Once upon a time, Europeans — not all but many — looked across the ocean to the American Dream with admiration and envy. Americans were more pragmatic, more positive, more energetic, more upbeat, and more honest. None of the dangling cigarette cynicism of the Italian intellectual, the entrenched ennui of the German burgomeister, the pervasive pessimism of the French bourgeoisie. In Europe, things got discussed. In the US, things got DONE.
When I moved to Italy, I learned that things got done there too, but it was different. I needed an hour’s worth of legal advice, and sought an expert lawyer whose rate was offputting. No problem, according to friends. “When he asks for X, tell him you are willing to pay X with a receipt, but you will pay ½ X without a receipt and see what he says.” What he said was, “Certo.” and pocketed the cash.
Fast forward some decades. I am now in the States but many of our financial and legal records are in storage in Italy. (Yes, much is digital but not everything). I needed one document and contacted the US white shoe law firm we had engaged five years ago because, surely, they would have kept our records. The response from the attorney was, “Call us to set up an appointment. Then engage us again and we can work on this.”
I was apoplectic. White Shoe wanted to hold us up for one document that we presumably had a right to request. They had been handsomely compensated for their work five years ago. No way were they going to get away with this.
The same thing happened when I reached out to our former CPA firm. “We will be glad to help. Sign on the dotted line.”
Maybe I could locate this document in the labyrinth of the Internal Revenue Service? So I tried to call the IRS. Years ago, their offices were open: you could make an appointment and talk to someone. COVID ended all that. It used to be difficult to reach a live person by phone (one might wait hours), but now it is literally impossible. Either you are forwarded from one robot to another, or you are put in an interminable phone line that drops just as a real person may be about to answer, or your call rings empty.
In the midst of all this the IRS sent me a letter, inviting me to contact them if I didn’t understand what they had…