Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Our Story Does Not Compute

Renting a car should be a routine transaction and it always has been -- until we arrived in Rome. We negotiated the endless side corridors of the modern Roma Termini, the sprawling central train station in the heart of the city, and finally reached the unmistakable tangerine kiosk of Sixt Rent-a-Car to pick up the sedan we’d reserved for the following week. Passports presented, credit card relinquished, we signed the endless forms, in triplicate, that always accompany the rental of a car. We were ready to be presented with our keys. But then the diligent 40-something agent, with spiky hair a uniquely European shade of metallic orange that complemented the color of the kiosk, asked us a battery of questions;

Where do you live?
No permanent address; we’re traveling around Europe for the year.
But where do you live?
Well, not really anywhere for now.
You don’t have an address?
Where are you staying in Rome?
We’re leaving Rome, in one of your cars, we hope.
When are you leaving Italy?
In about two months, we think.
You don’t know?
When are you leaving Europe?
In about eight months, we think.
You don’t know?
What is your permanent address?
We already told you, we don’t have one, but here is our daughter’s address in Washington, DC.
I need your driver’s license.
No problem.
This says you live in Mary-land.
Yes, we used to before we left.
What about the DC address?
That’s our daughter’s.
What is your cell phone number?
Here you go.
You’re British?
No, we’re American. You have our passports!
But if you’re American, why do you have a UK phone number?
Because the least expensive cell phone carrier is in the UK.
But you said you’re American and live in the States? Yes, but...
Do you have a UK address?
I will have to call your mobile to make sure it works.

What is it about our story that people can’t understand? Is it really that unusual? that complicated? Don’t we now live in an international, peripatetic, global world? When you’re at the Roma Termini, apparently not.

Our next challenge was getting our UK phone number to work in Italy. We’d had no problems with our cell until we reached this amusing, lovable but oh-so-frequently inefficient country. I handed the phone to Joe, our telecommunications officer, and after many minutes of pacing up and down the hallway and multiple trips outside to Via Giovanni Giolitti to see if some fresh air would help the situation, he managed to connect to an Italian network. The call from our brightly coiffed agent finally rang through and at long last we got our car, although I’m quite sure the rental agent is still puzzling about our story.

Pictures of our adventures:

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