It’s going to be another hot one today in Bologna, where I live.
The app I consult each morning on my smartphone summarises the weather with: ‘Che caldo, oggi si suda!’ (How hot, today one sweats!)
But at six-thirty a.m. it was still fresh enough for me to put on jeans and boots for my regular motorcycle ride across the city, to queue for a blood test with the other, mostly elderly and sick, patients on the Warfarin program.
That drug, known as Coumadin in Italy, is nasty stuff – I heard they posion rats with it – so we’re monitored carefully. Once a week, or more often, at the start, then gradually less frequently as things (hopefully) stabilise.
Getting up so early (after rather a lot of wine last night) saw me a little confused, so while I remembered my tessera sanitaria (a plastic card showing entitlement to healthcare), face mask, keys, jacket, helmet, gloves, and actual motorcycle, I forgot to pocket my smartphone. Which was annoying, as it’s handy for whiling away time in the Centro TAO waiting room until my number is called.
I was left, then, with time to look around, read the posters on the walls, and ponder the ways of the world, including what I might write in this article.
Near the Centro TAO waiting room is the CUP waiting room, though the CUP itself doesn’t open until later.
Getting confused with all the acronyms, yet?
Upstairs from the Centro TAO is the LUM, apparently, where my blood sample will be analysed later this morning.
TAO, CUP, LUM…
See how much more I noticed, having left my phone on the kitchen table? Once I was done spotting acronyms, I observed the people.
Us rats know the system better than the volunteers who give out the printed numbers and offer explanations to the confused. And the volunteers know we know, so don’t waste their explanations on us. One word, ‘Coumadin’, is enough, and the number is silently handed over.
But the same building also hosts an emergency dental clinic. It opens later, but the tormented begin to arrive around the same time we do, and on a Monday there are some desperate-looking ones, worn out from a weekend of pain.
There’s also the hospital’s pre-operative blood-testing service. Patients waiting for the drill or the knife never know where to go. Hence the volunteers, who repeat the same mantra over and over – here’s your number, sit over there, they open in half an hour, watch for your number, and… HALF AN HOUR? Yes, another half an hour, I’m sorry.
So at a certain point it came to mind how familiar all this was, but how confusing and stressful it had all been at the beginning. Healthcare, like a religion or a job, has its routines, its jargon, and its acronyms. Those in the know, know where to go. Also when to arrive, and what to do when they get there. But that knowledge comes from experience.
There was an Asian-looking woman in the queue ahead of me (her clothes, hairstyle, jewellery) accompanying a child playing a video game on a smartphone, lucky kid. While she didn’t appear to speak Italian, she clearly knew the system well enough.
I’ve written in the past, I’m sure, that language learners can sometimes be obsessed with the details of the language they’re learning, especially the grammar, while being apparently uninterested in the community of people that uses that same language to communicate. Unless they’re into some niche, such as opera, or church architecture.
It’s possible to know a language well without having a clue as to what CUP, TAO, and LUM are. In fact, best never find out (though CUP is difficult to avoid…)
And it’s possible to not know the language well but, like the Asian woman, feel confident navigating the community’s various systems – schools, healthcare, taxes, and so on.
It’s quite normal that some people live in a place yet know nothing much of the language that people speak there. I was several years in Turkey before eventually learning enough Turkish to go on a date (though not yet enough to read a newspaper or watch TV). I did an academic year in Poland without picking up much more than ‘piwo’. And it took years, if not decades, until my Italian was passable.
Just by living somewhere, you start to figure out how things work, or don’t. It doesn’t take long to become an experienced rat, even if you don’t know much of the language.
Ideally though, you want overlapping knowledges, even if you don’t live in or visit the country where the language you’re learning is spoken.
My Swedish is far from perfect, and I’ve not spent more than three weeks in Sweden my entire life, but I know enough of how things are done there that I would not, perhaps, seem like or feel like a disorientated new arrival, were I ever to migrate north from Italy.
I picked up my knowledge of how Swedes do things (including some of the unwritten rules…) passively, by listening and reading.
By no conincidence, that’s also how I improved my Swedish to its current, approximately intermediate/upper-intermediate level – by listening, reading, and interacting with native speakers when possible.
These overlapping areas of knowledge – the way things are done, and the written and spoken language – reinforce each other, and go together. Or at least that’s the ideal.
You don’t have to know what IVA stands for to appreciate that it’s 22% extra on most things you’ll buy in Italy, nor understand the subtleties of local-authority financing to find that you might be liable to pay TARI on your rented Bologna apartment each June and December.
You just need to pay attention to the way people do things in the language you’re learning. Here are some simple examples:
When a builder quotes prices for the work needed on the picturesque Umbrian cottage you’re planning to retire to, are taxes included?
When a teacher is moaning to you about her pitiful salary, are the numbers she quotes gross or net of taxes? And which taxes? And what about TFR? What’s that, and who pays it?
In a restaurant or bar in Italy, do you need to tip?
Who or what in Bologna is TPER?
The answers are at the bottom of this article, after the P.S.
Don’t forget to read/listen to Saturday’s bulletin of ‘easy’ Italian news.
It’s FREE, as is subscribing and so receiving each thrice-weekly bulletin directly in your email inbox, on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.
This is a fantastic way to improve your Italian, and/or to keep what you’ve already learned fresh in your mind.
Did I mention, it’s FREE?
Wholesale or trade prices are quoted net of IVA (value-added tax), so remember to mentally up the cost by 22%. If you’re not sure, ask: “IVA inclusa??” Retail prices are usually shown “IVA inclusa”, though careful if you’re buying a new car…
People always talk about their net salaries, the money they actually get. Some Italian workers also get thirteenth and fourteenth monthly payments (Christmas and summer bonuses, effectively), so the numbers are probably not as low as they seem. Payroll taxes (paid by employers) are approaching 30% on top of gross salaries. So a teacher earning a net thousand five hundred euros will cost the state fifty percent more than that, at least. TFR is a deduction, a compulsory savings scheme for workers, which is paid back to them at the end of their contracts.
Italians don’t tip, so why should you? In a restaurant, service is almost always included. Check the small print at the bottom of the menu. If you’re being charged already, why pay twice?
TPER runs the buses in Emilia Romagna, where Bologna is. The ‘T’ and ‘P’ stand for ‘trasporto’ and ‘passeggeri’, followed by the initals of the ‘regione’ itself. Different regions/cities will have different acryonyms, just to confuse you. And different colored buses…