22 January, 2008

Culture Shock

Yesterday was the two-week mark of my stay in Rome. And I still have so much to learn about this place. Including adapting to the culture. When you're just vacationing, you don't really need to "adapt." Most of the tourist-y needs are met through hotels, tour groups, airports and train stations. But to actually live here, you have to figure out things like hours of operation, public transportation, and ways to save money.

On Sunday night, in planning a trip to Venice for this weekend's Carnevale (sort of like Halloween in the States) I attempted to book my train tickets through a website called Trenitalia. However, the internet connection at my apartment has been very sluggish for the past few days, and the connection kept getting reset. Each time I would get so far and have to start all over - between setting up a login to use the site, getting kicked off after 15 minutes of finding my trains, entering the incorrect "secure" password for my bank, and finally my credit card being declined. I gave up at some point and decided to do it on campus the next morning with a faster internet connection.

I got to campus around 10 am Monday and tried to book again. At least it took less time to figure out that my credit card still wouldn't go through. My friend Rachel offered to use hers and I would just pay her cash for the tickets, but the whole thing refreshed itself several more times. When she was ready to enter her credit card information again, the site said that I'd had too many reservations that were not paid for. BUT I'M TRYING TO PAY FOR IT! Anyway, I had at least managed to reserve my spot somehow???

I checked my e-mail. One was from Trenitalia written all in Italian, and one was from my mom saying the bank had called and needed to talk to me to verify something. I printed both and figured I'd ask my Italian professor at 1 pm for some help with the train situation to see if my card had been charged multiple times or whatever.

Now onto the next task: buying paper for my printmaking project before siesta when everything closes. Off to Piazza del Popolo to find the art store. On the way, stopped at an ATM (Bancomat) to get some cash. DENIED. Okay, back to campus to figure out how to make international 800 calls to the bank. The dean recommended I get a phone card called the EuropaCard for use in the public phone booths. Off to find a Tabacchi for that. Which I bought with my last 5 Euros. Guess I won't be getting a sandwich before class...

Tried the phone card a few times. No success. Did everything from inserting the card into the slot, dialing the English access number, trying to call the customer service line, and even using the Italian numbers. All I ended up with was some Italian expressions saying, You Have No Credit. Story of the day.

Went back to campus and got a few more suggestions about certain prefixes and when to enter my PIN #, etc, which didn't work either, then came back to campus in hysterics for my Italian class. After class, I tried to explain my situation and my Italian professor told me in broken English that this EuropaCard I was showing her was a good card, and everyone should buy this one. Yeah, but I'm a stupid American and I don't know how to use public phone booths with EuropaCards. She did offer to help me after her class at 3 pm, though.

So I went to my locker for my laptop, to try to get my wireless connection to work on campus in order to Skype my parents and maybe even Skype the bank, if it came down to it. It couldn't have been any later than 8:30 am in the US when I had messed around with the firewall settings on my computer enough to get Skype to work. Through a shaky internet call or two, my parents eventually verified that my card was not blocked as far as the bank knew, and I went to the bank's website to verify that the train tickets had not been processed. Mom and dad advised me to try another ATM because in some travel book it says that the machines here are very old and fickle. After meeting my Italian professor around 2 pm RE: The Very Sketchy e-mail from Trenitalia, we figured out that it was necessary for me to pay for the train tickets by THAT NIGHT in one of about four ways listed, in order to secure my reservation for the weekend.

Anyway, I decided to try the phone card one more time *UNSUCCESSFULLY*, stop in a travel agency with a Trenitalia sign on the door (they also seemed very confused by the e-mail) *UNSUCCESSFULLY*, go to another ATM for cash **SUCCESSFULLY**, and THEN buy lunch ***YAY*** before class. After class, I ventured to Termini, the main Metro stop / train station in Rome, and spent another hour or so finding the "Self-Service" machines from Trenitalia to pay for my tickets, in cash, because again my card was not accepted. (Please note that the first malfunctioning machine would not take cash, and in order to even find these machines I had walked up and down the entire length of the platform two times, because apparently there are various Self-Service Trenitalia machines in Termini). But finally, my train tickets were printed, so I AM GOING TO VENICE FOR CARNEVALE ON FRIDAY MORNING!!! To celebrate my abundance of cash that I had been lacking earlier in the day, I bought myself an overpriced drink at the Bar. ICED TEA. Because a "Bar" in Italy is not an alcohol vendor.

Moral of the story: Italy is very fickle about accepting your money. A problem, I'm sure, that would never happen in America.

2 Comment(s):

Sid said...

Great entry babe

Uncle Chas said...

Hi Amy,
Best wishes for a great year in Rome. What an experience it will be for you! I'm enjoying your posts and pics very much.
We're all well here in West Virginia. I sold my printing shop (after 26 years) so am now innkeeping and intend to persue a third career in massage therapy.
I'm glad you are keeping your sense of humor in the face of some very frustrating bank and train ticket transactions.
Have fun at Carnevale.
Uncle Chas

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