I have noticed that professional norms across the board tend to be slightly different in Italy versus what I am used to in the United States, especially in terms of public service. In the United States, we are used to some services to always be open and usable, such as the post office and public transportation. However, in Italy, that is very much not true. Strikes of public workers are frequent and almost ignored in Italy, whereas they are usually a big deal at home. In Italy, I have found that they are for a few hours, maybe a full day in extreme cases, and rarely come with any sort of actual demonstration.
One example of this happened last Thursday, when the public transportation workers went on strike. This meant that there were no subways, trams, or buses within the city of Milan almost all day, and the ones that did run were sporadic at best. It showed the dichotomy between public and private transportation workers that we don’t see as much in the Untied States, as the private trains and buses between cities were by and large unaffected.
Similarly, the response to the strike was very different between the Americans and our European counterparts. Because of the location of our dorm, we take public transportation to class, so the idea of it not running on a school day was pretty concerning to me! However, when I spoke to my professors, their attitude was much more along the lines of whatever happens, happens – who knows, maybe there will be trams running anyway! It ended up that the trams happened to run when I needed them to in order to get to class and then I walked home (only about an hour, and the weather was great!), so it all ended well.
There are a couple ways to deal with this when you encounter it in Italy (definitely more of a “when” than an “if”!). First of all, I just guess and check. At each tram stop, there is a screen that tells you which lines run to that stop and how far away the next train is. This is usually pretty accurate, and sometimes you get lucky that there will be a train coming soon. The other option that I’ve found works pretty well is Google maps. There’s an option for public transportation that is usually updated in real time, meaning you can see how long it will take you to get somewhere and the timetables for the trains and trams. This helps tremendously, both during a strike and during regular operation, as the notices at the stop or on the websites are usually all in Italian and can be confusing.