April 23, 2014 | Rome, Italy | Clear 15°C


3K, 4.5K or 6KW of electrical power in my apartment?


Q.

Should I have 3 or 6 kilowatts of electrical power in my apartment?


A.

Good question, and not always easy to answer. In theory, 3Ks (the norm in most apartments) should be sufficient to handle the needs of a "standard" household, with husband, wife and a child as a baseline. It's the most common and least expensive output. With a fridge, washer, washing machine and one AC unit, you should be fine.

But should is the key word — as it often is in Italy. Depending on the wiring and the age of the appliances, 3Ks could also blow out, particularly if you run the appliances at once (hair dryers and space heaters can be lethal). In a larger apartment with several AC units, washer, dishwasher, electrical equipment (oven, heater, etc.), 3Ks is like Scotty to Kirk: "Captain, she cann'a take any more 'a this…"

If 3K is giving you trouble, you have the option of moving up to 4.5K or 6K, which the latter giving you free range to have everything on at once.

But both 4.5K and especially 6K come with a steep surcharge, anywhere between 40 and 100 percent higher than 3K (billing is bimestrale, or once every two months). If you like keeping your AC units on high and regularly use your washer, dishwasher you could face a few thousand euros when the bill drifts in.

Get an electrician in to have a look at your fuse box (both in the apartment and the condo one, if it has one). Tell him what appliances you expect to be running and how frequently. His answer won't be foolproof but at the very least he can tell you if 3K is asking for trouble. Italian families generally run appliances less often than North American ones, who run a lot at once without a problem. Most don't have driers. Energy prices are lower.

Little appliances can wreak havoc. In addition to hair dryers and space heaters (stuffe), that means toasters, and microwaves. Power converters can also cause surges that bring your apartment to a standstill.

ENEL has a comprehensive site that includes an English option. You do need to register first. The area clienti or customer service pages provide pricing information. You can also call them at 800.130.330. The same holds true for the other two giants, ENI and ACEA. Smaller providers include Edison. Their toll free number is 800.141.414

If you're living on a farm, more is power required. Again, it all starts with a visit from a qualified electrician who knows his stuff, as well as the area, and can identify your power sources and their age… the older the appliances, the more they drain.


Can I ignore the bus warnings and get away with it?


Q.

Can you help me with the warnings on Italian buses about tickets and fines.


A.

First, some advice. See the Atac website (click on the British flag). It has some useful — albeit creatively phrased — explanations. As for the warnings, it’s pretty simple. Once upon a time (until around 1980), urban buses and trams had ticket-sellers on board. When that ended, the country went to system of pre-purchasing. You buy, put it through he machine on the bus, and show it to an inspector if he/she boards (which is more frequent these days). The problem is where to get the tickets. The answer: Local tobacco shops (big “T”) and some, not all, newspaper kiosks. If you’re staying in a city for a week, best to buy 20 or fork out the money for a monthly pass (tessera). If the machine doesn’t work, Ok. Don’t fret. Hold the ticket and show the inspector. They know the drill with malfunctioning machines. They also know you can’t stamp the ticket if the bus is packed. Obviously, if someone wants to hassle you, they will, but that’s a personal choice and not a reflection of some big bad system. Again, bottom line, buy a bunch of tickets (usually at €1 each) the first chance you get, so you dodge the issue. Fines run between €100 and €500.


How much should I tip at restaurants?


Q.

How much should I tip at restaurants?


A.

People will tell you (accurately) that most Italian restaurants include a service charge (15 percent) and a coperte (or place-setting) charge, usually €2-€4. That said, the service charge is often never seen by the waiter. Good owners divvy up the spoils, frugal ones don’t. That’s why you can’t add your tip to a credit card bill — no one knows where those funds really ends up.

Since there’s so much going on between the lines it’s a good idea to look at it in North American terms, which is to say 15 to 20 percent on top of the bill. Italians will think you’re crazy, but generally they’re cheap (some leave one percent or less, or nothing). If you’ve been treated well, give back.

No one’s going to grouse at you if you don’t — not to your face, at least — and if you’re on a tight budget you can choose to leave little. But do leave something. And don’t sit around with pen and calculator trying to figure it out. Not kosher.

Please send your questions to maginfo@theamericanmag.com.

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