For the nth time, during a brief conversation with a stranger, upon learning I hailed from Italy, I was asked what I was doing here. “Italy is so beautiful!”. Let me try to explain.
My past few evenings have been spent researching an Alitalia direct flight from Rome to Los Angeles. My mother finally committed to spend a month over here and, being of a certain age and not speaking any English, she would feel more comfortable flying alone with a crew who can understand her. I can’t blame her. No problem. I took the Rome to LAX flight a few months ago, I know it exists – all my mom has to do is take a train to Rome, where my sister will be waiting at the other end to make sure she gets on the plane. And I will be over here to receive her. I know the flight doesn’t operate daily so, for the past few nights, I tried to make a reservation on different days of the week and, every time, the screen spewed up a myriad connections through every known European capital and North American city of note. I was puzzled.
Finally, today from the same unfriendly website that does not feature any schedules, I got a 800 number. The usual menu of 500 options answered my call, only with a heavily accented Italian female voice, an accent so thick that even I, whose mother tongue is Italian, could not understand. Let alone any poor American traveller trying to book her dream vacation through the phone. After pressing 1 – you can’t go wrong with option number 1 – a pleasant man by the name of Nico, presumably somewhere in the greater New York area, swiftly answered.
“What day do you want to fly?”
“I am not sure yet. When does the direct flight run?” I shout into the microphone through a terrible connection.
“Well, it depends”
“Ok, let’s say I am flying in November”
“Ah, November! Yes, then it flies every Wed, Saturday and Sunday. Would you like me to make a booking?”
“No, it’s fine, I’ll make it on-line although I had a hard time finding the flight”
“Well, it’s not on-line. You have to book over the phone”
And right there is one of the reasons why our national airline loses millions of euros a day. Make a commodity impossible to find and hard to obtain.
At the end of the conversation Nico, (probably Nicola from Catania) asks me if I want to participate in a phone survey. I mentally laugh at the chutzpah of this government subsidized company and, in an uncharacteristic fit of altruism, I agree. Then I proceed to extend the courtesy of very high marks I would never consider for any American counterpart. At the end of day, yes I will use them again, to book an impossible to find flight, at uncompetitive prices so my mother can rest at ease.
This seemingly random exchange actually sums up my country and its citizens. We are maddeningly charming, with the truth half hidden in the folds of our charm, functional enough to give every appearance of professionalism and inanely proud of our fly by the seat of our pants attitude. You gotta love us!
Incredibly enough, such attitude has seen us through calamities, crises and monumental changes since the times of Caesar. Who knows – it might even see us through the current economical debacle. Looking back, it might have been my innate craving for order and perfection that led to me leave over 20 years ago. Yet, it’s my charm and my ability to fly by the seat of my pants that make me who I am. And that need of perfection? I have learnt to let it go.