Italian Banks IDs Customers with Family Nicknames

Banks in a small Italian town with too many Mario Rossis are using nicknames to tell customers apart. If the lovely lake region of Bellagio, near Como, has a fault it could be that locals tend to stay in the region and pick the same first names.

In the town of about 3,000 people, two thirds share the same two last names, the local white pages show about 1,300 of them have the last name “Gilardoni” and about 750 are called “Gandola.”

Often given for professions or physical characteristics (how would you like to be known as “nitpicker” or “saw mill?”), the ones used by local banks in Bellagio are also in dialect and have sometimes been handed down for generations. It’s not the first time Italians have resorted to nicknames to tell each other apart, they appear in the phone book of one Sardinian community.

Bellagio’s predicament is an indication of the trend that Italians are back to using traditional saint’s names for their kids instead of foreign names. National statistics bureau ISTAT found (.pdf) that if there are about 30,000 traditional names, half the time parents pick names for their children from just 30, the most popular currently are Francesco for boys and Giulia for girls.

Image used with a CC license, thanks to berniecb

Italians Text Help to Earthquake Victims

After the worst earthquake in 30 years struck L’Aquila killing 250 and leaving 17,000 people homeless, Italians are text messaging donations to help.

Italian mobile operators, including TIM, Fastweb, Wind, Tre and Vodafone, made a single number available for SMS donations to earthquake victims. Cell phone users send a blank text to 48580. They’re charged one euro for each text, cell phone companies promise to donate the entire amount of each message. (As zoomata reader Fabio pointed out, the text donation won’t work from abroad. There are bank transfer details here and, if you don’t know Italian, here’s the Red Cross UK donation page.)

Texters are sent a confirmation that says, “Thank you. With this message you’re helping people in Abruzzo who have been hit by the earthquake.”

Thumb tribes have been sending in support in Italy since 2002, when another earthquake in Southern Italy prompted the first cell-phone fund drive. Other text-based relief campaigns in a country where there are more cell phones than people include €27 million for 2005 tsunami victims.

Image used with a CC license, thanks to marca_pasos

Tearjerker Film Fest Drowns Rome


Emotions will run high during what may be the world’s first movie festival designed to make moviegoers blubber like babies debuts in Rome.

Inspired by Japan’s crying clubs, the Tearjerker Film Fest is a two-week weep-a-thon. Called literally “jerk my tears,” or Strappami Le Lacrime in Italian, ticket prices for the festival are just four euro (about $5) and include a packet of tissues for the inevitable sob.

Although Italian neo-realist flicks have been known make many moviegoers sniffle in sorrow, the tearjerkers on offer here are mostly Hollywood classics, including “Splendor In The Grass,” “Letter From an Unknown Woman,” and “The Yearling.” The only Italian film included is Luigi Comencini’s “Incompreso,” about a young boy dealing with his mother’s death.

Film buffs can have a bawl at Rome’s Palazzo delle Esposizioni until March 15.

Picture Perfect: Art Show Text Messages Keep Visitors, Organizers Snap Happy


There’s a lot of covert phone camera snapping at art exhibits. Cameras are almost never allowed (how could they sell postcards, otherwise?), but that doesn’t stop visitors from trying to get a picture of a work they want to look at again, later.

This is especially a problem in Italy, where there are more cellphones than people and text messages are used for everything from food price checks to flood alerts.

One solution?

A recently-launched Samurai exhibit in Milan features some text-enabled works.

For the cost of a text message, exhibit organizers send you a picture of the work, plus a detailed description of it. In this case (and yes, that’s my battered Nokia above), there was more information provided with the texted image about the Elk-horned warrior from the Edo period than in the exhibit.

It’s also a better pic than you’d be able to take on the sly. You can download it from your phone as a 60KB image — and then send it as a postcard if you fancy.

Striking Distance: Italian Protests Turn “Virtual”

That Italians are frequently mad as heck and not going to take it any more is evident to anyone who has been surprised by a bus, train, or airline strike in the Bel Paese.

Compared to US counterparts, who strike for about 40 days a year, Italians cross their arms in protest about 100 days a year, or 150% more, according to European Union and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development figures.

Recently, the number of transport strikes in Italy has exploded (as I found out when supermarket shelves emptied), up to 1,000 a year in 2007-2008.

As part of an omnibus bill crawling its way through the Italian parliament, strikers would be forced to protest “virtually” to guarantee basic public services. They stay on the job but workers would be docked the day’s pay. The company must match that wage; both sums go into a worker’s comp fund.

Virtual strikes would help avoid the paralysis of wildcat strikes, called “savage” strikes or scioperi selvaggi in Italian.

If Italians are willing to strike for spaghetti — and even models will strike a pose for better rights — are they ready to take what was in the streets virtual?

UPDATE: The Italian cabinet unanimously approved the draft law greenlighting the notion of ‘virtual’ strikes.

Image used with a CC license, thanks to rete studenti massa.

Italians: We’re Perfect Drivers

Milan traffic

They may drive Fiats as if they were Ferraris and consider red lights a reason to accelerate, but most Italian drivers say they are “perfect” behind the wheel.

A survey of over 2,000 Italian drivers conducted by Italian motor club Aci and insurance company Sara found that 65.4% consider themselves perfect drivers.

When faced with a yellow traffic light, 66% say they slow down, just 22% say they slow down while the remaining 12% considers the situation a quandary. (Following Italian road rules, they should stop unless the car is already in the intersection.)

An even higher number of Italian drivers, 79.9%, say they have a perfect driving record, while just 14.5% say they’ve had a few points taken off for traffic violations.

Nearly 60% say they always wear seatbelts, 11% say they are too uncomfortable and 26% say they don’t bother to make passengers buckle up, too.

These angelic drivers also slow down for pedestrians (67%), while the rest say they slow down if the person is already in the crosswalk.

If you’ve spent any time on Italian roads, it’s a little hard to believe, especially the part about crosswalks.

Photo used with a Creative Commons license, thanks to cruelgargle on flickr.

Italian Inmates Work on Al Capone’s Farm

Inmates at Milan’s Opera prison work on a farm named after famed gangster Al Capone.

The name, Fattoria di Al Cappone, is a play on words from the Italian “capone” or capon, though the 15-or so men who work here raise quail and a few crops.

In 300 square meters on prison grounds (about 3,200 square feet), they raise the birds whose eggs are sold at a nearby Coop supermarket and a farmer’s coop, Consorzio Cascina Nibai, in the outskirts of Milan.

Launched a few months ago, the farm is the brainchild of journalist Emilia Patruno, a long-time prison volunteer whose association il due also developed the “stolen kisses” chocolates project.

Funded by a bank, before hitting the hoes inmates followed training courses given by the farmer’s coop. The group is working on a new potato, a purple Andean variety, that it hopes to patent for when the Expo comes to Milan in 2015.

Image courtesy Fattoria Al Capone.

iPhone App for Italian Soccer Games

iskySoccer fans can keep up with Champion’s League games and Italy’s Serie A games on their iPhones thanks to a free web app developed in cooperation with Sky.

Stats, line-ups, photos, and play-by-plays (for the moment, in Italian only) are available at

The web app was developed by CEFRIEL, an ICT research hub for three Milan Universities, with a special eye to Apple-friendly design. One example: a list of team members can be rotated horizontally to a soccer field view which shows the positions they play.

A lot of men here in Italy used to carry transistor radios on Sundays listening to soccer games.

Of late, these have been replaced by videophone services that allow fans ignore wives and friends while having a stroll. The nice thing about this app is that you can keep on top of the score without ruining conversation over Sunday lunch.

24 Karat Tuscany: Gold Found in Them Hills

Golden Tuscany

The rolling hills of Maremma near Grosseto are normally just considered a goldmine for tourists, but after two years of searching, geologists have found “significant” gold deposits in Tuscany.

“This is a land full of gold. Hundreds of indications point to it. Now the scope of our research is to search for a deposit,” geologist Franco Maranzana told Italian newspapers. “Because only if there is, as we suspect and hope, all the work we’ve done in recent years can become a business.”

Two Canadian firms are hunting for gold under the Tuscan sun, Adroit resources and Tuscan Minerals. They have permits to search in areas including: Follonica, Suvereto, Campagnatico, Manciano and Scansano, the hilly country better known for producing Morellino di Scansano DOGC wines.

Recession has just made the gold rush stronger. Analysts expect a gold price hike in 2009, which would make mining a more profitable business. The rub? Permits for research are some of the cheapest in Europe ( €8-9 euros a hectare) but mining permits are more difficult to wrangle. Both firms have research permits that will allow them to see if they can strike gold in 2009.

iPod Defense Rocks Perugia Murder Case

Holds toilet paper and an iPod, but is it an alibi for murder?

Holds toilet paper and an iPod, but is it an alibi for murder?

In 2007, British student Meredith Kercher was murdered in Italy, during a study abroad program in hill town Perugia.

About a year later, Rudy Guede was sentenced to 30 years for his part in the killing, for which Kercher’s roommate, American student Amanda “Foxy Knoxy” Knox and her boyfriend, Italian IT grad, Raffaele Sollecito, are still awaiting trial.

Guede’s appeal now before the Italian court hinges on an iPod.

During what has been hypothesized was some sort of late-night Halloween sex game where the 21-year-old Kercher was an unwilling participant, Guede maintains he was in the bathroom of the young women’s apartment.

While she was being killed with a knife, he was listening to music on iCarta, a toilet paper holder roll that doubles as an iPod dock.

Guede’s lawyers tried to head off what they thought might be viewed as a sort of Twinkie defense for the digital age in a statement to Italian media (below translation mine):

“It is nothing more than a confirmation of how some abnormal behaviors are apparently normal among young people today,” said laywers Valter Biscotti and Nicodemo Gentile. “Just as Facebook is their virtual world, they now listen to music everywhere, even in the bathroom. The marketing of such products implies a certain routine use.”

The statement was published without details on how the defense team might further the bathroom defense in court.