I had a good post office run this morning. There was practically no line and a smiling, polite woman exchanged friendly banter with me as I rustled in my wallet for exact change. Who could ask for more. The only tiresome part was filling out the payment forms, called conti correnti, to pay for next year’s school enrollment taxes and fees – one to a central state office in the amount of Euro 15,13 and the other directly to the school in the amount of Euro 100,00. Today's mystery is not why I couldn’t pay these fees directly to the school, but the two are connected.
Instead, my cultural moment for the day came on as I read the warning on the back of the form which states, “fill out each part fully in black or blue ink with no abrasions, corrections or erasing or the form will be invalidated.” Since I have to copy the same information three times along the long rectangular form, I get nervous as I get to the third section – one mistake and I will have to start all over again! My hand starts to quiver and I break out in a sweat.
The last time I filled out an electoral ballot to the state of Connecticut, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read, “You may cancel or erase your vote as you wish as long as the final result is clear.” Clear to whom was not specified but this is not the point.
Two cultural factors come to mind:
1. Trust. Although we may not trust each other on an individual level and keep shotguns by our sides to prove it, we somehow trust each other on an aggregate level through a system of rules and regulations that are universally applied and generally followed. Unnerving for an Italian – ma ti fidi?? This is the underlying reason why I am not able to pay the school directly – ma chi si fida that the money would be managed correctly and who would be responsible for any missing funds? No problem – all school payments have to be made to a conto corrente at the post office, even a 2 euro fee for a new absences booklet.
2. Change: Even changing something as small as a misspelled street name on a form is suspect. Anything written down is very difficult to change – this is an oral society.