Monday, January 30, 2012

Condoms and Cappuccino: Italian Vending Machines

Cappuccino Machine
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.

Condom Machine
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.


Anonymous said...

Nice post, Patricia. I love the hook that got me here from Guppies as well, ;)

I wonder about the value of convenience. The "get your transit ticket at a tobacco stand" thing was harrying as a traveler ten years ago, but it turned into a treasured memory. I've traveled in Japan, as well, and things couldn't be more efficient and easy for a Westerner, but I don't remember nearly as much. Convenience may have its cost.

Polly said...

In the land of the Catholic church, they supply condoms for those "in need." In the U.S., they want to do away with birth control. Kind of makes your head spin, doesn't it?

Can almost taste that cappuccino now.

Patricia Winton said...

I'm glad you liked the post, Matthew. In many ways, the "get your ticket at a tobacco stand" is easier. There are so many choices of tickets: 70-minute, all day, one-week, etc. I use a monthly pass which I get at at tobacco shop.

Patricia Winton said...

Polly, Italy has the lowest birth rate in Europe. Somebody's practicing birth control! The pill is also available.

Johny Marsh said...
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stephen smith said...

Put a Coin in the Machine and get the Coffee. Really appreciable. Vending Machines bring a great change in your life. Through vending machines you can get everything you want. It can provide you cold drinks , snacks, coffee, etc.Miami Vending Machines

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trish said...

I enjoyed the cappuccino dispensing machines in Rome very much during our 2008 visit. The drinks were delicious! I am surprised that these machines have not made their way into America. The machines we have here in the States dispense vile tasting instant swill. Do you, by chance, know the brand or maker of the machines
in Italy? Thank you for any information you can provide.

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