Tag Archives: poste italiane

How to send holiday cards from Italy

29 Nov

36674_whimsical_rustic_holiday_christmas_greeting_cardsYou would think there would be no need for a post about how to send holiday cards from Italy, but in the nearly 20 years I’ve been here, Poste Italiane still hasn’t made any significant strides in terms of efficiency. This summer, the parents of one of my daughter’s friends asked me if a postcard their daughter sent in July had arrived at our house. I told them no in August, and thought perhaps they had gotten the address wrong. Lo and behold, however, in October came the greeting from an Italian vacation locale: “Can’t wait to see you again in September!” And so it goes, with the Italian post.

That being the case, if you’re living in Italy and wondering about the various options for sending holiday greetings, I’ve tried a variety of different methods over the years with mixed results. Here are my thoughts on your options for sending yuletide joy across the miles this year.

Snail mail

Poste Italiane


Your old-school option is the snail-mail route with the Italian system. It is, as previously stated here, here, here, here, and here, comically unreliable and monumentally incomprehensible. If you go this route, know that cards and letters sent internationally to the US cost 2 euros at last check. But just don’t ask for stamps.

Poste Vaticane


If you’re in Rome you have another snail-mail option, that of the Vatican mail service. I used it eons ago to send my wedding invitations. It’s generally seen as more reliable. I can attest to the fact that the invites all arrived safe and sound. And with stamps, to boot.

Real cards sent for you within US

Postable and Card Gnome



With the advent of more recent technologies since I first came to Italy in 2001, I’ve often opted for this route – companies that let you fill out your card online and then they mail the actual physical card for you from within the US. This way I avoid the hassle and risk of the crappy Italian postal system, but my recipients still get an actual card they can display on their mantel. I think it’s the best of both worlds. I like the designs on Postable (starts at $3.99 per card, plus 50 cents postage in US) better than Card Gnome (starts at $4.99 per card, postage included), but I’ve used both and both have been reliable. On Postable you can even upload your own photos and have them printed on the card – a definite plus.

Paperless Post


Paperless Post is your go-to option for all-digital. They have a range of cool designs and many from well-known designers like kate spade new york, Rifle Paper Co., and Sugar Paper. What I like best about Paperless Post, however, is that they try to make the digital experience feel more like the real thing. For example, when your recipient opens their online card, the card actually contains a digital envelope, a digital stamp, and a sleek animation that opens the envelope and reveals the card. It’s light years ahead of those early e-card services that were full of gaudy flashing images, cheesy music, and rudimentary design.

Another plus of all-digital is that it’s instantaneous, so if you’re running late getting to the holiday card thing, you can still be on time even at the last minute. And, let’s be honest: the ease of importing your email contacts and mass mailing for the holidays is cheaper and quicker than the snail-mail route or the online+physical card route. Pricing for the digital cards works with Paperless Post’s coin system. You buy coins and then spend them on your cards, digital stamps, envelopes, linings, etc. Pricing starts at 10 coins for $5.00, but some cards are free. And you can upload photos for your design.

So, there you have it – a range of options for your holiday mailings from abroad. This year I am going to do a combination of all of them, most likely. Happy Holidays and happy mailing!

Italian Bureaucracy is So Bad It’s Comical

3 Aug

This should be the title of an off-Broadway play.

Here’s the thing, people. Today I write you this tidbit not to complain and bitch. No, no. Perish the thought. Complaining and bitching about Italian bureaucracy is strictly for amateurs. I’m over that. No, folks, I consider myself a seasoned pro by now, so I have better things to do with my time than tell you about long lines and unfriendly clerks at the post office, and mail that never or almost never arrives. (Besides, I’ve done that many times before.)

Today I just want to have a few “ha-has” about how silly this whole thing is. I was tempted to say “how silly this whole tarantella is.” The tarantella is a folk dance from southern Italy, and Italians say that as a colloquialism to refer to the elaborate song and dance you have to do to get stuff done.

So here’s the deal. I have cell phone and Internet service in a bundle from Wind/Infostrada. When I signed up I gave them a credit card to charge each billing cycle. This month the card didn’t go through. So I call to ask why, and get a card ready to give to the person on the phone so I can get the bill paid.

You know, you figure if you’re dealing with a private and not public office, a modicum of efficiency might be had.

Well. You figure wrong, my friends.

Besides the fact that the lady was sooo annoyed because I couldn’t understand her that well so I had to keep asking her to repeat herself (at one point I heard her audibly make one of those big, put-out sighs, and I go “Listen! I’m not trying to make your job difficult. But clearly I’m American and therefore Italian is not my native language. So, you know, help me out here. I just need you to spell it, ok?”), it’s just not that easy to pay your bill.

Annoyed lady: “Well, signora, now that your card has been rejected once, we can’t accept credit card payments anymore.”


Me: “Um, ok. So how am I supposed to pay?”

Her: “Bollettino postale.”

Cue death music.

The bollettino postale (oh God, here I go, amateur hour) is the dreaded “pay the bill at the post office.” Jesus. And believe me, he’d be the only one who could help me do that in a reasonable amount of time without hassle.

Me: “But I didn’t get a bollettino on my bill. So how do I go about paying it?” (Usually the bollettino is a slip of paper you tear off your bill and take to the post office to pay with.)

Her: “Get a blank one at the post office. Fill it out with this information…” And she proceeds to rattle off indecipherable numbers and street names and I’m thinking, are you kidding me? Not to mention the fact that they don’t leave these forms out for the public, so you have to ask for them. One time I asked why they don’t leave forms out for the public. The clerk told me “Because people steal them.” I go, “Why on God’s green Earth would people STEAL postal forms?” Then it occurred to me. They “steal” them because they hoard them so they don’t have to ask for them because the postal people never leave them out for the public because they steal them. Catch, meet 22.

Droning on: “Then after you pay it, you need to fax the proof of payment to this number…one-five-wearethemostinefficientserviceintheworld-four-ten.”

Me: “Wait. What if I just want to put a new card on file? Couldn’t I just do that now with you, over the phone?”

Her: (sinister laughing) “No, for that you’d have to go to the Wind store in person.”

Me: “Whaaa?”

Her: “You have to go in person, and ask the clerk for the form. Then you fill it out, and fax it to this other number.”

Now I swear, at this point, I started laughing for reals. Which, of course, only served to piss her off further. Me: “Wait. You mean to tell me that not only do I have to go IN PERSON to a shop, but then I can’t even give the completed form BACK to the guy who gives it to me?”

Her: (completely offended) “Of COURSE not! That’s private information, signora!!”

Oh, right. Now I’M the asshole. No, seriously, people. THE MIND BOGGLES.

So obviously, after a week, I’ve gotten absolutely no where paying my bill because I avoid going to the post office like the plague. My only consolation is that it’s August, so probably no one will be at the post office except me and maybe some other poor schmuck whose card didn’t go through at Wind.

Pssst! Come in real close. I want to ask you something.

How much do you want to bet that if I call back and get a different operator, I might be able to pay over the phone with a credit card?

Lesson #1 in Italian bureaucracy, public or private: Never give up with the first employee. They all make up their own rules based on their own needs. Try a few until you are absolutely sure this is actually policy.

People, I need to hold a masterclass, I swear. I should give flipping GUIDED TOURS to new arrivals about how to navigate this stuff. So, if you were wondering about the screen shot from the arcade version of Double Dragon, here it is: I continue to contend that Italian bureaucracy is akin to a 1980s-era Nintendo video game, where you need to complete all the levels to then get to the “big boss” and if you kill him with fire power and have extra lives, you win. A.k.a. you get to pay your bill.

Game over!

No stamps, this is the post office

9 May

I’m really starting to think that a pre-requisite for becoming an employed member of the ranks of front-line postal clerks in Italy, or at least here in Rome, is significant past professional experience either in the fine field of incarceration facilities (a.k.a. prison guard) or perhaps unsuccessful completion of a court-ordered anger management class.

What the hell is WITH Roman postal clerks?!?

Right. I came here 11 years ago, so yes, this should be old news by now and it’s certainly not new ground. I’ve faithfully hated Poste Italiane for quite some time. Exhibit 1: unbelievably laughable delays. Exhibit 2: local, yet logistically impractical, holy alternative.

In any case, I just want to keep you informed on good ol’ PT’s progress and evolution since those previous posts. Or rather lack thereof.

Today at the Largo Argentina post office, I had to pay two bills and buy some stamps. Since this post office is large and semi-evolved, they have a number system. All that usually means though is that you get a piece of paper during your 50+ minute wait. Today, amazingly, there were only two people ahead of me in the “P” number line.

Because, you see, when you go to the number machine, you get choices:

1) Poste Italiane bank account holder? Push here. Apparently you get special treatment. I think that’s an “E” but not sure.
2) Just need to do financial services (i.e., pay bills?) Push here. You get an “A”
3) Just need to send something? Push here. You get a “P”

However, allow me to note, that you can also push for the “P” and pay bills. It is written right there, in fine italicized print.

I approach when P196 is called. I go up to the window and present my two bills, half daydreaming. Next thing I know, I see the postal clerk lady’s head start spinning around like in The Exorcist, and she roars out at me:


Here’s me: “Wha?? Cosa?”

Then, super snide and seething—yes, seething—she says in broken English, “You need A number not P!!!!”

Oh my God. Now not only am I being barked at, I’m being reprimanded like a five-year-old who snuck candy and doesn’t even speak the local language.

Me, in my best academic and polished Italian possible: “You see, I have to also buy stamps. And on the machine it states that if I have postal business to do, like buying stamps, then I can also add in financial business, such as these here bills.”

She: “Oh. Well. You didn’t tell me, so how was I supposed to know?!” Clearly. Kindly file this under “I’m an Italian public office employee, therefore I have not, do not, and will not ever be responsible for basically anything that occurs in, around, or anywhere within an at least 20 km radius of my workplace.”

Dude. Whatever.

She, in one big, grand, last flourish of prison guard-style customer service: “And anyways, we don’t have any stamps here.”

Oh no—no! You did not. You had to go and pull out the big guns. Why’d you have to go and do that? Why?

As much as I love Rome, this is something that after eleven years I CANNOT—as in CAN NOT—tolerate. You are the post office. Hence, you should provide me with the one essential product with which I may POST something. Am I wrong?

I mutter under my breath, but not really quietly, “The post office, and they don’t have any stamps.” Humph! I mean…really!

She, completely unfazed but strangely less hostile: “Strange but true.”

In the end, I think she took pity on me, because after I paid my bills in utter mortified silence, she started to ask me what kind of stamps I needed. This is so typical. It happens often in Italy that you get shot down by angst-ridden public employees who use you as their innocent punching bags, and then when you don’t freak out and retaliate like a total asshole, they just might come inching forward with their tail *slightly* between their legs. It kills me, because it’s like, you could have skipped the whole a-hole part and just asked me what kind of stamps I needed. Even though that question should be totally and completely irrelevant at this point, given that you just told me you DON’T. HAVE. STAMPS.

“I need to send a postcard to the Netherlands. And a letter to the States.”

“Do you have them with you?”

So she places one of those machine stickers on my postcard. I had been so flustered I hadn’t even thought to ask. Geez.

No luck on the US stamp, as I haven’t even written the letter yet that I intend to send. (That’s why I need a STAMP, people. It’s called ADVANCE PLANNING.) Go figure. Wouldn’t want to trouble the post office for a stamp, for God’s sake. What was I thinking?

But hey, don’t take it from me. There’s a small but militant group of expats and writers who can regale you with their tales as well:

What Can You Mail to Italy? and Post Offices in Italy by Natalie. She’s lovely. And she has the English title of my blog.

How to Post Things to Italy – Alex Roe at Italy Chronicles

Postal Service in Italy – Living Italy

Everyone has their story. Consider it a rite of passage. Like getting your driver’s license. Or having your first scooter accident. Or getting shat on by a Roman pigeon (good luck, they say).