any years ago I remember our English teacher taking great pains to drill into us how to sign off a letter: Yours sincerely if you had put the person’s name at the top and Yours faithfully if it was a Dear Sir or Madam. We spent hours writing pretend letters to pretend people, making sure that the address was in the right place and that we got the ending right. We also had to practice writing fictitious replies to fictitious cocktail parties and balls in the formal third person, as in: “Clare Pedrick thanks you for your kind invitation and has much pleasure in accepting.”
These days, of course, no one writes letters any more except for my bank manager. Emails are altogether a more relaxed affair, with nary a Dear Sir or Madam in sight. Instead, you are likely to be greeted by a friendly “Hi” from people you have never seen in your life. The sign-off depends on nationalities. If it’s an Italian, the chances are it will be a Saluti. A busy American will dismiss you with a clipped “Best,” while an English emailer is more likely to offer you his “Kind Regards” or, if he is feeling particularly expansive, “Cheers.”
So how refreshing it was to receive a flurry of emails the other day from work contacts in the Caribbean and Pacific. The lady I was dealing with in Fiji greeted me with “Bula.” I have no idea what it means but I instantly forgave her for the fact that her reply was well over a week late. But my Jamaican correspondents went one further. They took more than a fortnight to get back to me but it was well worth the wait. One of them signed off with “Respect.” Another started off with “Dearest Clare,” though I swear I don’t know him from Adam. While a third ended with the memorable words: “One love Clare,” with, helpfully, in brackets “Bob Marley.”
Still on the subject of emails, I had a pathetic one last week from someone called Tom who wants me to be his friend. He had signed up for “Facebook” and wants me on his list.
There are two problems here. One is that I can’t for the life of me remember who he is or where I met him. And the other is that, heartless as it sounds, I don’t really want someone for a friend who is so spineless that he has to go on a social networking site to find one — and to show off how many he has managed to collect.
This is clearly a benchmark for the generation divide, and I can see that I am on the wrong side of it. At the end of his email (with no sign-off whatsoever) he offers me the carrot of going on to Facebook and becoming a member myself. That just shows he clearly doesn’t know me at all, however much he wants me as his friend.
So Dear Tom (whoever you are), Clare Pedrick thanks you for your kind invitation but regrets she is unable to accept.
ITALIAN BUREAUCRACY has spread its tentacles to include pets as well as humans, it seems. In the past week, attempts to get on with my pile of work have been thwarted by urgent summons to take my three children to have medical check-ups for their various sporting activities. In each case, it meant the best part of the morning down the drain followed by a subsequent visit to pick up the certificates.
Next came a call from the anagrafe (the office that keeps all sorts of mind-boggling information about citizens) in Spoleto with the alarming news that I was not on their records (so how did they find me, you might well ask?) and that I should go to their offices — urgently, of course.
To cut a long and tedious story short, it seems that my permesso di soggiorno had mysteriously got lost somewhere between the police station and the said office. So two hours and €14 later the matter was rectified. Then, just as I was settling back in front of my computer, the phone rang again.
My daughters’ pony was not in regola, I learned. She (the pony that is) had to have a passport. It was, needless to say, extremely urgent and I was told I must attend to it immediately.
This small matter involved a trek to the local offices of the ASL health department in Spoleto, a €50 visit from the vet to declare that Princess Trixie is who she says she is, and a visit to the Federazione Italiana Sport Equestri in Perugia, no less, where I was relieved of a further €90.
I kid you not, but as I write this piece the phone has just rung again, with an urgent call to repeat the whole procedure for my own horse. Friends be warned, I am taking the phone off the hook…