18 March 2016

Only in Rome

Nearly every day in Rome something so bizarre happens to you that if you wrote the same situation into a sitcom, no one would believe it and it would seem something of a forced joke.

Over the last two weeks, I've spent an inordinate amount of time sitting at my desk working on my thesis with the working title, "Age and Order: Confirmation in the Present Legislation of the Latin Church." Very early this morning, I submitted a complete draft of the thesis to my director and await his suggestions and corrections.

You can walk by it and not really notice it
Since it had been a while since I went on a lengthy walk, I took one this afternoon and stopped at my favorite panineria for a panino (sandwich) with tuna, tomatoes, and mozzarella. I eat here at least once a week because it is clean, quite, uses quality ingredients, and the staff is friendly. In fact, this particular panineria has always struck me as not quite Roman (I think the family that owns it is from Poland, though I've not asked them) and, as such, things tend to function in a "normal" way. As just one example, if you ask them to make a panino different from those already made (because, say, you would like one with prosciutto, mozzarella, and tomatoes), they think nothing of it and make your sandwich quickly and gladly.

When I stopped in the panineria this afternoon, the clouds overheard threatened a bit of rain so I asked to pay right away and eat the sandwhich as I walked (in most such places, you eat first and pay at the end). The panino and a bevarage came to a total of €5,50. At the time, I only had two €20 notes. When I presented a €20 note to pay for quick meal, the young man grinned as the register opened and he realized there was not enough change in the till for me. This, it should be noted, is not an altogether atypical experience in Rome.

Many cafes, grocery stores, etc., rarely have sufficient change in their registers and it is not uncommon for them to refuse to sell you something if you don't have the proper amount of money or something close often (often within €5). Whenever you find yourself without the proper change, the cashier always looks at you as if it is your fault; you simply should have expected this. Now, this problem is exacerbated by the fact that most ATMs only dispense €50 notes because anything else would make life to easy. Now, back to the panineria, where this has never happened to me (which is another reason I keep stopping in).

Since there were several other customers enjoying their panini in the store, the young man asked if would be willing to eat the panino in the restaurant and pay afterwards. Not having anything else on the calendar, I agreed.

By the time I finished eating, the other customers had paid and gone about their day, so I approached the register to try to pay a second time. He opened the register and smiled again because there was still not enough change in the drawer. He printed a receipt and told me I could pay the next time I stop in (the kindness you sometimes experience in Rome can be quite surprising). I thanked him and set out again for my walk.

Along the way I picked up a few items at other stores and found myself in the possession of a €10 note. Because I didn't want to forget to pay him or lose the receipt, and because I'll be away from Rome for Holy Week and Easter, I stopped back by the panineria on my way back to the Casa.

He reminded me and opened the register. I handed in the €10 note. We both looked at the drawer and laughed: there were only a few coins in the drawer, five €1 coins to be exact. He smiled, gave me the five coins, and told me the extra €0.50 was a gift.

I've spent a total of at least fifteen weeks in Assisi, a much smaller town than Rome, and never encountered a situation where the cashier couldn't provide change, even when using a €50 note to pay a €5 bill. Such things only seem to happen in Rome, and makes it important to be known - or at least recognized - in the places you shop.

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