Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Perils Of Fast Food


Italy has a perfectly fine public health system, but it doesn’t encourage audience participation. Here’s Ralph’s story. One year ago he wobbled into my office barely on the mend from food poisoning, the sitting-on-the-toilet-holding-a-bucket-to-barf-in kind, that had started 10 hours after having a burger and shake at one of Rome’s forty-one McDonald’s. Obvious food poisoning, and a menace to other customers.
Being a good citizen I set out to make a formal report so an investigator could be dispatched to start testing those Big Macs. After dialing a dozen health department numbers trying to find out how, I finally found someone who knew the correct answer: forget it, Dottoressa. In the UK a physician who suspects restaurant-acquired gastroenteritis is legally obliged to report it, and in the US it’s strongly advised. In Italy, the physician can’t do a thing – by law, I was told, only the injured person him- or herself can do the reporting.
When I passed this information on to Ralph, he proved to be an even better citizen than me. He tracked down the address of the proper office and trotted over there the next day. The man behind the desk heard him out then said, “OK, before we start our investigation we need your receipt for that meal.” My patient made the Italian both-palms-up gesture of astonishment: “You must be kidding. There's no way I'd have held onto the receipt for a fast-food hamburger I ate a week ago.” Employee: “What, no receipt? You threw it away on your way home? Sorry,” he said, tossing the report in the trash. “We can’t take your complaint if we don’t first have proof you ate that night at McDonald’s.”

14 comments:

  1. Love your blog, Susan. It's entertaining and illuminating. This story is soooo Italian. Do you have a treatment for bureaucracy-caused nausea?

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    1. Bureaucracy is an incurable disease. See Fantozzi's cloud https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fantozzi_(film)

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    1. hope, as I don't have to tell you, is the last to die

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  3. I vaguely remember some odd requirement while visiting Italy... for restaurant patrons to retain receipts in order to prove something, but I never understood what, why, or for how long. Nothing to do with this particular story, just a puzzlement. Your tone in writing these entries is reminiscent of James Herriot's. I am enjoying the window into a culture unfamiliar to me. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Yes, yes, the restauranteurs pay taxes only on what they emit proper receipts for. Sometimes the cops check - I was once stopped on my way out of the Caffé S. Eustachio and asked for my receipt - and then turn offending establishments in to the local equiv. of the IRS. A customer who fails to hold on to such a receipt can also be fined!

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  4. When I started living in Italy I was shocked at the resignation of the citizens who feel/know there is no recourse when things go wrong. Who you gonna call? Nobody takes responsibility. The feeling that one shouldn’t waste time even trying to find out, never mind contacting whoever is in charge, has proved contagious. In trying to get a railing put up on stairs to the entrance of Teatro dell’Opera for we aged, hobbling opera-goers, or one for steps in a pedestrian passageway I must roll my shopping cart down, hoping not to roll down with it … I am stopped dead in my tracks when I am told to contact "Il Comune" (City Hall).

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    1. You put it better than I ever could... Actually once I got screwed over - in what way is a memory lost in the sands of time - and wrote a letter to the Repubblica newspaper which got published and brought results. Works better than calling City Hall.

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  5. A memory of my own - from the depths of time.

    I am walking through the deserted streets of Florence - late at night. I smell gas. Run to find a phone booth - no cell phones in those days - call the emergency services. "Your name sir?Your full name? Your nationality? Your date of birth? Your passport number?"...

    In the end they came...There was no explosion....

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    1. A classic. Tell an Italian and you might get, "Ma non è morto nessuno, non è successo niente," nobody died so what are you getting upset about.

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  6. My own knee-jerk (possibly prejudiced) reaction: the main preoccupation of Italian administration is not to manage the real world (prevent epidemics, gas explosions etc.) but to assign (and avoid) responsibility for the (presumed uncontrollable) things that happen there. When they asked for a report from your patient, or for my name and address it was to get witnesses....and to show they had done so...

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    1. An interesting thought, which I may not have fully understood. Are you saying the public health authorities thought THEY might get blamed for my patient's illness? And if what they wanted was a witness all they needed was his personal I.D....?

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  7. Not quite...I don't they make conscious decisions about how to handle specific cases. But they have ingrained habits, and procedures which make them react in a certain way. What I'm saying basically is that they are more attuned to legal realities ("the patient wants to sue", "they need witnesses for the coming gas explosion) than to physical realities ("stopping a potential epidemic/explosion"). As a way of dealing with legal reality their procedure (sort of) makes sense...As a way of managing the real world somewhat less so...

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  8. Ah, now I see. Perfectly probable, alas.

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