Vending machines are slowly making their way into the Italian culture. I saw my first one in Italy about fifteen years ago—a machine dispensing espresso and cappuccino in the Milan train station. I was horrified. Italian bars are so efficient that you can get a quick cup of coffee in the time it takes a paper cup to fall in a vending machine. And I had unpleasant memories of foul coffee coming from machines in America. I didn’t try that coffee at the time, but made my way into the bar next door.
When I came to live in Rome ten years ago, there were three common vending machines. The first, machines that take your photo and automatically prints it, are scattered across the city. It Italy you have to provide your own photos for identity cards and the like and you need these for everything from transit passes to drivers’ licenses to residency permits. In fact, I was able to get the correct size from one of those machines the last time I renewed my U.S. passport.
The other two types of vending machines were located outside pharmacies and tobacco shops to provide emergency supplies 24-7: cigarettes and condoms. Since most shops close at 8 p.m. daily, these machines were both very popular. Pharmacies and tobacco shops still provide this service today, but vending machines are slowly making their way into other aspects of the culture.
Until about five years ago, for example, public transit tickets could only be purchased at tobacco shops, some news stands, and bars—never in the subway stations. Now there are “automatic ticket machines” in most stations, but the personnel still don’t sell tickets.
Vending machines have not made their way into the public schools—yet. Most schools and workplaces with lots of employees have bars where you can get a cup of coffee or a soft drink, a sandwich or a plate of pasta. With that kind of service available, vending machines are superfluous.
|The Way I Prefer Cappuccino|
Most of the time. For the past few years, I’ve done occasional work at the Italian Ministry of Culture. Imagine my horror when I first went there and looked for the bar. I was directed to a vending machine area housing snack and coffee machines. The latter identical to the one I had first seen in the Milan train station. My immediate reaction was to forgo coffee, but my Italian clients, being the hospitable souls most Italians are, began dropping money into the machine and asking me to choose my poison. I chose cappuccino and prepared my mouth for unpleasantness.
The machine whirred and gurgled a minute, then a cup fell down and frothy milky coffee poured into it. There was even a stirrer. The coffee was gooood. Almost as good as that served in a bar. I truly hope that these machines don’t catch on because losing the Italian bar as an institution would be a real loss, but in a pinch, I hope I’ll find one of these machines when a bar isn’t available.