Service Definition, Please.

The train whistle sounds, and the steam blows…“I am American and I waaaaant my service!! Roooarrr!!” was the line that marked the breaking point for my patience and sanity in the last month. I find that these types of “episodes” happen more frequently here on the boot and I’ve been trying to build up antibodies to combat these negative hostilities; they tend not to mesh well with my preferred artistic go-with-the-flow “chi” in life. It all starts in a story seemingly normal in fashion…we can even throw in some extremely misjudged high hopes!

Internet is epidemic, but instead of being an obsession, it is my lifeline across the ocean to my Stateside interests and loved ones. Desperate to establish an Internet connection as fast as possible in my new Milanese apartment, I recently had to embark on a search find myself a good contract. The probability is like fishing for sea bass or shrimp in a lake! Good luck. I spent some time debating between the few “competing” companies, and I chose an internet connection over an internet key because it seemed more reliable…oh reliability, what a different ring it has here!

I eventually decided against Fastweb (the fastest and sole fiber-optic provider) due to past client complaints, and I trusted my good business with a DSL company, Infostrada. I browsed through the offers online, and my Italian roommate and I finally settled on our package, completing the application and awaiting the next step. Little did I know that I would be in for a whole flight of steps to last and a two-month struggle to obtain my service, off the net in the land of darkness until finding the wireless resolution.

There are several fundamental problems with providers of any service in this country: no competition, no communication, and basically a bassackwards way of complicating the simplest forms of organization and logistics. Given that there is no competition, we can assume that there is no motive or impetus to lower pricing to appeal to client patronage. Due to the high demand of connectivity, most of these companies enjoy high rates without worry of lost loyalty. I call it the “Boo-ya” effect.

As you will discover, the lack of communication is a byproduct of their disjointed organization, yet I have started to suspect that they purposely avoid interpersonal exchange to confuse clients. I call this the “bamboozle” effect: it’s like playing dizzy bat and having to run; better yet, it recalls poisoned insects that slowly lose all motor control as they get closer to the light. The more you daze and drive your clients crazy, the more they are invested and tangled in your webbed scheme, knowing full well that to undo the damage just means another road of pain. Maybe it is not a conspiracy; maybe at the end of the day, they just got wrapped up in a long lunch break, and it slipped their mind to communicate.

After waiting through three weeks of silence, I was in the mountains with my students on a field trip when I receive a call from the company; despite the bad reception, I was finally able to arrange for a technician to come to my apartment with my roommate’s presence. Elated that the wait was finally over, I arrive home, tired and dirty from my mountainous adventure amidst 200 children, expecting to see the lovely bars of my wireless connection to start buzzing with activity. Lesson #?: never have your hopes raised. Instead, I find that the man from Telecom had come merely to reinstall our phone line.

What comes next?! The second waiting period begins with the helpless expectation of a phone call. Believe me, if there were a feasible way to speak to a live person from the company, I would have been incessant and demanding for clear protocol; however, “operation bamboozle” was in full effect, and you just can forget about clarity! The hovering nebulous cloud of dubious mystery sets the stage for surprise attacks and haywire happenings.

The phone rings 1.5 weeks later to confirm our modem drop-off the following workweek, without establishing specifics. Immediately, some anxiety sets in knowing that most deliveries occur during the day without consideration of whether or not you will be home from work. Not having a porter for the apartment complex, my roommate and I understand that the situation could easily spin out of control into the land of black holes and madness, into the limbo land of lost floating packages!!! The exchange between Infostrada and the “delivery company” is taking place, and we have entered into the gray area of “non-responsibility and absent status reports.” We hold our breath in anticipation, and by now, we have no control.

It’s Tuesday of the week promised, and I get a call while coming home from work. The delivery boy, let’s call him Roberto, has come and gone. “When can he come back and what is the name on my doorbell?” Information is exchanged, and I make plans to receive the package the next day during a time span of three hours. Next day: no call, no sign, no nothing. Thursday: Silence on the front. Friday: I move into military action and begin frantically calling every number I can find on the internet. After a good two hours of dead-ends and misdirected calls, I hold for twenty minutes to talk to the specific Milanese delivery service, and my blood pressure finally cools when we fix another meeting time. Once again, time slowly passes with no sign of Roberto!

This means war! This wasted Friday morning fuels me up to the point of rupture where I begin an all-out offensive against the delivery company. Of course I can’t start raining down calls until after their famous lunch break lull. Tick, Tick, Tick. 3:30pm: After listening to maddening music for another hour, I finally make contact with the delivery company. My roommate, fresh to the battle, begins speaking very calmly and politely to the employee and tentatively starts setting a new rendezvous with Roberto for the following week! NOOOOOOOO!! (Quick flash of Edvard Munch’s painting, “The Scream”)

Suddenly, I snap and grab the phone, yelling, “I am the American roommate! Let’s get this straight! I am the CLIENT, and YOU are the SERVICE! I pay YOU to deliver ME the package, if there should be a PROBLEM, YOU FIX IT!!! Why should I, the CLIENT, chase my tail around like a dog to resolve the logistics of your companies! ROBERTO WILL BE HERE TODAY, OR ELSE!!” I believe that I quickly blacked out, fangs sprung from my canines, and my voice morphed into a loud hideous roar. My roommate was slightly scared during the moment of “Twilight” action. Wouldn’t you know, though, shortly after, I was promised my little Roberto in five minutes time! Luckily for Robby, my eyes flickered back to reality, my claws receded, and I started giggling. What a crazy person I’m becoming!

I wait with baited breath outside for my Roberto! Roberto is sour, having been butchered by his boss, testifying to have come by twice that day. Problem? He did not know the name on my doorbell. Oh Roberto, I guess that information didn’t reach you (miscommunication), and I guess you couldn’t pick up the phone to dial my number (incompetency). Too bad, I have my MODEM! Victory Dance!!!

Ladies and Gentleman, lessons are constantly learned in this country: Never do the victory dance before the fat lady sings! In the last phase of the “Boo-ya” effect, the company smeared the icing on the cake in one simple text message, “Due to communication and technical problems, we aren’t able to register and activate your modem for ten more days.” The situation automatically becomes hysterical in a fourth dimension sort of way that makes you philosophize about the definition of “service”. This is one of those emotional roller-coaster rides where it is always best to knock on lots of wood, avoid asking questions, and exercise the art of Zen. In the words of many Italians, “To get what you want here, you have to seriously break some balls.” I’m a stubborn east-coast girl who takes after strong women, full of competitive determination, but Italian ball-breaking is a new arena, and I’m a soldier in training.


Why do most Italians ride scooters?

Italian fact of the day:

Why do most Italians ride scooters?

1. Their cities and the country in general are more crowded–parking is always a hassle and traffic is a complete mess, especially in big cities like Milan. It is more convenient to have a small motor-bike that can weave in and out of the cars and find parking in small spaces. Besides traffic conditions, cities like Milan require a hefty price for using your car in the city center due to the high congestion and air quality problems.

2. Considering the fact that many roads in Italian cities, especially those in smaller towns, can be very small, narrow, and/or steep depending on the terrain. These areas have amassed their topography over uncountable centuries, and their roads tend to be more convoluted and tangled, intersecting, weaving, and bumped into piazzas. Of course I am not discounting city-planning in the least, but these urban schemes tend to chart the path of human activity and community interaction. Have you ever seen a map of Milan? It looks like a spider web in that there are larger circles, called le circonvallazioni, that ring the traffic in, out and around the city. Scooters are conducive for any road type or route.

3. They are not allowed to get their drivers license until they are 18 years old. However, they are permitted to drive motor-scooters at the age of 14. Therefore, teenagers are raised on two wheels before they earn their right of passage.

4. It is simply soooo much fun to ride a scooter around the city, zipping by monuments and feeling the air rush against you! I love watching people of ever age hop onto their motorini! From teenagers: dressed in the latest fashion, with their high top shoes and conformist brands, styled hair-dos under helmets, flying to their next encounter—to the working class: women flipping their hair and pressing the gas with high heels, men with flying suit tails flapping in the breeze weaving through morning traffic, picking up their children after school and securing them in the bike—to the older people: still hanging in with the high blood-pressure traffic maneuvers and ready as every to make absurd high-flying gestures at the crazy driving comportment of the fellow motorists–that absurd driving etiquette which is innately Italian.

5. They are just Italian!