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Archive for the ‘European Union’ Category

How we ended up out out

25/06/2016

A vast number of Brits pop to the corner shop for some Alka Seltzer (touch of gippy tummy after last night’s reheated Wiener Schnitzel, and a bit of a headache – doubtlessly that bloody Chateauneuf du Pape). They then nip into the Lion and Unicorn for a restorative Pimm’s, only to wake up the next day to discover that one thing must have led to another because they apparently ended up trashing the pub, crashing the family car and drunk dialling their humourless boss to tell him he’s a twat who can stuff his job. Oh, and the headache? Yeah, quite a lot worse now. It’s going to take a lot more than Alka Seltzer to shift that bastard.

Obviously Brexit has a few additional elements, but given that many (although by no means all) “Out” voters appear to prefer black and white over grey, and a good yarn over provable facts, I decided they were superfluous for the purposes of this tale.

When all is said and done, a referendum is a democratic process, democracy is something we have respect for, and the voters have spoken. Even so, when I hear “In” voters being talked about using terms such as sour grapes and bad losers, I can’t help but wonder whether a number of “Out” voters are actually under the impression that we are dealing with a village cricket match. Or the Great British Bake-Off. Or just a general election, where the “bad losers” only have five years to wait before they can have another stab at turning their sour grapes into more acceptable political vino.

But the reality is that on June the 24th, millions of people awoke to a future that has been completely and terrifyingly blown out of the water. Through no choice of their own. And there is no turning back; no chance for redress in five short years. A little comprehension from those who have chosen to plunge an entire country into extreme political and economic uncertainty would not go amiss at this time.

More disturbing than the terms used above, however, are many people’s apparent motives for voting us out. Motives which in a lot of cases seem to have precious little to do with any sort of real understanding or familiarity (the sort that allows one to breed legitimate contempt) with the European Union.

Instead many of those who voted out did so because they willingly choose to believe that the EU exists purely to outlaw custard creams, measure everyone’s bananas and write bible-length regulations on the sale of Cruciferous vegetables. The fact that it was actually established to try to unite a group of historically warring nations in order to assure peace to future generations (with prosperity a hoped-for side effect) is something I did not see mentioned much in the run up to this life-changing vote.

Others voted out because they willingly choose to believe that the majority of their country’s problems are due to the influx of foreigners, something that most unbiased reports seem to negate. And anyway, curbing immigration is by no means guaranteed by an EU exit, as has now been admitted.

There were those who willingly chose (I say chose, because that fantasy was destroyed almost as soon as the votes were counted) to believe that the money we currently send to the EU would be instead directed into purely British interests. Deprived British communities and areas (amongst many other British interests) have long been propped up by EU grants in return for our membership fee, but Brexit didn’t think to mention to the people most strongly voting to leave that they will likely be the hardest hit by a withdrawal.

And then there were those who voted because they are sick and tired of the “political elite”. They feel abandoned by the political class, in many cases with good reason. However, that is entirely unrelated to our membership in the European Union; sinking the country into a severe economic recession and complete political turmoil is unlikely to get their problems addressed any time soon.

These are just some of the reasons the “In” voters are not sucking up their sour grapes, or working on their losing skills, just so you know.

To those who voted out because they have closely followed or read up extensively on the British/EU alliance, or had personal/professional experience of the inner workings of the EU machine, and are in possession of enough political or economic acumen to judge that there is a chance we really would be better off out: thank you. Thank you for not playing Russian roulette with our future on a prejudicial whim.

We now have no option but to look forwards, and make the most of this turmoil to try and ensure something worthwhile comes out of it. A couple of key points that have come to me in the dead of the last few sleepless nights are:

  • no more political apathy – if you don’t have a favourite, pick the option you hate the least: just vote.
  • no more complacency – the world is changing, there are no more guarantees, wake up.
  • less ideology and more reality – what is desirable is not always what is right or necessary, ideology is a boggy road to nowhere constructive, reality is a rocky road to healthy compromise.
  • less “left” and “right”, more middle ground – we all want a fair society that cares and takes care, but in order to have that we need a strong economy.
  • don’t believe everything you read on the internet or in the media – fact checking is part of being a responsible participant in political change.

And having got this off my chest, I shall say no more about it except for: onwards and upwards, country of mine, regardless of what the future might hold. I am still looking forward to making you my home again, after over twenty years. And the first thing I shall do, before even unpacking my suitcase, is to get on the electoral role…

 

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Teetering

21/06/2016

As anyone who follows the Status Viatoris Blog Facebook page will know (and I apologise if you are finding it a little tedious), the run-up to the UK referendum on our Europe Union membership is seriously perturbing me.

Political referendums are tricky things. Essentially they are asking a public who has very little practical understanding of the political and financial workings of their country (myself most definitely included) to make a vitally important decision on… the political and financial future workings of their country. It is a big ask, denoting big responsibility.

But if said public were handed all the pertinent facts and figures in an impartial manner, and allowed to trawl through them and ask questions of impartial experts in the various fields before deciding which vote made the most sense to them as a layman, it would at least be a fair ask.

What we have been witnessing over the last weeks/months, however, is about as far from fair as it is possible to get. Both sides have preyed on the public’s ignorance in an attempt to frighten them into the desired vote, and the Leave campaign in particular has shown a viciousness and immorality that should cause any sane voter, even one that despises the EU and all it stands for, to stop dead and wonder what the hell is happening to their country.

For a large percentage of the general public will not be going to the urns armed with facts, they will instead be walking in with minds full of baseless yet highly inflammatory rhetoric, designed only to trigger existing preconceptions, fears and prejudices. The “facts” they think they have in their possession, turn out at best to be incomplete representations of the actual situation.

At worst they are quite simply lies, perpetuated by a group of people confident that their audience will be too busy enjoying having their existing preconceptions, fears and prejudices validated, to bother cross-checking the “information” they are handed with any reliable, and impartial, source.

Brexiteers are being promised a rosy future that nobody can actually vouch for, based on a premise that is no more than mere speculation and which is fuelled by hatred, mistrust, feelings of superiority, and a nationalism that history tells us we would be wise to be on our guard against.

We all know that there are many problems in the UK (as there are, always have been and always will be, in all countries), and I’m sure it is comforting for many to at last be able to openly slay their chosen scapegoats: Europe and the immigrants. There. One foul swoop and the majority of our niggles will apparently be gone.

I see exactly the same scenario being played out in my country of residence, Italy. Except here they have real problems as well: a corrupt (really corrupt, not David Cameron doing a small, perfectly legal offshore investment corrupt) behemoth of a ruling class, high unemployment, low wages, high taxes, minimum government assistance… And yet Europe and the immigrants are often top of the list in the blame game, simply because they are so ridiculously easy to hate: untangling the country’s actual problems is an infinitely more daunting task, requiring some serious and uncomfortable national introspection.

But beware of snake oil salesmen offering a quick fix: be it diet pills that will magic you effortlessly thin in a month or a single political decision that will seamlessly return us to a supposedly halcyon past. Such people are either after money or power; they are unlikely to be motivated by the best interests of their rapt audience.

The European Union (like any group of people just trying to get things done in an ever more challenging world) is not perfect, and mass immigration is far from ideal, bringing with it as it does undeniable complications.

But attempting to isolate ourselves (once again) from our nearest neighbours, rather than seeking strength in common good does not seem to me to offer any real solutions. And turning our backs on a massive humanitarian crisis rather than accepting the realities of the world we live in, acknowledging that sometimes we need to be flexible enough to absorb such consequences into our way of life and accepting that what is desirable is often not what is either right or necessary, does not seem like any kind of progress.

At the end of the day, if we were dealing in comprehensive facts and figures, both for and against, I would be able to observe this process more philosophically regardless of the outcome. But I cannot watch my country basing such an important decision on little more than hyperbole, scaremongering, preconceptions, fear, prejudice, hate, half-truths and untruths, without at least having a stab at expressing my feelings.

And for those of you who, like me, have been feeling hugely frustrated by the seeming lack of accessible, unbiased facts, I offer you this:

EU law expert responds as “industrial dishonesty” video goes viral

This:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07jczmc

This:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07jl61s

And to add some much-needed humour to the table, this:

Best of British for the 23rd, chaps. Use your collective power wisely.

A Bit of Everything but Customers

04/06/2013

status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage

Decision-making time is fast approaching… and sadly it is the fate of my little emporium that hangs precariously in the balance.

Since I officially opened in October 2012 I have been cruising along a fun, but terrifying, retail learning curve.

WHAT CUSTOMERS WANT appears to be one of the most frustratingly arbitrary questions the owner of a retail establishment can ask herself – for no matter how varied your stock might be, you are still beset on a daily basis by requests for that very thing you don’t happen to have on your shelves.

Shelves sans TENA Lady

Shelves sans the obvious, apparently

TENA Lady, for example. Or special paper with which to line drawers. Posters of Spiderman, or bicycle pumps (apparently some locals have taken the name of the shop a little too literally).

One must of course speculate in order to accumulate, but as I now find myself with a shed full of Halloween, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and carnival party accoutrements that did not meet the favour of the local youth (“this is crap, haven’t you got so-and-so instead?” whilst knowing perfectly well that so-and-so will almost certainly be off their wish list by the time I get my hands on it), I have to ask myself; will I ever be certain enough of people’s tastes not to keep throwing money away?

Christmas, although not the disaster I began to fear it might be, was by no means the success it could have been either: December proving to be nail-bitingly quiet until a last-minute rush on the 23rd, saved also by the orders I had coaxed some customers into making from my German toy supplier – the delivery of which screeched in on December 24th by the skin of its teeth and thanks only to the extreme kindness and dedication of a particular DHL driver…

Xmas delights which fell short of delighting

Xmas delights which fell short of delighting

New Year’s Eve was another disappointment: the eagerly ordered sparklers, party poppers, table fountains, jolly hats, confetti guns, squeaky trumpets and colourful paper balls to be shot out of cardboard pipes at unsuspecting bystanders, all being greeted by groans and the endlessly repeated “but haven’t you got any firecrackers?”.

Petardi: those deceptively innocent-looking twists of paper that when thrown at the ground emit an ear-splitting BANG, those little cones that when lit and placed on the ground emit an ear-splitting BANG, those cigarette shaped objects that when lit and thrown at the ground emit an ear-splitting BANG… No colourful lights, no special effects, no exciting whizzes. Just deafening explosions. And having witnessed first hand the terror of pets and elderly ladies alike when confronted with these abominations, I was not about to stock them myself.

Not petardi enough

Not petardi enough

I had prepared for the first three months of the year being deathly quiet – nobody ever has any money left after the excesses of the festive season and those dank months are certainly not conducive to touristy activities, so I reduced my hours right down, closing after mid-February’s carnival in order to head back to the UK for a month with the Mothership.

Returning just before Easter; perky and ready for the building crescendo to summer.

But at Easter it rained, so nobody came.

And then rained all through April, so ditto.

It went on to rain through most of May as well…

We are now into June; some people are still having to light their pellet heaters in the evenings and I am still sleeping under my winter duvet, bedsocks firmly on my icy tootsies.

The tourists – able to assess the temperature and precipitation levels of their holiday getaways prior to getting away, thanks to the internet, have sensibly kept their distance from My Little Italian Village and thus my little emporium is now into its sixth month of not making a bean.

Even if a meteorological miracle occurs and July and August are transformed into a spectacular summer, I’m not sure a shop that works for a mere two months out of every twelve only could ever really be a viable concern.

Add that to the fact that buying wholesale in Italy is an almost impossible task – the wholesale prices being but a whisker below the retail price, the quality questionable and the choice even more so.

Then add in the fact that buying from other, better prepared, EU countries involves (conveniently for the Italian government) vast amounts of “import” taxes.

Wonderful wooden toy company in Germany gets around the problem by having an Italian bank account

Wonderful wooden toy company in Germany gets around the import tax problem by having an Italian bank account

Multiply all that by the surprising number of customers who imagine that a tiny shop at the top of a hill should be able to produce postcards, calendars and handmade souvenirs for the same price as the mass-produced tat on sale in the hundreds of identikit kiosks along the coastline, and you have quite a serious impediment to success.

Postcards by the talented Simone Chanaryn

Postcards by the talented Simone Chanaryn

Unfortunately it matters not a jot to the Italian government how much money I am not making – my taxes and social charges remain the same (high) whether I am open or closed, selling lots or nothing at all. There exists no fiscal flexibility for activity of a seasonal nature: you continue to pay up until the coffers run dry, and then you close.

And whilst I am not quite at that point (for as long as the locals continue to exclaim how lovely it is to have a gift shop actively promoting their village with its bags and postcards, artwork and tea towels, books and knickknacks, it will be hard to turn my back on it) I am certainly casting around ever more desperately for a solution to a potentially impossible problem…

Little Italian Village stuff

Little Italian Village stuff

This is Status Viatoris, would pray for a miracle except she doesn’t believe in praying, or miracles for that matter 😉 in Italy.

The Hunt for the Elusive Medic

18/01/2012

status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage

There is a very blink-and-you-miss-it quality to much legislation in Italy and my most recent example of its fickle nature ran along the following lines:

Sometime in early December whilst visiting the local Azienda Sanitaria Local (ASL) in order to sign up with a general practitioner in the hope of getting some of my asthma medication subsidised (currently paying 70€ a month for just one of my inhalers)…

SV (taking a number):  197, the board says 160, so only 36 people between me and my goal. Great!

40 minutes later

SV: 197, the board says 179, only 18 people between me and my goal. Hrrumph.

35 minutes later

SV: 197, the board says 197. I guess that means it’s my turn. Unfortunately I seem to have lost the will to live.

ASL woman: I’m afraid rules for EU citizens have changed. You can no longer sign on with a doctor unless you have a work contract. If you do not have a work contract, you must go and sign on at the unemployment office and bring us the unemployment certificate in order to be put on a doctor’s list. We can then send you to an asthma specialist.

SV: Ok.

Sometime in early January (Yes, yes. It always take me a little while to get round to things) whilst visiting the local Centro per l’Impiego – Ufficio di Collocamento as was – in order to sign on…

SV (peering about her): There are no signs, no numbers and nobody to ask. I wonder if I’m in the right queue.

45 minutes later

Centro per l’Impiego man: I don’t know why ASL have sent you here, they’re not supposed to send people here anymore. Go back and tell them they shouldn’t have sent you here.

20 minutes later in the local ASL offices…

SV (taking a number): 207. 153 on the board. That would make it 53 people between me and my goal. I should have brought a book. War and Peace, perhaps.

70 minutes later

ASL man: I’m afraid rules for EU citizens have changed. You can no longer sign on with a doctor unless you have a work contract, even then, you will only be covered by the Italian healthcare system for as long as your work contract lasts. If you do not have a work contract, then you will have to pay for everything even if you are signed on at the employment office.

SV: Ok.

***

Well, what else could I say? I don’t currently contribute to the Italian healthcare system and haven’t lived here long enough to account for any significant contribution in the past.

I understand: public financial resources are not infinite, as we are all discovering to our cost, I JUST WISH THEY’D MAKE UP THEIR MINDS!!!!

This is Status Viatoris, for whom Pooch has valiantly offered to give up his dog biscuits and live entirely off scraps and titbits from the local shops and bars so she can afford her meds. He is sooooooo self-sacrificing that boy 😉

Bewrockrassee…

14/03/2011

status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage

I was able to strike two tasks of my List of Important Things to Do last week. Three, if you count finally carving a big enough swathe through the stuff to actually warrant getting the mop and bucket out. But because those first two tasks were bureaucratic in nature, their accomplishment was rather more akin to biking up the Bealach na Bà on a penny-farthing and thus marginally more satisfying.

The first task was applying for residenza in my little Italian village. Although EU members no longer require an official residency in the majority of EU states, Italy keeps a tighter grip on its inhabitants than the UK, and requires everyone, Italian or otherwise, to change their residenza upon moving to a different area. If you are not an Italian national, then it becomes even more beneficial to present yourself to the local comune and complete the process; without which you will not be able to buy, register or insure a car in the country, nor will you be able to open a bank account without paying substantially higher charges. And upon purchasing a property you will also find yourself paying bucket loads more tax than your Italian neighbours.

So I took a deep breath, and mentally prepared myself to do battle with the red tape brigade…

Stumbling block number 1: The Contemptuous Civil Servant

In our comune there is only one man who can process the residenza paperwork. Unfortunately he is a rather odd man, very intelligent, but possibly borderline autistic… definitely not charm-school fresh in any case. I trotted along to see him way back in November; a shiny bureaucrat-seducing smile plastered to my hopeful face.

I might as well have squeezed the Pearl Drops directly down the plug hole for all they good they did me; my gimlet-eyed, paper-pushing nemesis showing nothing but disdain for my eager offerings of passport, rental contract, codice fiscale, passport photographs and soul. Refusing to even countenance a discussion pertaining to the whys or wherefores, he ordered me not to bother darkening his door again until I came bearing proof of private health insurance, plus details of my bank account.

Stumbling block number 2: The Gutless Gringo (yup, that would be me)

For weeks I ummmed and ahhhed about it. I looked up articles on-line, I spoke to other EU immigrants, but nowhere could I find mention of private health insurance or bank account details being a necessity when applying for residenza. And being far too much of a pussy to return to the comune demanding clarification, I ummmed and ahhhed some more, until a very brave kind friend offered to step into the lion’s den on my behalf (she maintains that he is far more pussy cat than king of the jungle, which is fine, just as long as I’m not expected to stroke his belly any time soon…).

She came back with the news that both requirements were part of a new ruling from upon high, and both due to the fact that I am not employed full-time by a third party.

Reassuring to know that at least it was nothing personal.

Stumbling block number 3: The Italian Postal System

Due to my penchant for travel, I decided to take out an international insurance policy on-line, something that was practically impossible or at the very least, riotously expensive, with an Italian-based company. So I did it with the British arm of a well-known international company.

Thus I was able to shove off back to Blighty, confident in the knowledge that, as promised, the policy documents would be waiting for me in Italy on my return.

Which they weren’t.

Stumbling block number 4: Not Really Being Given Enough Information in the First Place

By this stage I desperately needed my residenza in order to open a bank account, so I printed out the bits and pieces I had been emailed by the insurance company, and with my last few UK bank statements, went off for a chat with Bagpuss.

I have had longer chats in my time…

Bank statement? Bank statement? I did not ask you for a bank statement. I asked for  bank details!

And this is your health insurance? But it’s English! That’s no good at all. Go and spend a small fortune getting  it translated by a court-approved translator, and then I may consider accepting it.

And with that, I found myself out on my ear yet again.

But then, with the slow dawning of a low-wattage ecobulb, the solution came to me:  I knew Grumpy Bureaucrat’s soft spot, and for once in my life, I had the wherewithal to exploit it…

So having printed off the insurance policy wording in Italian, I sidled back to the comune and slid the paperwork onto his desk.

But this isn’t your contract! This is just general policy wording! This will never do!

I was prepared for him: I’m so sorry, GB, but this is all very confusing for me; the process in every country is so very different. For example, when I was in Spain…

You lived in Spain? Where?

For the last four years I was in the province of Málaga.

Málaga? But my girlfriend is from Málaga!

Well what a coincidence…

This is Status Viatoris, now a bona fide resident of her small Italian village – and who will soon be explaining how to spend an entire morning opening a bank account, in Italy. 😉


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