Still learning the Italian ropes: the ATM

Even after almost 3 years of full-time life in Italy, I am still learning.  I recently was able to open a kind of bank account here. This means that after 3 years, I can pay my rent online for the first time!  What an accomplishment!  It’s a long story about why it took this long, but most of it is that no Italian friend can truly understand how confusing it is to do something as simple as opening a bank account here for a foreigner.  And, btw, bank accounts are expensive in Italy.  They charge you a lot for holding your money.

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Be all of that as it may, I now have an Italian account that comes with a debit card and the ability to withdraw cash from certain ATMs across the country.

What I didn’t know was the etiquette involved.  Yesterday I went into the small room off a major street, within which I had spotted the correct ATM.  Someone was in the small room (it’s the size of a small walk-in closet), but there was no line, so I entered the room. The man who was already at the machine turned to stare at me, and for a split second, I thought he was offering to let me go in front of him to use the machine.

Then, I realized that he was not happy because I was in the room at all with him.  I found out that entering the closet with another person is not acceptable, even though I was nowhere near him and the machine.  But, at that moment, before the gravity of this sunk it, I just waved at him and said, “go ahead.”  Then I turned completely around and looked out the window so he wouldn’t think I was after his PIN. Ha ha…little did he know that I could watch him from close up and never remember the digits if my life depended on it. Numbers don’t compute in my brain.

The comedy of this situation is that I was lugging 3 large plastic bags full of wet laundry to a nearby laundromat.  I have a washer in my apartment, but nobody has a drier. I was on my way to dry towels and blankets–since fall is setting in–at the laundromat.  I specifically entered the glass bank ATM closet so I could set down these heavy bags.

The man finished his top secret transaction and left. I took my turn at the machine and tried 4 times to withdraw cash and, of course, I couldn’t get the machine to work for me. When I finally accepted defeat (as I have become adept at doing here in fair Italia), I turned to leave, and picked up my 3 heavy laundry bags.  I noted that there were about 4 or 5 relatively patient people waiting just outside the glass door to use the ATM when I finished.  As I left, I wanted to tell them thank you for waiting outside the glass closet, but of course I don’t know the Italian words for any of this.  My baby Italian would not deliver the sarcasm I would have wanted to portray.

Lesson learned: in Italy, where the concept of personal space doesn’t exist in lines at the supermarket, the pharmacy, the airport, the train station…that concept is alive and well at the ATM glass closet.  Silly me.

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