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Writer Michael Grant, whose blog I enjoy a great deal (he’s so cranky!) recently wrote about Italian inefficiency, especially as exemplified in the loooong mid-day break for lunch and whatever.  He observed that Italians rarely take the shortest route between Points A and B.

I have to disagree.  It’s not mainly inefficiency that slows everything in Italy to a creeping crawl.  It’s over-regulation, too much bureaucracy, and an unwillingness to let people act on their own initiative.  I can think of many illustrations of this, but here’s a recent one:

Oh, the things we take for granted! For instance, having a telephone which doesn’t sound like your callers are trying to reach you from the dark side of the moon. Lately this is what all our hard-line phone calls have sounded like:

Us: Pronto!

Caller: snap, chhhhhh, bzzt, hissssss, crack, pip, bzzt ffftttttccccch

Us: Pronto, pronto, we’re having phone trouble, can you speak up?

Caller: Crzzzzk grack, snfffff, zzzzt bfft gritz hsssss. beep beep beep.

The last three recognizable sounds are used by Telecom Italia to inform you that your call has been terminated.

The problem started almost (sit down) two months ago when the Captain was at home alone. Being a sensible and intelligent man he immediately called the phone company. They were not very sympathetic; they barked at the Captain for not having put filters on our two telephones: of course we were having trouble, how stupid could we be (never mind that everything has worked very well for five years).

Of course the filters did nothing, so again the Captain called Telecom, and this being Italy a technician moseyed on over a few days later. He opened a box, found a junction thingy (technical term) and a lot of mud. He removed the latter, replaced the former and declared us back in business.

Except we weren’t. Things were slightly worse. About the time I got home the second technician moseyed on over and crawled around on the floor under the computer (had to try again with those pesky filters – they didn’t work for him either). He then went down to an inside junction box, disconnected and reconnected a lot of wires, declared himself puzzled but confident the problem was solved, and left. Not only was the initial problem unsolved, but we were now without internet access!

Again we approached the Telecom altar, penitent and hopeful – and maybe just a little irritated. How is it they can make us feel that it’s our fault? But they do. This time the high priest was sent with an acolyte. In no time at all he found the wire his colleague had left unconnected, and we were on line again. Phew!

They went back to the outside junction, plugged our wires into a magic box. “Look!” the older one said, showing us a confusing array of numbers on his device. “The problem lies within 50 meters of the house.” Well, pretty much everything lies within 50 meters of the house, but never mind. He further said that it was not a Telecom problem but a problem that would require our electrician. Clearly our outside wires were at fault. He, at least, seemed to know what he was talking about. It’s amazing what a confident air and a magic black box can do for a person.

We summoned Enzo the Electrician, who arrived with his nephew. He looked at everything everyone else had already looked at and declared that the phone wires were not where they should be and that we would have to dig to find them, and then probably replace them.

The Captain’s trench-digging days are happily behind him, so we summoned the Human Backhoe, Giovanni, the Romanian powerhouse who has done more work around here than I can say (it was he, when we moved in, who blithely put a queen-size wooden futon on his back and carried it down 40 steps to the house.  Here he is, waving cheerfully).   He sent  a recently arrived Romanian buddy who brought along his girlfriend, because she speaks Italian.

Turns out this fellow knew something about wires, so he looked at everything everyone else had already looked at.  Then he (and the translator) dug a pair of small trenches, one near the parking platform (under which the phone line passes, we learned to our horror) and one near the house.  He, at least, figured out, with the help of a plan the Captain drew some years ago, where the wires were.

Now we had no telephone and two big holes.

Again, yesterday, Louis called Telecom.  At last, at LAST, two technicians arrived today with some scissors and a big spool of phone line.  They removed a long section of wire off our property and replaced it.  They put a junction box in a sensible place.  The whole operation took an hour.  Our phone is fine now.

Don’t you wonder what the problem was?  Turns out the sheathing had been removed from a section of wires and the wires were touching and making all the static.  Who removed the sheathing?  A RAT.  They like to eat the plastic in the winter.  No accounting for taste, is there?

So to get back to Michael Grant and his points A and B – the Italians will also go from A to B, albeit at a more leisurely pace than an American.  The real problem arises when you are trying to get from point A to point F.  In America the first phone repair guy (point A) would’ve looked around the rural area where we live and said to himself, “Well, I bet its them dang rats again,” pulled out his scissors, and corrected the problem (point F) on his first visit.  But here in Italy there is a protocol to get to point F; in this case it involved filters (point B), an inexperienced technician in the house (point C), another Telecom visit (point D), a licensed Italian electrician (point E) and finally the experienced guy who said, “Oh yeah, probably rats. Let’s fix it.” (I’ve left out the Romanian episodes because we added those on our own; maybe we’re becoming Italian after all!).

If Italy ever wants to become more efficient (and I’m not sure it does) or at least more productive, it will be necessary to cut miles and miles of red tape and allow smart people to use their wits to solve problems.

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