The Intercom

Buzz. Buzz. Someone is at the front door wanting to be let in. It’s the tenth time today and it’s not even noon. And we already know that it’s not for us.

Three years ago, N’s brother converted the attic story of our house into an apartment that he and his family use on weekends and holidays, and for parties. The workers that he hired were lazy and incompetent; they accidentally punched holes in our ceilings and walls and then balked at having to fill them in, they refused to chase any of the pipes that they ran down the house’s façade, and they even broke down the wall of our garden because they didn’t like that the entrance was two meters from where they wanted to throw debris down from the terrace.

I could recount ever more absurd tales about these workers, but this post is about the intercom, so it will suffice to say that N’s brother couldn’t be bothered to come to Sessa to follow the work himself, that he gave the workers free rein to do what is most accurately described as a half-ass job, and that he never wanted to hear about all the problems that they caused us. It’s important to mention all of this so that despite the absurdity of it, you will find it believable that someone who invites all sorts of people to all sorts of events at his house has never seen the need to install his own intercom.

You may be wondering about the impracticality of it. How does he know if one of his guests is at the door? Well, he doesn’t. But we do, because we’re the ones with the intercom. Whenever anyone comes to visit him, they buzz it. And whenever N’s brother is at the door, he buzzes it. Because it’s so much easier than getting your keys out of your pocket, you know?

Maledizioni” N shouts as he stomps through the kitchen toward the intercom. “I have to talk to my brother about this!” He picks up the receiver and unlocks the front door without asking who it is.

“Do you think he will ever install his own?” I ask. “He seems to be getting on just fine without one.

“We will have to disconnect the intercom!”

Alarmed, I ask, “but what about the mail?”


“You know, we could just not answer.”

“That would be bad manners.”

Oh, THAT would be bad manners. I’m about to argue that there’s really no difference between purposefully disconnecting the intercom and deciding not to answer it, but then I remember the ocean of cultural difference between us, and I realize that, when considered in the context of brutta figura, one really is much worse than the other. And so the question of the intercom is left unresolved.


About an hour later, we hear another buzz. N walks into the kitchen, where his mother and I are preparing lunch, and stops about a meter short of the intercom.

“Are you going to answer that?” I ask him.

“Yes, but I’m making them wait!”

I’ve employed this strategy myself. It is completely ineffective because the person at the door doesn’t know the reason for the delay, but it does provide some satisfaction.

N’s mother, who is hard of hearing, asks, “Did anyone hear the intercom?”

“Yes,” N tells her. She walks across the room to the intercom and unlocks the door for the unknown visitor.

So much for that.


After lunch, N’s mother takes Pata upstairs to play with her cousins and N and I are left with the strange sensation of being alone. Not sure what to do, and being creatures of habit, N turns on the television and I start cleaning the kitchen.


I ask N, “do you think they know that it’s OUR intercom?”

“Of course,” he says.

“Well, maybe we should make it weigh on them.” I go out onto the terrace, intending to make a big show of asking who it is and telling them how pleased I am that they’ve come to visit us. Looking down into the street, I see N’s cousin Antò waiting on the doorstep. I’m certain that he’s here for N’s brother, but I also know that he will stop in for a visit on his way upstairs. He is one of the very few people who acknowledge that we’re the ones who open the door. There’s no sense in making him feel awkward about buzzing our intercom.


A little while later, there’s another buzz. This time I open the screen door quietly and take just a step onto the terrace, enough to see who’s at the door without being noticed. It’s N’s brother.

“It’s your brother,” I tell N. I walk over to the door and listen for the sound of footsteps on the stairs. As soon as I hear it, I pick up the intercom receiver and unlock the door, forcing him to turn around and close it again. I snicker.


Later in the day, while N is napping in the bedroom, I hear another buzz. This time I decide not to answer the intercom. Listening at the door, I hear the voices of N’s mother and the aunt rising in the stairwell. I’ve just taught a lesson to the wrong people.

I give up. Come summer, we’re disconnecting the intercom.


12 responses to “The Intercom

  1. I can relate. I live in a building with three apartments. It was built in the 1970s by three brothers. We call them the “Three Little Pigs” for how they set the place up – they were obviously cheap because each had his own light switches for common spaces, such as the garage and the hallway (God forbid, you’d have to split the 1 Euro a month of electricity it takes to light the hallway – the light has a timer and stays on 30 seconds when someone enters, by the way) Only the original brother is still here on the third floor while above us we have another “young couple” with a child. When this child was a baby, the relatives of the couple (of which there are many – it requires a TEAM to take care of this child and to come over and do the couples’ laundry, bring them their meals, handle their yard work, etc.) would ring OUR doorbell to be let in for fear of waking the baby. They felt perfectly comfortable doing this, and we are not even related to these people! I can remember running out of the shower naked or being awoken in the early morning thinking it was something important only to have to let in relatives of the couple upstairs. Ridiculous. Now that we have a baby ourselves (who could potentially be napping), they never do it and if they did, I’d hit the roof.

  2. Dear receptionist/ housewife, We don’t have an intercom. Or a letterbox. Or a name on our gate. I recently heard I think that’s illegal?? (about not having a name there). We just have a big ole iron gate with a chain and padlock. However, it doesn’t matter as everyone who comes to our gate just yells out ‘signora’. SO i have to go out and see what they want. Would be much easier for me if I could just talk to them on the intercom. Especially when the jehovah witnesses come to visit (that has happened twice and i pretend not to speak italian and miracle of miracle they still manage to whip out some pamphlets in english!!). Anyway, not having an intercom IMO does not make things easier. We also receive the post for my MIL and BIL as the postman cannot be bothered driving another 400m up the road to deliver it to them. And what I think is most strange is the ubiquitous ‘signora’ call. Does every house have a signora there just waiting to answer their call/ the door? I guess the answer is probably yes.Good luck with your problem and I hope you resolve it soon. My suggestion would be to get your friends/ acquaintances/ the postman to give you a squillo (call and hang up) so you know it’s someone for you. For everyone else, the intercom could just be guasto and lazy family members can damn well use their own keys! Vanessa

  3. Annoying for you! But pretty funny to read!! We have about 10 houses in our parco and no one ever bothers to read the names (esp the workers!) so they buzz the first name, ours. We never changed it from the Italian owners name… little do they know they are buzzing an inept Italian speaking American!

  4. Michelle, it sounds like that couple really have it made! A team of people to do all their work and be terribly rude to other people on their behalf as well. Good thing they stopped using you as a doorman once the baby came!Vanessa, I prefer porter to receptionist, lol. I’m hoping that a few months with no one answering the door for him and his friends will push him to install a citofono. There’s a good chance it’ll work because he hates answering his mobile too, so his friends may really find themselves locked out.K, that would drive me crazy! I hope you play up your ineptness for them, it serves them right for being so inconsiderate!

  5. That sounds REALLY annoying! But how will you know if someone is looking for you if you disconnect your own intercom?

  6. Too bad you’re dealing with a brother in law. I’d be tearing my hair out (and maybe someone else’s too). That buzzing is rude if it is not for you. I am sorry to say that I am not surprised. It seems to be the norm there. Arrgh!

  7. Saretta, that’s what has kept us from disconnecting it in the past. But now we feel BIL is really taking advantage of us, so it may be worth the inconvenience for a while. Gail, what bothers me most about it is that it’s just one example of how BIL expects that he can rude and inconsiderate, (and without consequences.) This is something that I’ve noticed in many families here, that really bad behavior is accepted because the person is family, or a friend.

  8. How annoying for you but a funny read none the less. I say buy him a intercom and maybe the mortification on his face will give you satisfaction for a long time as well as quieter mornings. Odds are that the BIL doesn’t even realize that he is putting you out. The way the family and especially mothers dote over their children it may not even occur to him that you at all put out. I mean why wouldn’t you want to spend all morning being his porter?

  9. I agree, the way children are doted on here it’s no surprise so many grow up to be adults who consider themselves the center of the universe. I would love to present BIL with a shiny new intercom, but my dh would never go along with it, he’d be too worried about making a brutta figura!

  10. Just disconnect the intercom but tell your friends to call you if they want to come in. For the mail, couldn’t the mailperson buzz someone else in your palazzo? Our mailman used to always buzz us I guess because I’m always home(maternity leave) but it kept waking the baby so I stopped responding and he seems to have found someone else in our building to let him in.

  11. Unfortunately, there are only two apartments, ours and his, so there’s no other buzzer the postino could use. But I’m so fed up at this point that I’m willing to deal with the inconvenience.

  12. that sounds so annoying!I normally get the mailman (there are 10 appartments in our building!), people trying to leave publicita(again!) and the Jehovah Witness who now send people that speak english, I also once had a guy from the communist party not at the citofono but at my actual door, scary (not the communist part but that he was at my door!)There are so few people that visit us during the daytime that the bell always surprices me…but it really gets me mad when it rings when Ale is napping AND they are looking for someone else or trying to preach to me.

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