extra work. This happens all the time in stores and telephone companies. “I’m sorry, I’m not authorized to do that…” In other words, the rules say I can’t do that “work” so I won’t.” Very frustrating.) Great post.

    • I don’t like to complain on the blog, but sometimes things here can be so frustrating that you want to scream. I have found that in most offices the attentandant’s first reaction is to get you to go away so that he/she won’t have to deal with whatever it is that you want. Then perhaps you might come back on a day when they are not there. If you stand your ground, they usually back down and do what is required. I do get very sick of everyday things being a battle. You are absolutely right about the power thing. If they have it, they use it with gusto and if they don’t, they want it.

  7. Do you have consumer watchdog type programmed on Italian tv or in the press or on the net? We have loads here, naming and shaming in the right place can sometimes have a good effect. Can you do the old fashioned thing of asking for their names? That sometimes helps. But if people decide to be power crazed best thing is to walk away, smiling telling them that you love them too!

    • I loathe Italian television and never watch it, so I don’t know that one. I was so shocked and angry by the reaction of the assistants that I was unable to do much except mumble and leave the store. I should have asked for their names and reported them, or kissed their cheeks and told them to have a lovely day, but I didn’t think quickly enough. I would be more inclined to do that in Asutralia, where I am on familiar territory. My Italian goes right out of my head at these times as well, and English comes out of my mouth.

  8. That’s ridiculous! How embarrassing and it’s like being treated like a naughty child over what, nothing!

    • You can understand why I was so cross.

  9. Oh, Debra, that sounds like a throw “something large and preferably with spikes” moment. I had to return some black and white film to Photo Continental here in Brisbane last week. Robin had bought it, on the advice of the assistant, but when she got home and checked her notes she found she had been given the wrong advice. Chicken Little here took it back but apparently their policy is not to exchange film because it is heat sensitive and the female assistant made me feel as if I were in the dock, she kept repeating “so you are telling me…” and I was repeating my story, feeling quite humiliated and lighting up like a four-bar-heater. But I really told her what I thought of her – once I was safely home! Absolutely love the Mosque and the pansies – what great pictures.

    • If only we could think of just the right thing to say at the time – instead of later.

  10. golly I laughed just now and reading Richard Tulloch’s comments had me in stitches!

    You sure got great comments this time.

    • Richard is very funny. Do you read his blog? There is a link at the right.

  11. 🙂 I had a good chuckle over that. I can relate to the shop, the post office and the bank pre-atm. All dramas that are heightened when my language skills were lacking, turning me to a confused red puddle.

    • I can cope with the post office a bit better now than when I first came, and we have very nice people there now.

  12. Hilarious account deb but must have been frustrating at the time, see they have such little power they are finding some way to exercise it!!!

    • It was infuriating. I still haven’t seen the funny side – I’m sure it will come.

  13. Had a very similar experience at a supermarket in Menaggio (when no one explained you had to pack your own groceries in bags which were not in an obvious place) which resulted in me dropping a full tub of olives onto the floor at the counter…and then they were going to charge me to replace them!! until I refused in my best faltering Italian.
    I have never been so rudely treated in a shop EVER.
    Then I softened and thought: Here are we holidaying, with good interesting jobs to go home to, and these people have to work here for ever, and are no doubt not well off as a result.
    My daughter Annabelle had a long conversation in fluent Italian with two shop girls in MAx & Co in Venice, who were in awe of her being on holiday there.
    They said they get only two weeks holiday per year and would never be able to save an for an airfare to come to Australia, especially not just for a short break.

    • It can be very daunting trying to navigate a new system. I think a little more undertstanding wouldn’t hurt. They can see that we are foreign and therefore unused to the way things work. Perhaps some of these unhelpful assistants need to spend time in a place where they are the stranieri. I’m sure they don’t get paid very well but that isn’t my fault – or yours and there is nothing we can do about it.

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