In Italy there are a plethora of small regional banks, but only a certain number of clearing banks, thus international transactions can result in astronomical bank charges. Consequently Italians generally prefer to do lots of their transactions in cash. In fact they don’t trust banks at all, and often prefer to keep their savings hidden under the mattress.
Prior to leaving the UK we thought it would be a good idea to open a Euro Account with our high street bank. So when Paul’s father came to visit us in Italy for the first time, and needed somewhere local to stay, it seemed to be an ideal opportunity to use one of our euro account cheques to pay for the deposit. Despite some sceptisism on behalf of the proprietor she graciously accepted it as a down-payment. However a few days later she telephoned so say that the bank charges that she had incurred for processing the cheque amounted to some 22 euros, for which she was now seeking reimbursement. Thus we were soon to come to the conclusion that it was folly to consider that these euro cheques were ever going to be useful, and so we proceeded to rip up the cheque book in total disgust.
So it became apparent that we had to organise setting up an Italian bank account, to enable us to transfer some of our funds over to Italy. Guido’s cousin worked as a cashier in one of the bigger Italian banks and he said he would try to help us by organising for us to meet the Bank Manager. In due course the meeting took place, but we were advised that we could not open a “normal” bank account, as we were not registered as “Residents” in Italy. Here we realised was a bit of a conundrum, because technicall we couldn’t apply to be “Residents” without a normal bank account ??? Confused – we were. Therefore the only way forward was to open a “Stranieri” account, which of course was subject to significantly higher charges!
The staff in the bank turned out to be very helpful, and it was just as well, as it took a full hour and a half to complete the procedure of opening the account, which meant Paul had to leave to feed the parking meter on several occasions. There was a long list of questions and a series of screens on the computer that the clerk had to fill in using a complicated system of codes. The staff didn’t seem to have created a “Stranieri” account before, clearly they were unsure of the procedures, as they were forced to phone up Head Office several times seeking advice. Then reams of documentation were printed off in triplicate, at least half a tree’s worth!!! Eventually after much sorting and stapling we were given pages and pages of documentation to sign, before we were finally despatched with two enormous bulging folders of paperwork. We left the bank feeling totally exhausted by this experience.
We soon learned that free personal banking does not exist in Italy, because an account holder has to pay a three monthly fee just for the privilege of having an account. We elected not to have a cheque book as every cheque you write also comes with an additional cost., instead opting for a “bancomat” or debit card.
Subsequent visits to the bank also proved to be very time consuming. Firstly simply getting in and out of the bank can be quite an ordeal, as most Italian banks are, for security reasons, equipped with a metal detecting device. (There are said to be more bank robberies in Italy than any other country in the European Union !!!)
Firstly you are told to leave your personal belongings such as: keys; coins; watches; jewellery and mobile phones in a small locker, a system somewhat similar to that of a swimming pool changing room. Then you must push a button to open the door of a small, claustrophobic “airlock”, and automatically the door closes behind you, imprisoning you inside. Then inevitably the machine picks up on something metallic on your person, and a grating voice instructs you to go back outside and put all your metallic objects in the locker provided. Paul found, to his great annoyance, that many seemingly innocuous objects can fall foul of this wonder of modern technology, such as a buckle on a belt, zips and in particular safety shoes with protective steel toe-caps. Indeed Paul was often glared at by other customers whilst approaching to the counter, in his socks, attempting to hold up his trousers with one hand, whilst trying to get a cashpoint card out of his wallet with the other.
So, having eventually gained entry to the bank, you now have to start the process of “waiting to be served”. First you must make a mental note of exactly your place in the queue, as this can be confusing. There are sometimes chairs for elderly customers to sit on whilst waiting their turn. On one occasion an old dear entered just before us, gnarled and bent double, hobbling on a stick, complaining of her “artriti”. We smiled sympathetically as she took a pew, and noted that she was before us in the queue. I watched her shrewdly observing how the transactions at the counter were proceeding. When she concluded that it was her turn, she jumped up and made a sudden sprint to the counter, we’d never seen someone be so quickly energised, despite their dreadful afflictions.
Basically, Italians just don’t comprehend queuing, and customers tend to stand around in a rebelliously disorderly fashion, huffing and puffing, generally grumbling loudly about the excruciatingly slow speed of service. Meanwhile, they take advantage of the situation to size each other up and listen in to other people’s conversations.
Customers are, on the whole, served in turn, but inevitably there is somebody who just wants to sneak in to “ask a simple question”, and “it will only take a moment”, and “You don’t mind do you?”. Consequently you end up waiting forever and a day, because nothing in Italy is simple, so inevitably the matter in question turns out to be far more complicated than it should be. Meanwhile you are left thinking of all the other things you could usefully be doing with your precious wasted time.