An Expat’s Search for the Staples of Life

by Bob Tracy

I never used the staple remover, that little pincher with a pair of claws designed to free a cluster of papers from a tightly locked staple. Nope. I was the guy who stood at the copy machine and assaulted those staples with brutal force. I pried open the little locked loops with my nails. Then, with a pinch of the fingers, a pull and release, let the disassembled wire drop into the pile of paperclips thoughtlessly left on the photocopier.

Those staples could handle it. They were standard-sized, 26/6-ers with a 6 mm width, big enough for a fingernail to attack with ease.

Pens, pens, pens. But where is a simple pencil?

Expat life changed me

That was then, but this is Italy; a whole new world. Suddenly, forms and documents more forms and assorted papers kept flying at me and, oh my God, they were clamped together by these little staplers that looked like pliers and spit out tiny little 21/4 (4 mm) staples. Devilish little things. Too small for a regular fingernail to leverage out of place and too flimsy to be pried loose from the bottom without breaking and leaving the papers tightly bundled. The only time I saw them efficiently removed by a person separated from me by a counter, a desk or a plexiglass window who had precision nails; painted and sculpted with a point and clearly trained to extract these little buggers. It came to a point where I would look at one of these little staples and conjure up the notion that the nail salon and staples industries in Italy had come together to get some sort of law or regulation in place to secure their mutual interests.

Yes, that’s how the daily doses of small surprises in expat life can get you to thinking.  It’s crazy!

The effects of Italian erasers on conjugational practice.

Prepared for the change

Luckily, I had visited Italy enough before moving here to make some preparations. I knew paper sizes were going to throw me off, as would the sizes and shapes of envelopes, the prices of pens and pencils, file folders sized for storage boxes and shelves that resisted the calling of a filing cabinet drawer, and notebooks that carried the price tag of newly published hardcovers. Before moving, I scraped every last paper clip out of my desk drawers, and made one last trip to OfficeMax so I could pack what I trusted would be a nearly lifetime supply of office supplies for that boat ride across the ocean. I know there were side glances from both our movers and my husband, but this box carried the staples of life.

Trust me, if ever I need “Hello, My Name Is” labels for an impromptu aperitivo, I am covered. Red, green, yellow and blue, sticky dots for some yet-to-be-determined purpose, I’m good. I’ve got a half-dozen packets of multi-color sets of Sharpie pens that look so perfect in their plastic seals that I doubt they will ever be used.  And, yes, I packed my 25-year old Bates 6000 stapler, bought at a great close-out price and, of equal importance, designed to solidly pack 26/6 staples. You can be assured, that stapler traveled with boxes and boxes and boxes of wiry little clamps to keep it humming.                                                                                           

American Bates 6000 stapler doing overseas duty.

However, as big as that box of office supplies was, it was still not enough. Those reams and reams of copy paper disappeared. It took some effort, but I’ve learned to watch for the paper sales at Carrefour.  While I miss those blissful hours of wandering through OfficeMax and picking through their discount bins to buy things I might need but never really will, Linea Contabili near the train station at least fills in when supplies dwindle and keeps me satisfied as long as I ignore the prices. I have been coaxed to check out Bocci in San Filippo and was initially impressed, but after blocking out the aisles and aisles of party goods and assorted distractions I accepted it would be no replacement for my big box past.  The Eco Store in Borgo Giannotti has kept my printer going at a reasonable price. 

Bocci in San Filippo.

I know there are probably better shopping options out there for me.  But, for the moment, I’ve reached a plateau in this journey.

I keep telling myself that full and richly-satisfying expat life means always keeping yourself open to new things and paths for change. I get it.  But, there are moments when I just need the spinning to stop.  Why can’t a pencil come with an eraser on top at a decent price? I really did not need the aggravation from the fake, red paint that looked like an eraser on a pencil (one that cost me a fortune) to muck up my notes in Italian class. But I am an expat; I accept and adapt and shape a new life. Even if that means becoming fully stocked with stand alone gomme.

Still, I have those moments when I just need to pull open that drawer of office supplies packed and shipped from the past and take a breath. It’s a familiar comfort. Then I look at that bundle of rubber bands and wonder why it was I thought I would never find them in my new life in Italy. Silly. Then I reach in for another line of 26/6 staples, load up my gun, and head back to my desk so I can assemble another set of the same forms and documents I delivered to wherever once before weeks and weeks ago; slipping back into this new life supplied with a bit of the old and a lot of the new.

Just another reflection on the minutia that fill the days and lives of an expat in Lucca.

Breath of fresh OfficeMax air.
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3 thoughts on “An Expat’s Search for the Staples of Life

  1. Who doesn’t love a new yellow number 2 pencil, freshly sharpened? A fun read about the important everyday items that make our lives run smoothly. Makes me smile! Thanks!

  2. Oh yeah, I remember our disappointment when first arriving to Italy in the ‘90’s trying to find decent tape of any kind, erasable pens, staples not like tiny little weapons, and any Manila file folders. A bit easier to find these days, but I still try to bring what I will need of those items from the U. S.!

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