That’s a strike of a different color.

After a week here a Venezia, my friend Cheryl headed back to Paris today on (now deceased) Myair, one of those great, if occasionally ephemeral intra-Europe discount airlines. She recounts that when the plane pulled up to the gate at 7p, the captain’s voice came over the PA announcing that the ground crew was on strike until 7:10 today, and until then there would be no one to open the door of the plane. Everyone remained in their seats, and at ten after, the doors were opened and the passengers disembarked.

Point taken.

When you make a list of the differences between how the U.S. and Europe operate, you’d swear that at some point, some unknown representatives from both sides of the Atlantic got together and decided how things would be done, solely with the intent of keeping travelers off-balance. In the example of strikes, they can occur for the same motives as in the U.S., and be just as painful and protracted. But far more often, they are shorter (four to 24 hours), more frequent (once or twice a month), targeted (Bari and Milan), scheduled, and published in advance so that we can make alternative plans if need be. The reason behind this is still not clear to me, and the response from most of the Italians I ask is simply to shrug their shoulders.

Another fine example is the difference in cell phone operation. In Europe, He Who Calls, Pays. In the U.S., if you’re connected, you’re using up minutes. A U.S. cell phone SIM chip (if your service uses one), is married to the phone and the service provider who sold it to you, until you have a code and the process to separate them. In Europe, the phone (which is more expensive), and the service are separate purchases, so you can switch phones, SIMs, and service providers to your heart’s delight.

Take phone numbers themselves. The U.S. uses standard ten-digit numbers with a a three-digit area code that would never start with 0, and cell numbers that are indistinguishable from any other phone number. In Italy, regular phone numbers will be from seven to eleven digits, with an “area code” that always starts with 0 and be from two to four numbers (02 for Milan, 055 for Florence, 0571 for Certaldo). Cell phone numbers will consistently have ten digits and begin with a “3.” Previously they had a prefix that was associated with the specific service provider, although now you can take your number with you if you switch.

When calling long-distance, we dial our own country code (1) and the number; within Italy you dial the whole phone number, always…minus the country code. To dial another country from the U.S., you dial 011 followed by the country code and the number, from Europe, you dial 00 instead. Of course, the U.S. country code is 1, so since we dial 001 to phone home, it just makes it that much more difficult to keep straight.

I don’t know where these people hold their meetings or how often, but they’re doing a pretty good job of keeping me in travel-assistance business (I just want to know who ‘they’ are).

In the meantime, just remember that the simplest, most reliable way to make a cell phone call from any country, to any country, no matter what service provider you’re using, is to ALWAYS dial the + sign (usually clicking the asterisk twice, or holding down the 0 key) followed by the entire phone number including country code, i.e.: +1 212 712 5321 or +39 06 84 32 43 55.

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