San Gimignano

San Gimignano
Beautiful city of San Gimignano, where we spent last Sunday afternoon.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Establishing an Italian Bank Account-you should have been there

Since Steve is the only employed adult on this tour of duty and I am the (happily!) retired adult, I am tasked with dealing with all the logistics of taking care of settling us into our new life here.  I really cannot fully explain on paper what all that entails. If you have made an international move you will understand.  If you have not had that lovely experience you will not understand.  I do try to share some of our experiences with this blog...the good, the bad, the funny, the unbelievable, etc. A lot of what happens is lost in translation, sort of "you really had to be there" :-)

We move into our new house next week.  In order to make that move happen we have had several meetings with the base housing office, visits to the house, one meeting with the Italian landlord and his son at the base housing office (with the meeting conducted almost entirely in Italian), etc.  I still have to meet with another office in order to have loaner appliances signed for and delivery scheduled.  Another office is working to have utilities set up and transferred in to our name.  Keep in mind all of this is taking place in Italian, with Italian utility companies and with their laws and billing.....all of which we do not understand.  There is a lot of simple trust that goes on and an understanding that there will be some things that don't work out smoothly and issues that will have to be straightened out after the fact.  I am channeling my years in England "Stay calm and carry on" :-)

So for the last week or so I have been attempting to set up an Italian bank account which we have to do in order to automatically transfer our rent from our bank account to our Italian landlord's account.  So easy, right?  Go in, give them my information, put in some $$ and you've got an account, voila.  No!  The Italian bank is only open from 10-2 pm and closed from lunch at some point during that time.
 I went in last week and the teller does not speak English so he send me to talk with the Manager who does speak English fairly well.  Remember I do NOT speak Italian at all lol.   He is very helpful and nice and begins to explain the whole system to me as best he can about various accounts, what information we will need to provide, how we can get OUR $$ into this account, etc. I finally get the basics in to the system and he checks for Stephen Brown in the BNL system and there are already 4 in the system (2 from England and 2 in Oman).  Glad none are from U.S. so that hopefully limits the chances for confusion!   I find out that the banking routing system for the U.S. will not allow us to rout dollars into the Italian banking system.  I do not even want to attempt to explain that to you here, it makes my head hurt.  Just trust me, it can't be done.  We have to either go to the ATM and withdraw cash, walk across the street and deposit it into the Italian bank OR write a check and deposit it into the Italian bank....both which will likely mean we "lose money" in the exchange rate from Dollar to Euro depending on the exchange rate that day.   Anyway, I understand that is what we are going to have to do.  It is what it is.

So today I go back to the bank during their "bankers hours" of 10-2 p.m. haha.  My guy is there and ready to work with me.  I have all my information and he begins to enter it in to his computer and he's talking 90 to nothing to me and the computer the whole time.  One of the words the Italians use a LOT is the word "allora" which is sort of like a filler word we use in English, like "Ok, um, alright".  He must have said "allora" 100 times today!  So he's typing away, there are two landlines on his desk, and 3 cell phones,.....all 5 phones rung at least 2-3 times each, at various times he would pick them up, shout something in to them in Italian, hang up, say "Mamma Mia!" ....and resume typing and saying "allora".  It was all I could do to keep from bursting out laughing!!  If I had the whole transaction on video it would be priceless!  Every once in a while he would stop, ask me a question, go back to madly typing and then say "Mamma mia" and throw up his hands.   He did say this computer system was terrible and didn't work right and he hoped it worked right today or he would be there all day.  Finally after many stops and starts, he begins to print out some paperwork and turns to me and says " Nowa Ia printa outa soma papa fora yoa. I killa many, many treesa.  Ita noa gooda fora yoa.  Ita alla ina Italia, buta Ia giva toa youa anywaya"  He was so nice and helpful that I didn't laugh but I did smile at his joke especially when he handed me about 50 printed pages......all in Italian!

So he begins to staple, all the while still answering his phones, talking to himself (Mamma Mia!), trying to explain the basics of the account to me, fees, what we can do, how we can put money in to it, pay our landlord and utilities, setting up automatic payments, checking the account on the internet, etc.  And I'm thinking there is NO WAY this is going to work smoothly but I have no choice so let's just hope they don't lose any of our $$ and we'll be happy with any small glitches along the way.  It's all in your
perspective, see :-)   He sends me with paperwork across the street to get Steve to sign and to get a copy of his ID card. I come back with this done in about 10 minutes.   And then the fun really begins.....

He grabs a key and goes to the safe.  He comes back with an envelope he gives me with our account card, he then rustles around in a drawer in his desk where he pulls out another envelope and gives me with our Pin # on it. He gives me two MORE for me.  After he explains to me how to use these he starts pulling out ANOTHER envelope from another drawer, a 4th pin number and this little device that looks like a pedometer in a box and begins to explain this to me.  This "pedometer" is used to access the account with a special pin # but will only give us this special Pin # for 30 SECONDS and then the # disappears forever.  We are supposed to enter this pedometer Pin # on the BNL (Italian bank) website.  Keep in mind that this Italian website is all in English.  He showed me the Italian website to me and began to try to teach me where deposits, withdrawals, etc. were located on the website.  No, I did not get all of that.  I ended up smiling sweetly and telling him that Steve would be in next week to take care of all of that with him :-)
I might or might not have said a "Mamma Mia" before it was over with.  I thought he should have treated me to a whole bottle of wine by this time!

A couple of last observations to share in this rather long blog.   Earlier in the transitions, he assigned us an account #.  This was quite simple.  It was a 2 digit #.  I have no idea how he came up with it.  But he pulled out dog-eared book from his desk, held together with some duct tape at the binding, wrote our name down on the line and put the 2 digit number beside our name.  We are official now!

I ended by signing my name on numerous Italian papers.....and then having Steve to sign right beside mine.  I have no idea what I signed.  I can only hope that I did not sign giving permission for shady characters to come to my home to collect for protection money (as they pay for in Southern Italy), that I didn't agree to any fees I didn't know about, that someone is not now cleaning out all of my bank accounts in the U.S.,  that when I leave Italy they will not hold me in customs with an "Aha, Mrs. Brown, did you not know you signed for ___________ (you fill in the blank)"

In all seriousness, he was a very nice, helpful man who went out of his way to help me.  He spent probably 90 minutes today and tried very hard to explain and help me to understand what my options were and minimize my expenses since he knew we were only going to use the Italian account to pay rent and Italian utilities.  Living in a foreign country means that you have to sometimes use your gut and just trust that you will be treated fairly.  Because as a guest in their country you are dependent upon their generosity, their willingness to help and assist you with the language, with your questions and with understanding so much of what you don't understand.  It is a humbling experience and also a chance to just really laugh at how funny the whole situation really is :-)   It is why I almost always stop and help people in the U.S. that I see struggling with the language or with not understanding how or why something is done a certain way.  It is because I have been in their Japan, in England and now in Italy.  Helpfulness and kindness goes such a long way.