30 March 2014

LIFE: Thinking In Italian

CHIAVARI, Italy – Learning to speak Italian is one thing, understanding Italian is something else altogether different. And it isn’t understanding Italian words that is so difficult once you speak Italian, it’s understanding what the Italians do with those words that makes me Clairol Hair Color’s best customer on the planet.

 Pretty Parma
For example: A few years ago, I decided to close my Partita Iva, which is an Italian business tax number. I had needed it in the past when I was doing a lot of free-lance work in Italy, but when I signed a contract to write for Women’s Wear Daily and other Conde’ Nast publications, I didn’t need it any more.

As I had opened the Partita Iva account in Parma, I had to go back to Parma to close it, or send the documents through the mail. Since I lived closer to Milan than Parma, I opted for the latter. However, knowing the efficiency of the Italian postal service at the time, I wanted to call the Partita Iva people to confirm that the documents had indeed arrived and that they had indeed closed the account. Small glitch. I didn’t have the telephone number for the Partita Iva Office, which is part in the Internal Revenue Office in Parma.

Guardia di Finanza Dressed for a Parade
No problem, I thought. I’ll look it up on the internet. What I need was the number for the Ufficio della Entrata, or Internal Revenue Office. So I started. I Googled the Parma White pages, government offices, nope, nothing about Entrata there. Ok, white pages city of Parma, government offices. Nope, not there. Ok. White pages, Parma public offices, Parma Yellow pages, Italy, government, Internal Revenue. Nope, nope and nope, not there, not anywhere.

Well, after about half an hour – actually if I remember correctly it was more like an hour and a half – I gave up.  As it happened, the office of the Internal Revenue Police, the Guardia di Finanza, was just around the corner from my apartment. When I saw that they were back from lunch I went over and was buzzed in by a skeptical young officer. After all, who goes to the Internal Revenue Office unless they are summoned?

On the Job
I explained my problem with him staring at me with his eyebrows knitted together wondering if this was some kind of a joke, or a veiled terrorist threat or who knows what. Or maybe this foreign woman was just plain nuts. When I finished my tale of woe he shook his head in disbelief.

“Signora,” he said, “this is not a difficult problem. You are looking for the phone number of the Ufficio delle Entrata in Parma, the office of the Internal Revenue in Parma right?”

 I shook my head yes.

“Very simple. It’s under Office”.

Under Office?

“Yes, like Office of the Internal Revenue”.  He didn’t look suspicious any more, he looked confused. I could almost hear him thinking, is it possible this woman is that stupid? How could she not know that? Instead, he said, "ma e logico no?" It was logical, no?  

Not to me.

I have heard the words, “ma, e logico no?” so many times since I moved to Italy, I can’t even count them anymore. And each and every time I can honestly answer that no, whatever the discussion was, no it was not logical, not in any way, shape or form. In fact, it was totally illogical to me.
 Can You Help Me? Please!
Then I realized that they apply that same principle to other things, like lawyer’s offices. A lawyer’s office is called a “studio”. So if you are looking for the law offices of Pinco Pallo, you would look under “Studio Legale Pinco Pallo”, Legal Office of Pinco Pallo.  It’s the same for hospitals. San Martino Hospital in Genoa is listed as Azienda Ospedaliera Universitaria San Martino because a few years back the government decided that hospitals were businesses and so they all became “azienda”, which is the Italian word for “business”. The same holds true for the Customs Office, the Registrar’s Office, the Tourist Office and just about anything else that’s in an office. How could I not have remembered that?

Truthfully, these days the Yellow Pages search engine is a lot better than it was in the past and sometimes you can find stuff by just typing in the thing that you want. It doesn’t always work, but sometimes it does. Of course there are always going to be those times when no matter what you type in the little box, it ain't gonna work. Those are the days you pour yourself a glass of wine and put out the "gone fishing" sign. Everything will work itself out tomorrow.


  1. I enjoyed your blog; albeit, with your great difficulties in locating businesses in Italy. I wonder if all Latin dialog, i.e., Italian, Spanish, Portugese, ect., apply the same principals, in locating a certain business? Regards; Marie Onorato - Chicago, Illinois U.S.A.

  2. Hi Marie Onorato, thank you for your kind words. I don't know if all Latin speaking countries apply the same principals, but if you are looking for something in Spanish/Portugese and you can't find it, you can give it a try.