One morning I wanted to mail a birthday card to a friend. We were staying in a medieval village with a post office right in the piazza we were staying. The office opened at 8:30 but it was 9:10 before I was able to get down there. Upon entering I could see there were four people ahead of me. A sign in Italian read “Please wait patiently for your turn and remember who is ahead of you since there are no numbers to take and no line to stand in.” It was true, everyone just stood or sat around the perimeter of the small lobby, waiting for their turn.
The woman being served at the lone window seemed to be sending a lot of Euros, all of them in €50 bills! After stacking them all in the right direction it was discovered that the automated counting machine wouldn’t work, so the real counting started in a more serious manner. Paperwork needed to be re-done because it was wrong the first time, with much interchange between the woman and the gentleman behind the glass.
After 30 minutes the woman turned to everyone for the first time and made a comment to those of us waiting and the chatter began in earnest. Up until this point the only sounds made were that of frustrated sighing and shuffling of feet. But now everyone in the room had something to say. I was included in this discussion and it was hardly noticed that all I did in response was nod and smile. Two men got tired of waiting which put me third in line.
Many more arrived and greetings were exchanged and the chatter continued. After the first woman was finally done the two older women in front of me were each cashing what I think were their monthly pension checks and each took about ten minutes. All this time I was able to observe how the members of the small community interacted with each other. They were polite, friendly, understanding and animated in their speaking. I must have looked so ridiculous to them all because I’m sure I had a big grin on my face as I experienced this peek into their culture.
When it was my turn, exactly one hour after I had walked in, it took me less than one minute to communicate my need for a postage stamp, pay (with exact change, ‘perfecto!’), and say goodbye to all left waiting. They all practically applauded my swiftness and warmly sent me on my way with “Ciao!”, “Benissimo!”, and “Grazie!” I felt so wonderful. There’s something awesomely special about a place that can make you feel good about spending an hour waiting to be served.