by Melinda Gallo

Cash is king

When I lived in Florence from 1997 to 1999, I had two different conti correnti (checking accounts): one at Banca Toscana and one at Banca di Napoli. I don't remember why I switched banks, but it was a big mistake. When I closed my account at Banca Toscana, I remember them taking money out before they gave me the balance. Then, with Banca di Napoli, I left my account open for a year after I left and when I came back, I owed them money to close it.

I have been quite reticent about opening another conto corrente. In Italy, I can always take money out of my US account using my ATM card and pay for most things in cash. I haven't had the need to open a bank account, but lately I've been feeling that I should open one because it'll make a few things much easier on me.

I've been asking people about their banks to figure out where to go. All my friends said, "Non andare alla Banca Toscana." (Don't go to the Banca Toscana). They usually told me horror stories and I still cringe when I walk by a agenzia (branch).

I asked my friend Marta who works with banks and she suggested a few to me. Monte dei Paschi di Siena rang a bell because I suddenly remembered that my friend Rossana works there. Marta wanted to introduce me to someone at the bank, but I asked her, "Cosa cambia se mi fai conoscere qualcuno?" (What changes if you introduce me to someone?). I doubt that they're going to treat me much differently since the rules that apply are the same for everyone.

I ended up calling my friend Rossana and she called her friend who works at the agenzia near the Duomo. Rossana called me back and told me to ask for her, so I did. I was supposed to go last Thursday, but wasn't able to go until today.

I was going to check out another bank on the way, but I didn't walk in because I can't stand those glass doors where you push the button to open the first door, walk into the middle area, wait for the door to close behind you, and walk into the agenzia once the next door opens. The other part that I don't like is having to put my purse in a locker outside to lock with some flimsy key. They may feel safer inside, but I can't help but look outside to make sure no one is stealing my purse.

I walked in to the Monte dei Paschi di Siena and because it's a large agenzia, you can freely walk in and out like we do in the States. I asked a woman at the desk for Rossana's friend. She pointed to the woman's desk and I waited while she finished up with her customers.

After they left, I walked up to the woman and asked her, "Lei č Lucia?" (Are you Lucia?). She said she was and I explained that I was Rossana's friend. She told me that I could sit down while she went to someone else's desk and then came back to tell me to go to another desk.

She stood over the woman's desk and asked me, "Come conosci la Rossana?" (How do you know Rossana?). I told her that we've been friends since 1998. I didn't want to give her too much information because I don't know how much of Rossana's private life people at work know. After our brief conversation, I was introduced to other people as l'amica di Lucia (Lucia's friend) even though I was really l'amica dell'amica di Lucia (Lucia's friend's friend).

The woman who opened my account was new, but incredibly sweet. I thought that I wanted a conto da non-residente (non-resident account) so that I don't pay tax on money that I deposit into my account from the US. She said that because I'm a resident in Italy, I have to get a conto da residente because it's more advantageous. She said she'd set up something in my account so that I can receive money from the US without any problems.

The only problem was that after she entered my data, the only type of account that was available to me was conto da non-residente. The computer seems to think that anyone who is not born in Italy will have a conto da non-residente.

Instead of having my account already opened today, the woman will be calling me tomorrow or the next day so that I can come in to sign the documents to finalize everything. The woman felt very badly that I have to come back in that she asked a few other people to call the anagrafe (registry office) in Siena to get them to change my record, but we found out that the woman in charge is in the hospital and nothing can be done until they find a replacement.

I realize that there is no rush in getting my account open. I've been here two years and haven't needed it yet. Everybody loves cash!

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