I’ve lived here for four years and off the cuff I can tell you 3 things Italians always complain about: the weather, politics and taxes. Well, the last two go hand in hand. It’s the subject of many heated debates among Italians and the little thing I keep in my back pocket when none of my students feel like talking and I can no longer force a smile and pretend like I want to be there after 8 hours talking about conditional sentences. I throw them that juicy bone then sit back and let the flood gates open.

‘Taxes in Italy are exorbitantly high, and we don’t see them reflected in any public services‘ is the arguement in a nutshell. At some point some enquiring mind wants to know how this system compares to the U.S. Now I have to wake up and contribute. The problem is, I have no friggin clue about this stuff, so I find myself continually shutting them up with this: ‘Yea, they’re quite high here, definitely different from America.’ A vague and easy way to get out of a mystifying discussion that, up until a few days ago, I didn’t know much about, neither in America nor in Italy. The one big difference I can tell you is that it is very common here to NOT pay your taxes. Why? Well, where as in America you go to prison for tax evasion, here, if they catch you (the operative word being IF), you MIGHT get slapped with a fine. No big deal. Most people are willing to chance it.

Another fact about me: I have a bad habit of being completely uninterested in things I should know more about. The operative word here being should. And I’m talking about really basic things that every person who is a citizen of the world, or no, more basically a human being on this planet, should know about. I know nothing about politics, and there is zero exaggeration when I say that. One time this older guy on the ellyptical next to me at the gym turned the conversation to politics and the war. If 30 minutes on the ellyptical hadn’t made me break a sweat, this change of topic did. I had nothing, absolutely nothing enlightening to say. Last year someone asked me who I thought the key players and factors were in the financial crisis. Jesus, am I back in school again? I’ve actually tried to sit myself down and read articles about current affairs or educate myself via wikipedia about our political system, but 2 paragraphs in and I’m thinking about what I’m going to cook for dinner. It’s shameful, I know, but my mind was just not programmed for this stuff. I can read history books till I’m blue in the face but I’m completely apathetic towards the subject so it will therefore, never stick.

Taxes for me has always been much the same thing. Just tell me when I have to file, what you need from me in the way of documentation, when you need it by, and how much I owe or will be getting back. And in America I always got money back. I couldn’t tell you why, but nobody questions when they’re given money, right? So that’s my overly simplistic way of how taxes worked for me at home. And lucky (but, ok, embarassing) for me, I never had to really become a full functioning adult before I came to Italy because my mom took care of these things. And now here I am in a foreign country blindly feeling my way through a world of confusion that stretches far beyond a language barrier.

Let me give a quick background of my working situation: When I first got to Italy I was working on somewhat of a contract for a few private English schools. It was called a ‘contratto al progetto’, and I wasn’t obligated to work for just one school. I did a bit of work for a bunch of different schools on the same type of contract. Like any normal contract job my paycheck at the end of the month reflected what I received ‘after taxes.’ Then I began working with another school that did something called a ‘ritenuta d’acconto’. Now, as I write this, it has occurred to me I should look it up on Wikipedia to explain to you the American equivalent. The translation according to Wikipedia is ‘witholding tax’, but I literally just got through the first paragraph and I’m lost. So if you care for an in-depth explanation, please feel free to google it yourself. All I know and all I knew at the time was that with this ritenuta d’acconto, my paycheck at the end of the month was what I made after taxes. The strange thing about this, however, different from the other contracts I had, was that you are only allowed to earn 5,000 euros a year with that company, no more.

Now, I’m sure this was made clear to me when I started working with this school. They gave me alot of hours right off the bat, so it was only a matter of time before I exceeded the 5,000. But it was nothing that was of any concern to me at the moment. I just wanted to start working and making money.

Due to this issue with the 5,000 euros, the school asked me if I would eventually open a ‘partita iva’. Basically what this equates to is being an independent contractor as we call it at home, so I would be responsible for writing the school an invoice, but then I was responsible to put money aside to pay my taxes and contributions at the end of the year. I said sure. Again, something I should have researched. I noticed, and still notice, that there are some mixed feelings about partita iva. Alot of other teachers were being pressured to open it but were hesitatnt because they said it was too ‘expensive.’ But then there were other people that raved about it, saying you could buy a car and deduct it from your taxes 100%. Apparently that year they started some new thing and if you were under 35 and opened up a partita iva, making less than 30,000 euros a year you only paid 5% something (see, I still don’t friggin know). But I was feeling the pressure from work as that 5,000 euro limit hovered.

Here’s a side note about living in this country and actually being a foreigner living in any country: People are always trying to fuck you, in any way they can. I don’t have any experience living in other countries, but Italians (not all but more than most), have this way about them. There’s actually this word in Italian that I think can only be expressed in this language because it was created specifically for Italians: ‘furbo’. Italians describe their own as being very ‘furbi’. I’ve never been able to find the right translation, but it took many years of observing first-hand behavior described as ‘furbo‘ to really get the meaning. ‘Clever’ doesn’t carry the necessary negativity that ‘furbo’ requires and ‘sneaky’ or ‘cunning’ is a bit too negative. It’s like clever in an ‘I’m going to attempt to make you pay 100 euros more than you should as long as you don’t notice and I can get away with it’ way. I’ve always been aware of this, and let me tell you that since I moved here I’ve been fucked three ways from Sunday on a number of different things: rent, agency fees, taxis, plumbers, work, you name it. As soon as a plumber walks into your apartment here, you just say, yea, I’m gonna get fucked. I will say that the experience of living here and dealing with this daily nonsense has made me ten times ballsier than I used to be. But sometimes, shit, you just don’t feel like the mental mind fuck it takes to get things ‘correct’ here. So alot of shit I let slide and chalk it up to being ‘all part of the experience.’

The choice to open partita iva was much the same thing. I was being told how ‘convenient’ it was for me. Since I opened it, I’ve discovered that it’s certainly more convenient for the company as they pay less taxes than they would for a hired employee. Usually when you have partita iva, you can request more money because you pay more taxes. Not in this case. They don’t budge on their hourly rate. So if you’re not following, they save money and I’m making less than I did before. Awesome. At the time I vaguely did the calculations in my head, but my first concern was paying the rent for that month.

Another bad habit I have: abusing the shit out of this phrase: ’Ah! I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.‘ Which is exactly what I did here.

Everything with the partita iva went well for the first year or so. In 2012 I filed taxes for the first time in Italy. My accountant is a very handsome guy and friend. Good friend. He would also soon be the bearer of bad news. But we’ll get to that. Apparently you don’t pay anything the first year you file taxes in Italy. Nice, I’ll take it! Last year was also not so bad because I was paying for 2012, and half of that year I was on contract so my taxes/contributions were already paid. I think I had to pay about 1,000 euros. Stupidly, I assumed that more or less this is how it would be every year, maybe double or even triple that. Not bad, I thought, I can swing that. One thing I wasn’t so good at, however, was coming up with ‘costs’ to deduct. My accountant urged me to ask for a receipt every time I took a taxi, went to eat, bought something for work, etc. I could have deducted 3,000 euros in my drinking tabs alone, but I kept forgetting….

Again, I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. Well, on Friday I arrived at that proverbial bridge and I wanted to throw myself off of it.

I didn’t have any lessons until the afternoon so I was hanging out in bed thinking what a glorious day and weekend it was going to be. I had just had a nice time the night before drinking outside with some friends. My plan for the day, comically enough, was to get up and spend a good chunk of money shopping for some new summer clothes. Then I wondered if I had been paid yet. Without getting out of bed or even exerting the effort to sit up, I rolled over and opened my laptop to check my bank account. Sweet, I had been paid. Five more minutes in bed then I’d get up. Then my phone rang, it was my accountant. I had just sent him all my tax documents that week. He was calling to give me an idea of how much I was going to owe for this year. I believe he prefaced it by saying, ‘brace yourself.’ Fuck. That ain’t good.

Ten thousand euros.

I want to say I nearly shit myself but it was more like shitting myself, being punched in the stomach and vomiting simultaneously.

Jesus Christ. Ten thousand euros? HOW??

Now this news threw me into Italian mode at full speed as I wasted no time complaining about it to other Italians. But all they kept saying was, ‘Ah, so that means you did very well this year, you made alot!‘ I don’t know if that’s some half hearted attempt to congratulate me on my success as a freelance English teacher, but it sucks. Contrary to their congratulatory statements, I’ve been describing my financial situation since January as ‘just getting back on my feet.’ About a year ago I moved into a new apartment and with the 2 month security deposit plus first month’s rent plus the agency fee (which, no surprise here, I found out I was charged double the going rate), I had a few tough months getting back into the swing of things. I knew tax season was looming, so I was expecting it but this amount was so astronomical to me it was almost funny.

And the first thing I thought when my accountant broke the bad news was: shit, this is it, isn’t it? This is what’s going to send me home. Seriously? A tax bill? The universe is finally throwing me this ‘all good things must come to an end’ bullshit? NO NO NO

So I hung up and regrouped. Well, the ten thousand isn’t getting paid today, I thought. So, for today, I’ll call in for some help in the form of my friend Summer and booze. Luckily enough one rarely shows up without the other.

Here’s my moment to gush a little about my good friend Summer. I’ll keep it short and sweet because I know she’s reading this and cringing in anticipation of some ‘I love you from the bottom of heart’ spiel. She showed up at my place at 11AM with cigarettes, beer, and Coke in a can until the beers got cold. I love Coke in a can. God bless her. She made my day and actually any other shit day I’ve had, a thousand times better. Everybody needs a friend like this. HERE is a person who hits the trifecta: great mother, wife and friend. Ok, I’m done. Are you cringing yet?

My final tax situation is this: After considering ‘costs’ to deduct that I hadn’t considered before, my accountant managed to reduce the amount considerably. For me, however, it’s still alot.

So, why do I owe so much if quite frankly I didn’t make so much? With partita iva you have to pay taxes for the previous year as well as anticipate the payment for the current year based on what you made last year. So I’m basically paying for two years.  Next year I’ll only pay the ‘anticipo’ for 2015 because 2014 will already be paid. I got the brunt of it this year.

I’ve obviously had this looming over my head for the past few weeks. I never thought that my work situation here in Italy was very lucrative, and I’ve been fine with that. I haven’t had a savings since I moved here in 2010, and it hasn’t bothered me. I come from a family that’s extremely ‘careful‘ with money. Growing up I used to taunt my Dad, calling him cheap. My mom would defend him to the ground saying, ‘Your father’s not cheap, he’s frugal!‘ I just assumed that was a fancy way to say cheap. My parents always paid with cash when we were kids, rarely a credit card. My mom won’t even use a debit card to buy things here and there because she still manually balances a checkbook and I suppose it would be too tedious to factor in the $1.27 she spent on oranges with her debit card because she didn’t have cash. My parents never bought things they couldn’t afford. They never ‘leased’ cars, I didn’t even know what that was. When I was 19 I wanted to buy a car and my mom refused to co-sign a loan for me. It wasn’t even an option. Whatever cash I had saved at the end of the summer from busting my ass working 2 restaurant jobs, was how much I could spend on a car. And in August 2006 I emptied my bank account and bought my used 2000 Nissan Maxima. My mom had taken me to a Nissan dealer and I’ll never forget the guy who was helping us laughed about the paying in cash situation and said, ‘Nobody pays outright in cash unless they’re rich. Or a drug dealer.’ Well apparently you haven’t lived under Linda DiMaio’s roof, my friend.

I realize, obviously, that I have the frugality and carefulness of my parents to thank for my sound upbringing. And should I ever choose to procreate, I should probably follow suit. While I was influenced quite a bit by their ‘live within your means’ attitude towards life, I also have this risk-taking free spirit approach that makes that difficult, and sometimes, I would argue, quite impossible.

Before I came here I felt safe with a solid $5,000 in my savings. I can’t even tell you the last time I was close to that, and I’ve had to convince myself it’s ok. My worries of not having a savings to fall back on are assuaged by the fact that I sacraficed that to live within walking distance of the Duomo. And if I die tomorrow what the hell good is my ‘nest egg‘ in the bank going to be anyway? I’ve done what I’ve wanted to do and I’ve experienced more in these 27 years than most will do in a lifetime. I didn’t come here to make money. I don’t care about making alot of money or if I ever make alot of money. And no, I don’t think that because I’m banking on marrying someone with alot of money either. I love living here in Italy. I love the people, even in their infinitely rude ways. I love the language, even when I find myself not having one friggin clue what’s going on. I love my little apartment that I will probably have to work like a slave for the next year to pay the rent for. You get the idea.

So I’m getting the subtle hint from my family that maybe this is the time to pack it up and come home. I’m sure my friends would not argue either. I remember my first year in Milan in 2010, I went home for Christmas and was trying so hard to finish applying for dual citizenship. Months before I left to come here I couldn’t sleep at night worrying whether everything would arrive on time and I even came here not having completed the process yet. Technically I was here living and working illegally. It seemed like there was just one piece of bad news after another regarding my dual citizenship and it was taking longer and longer. When I was home for Christmas I finally had every document I needed. I went to the Italian consolate in Boston with my mom and sat there with my stomach in knots as the guy dragged his finger across every line comparing each name. There was a problem with the way my last name was spelled (too long of a story, needs its own blog entry). He basically told me I needed to fix it and come back. I panicked. I was supposed to leave in five days to come back to Milan and I wasn’t even sure the problem was fixable. How many goddamn hoops did I have to jump through? I couldn’t even make it out of the office without bawling my eyes out. I had already spent three months in Milan, I had found a job, an apartment and friends. I had a life here and the thought of having to give that up and come home absolutely killed me. And so I think it goes without saying that after four years, it would really devestate me.

To be clear for everyone at home: I do not hate home. I love my family, my friends and my state more than I can even put into words. I miss how everyone can make me laugh in a way that makes my face hurt and that is not easily duplicated by other people. I still get so excited the entire plane ride home to see your faces. Having to come home would not upset me because I think I will have failed. I would just sincerely miss my life here. Rhode Island was good but I need a little adventure and a little challenge in my 20’s that my life was lacking at home. So that being said, I’ve encountered one of my biggest challenges yet.

After much patience and persistance I managed to get my Italian citizenship. And in much the same way, I will get these taxes paid as well.