The man who knows the meanings

The man who knows the meanings

If I had an analyst, she would probably tell me that my very first visit to what Italians call il commercialista has something to do with turning 37 and the need to become a more responsible citizen. Luckily, I don't have an analyst. People living in Italy seldom do

Thu 28 Jan 2010 1:00 AM

If I had an analyst, she would
probably tell me that my very first visit to what Italians call il
commercialista has something to do with turning 37 and the need to become a
more responsible citizen. Luckily, I don’t have an analyst. People living in Italy seldom do
need one, as everyone in the country is quite capable of giving you the heads
up regarding why you live your life the way you do.


In reality, my visit to the
accountant had very much to do with a recent conversation I had with my good
friend Didi about something known as la Partita Iva,
a code designed for freelance businesses, and two equally frightening
tax-related phantoms known as IRPEF and INPS. I say
‘frightening’ because, let’s face it, everyone has their fears. And since all
of mine are expressed in acronyms, it’s safe to bet that I’m not the only one
who doesn’t want to look these buggers straight in the face. There must be a
reason why the English love of acronyms pervades every segment of society.
Italians tend to save their abbreviations for things you don’t really want to
know about anyway. My view is that the tighter you compress a word, the less
likely it is to occupy your mind space. Space of any kind is a precious commodity
in this country and unpleasantness must be given no legroom.


In any case, these are not
things you can discuss with just anyone. Didi is a fruit-vender turned
gondolier. His two professions have made him deeply capable of investigating
the inner-workings of society, Italian and otherwise. Everything you need to
know about Italians can be summed up in the way they buy fruit, and citizens of
other nations can be identified by the questions they ask when they are relaxed
and you are rowing. At least this is Didi’s theory.


On the
fateful afternoon of our abominable tax discussion, he was busy examining my
social unease that had stemmed from the fact that several companies with which
I ‘collaborate’ have recently told me that it’s too difficult to pay me because
of the irregolarità of my fiscal position.


because you need a VAT code,’ Didi explained. ‘Without one, you’re a full-timer
working under the premise of ‘occasional labor.’ You can’t keep on pretending
to be what you aren’t.’


‘And why not?’ I wanted to know. ‘Everyone in the whole
country pretends to be what they aren’t.’


‘Oh come now, non
ti agitare,’ he replied with unmerited calm. Whether or not he
knew that telling a woman not to get agitated, pretty much guarantees the exact
opposite, Didi remained undaunted. Besides his unruffled nature, the man is
unlucky enough to have a natural knack for definitions. As a man named
Gianfranco, who’s been called ‘Didi’ for the whole of his life, my friend knows
a lot about the abbreviation of things. The reasons behind his nickname are too
long to fit in this article, but he did manage to tell me the hidden meaning
behind INPS, which is actually Istituto
Nazionale Previdenza Sociale. That means
‘welfare’ translated as ‘social prudence.’ IRPEF stands for Imposta
sui redditi delle persone fisiche. It’s
the income tax you’re obliged to pay for being a physical person. Actually,
they’re pension fund payments that most likely go to support the Italian policy
that ensures members of parliament the right to a three-euro hair cut. For
those like you and me, who have a fixed appointment on the outskirts of
material poverty by the third week of every month, this brand of prudence may
very well be called ‘double whammy.’


There were also other reasons to
worry. ‘Once they tape a VAT number to your back, you’re held to collecting
enough receipts in a year to fill your entire flat with paper scraps,’ I
whined. ‘You’re also responsible for convincing the government that your
morning cappuccino constitutes a business expense.’


‘That’ll be easy.’




‘Because in Italy, what
can’t be done with one thousand euro can be done for a cup of coffee,’ he said.


I looked at him, without


‘If you don’t believe me try to
get a building permit.’


‘No, thank you. A building
permit could very much be the end of me.’


‘Fine,’ he said, ‘All I’m saying
is that I think you should see my commercialista.
It’s useless to talk about things we don’t know, just go and hear what he has
to say. Maybe it’ll clarify things.’


I seriously
doubted that. Some people study complication in college and commercialisti are at the top of their class. Nonetheless, Didi is a
smart man and a good friend, so I conceded to doing something for my own good,
purely for his sake.


Anyone who has ever been to a
‘commercialist’ will know that it is substantially worse than going to the
dentist. With the dentist, all you need is two days of extra-good brushing;
with the commercialista,
you have to dig through every drawer in the house for the mystery tax papers
you stuffed somewhere sometime in the middle of last July. Taxes are due in
May, but if you’re a straggler who’s laden with money-linked phobias, they’ll
let you pay past summer exodus. Deadlines in Italy are never as ‘dead’ as they
are in the English-speaking world. Even if death and taxes are still the only
certain things.  


In the end, il
commercialista was actually quite kind. He did
not intimidate me with Latin fiscal expressions or tell me that my father is
right about me being a grasshopper rather than an ant. If he recognized that I
much prefer singing my way through summer even if it means freezing a bit in
the wintertime, he said nothing about it.


in Italy
inspire bosses to tell you that they need to “find solutions” before
recompensing your labor,’ I told him, explaining the reason behind my


right,’ he nodded. ‘No one thinks that payment might actually be the solution.’


We smiled together at his joke
and I went away happy. See? What more does one need? All I really need is for
the commercialista to admit the country’s collective guilt. Just to have the boogie-man say that
you’re right. Not rich. Not safely prepared for retirement. Just right. And if
the truth be told, that concept very wells serves as a three-second substitute
for actual payment. For while rightness may not be income, it is a slice of tax-free satisfaction.




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