Word of the Day – “Sciopero”

La Maestra Maldestra


Just seeing those 8 tiny letters all lined up together makes me cringe and reach desperately for another glass of Prosecco. (I had originally written “cringe and reach desperately for my headache pills”,  but living in Italy where there’s a shortage of effective headache medicine and an abundance of sparkling wine, I decided to provide you readers with the more realistic scenario…)

“Andare in sciopero” or “fare lo sciopero” seems to be a favourite pastime here in Italy, but it’s one that can lead to the demise and complete derailment of your travel and sightseeing plans. Why, you ask? What is it about this word that’s so terrible it can do all these nasty things to your well-planned, super-organized, colour coded itinerary? Well, if the buses, trains, museums, guides or garbage collectors are in sciopero, it means they’re on strike.

Now you think, I as a traveller don’t have to worry about these things! They happen once in a blue moon, just like they do at home! Nothing will happen during my two blissful weeks in Italy. Right?


Like I said, here in Bella Italia striking is a hobby, a pastime, a thing to do when you want an extra day off work. Often, the striking parties are so considerate that they even inform you that they will be striking for one day, one afternoon, two hours, or whatever timeframe their little striking hearts desire. How nice of them.

Sound ridiculous? It is. The other day the mezzi pubblici (public transportation), here in the Siena area, went on strike from 8:30 – 13:30 and from 16:30 – 22:30. Really? What did that accomplish? And we didn’t even get to see picketers with fires burning in barrels yelling into megaphones and carrying signs. Pretty much a waste of a sciopero if you ask me…

The same thing happens with museums – even the big ones that you think would be “above” this unconventional way of getting an extra day off. They’ll publicize that they’re going to fare lo sciopero on a pre-set day, then they won’t go to work, then they return the day after, relaxed and happy after a midweek day off. Upon encountering this exact scenario, I had to ask myself, what do you have to strike about if you work in the Uffizi Gallery? That your workplace environment is unbearable because there are too many priceless pieces of art!? I don’t think so… 


But this nice little habit of the sciopero can cause big problems even for the person who thinks it won’t affect them in the least. Example: the Russian lady I met last summer who had come to Siena on an organized bus tour and was supposed to go with her group to Florence that evening. No need for public transportation there, so no reason to care that the buses were on strike that day.

This would all have been fine and dandy for her, except Siena offered her wallet so many possibilities to purge itself of all its euros (read: she spent too much time shopping), that she ended up missing her tour group’s bus back to Florence. After a lot of hysterical tears, arm flapping and frantic Russian, we decided that the solution would be for her to take the regular bus back to Florence and reunite with her group. Except, of course, the buses were conveniently in sciopero, so the poor, hyperventilating woman and all her million parcels had to be chauffeured back to Florence by the friend of a friend.

So the next time you’re in Italy and you come across something you really would rather not do, fai lo sciopero and forget about it!

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