Monthly Archives: August 2015

Part 2 of 2 – 60 things we will not miss after leaving Italy

NOTE: This is Part 2 of a 2-part post. If interested in reading Part 1 (20 Things We Will Miss When We Leave Italy), just click on the hyperlink.

Well, it’s been over a month since we left Italy (after my wife lived there for a couple of years and I visited her from Hawaii for extended periods of time over those two years) and believe it is time to post the 60 things we will not miss after leaving Italy, having lived “la dolce vita” for 2 years. 60! I know! So, here goes the 60 things we will not miss after leaving Italy…and Europe in general: (there is a trend here…and not that it wasn’t enjoyable…just made the experience more interesting)

1. We will not miss not having regular coffee; large, bottomless coffee. When you are asked in Italy if you would like coffee, they mean espresso and not “regular” coffee. If you order cafe Americano, it’s just watered down espresso…or as some Italians would call, “dirty water”. Needless to say, sometimes, you just crave that large cup of good old fashioned coffee you get to savor in a chilly morning at home back in the U.S.

2. We will not miss not having large cappuccino. My wife loves cappuccino…at any time of the day and not just before 11:00 AM as Italians would like to have them. Trouble is, cappuccinos (or cappuccini for plural in Italian) in Italy are normally served in these demitasse…small cups. You miss those large cappuccinos served at Starbucks. When we were traveling all throughout Europe, we looked forward to stopping by at a Starbucks or another cafe just to have some cappuccinos served in a much larger cup or mug.

Cappuccino and brioche...typical Italian breakfast.

Cappuccino and brioche…typical Italian breakfast.

3. We will not miss not having Starbucks available in Italy. Speaking of Starbucks…there are no Starbucks in Italy! I know! It came as a surprise to us as well when we found out there are no Starbucks in Italy. Italians would argue against having Starbucks since there are already “authentic” cafes all throughout Italy…but there is just something about a Starbucks.

4. We will not miss not having large, bottomless sodas…and cheaper drinks in general…not having to pay for condiments. We take those large, bottomless drinks for granted in the states, but you tend to long for them when you are in Italy and traveling all throughout Europe. And having to pay for those condiments, even at McDonald’s. Often times, we forget about it and when asked if we want some ketchup to go with our fries, we absentmindedly say yes, and there goes €0.30 per packet. €0.30 for a packet of ketchup at McDonald’s?! C’mon!

5. We will not miss not having free public restrooms. Free restrooms in Europe are quite rare. We’ve made it a TTP (Tactics, Techniques,  and Procedures) to use the restroom or WC in a restaurant we dined in prior to venturing back out…lest we risk paying from between €0.50 to €1 to use the public restrooms. By the way, those WCs are quite elusive in Venice…you see those signs for WCs and you follow them for what seems like forever, especially if you really have to go, only to end up in an alley with no WC in sight.

6. We will not miss not being able to gas up on a Sunday or anytime after 6:30 PM (unless you go on an autostrada or highway). US military personnel are issued gas coupons purchased at the PX (Post Exchange) for buying fuel at the local economy…well, those gas stations in the local economy, less those located in the autostrada, are closed on Sundays and Saturday afternoons (unless you use credit card machines which means you can’t use the discounted  coupons), and at night. So, one needs to plan ahead to account for gas station closures…something one wouldn’t have to think about back home.

7. We will not miss not having access to cheaper gas, especially now with gas being dirt cheap in the US. With the current average price of gas in the US running at about $2.595 per gallon, purchasing gas without coupons, with the current average price of gasoline in Italy at $1.80 per liter (or about $6.81 per gallon), takes a bite out of one’s budget…especially for a family with more than one vehicle and unable to make do with their allotment of gas coupons.

8. We will not miss not being able to listen to our favorite US radio stations…require additional equipment to pick up AFN. There is this radio station my wife loves listening to in Hawaii. The station also streams their content…but for some reason, that station’s streaming content is blocked in Italy. Frustrating. Additionally, AFN Radio in Italy operates at frequencies not normally picked up by radios in US vehicles…as such, one must purchase additional equipment (such as CE Certified FM Radio and FM Modulator Systems) to pick up AFN Radio in US spec. vehicles. Now, there are a few Italian radio stations that play current American pop music and you get to “learn” some Italian (ottanta, ottanta, ottanta – who knew it was all about 80’s music) on the side…but it’s just not the same.

9. We will not miss not having TV variety. AFN (Armed Forces network) has come a long way. It used to be AFN aired TV shows a season behind, at least that’s what it was back in the mid to late 90s in Korea and other OCONUS (Outside CONtinental U.S.) locations. Now, AFN’s TV lineup is quite diverse and shows the current season’s episodes. However, even with AFN, there are shows you used to watch back in the states that are not shown. AFN can only show certain amounts of TV shows so it is limited in what it can air.

10. We will not miss those AFN commercials. With AFN, there are no “normal” commercials one sees in the U.S….more like public service announcements (PSA) disguised as commercials. Some of them are quirky funny…but others are just head scratchers. Although, I don’t mind those country and state quizzes.

11. We will not miss not having orderly queuing for lines at the airport. If you’ve ever been through an Italian airport (although things are getting better at Milan-Bergamo airport) you would immediately notice that there wasn’t orderly queuing for lines at the boarding gates…and sometimes for the security lines. Italians (and others who don’t want to be disadvantaged) would just bum rush the gates regardless of which zones their seats/tickets are in…no such thing as zones, actually. On a flight from Venice to Dublin, we struck up a conversation with visitors from Ireland and they expressed their exasperation with the lack of orderly queuing at the airport, with passengers, mostly Italians, snaking and easing their way into a line from all sorts of different directions. I just replied that Italian lines just have many branches.

12. We will not miss not having spacious hotel rooms…and local beds outside posh hotels have hard mattresses and sometimes just 2 twins pushed together. If you’ve stayed in a hotel in Europe, you would immediately notice how small the rooms are compared to what one would be accustomed to staying in hotels in the US for the same level of accommodations. In our experiences, not only were the hotel rooms smaller (with a couple of exceptions, we had a really nice and spacious hotel room in Krakow, Poland and a very spacious B&B in Ghent. Belgium), the beds are normally smaller as well. It is rare to come across a queen bed, let alone a king sized bed. You would more than likely encounter a double bed, which are often times just two twins pushed together. This is even true in 4 or 5 star European hotels we’ve stayed in.

13. We will not miss not having spacious elevators. Elevators in European buildings can be quite small and claustrophobia-inducing. Maybe it’s because the original buildings were centuries old, way before Mr. Otis popularized elevators with his invention of a safety device preventing elevators from falling after a cut cable back in 1853. In any case, one would normally encounter an elevator (if there is one at all) that would barely fit one or two people…or less if those people have luggage that has to be hauled up. In one elevator in Paris, my mom barely fit in an elevator with just two smaller sized luggage. She felt claustrophobic after that encounter and she refused to get on it for the rest of our stay in the city.

14. We will not miss not having large vehicles. When you look around and survey vehicles being driven around in Europe, the vast majority of them are hatchbacks. If you see a sedan, let alone a truck or SUV, then it’s a good bet that it belongs to an American or was bought from an American. Supposedly, Europeans favor hatchbacks over sedans because they have more space and are generally smaller, which would be an advantage in the narrow roads and the challenging parking situations in most European cities. I just don’t get it.

15. We will not miss those “Italian kisses.” Prior to leaving Hawaii for Italy, we made it a point to leave my wife’s BMW behind as we’ve heard some stories about accidents and the near certainty that one’s vehicle in Italy would suffer from numerous dents, dings, scratches…or “Italian kisses” as they’ve been dubbed by Americans living in Italy. We bought a used Toyota Yaris instead and had that shipped over…and glad we made that decision. The Yaris (we called her Bella) got her share of “Italian kisses” but she was generally not used very often, only putting about 9,000 miles in nearly 2 years of driving.

16. We will not miss those overly aggressive Italian drivers channeling their inner Mario Andretti, speeding as they maneuver through extremely narrow roadways. I’ve heard it said that in Italy, nothing goes fast…except for Italian drivers…while they straddle lanes on the autostrada or surface street. A nurse, who specialized in bio-feedback, told us that for Americans, one of the biggest stressors in Italy is driving. Italian drivers are generally impatient, erratic, and unyielding. They must all think they’re Mario Andretti…all the while driving more like “Rain Man”.

17. We will not miss not having automatic garage door and large garages in general. I guess this is more of a “first world problem” more than anything, but we missed not being able to open the garage with a remote. I would normally have to get out of the car and open the garage manually (since I can’t drive my wife’s car), regardless of weather conditions. You get used to it…but it doesn’t mean you don’t miss those conveniences you sometimes take for granted back at home.

18. I will not miss not being able to drive own vehicle (as a non-SOFA card holder). Speaking of not being able to drive my wife’s car…due to Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the US and Italy, non-command sponsored family members (which I am) are not allowed to drive SOFA vehicles. I can rent a car with an international license (speaking of which, this is quite easy to do through AAA) and pay an absurd amount of money, especially if you are not proficient with driving standard transmission (i.e. stick shift) as renting automatic transmission vehicles are generally more expensive.

19. We will not miss not having wide streets and sidewalks. Streets in Italy, and in Europe in general, are quite narrow…which can be a challenge for Americans driving their trucks, SUVs and bigger vehicles in general.This is true in the city and sometimes in the countryside as well. I recall us driving in Tuscany and our GPS had us going on this narrow, winding road heading from San Gimignano to Greve in the Chianti region. We had to pull over numerous times as the roads were not wide enough for two vehicles, let alone farm equipment and some construction vehicles. Sidewalks can be elusive as well…and with the way folks in Italy drive, you would want sidewalks.

20. We will not miss not having toll-free highways. There are no freeways in Italy…one has to pay tolls on the autostrada. Often times, there are attendants, though they probably don’t speak English, who can assist you with any issues you might have, such as not enough cash, no credit cards…or worse, lost your toll ticket…in which case you are probably going to have to shell out €60 or so. Americans sometimes take freeways for granted…but a visit to Europe would make you appreciate those taxpayer paid freeways.

21. We will not miss not having access to good, fast Internet. In all the places we visited in Europe (I didn’t go to any of the Scandinavian countries who apparently have good Internet connections) the best wireless connectivity we were able to get was 3G…no 4G LTE at all. Additionally, Internet service provided in the Italian apartment was through ADSL which, once you get used to faster cable Internet, just can’t cut it. There were numerous FaceTime sessions between my wife and I, between Hawaii and Italy, that were just frustratingly jittery or just plain intolerable that we had to revert to just sending messages lest frustration grow to epic proportions…and there goes the iPhone or the iPad.

22. We will not miss inability to do laundry quickly. European washers and dryers take an inordinate amount of time to get laundry done. It would literally take about 5-6 hours just to get a couple loads of laundry (smaller capacity as well) done. Not only were the machines relatively slow (although proponents think those machines clean better), the electric capacity in the apartment was maddeningly insufficient (even though we paid extra to “upgrade” the capacity to 4.5 kW) precluding use of both the washing machine and the dryer at the same time…especially if you are trying to cook something. You can’t use any of your electric appliances and the washer and dryer at the same time without tripping the main circuit breaker (and have to make the long trek from the top floor to the ground floor to reset the main breaker). Frustrating, to say the least. Another thing that was peculiar was the need to empty out the dryer of accumulated water…since there are no dryer vents. Failure to do so would add a significant amount of time to your drying time.

Italian washer and dryer in the bathroom of our Italian apartment...also note the lack of counter space in the bathroom.

Italian washer and dryer in the bathroom of our Italian apartment…also note the lack of counter space in the bathroom.

23. We will not miss not having large refrigerators. Once again, most Americans are spoiled with having those spacious side by side refrigerators. Some even have another refrigerator or a freezer in the garage or in the basement.  In Italy, the “normal” refrigerator is quite small, at most about half the capacity of a “normal” American refrigerator. I suppose this is both good and bad…good in a sense that it is a “forcing function” compelling you to shop for fresher food. Bad, because you would have to make multiple trips to the markets to restock instead of just having what you need readily available in a well stocked refrigerator.

24. We will not miss not having large, spacious showers. It seems like showers in Italian apartments are afterthoughts…like, hey, there’s that corner over there, maybe we can put a small stand-up shower unit there with just enough space to fit a small anorexic person. One barely fits going in and out of the shower..makes me feel like I am the “Incredible Hulk” whenever I try to get in or get out of the small showers. Forget about those rain showers in these tiny showers units. Not to mention the frustrating inconsistencies with water temperature. It seemed like it takes a while before the temperature would settle…so you let the water run, and run some more before braving the shower in case the warm water suddenly turns ice cold.

25. We will not miss not having closets nor ample bedroom storage space. I think the World Wildlife Fund actually declared closets in Italy as endangered, if not altogether extinct. In Italy (and maybe for most of Europe), property taxes are reportedly based on the number of rooms…so the higher the number of rooms, the higher the property tax. A closet is considered a room, so most builders do away with closets (let alone walk-in closets) to save on taxes. Those wardrobes are just a poor excuse for closets…and don’t hold nearly as much clothing.

26. We will not miss not having enough bathroom counter space or vanity. In keeping with the theme here, the bathrooms are small and lack counter space. We missed our double sink vanity back home, with plenty of space to place your hygiene items. In Italy, we were always hunting for counter space in the bathroom…and in the process, found a new use for the bidet! There’s also a frustrating lack of electric outlets in the bathroom. Where am I supposed to plug my electric toothbrush? By the toilet? C’mon!

27. We will not miss not having adequate insulation in local buildings. The apartment we were living in, and I would surmise most of the residential buildings in Italy, was constructed out of concrete with no drywall and little to no insulation. As such, it gets quite cold in the winter and hot in the summer. The heater and the AC units provide inadequate relief from the temperature extremes. Additionally, one finds out that concrete is actually a good medium for transmitting sound, as we’ve found out that we can hear everything, I mean everything, from an apartment even 2 floors down. It was like listening to a live Haagen Dazs commercial (the one with an Italian couple bickering over gelato) from your own apartment…every night.

28. We will not miss Italian (and European) breakfasts. Living in Italy for two years, where breakfast is normally a cappuccino with a brioche, you sometimes long for a heartier American breakfast with bacon, hash browns, coffee, eggs and toast..oh yeah throw in some buttermilk pancakes as well…wait, is that a Denny’s Grand Slam breakfast? Denny’s was actually one of the first places we stopped by for breakfast once we got back to the U.S.

29. We will not miss not having accurate utility bills…how hard is it?  This is one of those perplexing and agonizingly frustrating experiences we’ve had to endure, OK more so with my wife, while living in Italy. The gas and electric bills (and also water bills) were just not consistent and there were huge fluctuations in usage (according to them anyway) and of course the bill. My wife used to religiously check her gas, electric and water meters on a monthly basis (going into this seemingly subterranean hole covered by this heavy metal sheet to check one of them), but eventually gave up since the bills didn’t correspond with the readings at all (except for the electric). They supposedly don’t actually check the meters on a regular basis and use “historical” data to determine your bill. What the heck is that? The water bill was supposed to be initially paid by the landlord and then split “equally” between all the tenants, supposedly taking into account the number of occupants in the apartment (i.e. single occupant wouldn’t pay as much as a family of four). Well, in two years living in the apartment, my wife actually got one bill and the second and last one was when she was settling with the landlord prior to leaving.

Reading a gas meter...frustrating exercise in futility.

Reading a gas meter…frustrating exercise in futility.

30. We will not miss not having free online banking for paying rent and utilities. Online banking seems to be a novel and fairly new idea in Italy. Upon getting a bill, it is customary to head out to your bank on a monthly basis and settle up the bill, with your local bank sending the payments on your behalf. This became such a tedious and utterly mundane monthly ritual that my wife eventually set up automatic payments with the bank. However, unlike in the US where automatic payments are common and FREE, she had to pay $1 for every electronic transaction through Community Bank. I heard this process is worse for those banking through BNL. Just ridiculous!

31. We will not miss having to lock shutters after leaving the apartment for an extended period for fear of a break in…and having to shut shutters at night. Every window in Italy has these shutters that lock from the inside to prevent break-ins. While we thankfully didn’t experience any break-ins in our apartment complex, we often heard about houses and apartments, where Americans lived, being broken into, with thieves (with gypsies often blamed) having absconded with readily sellable items…and shattering the ever more precious sense of privacy and security in your own home.

32. We will not miss not being able to go on early dinners (before 1900) or have a decent dinner meal on a Monday night. If you find yourself feeling hungry at around 6:00 PM and clamoring a more substantial meal than maybe the kebab at the street corner or maybe some pizza at the neighborhood pizzeria, then you would more than likely would have to wait a bit longer to eat dinner. Italians normally eat lunch and dinner later than Americans and as such, the restaurants aren’t open for dinner until about 7:00 or 7:30 PM. Additionally, there are a lot of establishments that close on Mondays…so you have to plan accordingly. Now some parts of Europe are reasonable (Lisbon, Krakow, and Dublin, come to mind)…but some even open their doors later than in Italy, like in Madrid where dinners don’t even start until about 9:00 PM.

33. We will not miss having to use Google translate or hand gestures to communicate. In any country we visit, we try to learn some of the rudimentary words and phrases to at least show the locals we are trying. Our efforts were often met with genuine warmth and acceptance and we considered that aspect part of the allure of traveling internationally. However, unlike Europeans, a vast majority of Americans (and the Brits to some extent) are not “compelled” to learn another language since English is the business and “international” language. In some smaller European countries, with difficult languages to learn let alone master (i.e. Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic), English is widely spoken, especially by those  under the age of 30…for others, we try to make do with Google translate and hand gestures. We can sometimes understand the local language if it has some Germanic or Latin origins…but for the more difficult ones, we just smile, shrug, and speak English.
NOTE: An American ordering pepperoni pizza in Italy would be in for quite a shock…since pepperoni in Italian means pepper.

34. We will not miss not having a decent ethnic restaurant (especially decent Mexican, Thai and Vietnamese cuisine). My wife and I like to consider ourselves foodies and like to sample various ethnic cuisine during our travels. However, we’ve experienced a dearth of quality ethnic restaurants in Italy. There were some decent Indian and even Chinese restaurants and some decent, but expensive, sushi restaurants, but for the most part the choices for decent Mexican, Thai, Vietnamese, or even Korean dishes were lacking. Come to think of it, during our stay in Europe, the best Mexican food we had was in Dublin, the best Thai food in London, the best Vietnamese food in Paris, the best Indonesian food in Amsterdam, and we had good Korean food in Rome.

35. We will not miss not having free water on table and complimentary bread on our table when dining out. Tap water in Italy, and in Europe in general, are generally potable. Invariably however, you would be served bottled water when you dine out in Europe (except for Paris…”une carafe d’eau, sil vous plait”)…and some of them aren’t cheap either. Free bread are unheard of…well, they say the coperto covered it, but it’s not free.

36. We will not miss having to step on a pedal on the floor to turn the water on in restrooms. You just finished your “business” and you went to the sink to wash your hands (being new in Italy). You looked for a handle to turn the faucet on and didn’t see one, so you naturally place your hands under the spout thinking there’s a motion sensor that would allow water to flow through. So you run your hands back and forth under the spout and nothing comes out. You feel like an idiot as you pass your hands under the spout back and forth…and back and forth…and back and forth…and nothing comes out. Is this thing broke? Nah…you just need to know there’s a pedal on the floor that turns the water on.

37. We will not miss having to wonder what you’re going to find in the bathroom…a squatie pottie or a regular toilet. It’s like a Russian roulette…will you find a “regular” toilet or will your luck run out and you stumble upon a “squatie pottie”? In one case, some visiting family members opted to hold it rather than use the “squatie pottie”. For us guys, this really isn’t much of an issue unless you are going for a “number 2″…but if you have to go, you have to go.

38. We will not miss having to pay for toilet paper in some restrooms. In some restrooms we’ve used, the one in Florence, Italy, stands out, you are given a small pack of tissues when you pay to use the restroom. I guess that’s one way to make folks think the WC is free…just have to pay for the tissue or toilet paper. Speaking of toilet paper, has anyone come across “single sheet toilet papers” one sees in European bathrooms? It looks like the same napkins you see on a restaurant dining table. I guess it’s about maximizing use of “scarce” resources, but, disconcerting nonetheless.

39. We will not miss having to maneuver through so many roundabouts. With the establishment of the Eurozone, and the desire to “standardize” as much infrastructure as they can for Eurozone members, roundabouts supposedly proliferated all throughout Italy and Europe. I suppose it achieved some form of standardization…and some energy benefits as well since they wouldn’t have to install and operate all those traffic lights. Roundabouts are the exception and not the norm back home and it takes some getting used to (I wouldn’t even want to experience this driving in England, Ireland or Scotland…places where they drive on the wrong side of the road). What further complicates this, is the propensity for Italian drivers to disregard the “rules” of the road when entering and exiting roundabouts. Supposedly, if you are taking the next exit, you enter on the right lane…but if you are proceeding to a second or third exit, then you enter the roundabout from the left lane. Well, in Italy, all bets are off as anarchy rules the roads out there.

A typical Italian roundabout...this one in Piazza Repubblica in Rome.

A typical Italian roundabout…this one in Piazza Repubblica in Rome.

40. We will not miss having to deal with unanticipated and all too common flash strikes impacting public transportation. We were fortunate enough during our various European travels as there hadn’t been any strikes when we were en route to our destination or on our way back to Italy…except maybe when we were headed back to Como from Lugano via train wherein our train stopped in Chiasso, Switzerland, on the border with Italy, and we had to continue our travels by walking across the “porous” border and take an Italian bus on the other side. Strikes are often advertised in advance, but this is small consolation when you’ve purchased your plane tickets already and an Air Traffic Control strike or an Alitalia strike grounds all associated flights coming in and out of Italian airports. We’ve heard reports of travelers being stuck in some Italian airport during a vacation, and they had to figure out a way to head to their destination or back to where they came from, assuming there are even options available for them.

41. We will not miss needing VPN to watch US shows on the Internet…not even Netflix. With IP (Internet Protocol) addresses being registered in Italy, Netflix and other streaming services like Hulu can not be seen in Italy unless one uses a VPN (Vitural Private Network). Sometimes, we’ve also experienced issues accessing military sites without first going through a VPN. There are a few VPN services available, but there is only one that we tried that is free and actually quite effective, Hola VPN. Not really much of a big deal as there are workarounds…but having to work around things gets tedious at times.

42. We will not miss not being able to watch sports at a decent hour. Italy is 6 hours ahead of EST and 12 hours ahead of HST. As such, the 1:00 PM EST football games starts at 7:00 PM in Italy and the 4:05 PM EST games start at 10:05 PM in Italy…and of course, the nighttime football games (and baseball games) that start at 8:30 PM EST means these games are shown at 2:30 AM the following morning in Italy. I am, however, going to miss those free pay-per-view sports events aired on AFN, especially all those pay-per-view UFC events.

43. We will not miss having to worry about currency conversion. With the introduction of the Euro and the establishment of the Eurozone, currency conversion  isn’t as much of a concern as it used to be, when every country had its own currency; the German Deutschmarks, the French and Belgian Franc, the Italian Lira, the Dutch Guilder, the Austrian Schilling, the Greek Drachma…the British Pounds…well, there’s still the British Pounds. The use of the Euro sucks for those of us who collect paper currency around the world.

44. We will not miss having to deal with Airport security being surprised when I tell them I am not wearing a belt after being asked 2-3 times if I took my belt off before going through the scanner.  It strikes me as odd, and somewhat annoying, when going through airport security and the Italian security screener was incredulously surprised when he asked me if I took my belt off and I answer that I wasn’t wearing a belt. No belt? Mama mia! I guess with how Italians normally “dress to the nines”, not wearing a belt is a fashion faux pas. Towards the end of our stay in Italy, I made it a practice to just tell the Italian screener that I already took my belt off and placed it in my bag…just to avoid those judgmental looks.

45. We will not miss all those Smokers. There are a lot of smokers in Italy and also in Eastern Europe. It is commonplace to see kids smoking, with some disturbingly looking like they were barely in high school. There are a multitude of vending machines in Italy that dispense cigarettes seemingly at every street corner. Fortunately, smoking is not allowed in restaurants in Italy, although allowed for outside seating, but this is not the case in restaurants in some eastern European countries like the Czech Republic where patrons are allowed to smoke inside public establishments.

46. We will not miss men from all ages and shapes proudly wearing Speedos. Come on! Enough said.

47. We will not miss Gypsies…hands smell like cabbage…wait, those were carneys…same, same. There are gypsy camps relatively close to where my wife lived…and we tried to stay away from those areas. Gypsies are pretty much blamed for every criminal act that happens in Italy, and for much of Europe I would imagine. Your home got broken into…a gypsy did it. Your car got broken into…a gypsy did it. You got pick pocketed…a gypsy did it. Didn’t do your homework…a gypsy ate it.

48. We will not miss Riposo.  Riposo (from repose or rest) is the Italian equivalent to the Spanish siesta…and Italians fully take advantage of this. Most local stores close for riposo around 12:30 or 1:00 PM until about 3:00 PM so you have to make sure to factor this in when you are out and about running errands. Additionally, most stores close on Sundays and sometimes on Mondays as well. In the more touristy areas, this is not as much of a problem as vendors don’t want to lose out on a sale…but in other minor Italian cities and towns, this is quite the norm.

49. We will not miss not having to pay Copertos. A coperto is a service charge (sometimes referred to as bread and service charge) that is added to your bill on a per person basis (with some rare exceptions) when you dine out. From our experiences, copertos (or coperti for plural in Italian) can range from €1 to €6 per person (as was the case in Caffè Florian at Saint Mark’s Square in Venice). Sometimes, the service charge appear as percentages, from 10-15% of the bill. I suppose this replaces the tip Americans accept as the norm when dining out, but I just don’t care about having to pay any additional fixed cost to your meal. Some Italian servers were even brazen in informing us that, even though we were already paying a coperto, service is not included in the bill (i.e. tips are expected)! No freaking way! Unless you go above and beyond what I expect a server to do (which my wife will tell you would be an awfully tall order), then I expect the coperto to cover a server’s “tip”. This is an outright ploy to exploit tourists as any normal Italian would tell you they don’t tip.

Typical restaurant menu board...have to squint to make out the small print for coperto.

Typical restaurant menu board…have to squint to make out the small print for coperto.

50. We will not miss those prolonged closure of stores during summer months. During the summer months, especially during the month of August, Italians normally go on their extended holidays (i.e. vacations lasting up to a month) and most of the “mom and pop” stores and shops are closed. Most of them will have signs informing customers when their holidays would be and when they would be returning, but we’ve seen those dates were mere “estimates” and were not really followed. There would often times be changes in summer hours as well, sometimes posted but often times learned after you’ve walked over expecting service. Additionally, the hours posted are not followed to the detail. It’s just a crapshoot.

51. We will not miss having to pay for grocery bags. In Hawaii, the state has banned use of plastic grocery bags for the sake of the environment. There are also regional and city-wide bans of plastic grocery bags, in addition to an extra charge for paper bags, in some states, most notably in California. In Italy, non-biodegradable bags are banned, but one can pay for those biodegradable plastic bags (about €0.10 each) if you forget your reusable bags. My wife and I always make it a point, well almost always, to bring reusable bags with us when shopping to avoid this additional charge.

52. We will not miss having to convert C to F. (°C × 9/5) + 32 = °F. Remember that from school? I just do a quick shorthand when converting C to F, by doubling the number and adding 32…and the results are reasonably passable (+ or – 5°F)…but as a self-proclaimed anal-retentive person, this gets annoying and tiresome. As Americans, we’ve always gauged the temperature by Fahrenheit…so when the thermostat reads 25°C, I do a quick computation and think, hmmm, 82°F (actually 77°F) isn’t too bad. Instead of just seeing how you felt about 25°C, we feel inclined to do the conversion into something we are familiar with and have a corresponding visceral reaction to.

53. We will not miss finding out after your meal that the “complimentary” bread tray really wasn’t. I suppose we should’ve expected a charge for that bread basket that materialized on our table, but we thought it was a “welcome change” to see a free bread basket served to us in an Italian restaurant. Invariably, however, that bread basket isn’t complimentary. It wouldn’t be so bad had the bread been warm and savory, like we’ve always come to expect in American restaurants…honorable mention to Cheesecake Factory rye bread, Red Lobster Cheddar Bay biscuits, and Macaroni Grill rosemary bread.

54. We will not miss lack of punctuality. One of our many pet peeves is the lack of punctuality in Italy…allora. It is a surprise, more than the norm, for trains to run on time or for buses to be on time. This is further highlighted when you visit countries like Germany and even England where things run efficiently and on time. One remarked, it could’ve been me, Italy isn’t known for making quality time pieces like Germany and Switzerland so they can’t be expected to be on time.

55. We will not miss walking a quarter of a mile just to take your trash and recyclables out.  One of the many things that Americans take for granted is trash pick up. The local government makes it so convenient by providing these color-coded trash bins for recyclables, green waste, and trash with pick-ups scheduled along the curbs or alleys in front of or behind one’s house. So convenient. In Italy, there are common bins that everyone brings their recyclables (recycling is mandatory) and trash to…and sometimes, there is considerable walk to these collection points. It is quite common for Italians (and expats) to load their trash and recyclables in their vehicles so they could transport them to the nearest collection point.

56. We will not miss having the first floor being considered ground floor and the second floor is the European first floor.  In Italy, and in Europe in general, the ground floor is considered the first floor and “our” first floor is considered the second floor, and so on. There’s been many occasions when visitors (and us sometimes) would press the wrong number on the elevator thinking we were on one floor and not the one below it. Fortunately, our apartment was on the highest floor which takes this out of the equation.

57. We will not miss having to pay €7 for certified mail…to stop Internet service nonetheless. Dealing with the local Internet company was a lesson in futility. When we were ready to cancel our Internet service prior to us leaving for the states, we were dumbfounded to find out we would need to pay, on top of the usage, an additional €25 to cancel the service and €35 to activate the cancellation. Really? If that wasn’t bad enough, we were also informed that we would need to send a registered mail to cancel Internet service, for an additional €7! Mind boggling! Oh but it gets worse. After paying our bill and the additional fees and sending the registered mail to cancel Internet service, we still got a call from Telecom, the Internet company, hounding us about missed payments. And after returning back to the US, we got another bill from Telecom in the mail. Needless to say, I happily shredded that bill without paying it.

58. We will not miss it when your Internet browser unexpectedly reverts to Italian. Living in the local Italian community and having local IPs, our Internet browsers would unexpectedly revert to Italian, even though you’ve specified English as the primary language for searches. Just annoying.

59. We will not miss stinky, filthy, mangy dogs in restaurants. Italy is quite dog-friendly…and it is quite common to see dogs in cafes and restaurants. I am all for seeing-eye dogs to be allowed in dining establishments…but draw the line in sharing my dining space with run of the mill pets.

60. We will not miss not having central AC. With the recent and ongoing heat wave in Italy (and actually most of Europe when we left in late July), AC, which is not altogether common in residential buildings, is a nice luxury to have. Heck, even a nice electric fan would be nice…and those were snatched up fast in Leroy Merlin or Emisfero or any other local stores that sell them. AC is not the norm in Italy and in Europe for residential buildings, let alone central AC. Those who are fortunate enough to have AC, have these individual AC units that cool down a single room, or in the case of an open design, the living room, dining room and kitchen. In my wife’s apartment, we negotiated to have 2 AC units in her apartment, one in the living room / dining room/ kitchen and the other in the main bedroom. When it get too hot, even at night, we used the AC units, and invariably, they were not able to push out enough cool air and it still felt warm in the bedroom. In other stories we’ve heard about from other Americans, they complained about how their apartment has an AC unit in the hallway and not in the bedrooms. Hence, the hallway stayed cool and the bedrooms were not adequately cooled even with the doors opened. Some have taken to just sleeping in the hallway to take advantage of the cooler temperatures there.

Notes:
And who can forget taking over a month just to get an apartment ready as a newly rented apartment in Italy doesn’t come with kitchen nor bathroom fixtures.

While this list seems exhaustive, we thoroughly enjoyed our experiences in Italy and in Europe and would not trade our two years in Italy for anything. We had a blast and would be forever thankful to our Lord for sending us to Italy for an adventure of a lifetime. But there is no place like home. God Bless America!

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