Adventures in Socialized Medicine

Posted in culture, family, kids at 7:41 am

I’ve always struggled with understanding the health system here in Italy. I’ve heard it described as excellent doctors that have to fight crippling bureaucracy. And the few times we’ve had to go to the doctor, that’s what we’ve experienced. Italy has “free-ish” health care for all citizens, but since we have an American health insurance policy, the bureaucracy gets even thicker for us.

But we’re taking the plunge. I went to the health department to find out what I needed to do to buy into the system. For a total of €380 and some change, my entire family can be covered for one year. So for roughly $550, most doctor visits, most tests, and most prescriptions are mostly paid for. There’s a lot of qualifiers in that sentence, I know. We’ll see how it goes. I’m pretty much going to need to forget everything I know about how a doctor/hospital is supposed to run. But considering that my American policy costs about $5,000 per year, with a $1,000 deductible for each of us, I can’t see how we can go wrong. Just a few doctor visits per year would more than pay for it.

And get this – the nice woman at the health department explained that the $550 is per calendar year, so if I paid now I would have to pay again in January. But she talked to her boss, and he agreed to give my wife and kids free care until the end of the year. It’s not much, and apparently it doesn’t matter if something happens to me, but I thought it was nice that they at least did something to help out.

And so what if the hospital in Ancona is a big, scary, gray, communist-era-looking building. What could possibly go wrong? :)



Posted in books, christian resources at 10:23 am

Having recently dealt with the unexpected death of my own father, I’ve been sort of scared to read Pete Greig’s book God on Mute. The book basically deals with the Christian response to unanswered prayers, or the problem of pain, or why bad things happen to good people. Obviously, a subject that has been written about quite a bit. But I’ve found this book to beautifully blend the smartie, theologically-deep stuff with day-to-day life. Check out what Pete says about what he calls “the ultimate unanswered prayer” when Jesus asked that God take the cup from him.

‘Yet…’ and on that single word from Jesus, I imagine traffic screaming to a halt and birds falling from the sky. The Father’s hand pauses by the cup, heaven falls silent in suspense, hell jeers, drooling with lust for blood and power, too stupid to understand its own undoing. ‘Yet not my will’ – and perhaps the screams of delight in hell were so loud when they heard these four words from the lips of the one whose will had tormented them for so long that they never even heard the final five words at all – ‘but your will be done.’

Isn’t that where all of us need to be in our lives? Able to say that no matter what, we will give up our personal needs for God’s greater glory? This is a tough prayer to prayer the day before nails are driven through your wrists, or when the cancer is inoperable, or when your dad is mechanically breathing after a freak car accident. And I’ll be the first to admit, that kind of prayer was the furthest from my mind at that time. All I could offer to God were groans and hope that the Holy Spirit was able to piece together a prayer on my behalf.

But slowly … slowly … I think I’m getting to the point of being able to say “yet…”


General Strike

Posted in culture, school at 5:17 am

Oh boy … tomorrow is going to be a fun day. Nearly all “public workers” have declared a strike tomorrow. Here’s a list of possible disruptions, taken from the City of Ancona website:

The city of Ancona guarantees only the following services (meaning everything else is closed):

  • Registration of births and deaths
  • Cemetery Services: Only administrative tasks, burials, and entombments.
  • Social Services Assistance: Only emergency assistance for non-self-sufficient adults.
  • Street Services: Only emergency services / stop light services
  • City Police: Only tasks requested by the courts, accident prevention measures, emergency services, central dispatch, and assistance in case of a natural disaster.
  • Cultural Services: Only security services (the watchman) at the library and the art gallery.
  • Account Services: Payments and Social Security
  • School bus for disabled students: Not guaranteed.
  • Vegetable Market: Only preservation and release of perishable goods.

And here’s a list of things that might be interrupted:

  • School lunches (bring a sack lunch kids!)
  • Preschools
  • School buses

And these are only the city services! All teachers may strike tomorrow (and they won’t tell you beforehand, so you have to take your kids to school in the morning and see if it’s open). I haven’t heard about transportation strikes, but at this point they might as well. And don’t ask me what the strike is about. It’s probably contract renewal time.


Bad Translations

Posted in language at 1:50 pm

Movies in Italy are almost always dubbed, which means we usually have to wait a bit after a movie comes out in the US before it comes out here. Apparently there was a movie out called Superbad a while back. I’ve never seen it (and I don’t think I will) but I had to chuckle when I saw the poster advertising this movie here. It was called Suxbad. The letter “x” is often used as an abbreviation for per, a conjunction. So an Italian would pronounce the title correctly: Su-per-bad.

But this foreigner wondered why anyone would call a movie sucks-bad. It was a couple of weeks before I got it.


What to do with three hours

Posted in culture, school at 1:10 pm

Italian law (or at least our region’s law) says the school week must be 27 hours long. Most schools meet for 30 hours per week, meaning that there are three hours to fill with extra-curricular activities.

Which sounds really simple, but in practice ends up kind of complicated. The law says that the parents must be unanimous in what activities to choose. You already see the problem… So sometime at the beginning of the year the teacher, or the class representative, will ask for ideas. People send in some ideas, they do some checking on costs, and then we get to vote. However, the teacher has already weeded out some of the ideas, so we’re usually given very little actual choice. The teacher sends out a note that says, “Do you want your children to participate in music class for €25 per year?” And we all vote yes because there weren’t any alternatives.

Sometimes a parent will get to feeling feisty and decide they don’t want to vote for, say, chess lessons (1 hour per week, €25 per year). They feel like their kid doesn’t really want to sit anymore, and why can’t they learn a sport? So they vote no.

Which means a meeting will get called. And we will all try and change that person’s mind because the law says it must be a unanimous decision. And they get frustrated because what little choice they had is taken away under the guise of being unanimous.

And the funny thing is, nobody is really happy with the system the way it is. But we’ve got three hours to fill, so what are you going to do?

The Welcoming Time

Posted in culture, kids, school at 12:51 pm

I’m finding it interesting how my opinions about certain cultural differences have changed the longer we live here. The tempo di accoglienza is one of those things that used to kind of bother me, but now I see how it’s a good idea.

The first two weeks of school are pretty low key: little homework, longer breaks, usually a field trip of some kind. There’s sometimes even a little program for the parents to come and watch during these initial weeks. When I first learned about the welcoming time I remember thinking, “What’s the big deal? Why do they coddle the kids so much? It’s better to just dive in!”

But now that I’ve been here a bit, I kind of see how it’s a good idea. There’s sort of a build up to the end of the tempo di accoglienza as if to say, “You all can act up a bit at the beginning, but next week it’s a whole different story.” And I think it works. Everyone is on the same page, the class rules are clear, but the kids have had time to have fun with their teacher (who is already a very maternal person, since the teachers move up with the kids during grade school).

And then the hammer falls … the party’s over kids. :)


Man are we CLASSY!

Posted in kids, school at 2:40 am

School is finished around 1 PM here (but most schools are also in session on Saturday). Since school-sponsored sports don’t exist, many parents enroll their kids in a doposcuola – an “after-school.” This year we let our big kids choose any activity, as long as it was under €50 per month.

My oldest chose fencing.

My middlest chose horseback riding.

And (incredibly) they  both came in under budget. The fencing club here in Ancona has trained Olympic athletes, and has an enormous facility. The horseback riding lessons are taught in a beautiful old fort here in the city.

Unfortunately, my kids chose sports that I have never participated in and don’t know anything about. I suppose I’ll be learning along with them.


Class Representatives

Posted in kids, school at 5:15 am

Today’s post begins a series of posts on school in Italy. Hope you like it…

Today I attended a meeting to elect class representatives for my youngest kid’s class. As we sat on the tiny chairs in the classroom, the teacher explained the rules:

  • Voting must be in the presence of another parent as a witness
  • We must show ID in order to vote
  • We can only vote for people who were nominated beforehand
  • All voting takes place using a secret ballot
  • We must nominate at least two people, in case the first person is unable to fulfill their duties

As we went through the rules, I suddenly thought that I must be in the wrong meeting. Surely we don’t need all this pomp just for the room mother of my son’s preschool? OK, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. The class representative does quite a bit of work, but secret ballots? Alternates? Witnesses? Doesn’t it all seem a bit excessive?

When I received my ballot, I asked the person who the nominees were (all three classes had earlier nominated their respective nominees at the same time by shouting – this foreigner had a bit of trouble keeping up). She pointed at a list on the wall and said that everyone was voting for the first name on the list. He was the one that wanted to do it. I scribbled his name down, slid my ballot into the ballot box, and went on my way.