Of the MANY aspects of American life that have changed since I last lived in the US, one of the more dramatic is the change in auto insurance.
That difference was pounded home when we had a little fender-bender in early November. A young man, rushing home, sideswiped our car as my husband was driving to the train station. I was not in the vehicle, but was told that neither car was going fast. However, the other guy was going fast enough to inflict a few thousand dollars’ worth of damage to each auto.
Fortunately, mobility was not affected. Neither driver wanted to wait hours for a policeman to show up, and the other guy had a family event to attend, so they exchanged contact information and took pictures of both vehicles and license plates and went home.
I immediately called the hotline for our auto insurance company. Let’s call it “L.” It is one of the biggies, chosen in spite of its obnoxious and ubiquitous advertising. I didn’t have to jump through robotic menus to reach a calm, well-trained live woman with a flat midwestern twang. She took down our information, walked us through our next steps, and supplied an address to send our photos and a map of the accident my husband had drawn up. She gave us the name and phone number of our “agent” — let’s call her W — who would, she said, be in touch with us next day.
All this was reassuring, since we didn’t know any agents for L in our area. We assumed that W would be local. WRONG! Big difference between the 1980s and now. Back then, you bought car insurance from someone with an office in a strip mall near your home or place of work. That guy or gal would explain options, help you choose the best policy (meaning one most advantageous to him or her, but also possibly a good choice for you), and would be there to answer the phone in case you had an accident. There were“800” numbers but the local agent was your point of reference.
Things were similar our first years in Italy, although the insurance agent was more likely to live near you than near your place of work, was decidedly more likely to be male, and “800” numbers were still a rarity back then.
We received a call from Agent W the following day. I was busy and couldn’t pick up. When I called…