Having had the misfortune of interacting with more than my fair share of them, I generally take a dim view of government bureaucracies. By extension I also find myself reflexively suspicious of those who work in them, although I try not to pre-judge, pre-judger that I am.
I have also noticed the beauracracies of other countries never fail to disappoint in this regard. I thought the California DMV set an exceptionally low bar for customer service, but they never made me cry the way French Immigration can. I thought the TSA took the cake for being able to simultaneously humiliate and infuriate their customers, but then I was introduced to the Cannes Airport Bureau of Badges.
Here in Italy we have been able to minimize our interaction with most Italian bureaucracies, which may fuel our slightly prejudiced view that Italians are wonderful, engaging people, across the board. But there has been one glaring exception: the Italian Post Office.
It is a terrible institution. It performs many in-person services that in a normal western country no longer exist, due to the internet. They are inexplicably incompetent, and/or inexplicably ill-prepared for their jobs, which fuels an anger in Italians you often don't see. Last night, the guy ahead of me in the queue became unglued, unleashing a stream of vitriol at the clerks. Up until that point they had been too busy to serve any of us, but they stopped pecking away at their keyboards long enough to scowl right back at the customer, and then went back to whatever it was they were doing.
In order to pay the bill for my leading-edge cell phone, whose service is provided by a leading edge wireless company, I have to go to the Post Office with my paper bill. The clerk spends a minute or two seriously contemplating it, enters what appears to be a hundred or so separate data elements into her computer, and then runs the bill through a reader that was built some time in the late 1980's. To cap it all off, I am then charged for the privilege of appearing before her and extinguishing my cell phone debt.
And you still have to lick many of their stamps. How is that still a thing?
Outside the Post Office, there are hordes of wonderful Italians. Inside the post office, an alternative universe lays waiting to grind all the happiness out of your day. It is Italy's curious doppelganger.