Sh*t Italy says

Someday in the future, we’ll look back on this and laaaaaaugh.

People tell me that Africa might a bit rough going for an Aussie that enjoys planning and itineraries and the like. I admit it, I was spoiled in Australia. We like to complain that the major phone company farms out their call centres to India or that the train system is a load of shite, but in reality it all works pretty well.

They tell me that the move to Africa is going to be some harsh reality. It’s a different world, they say.

Sometimes I think they’re right. Then again, I remember I’ve been an immigrant in Italy for four years, with yearly renewals of my stay permit. I’m an expert at waiting a bajillion hours for nothing and coming away with exactly that.

Yeah, Africa will be different. But man, I survived Italian bureaucracy. 

So with a nod to immigrants worldwide, and the hilarious-in-retrospect conversations that we experience, I present to you some hard-earned life lessons from Italy:


  • Skip those documents, they probably don’t matter anyway

Italian Office #1: (Yelling in Italian) Go to office #2 before doing this form!

Me: Ok.

Italian Office #2: (Yelling in Italian) Why are you here?! You need the form from Office #1 completed first!

Me: Um, this isn’t working well. Could you please call Office #1?

Italian Office #2: This is not our job, you need to organise yourself.


  • Learn to count

Italy: You need a contract no less than 90 days to renew your permit.

Me: Great! My new contract will be 3 months, so it’s ok.

Italy: No, you need 4 months.

Me: My 3 month contract is 92 days, so it’s more than 90 and therefore ok, right?

Italy: (after a few days silence)… We count in multiples of 30, so actually more than 90 days means 120 days.

Me: *Eye twitching* But you said ‘no less than’…


  • Choose bank locations wisely

Step 1: Open bank account a stone’s throw from the lab, because moving sucks and easy options are found by looking out of the office window. Step 2: Go to the branch of the exact same bank located closer to house.

Bank: Why are you here, this is not your bank!

Me: But… the name is the same, I opened an account at the one near the university.

Bank: Then your bank is near the university! (Muttering in Italian… “Stupid girl”).

Me: But… you’re the same bank, you have the same name. Shouldn’t you have my details in the system?

Bank: No. We can’t help you. Go to your bank.


  • Rules are flexible

Italy (to me): You need an Italian Identity Card to sign an apartment lease.

Italy (to friend): You need to sign an apartment lease get an Identity Card.


  • Type nothing but rainbows and skittles

Massive, highlighted, note to self: Don’t send emails containing any semblance of a vaguely offensive statement about a government office (I called them ‘stupid’ for having stupid office hours) to the hapless lab secretary. She will accidentally forward the email onto said government office.


Six months of passive aggressiveness, mysterious new forms and procedures, previously unheard-of rules that appear out of the ether at the last possible moment, and blatant refusal of the staff to do their actual jobs makes me suspect that Italy may not be governed by functioning adults.


  • Always, always, cover your belongings!

Workmen: No, we won’t make too much dust while fixing the heating system. No need to cover or move your belongings.

Me (one day later)*Sobbing*

 GetAttachment GetAttachment (1) 2015-07-05 13.52.56


  • Before going to language class, be sure to learn the language

Italian language teacher: (blabbers incoherently in Italian)

Me: Eh? Ciao. I just arrived here and would like to learn Italian.

Italian language teacher: Non parli Italiano?

Me: Eh? No.

Italian language teacher (after finding someone that speaks English): How do you work in Italy without knowing Italian? You need to learn Italian before coming to this class.


  • Just take the damn number

Police: Your appointment time is 11.30am.

Me: (Arrives at 11.30am) I’m here for my appointment.

Police: Take a number.

Me: But… I have an appointment, and there are now a million people in line before me.

Police: Take a number.


  • Buy a cute hat

Police: You can pick up your permit at 2pm*

*Translation – Your appointment is 2pm but if you arrive looking like a harried dork in dirty jeans and a heavy coat, you’ll wait 2 hours. If you arrive in a dress with a cute knit hat you’ll wait 2 minutes plus we’ll give you free candy.

Rawrrr! Winter = bear time
  • Try not to kill house intruders… the patriarchy is looking after you, silly girl

My house comes with an old fogey handyman. He has a key and has fixed things in my house and many others on my street for what I guess is like the last five hundred years. Tanned and lean, he’s got the strength of a much younger man, and I respect him for that.

But he also believes that a lease means nothing and adult women are unable to function on their own.

After four years dealing with him, this how I imagine his ‘to-do-just-for-shiggles’ list looks:

Never call ahead, just ring bell at ungodly hours of the morning. Preferably on a saturday or while occupant is napping.
When tired of ringing, enter house without asking permission.
If occupant is not home, drink a bottle of wine and have a jolly good time, maybe fix the tap.
Ideally, enter house without permission while occupant is in the shower.
(Side note… I’ve seriously had to consider my bathroom-weapon options for damp and naked combat with an unknown intruder. Verdict: curling iron to the eye, with swift application of nail scissors to the jugular. Didn’t actually test this, but it seems like a pretty solid plan).
If caught entering house without permission, quickly dash away down the street, like a little child caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
If something breaks, hide it or claim it was always like that.
Steal, hide, or generally misplace large items (oh, my dear plastic terrace chair and Chinese lanterns, I hope you are well, wherever you are).
When painting, be sure to coat nearby plants or personal items with a jazzy speckly pattern. What fun!


  • Oy, again with the language

Italian (supposedly internationally-renowned) University: Welcome! Do this 495-page radiation safety course and test.

Me: Is there an English version? I don’t want to misunderstand something, or take three years to read the booklet.

University: Nope. Just keep trying ’till you get it right.


  • Close your eyes and point

Italian Health Department: Choose a doctor from this list.

Me: But, these are just names. Do any speak English?

Italian Health Department: No idea.

Me: So… How do I choose?

Italian Health Department: Close your eyes and point.


  • Slower = louder

Italian Doctor: (Saying something in rapid-fire Italian)

Me: I’m sorry, I’m still learning, can you please speak slower?

Italian Doctor: (Yells louder, and faster)

Me: No, slower please, not louder.

Italian Doctor: (Yells louder again)

Me: Hm. Okaaay, si si yes ok ciao….


  • It’s allergies

Me: (After 2 months of the worst flu complications ever) Bacteria have been having a party in my lungs.

Italian Doctor #2: No, you have allergies.

Me: No, I have bacteria, and for 2 months. I’ve tried everything. Please inspect my lungs, I need drugs.

Italian Doctor (still on the other side of the table): No, allergies, I’m sure. You said before, you suffer cat allergies.

Me: Don’t have a cat. Don’t have allergies right now. Have bacteria.

Italian Doctor: You should inhale steam.

Me: And antibiotics?

Italian Doctor: Antibiotics are not necessary for allergies.

Image from
Image from


Ah, Italy. I love you, but I also kinda want to punch you. ❤


Note #1: My job didn’t require Italian proficiency… In fact my boss wanted a non-Italian speaker to push the other lab members to better their English! Science is a global profession and I’m extremely privileged to have been born into the language in which it functions.

Note #2: I’ve learnt Italian now. It makes being an immigrant only marginally easier.


19 thoughts on “Sh*t Italy says

  1. LOL This is very funny for many reasons. I think you may be in for a shock.I have never been to Ethiopia and I pass no judgment on them, but I do know that MANY Africans north of us look at SA with envy because we have a ‘working’ bureaucracy and government depts… In SA we marvel at the efficacy of European bureaucracy. We admire them and wish we had things like reliable electricity, a police force that functions and a public health service. I am an Italian citizen by marriage and I am not a ‘real Italian’. We are considered very exotic by the Italian family in Italy and my spouse is more Italian than me but not a ‘proper Italian’ because she was not born there (she speaks the language but that means nothing)… Be prepared for the worst in Africa and you may be pleasantly surprised. Roads are usually potholed (even in major cities) traffic lights are often not working, water and electricity supplies are dodgy and please make sure you have access to private health care… Italy is a paragon of virtue by comparison…


    1. Water supplies are dodgy? Ooh wow I wasn’t expecting that actually! But don’t worry, I completely expect to be driven insane by Ethiopian bureaucracy. I’ll definitely take your advice about private health care too.
      Your Italian family sounds awesome 🙂 I think it’s fun to be ‘exotic’… my partner is Italian (born and bred), and I’m definitely a novelty at the family gatherings. I understand that even with complete fluency I’d still be a foreigner, but they’re always very kind and welcoming so I love the time I spend with them.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Yup Italian families are very cool. And I have been impressed with all my (limited) interactions with Italian bureaucrats too. But then I have never lived there and I think the consulates are less onerous than the government officials in Italy?


    1. I’ve only interacted with the consulate once, in Sydney, and they were great. The actual government officials and offices, however, leave a little (or a lot!) to be desired…. and this is in the north! Their claim to fame is ‘we’re not as bad as the south’.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I find the whole north/south thing… Interesting. My lot are up North too. A family friend and I were talking earlier this year and he was convinced it would have been better if the Austrians had won World War One because then he would have been governed by the Austrians and not Rome… Okaaaaaaay…

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, Beakerly. If you survived these clearly strange circumstances in Italy, you can tackle Africa with no problem! I’d love to be in Italy going to Africa! 😉 Though as a teenager, that is quite impossible.

    Check out my blog at

    Liked by 1 person

  4. hey hii dear .. saw you at community pool & i just want to tell you that your blog is amazing .. Specially this post is my favorite .. i love the style of writing… although i know you are a scientist & i am not. so it might end up in me having very very less IQ than you and i might end up in writing something that you will feel boring .. but i just like your writing …
    this is my blog .. i just hope that you might give a thought to like it ..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey there bhavpreet, thanks for the kind words! And never fear….If I ever become the kind of scientist that only reads and chats with other scientists then it’ll be a very sad day indeed (and I give you permission to slap me out of it). I’ll check out your blog ASAP 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. this is hilarious and in many ways may get you ready for Ethiopia
    but imagine that Africa being Africa in about three weeks after landing you will be screaming out the name ‘Italy’ at night
    but you’ll be fine and you’ll survive and i imagine you will thrive even as long as you keep this sense of humour
    this was a lot of fun to read – you have a gift
    Africa looks forward to having you
    love brett fish

    [because yeah i can speak on behalf of a whole continent or something]

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Seb,don’t get me wrong, I absolutely adore Italy. It’s my second home and I’ve met some of the most genuine loving people here of my entire life. Italy will always have an important place in my heart. But it’s also sometimes a massive pain in the ass. Like children, I’m assuming 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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