Do you remember before school trips abroad your mummy and daddy would receive a long list of insurance figures detailing how much you would get if abroad you lost an eye, or an arm, or a leg? It turns out that there is a reason that you have to buy insurance before applying for a Russian Visa too. It costs an arm and a leg if you don't.
And yet, I somehow still naively thought that when in the EU my EHIC card would be a magic pass if I ever needed it, and I wasn't exactly planning on using it. Then when I fell from the mezzanine in my flat in Belgium my friend couldn't find my EHIC card at the hospital (although it was in my bag all along) and so ended up paying a hefty bill. I even had insurance, but the excess was too high. I thought I had learnt my lesson. The EHIC card is ALWAYS in my purse these days.
But even in emergencies your EHIC card wont cover you for everything. There's a catch. It only covers you for what that government in that country covers its citizens for. In Belgium it wouldn't have paid for the ambulance for example. In Italy I'm still not really sure what it does pay for...
My tooth flared up again a few days ago. Just like when it happened in Belgium I already have an appointment with an NHS dentist in two weeks. Just like in Belgium the infection got really bad and I was forced to seek an emergency appointment before, but eek, it's all private here too. "Still," I thought, "I just need antibiotics, how much can it cost?!" "116 euros" was the answer. Ouch. That's nearly five times what I paid for in Belgium.
Then there's the doctors. In Feltre I was lucky enough to see a nice doctor for free, but you still have to pay for your prescriptions. Partly my problem is my residency-less status. Other friends who have residency can access Italian benefits and health care, but even they come in for unpleasant surprises. Blood tests aren't free for Italians and man are they expensive. You get a fattura but does anyone know what to do with it? (A. does but he has an accountant).
The only part of Italian bureaucracy that I have managed to fathom is how to pay my taxes. (They make that very easy for you!) I tried to get residency but my contract I'm on means that I have to provide all kinds of documentation of self employment and stuff that I just don't have. Hell I'm even paid in cash! It's perfectly legit, but it's hard to give much official evidence of it, when all I have is a receipt and an envelope.
Next year, if I come back to Italy, which I hope I do, I am buying travel insurance before I come, ladies and gentlemen! It doesn't really fit in with my dossing-around-Europe-ideal that I had post uni, but should allow me to eat more ice cream without worrying whether it will exacerbate my gums!
It's not just the bureaucracy that baffles me at times either. Today I had the long dreaded but ultimately quite fun "English Quiz Show" for students and parents. At the end of the quiz I asked the teams to tot up their marks and asked "How many out of nine?"
Team One said, "one," Team Two said, "two," so I started again in Italian.
"Quanti?" They must have got more right! I had heard them say the right answers. I had primed them with animal vocabulary and the ingredients to make an English Breakfast.
They gave me the same answers: "one," "two," "two," "two". I was confused and embarrassed in front of all the parents and starting to sweat a bit.
Then I saw their sheets. They had added up all the ones they had got wrong!
That made me laugh. I really took it for granted that they would add up their correct answers.
Stuff just works differently here.