Italian Bureau-crazy

WHERE DO I BEGIN?

It’s been nearly two months since we boarded the plane in Houston and embarked on our journey over the ocean, to a new country. 

In that time, we have been through three countries, two houses, one hotel, one apartment, and five different beds.

We officially moved into our new home a week ago, but our furniture and personal belongings we shipped from the States have yet to arrive for one to two more weeks. In the meantime, we have been sleeping on air mattresses, and had no internet or television for the first month. It’s amazing what the human condition is capable of enduring. (Cue the violins)

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It’s been a whirlwind of little details that can drive one to drink. Luckily, being surrounded by vineyards, that never poses a problem. It’s not that anything has been particularly difficult, it is just that like any move, the list seems endless, and only magnified by the fact we are navigating it all in a foreign language. 

One thing we have often joked about when moving to Italy, is dealing with the infamous Italian Bureaucracy. It is widely known, and even more widely talked about, both here and abroad. It seems every time you meet another expat, you can count on it being one of the first three topics of conversation, followed by where are you from, and how long have you been here.

To be honest, feeling the whole topic has been beaten to death by expats, I find it actually rather boring on most days, and only slightly amusing on others. That said, since dealing with bureaucracy is such an unavoidable part of the Italian expat experience, I decided to address it once, and then never think about it again….until my next visit to the local Municipality:

So leading up to the move, we continually reassured one another that when we get there, we need to maintain a calm, open mind, take things in stride, don’t complain, and most of all, be patient.

Only a few weeks after moving into our new home, it was time to put all of that good advice to the test. We needed to apply for our Residency Cards and this required a visit to our local Municipal Office. 

Nothing could have prepared us for the visit. The man we met with was very vocal, forthcoming, and opinionated – mostly regarding himself. Nor was he shy about divulging the details of his life.

It turns out, he was made to leave his position in his hometown, (we didn’t ask why) and banished to this part of the country as punishment. 

He did not hide his distaste for the people, the weather, his drunk parents, or the inadequate kitchen that his cheap superiors provided him with. 

He also divulged to us how the office had mismanaged all the funds given to them by a rich and charitable local man, who wanted to build a Catholic School for the town. Sadly, with all the money gone and unaccounted for, the school was never to be built.

As he prepared our coffee, in a raspy smoker voice, he told us tales of the days when he had taken “time off” from his vocation to “explore other possibilities”, and how he couldn’t wait for his probation to be up in September so he could go back to his beloved hometown. 

Just when we were wondering if he would ever get to the details of our visit, he handed us our coffee and sat down across from us. 

He took a breath, looked down, and proceeded to curse the “little immigrant children” who were most likely responsible for the eraser of his pencil being chewed off. Because apparently immigrant kids love to chew the erasers off of pencils. 

As I was struggling to hide my utter astonishment, he looked us square in the eyes and told us that, due to several strikes against us, we were not eligible to proceed with our request. Then, after a dramatic pause, and with a gleam in his eyes, he leaned forward and told us not to worry, because “for every rule in the establishment, they invented ten rules to get around it”. 

I decided to take this little piece of enlightenment as truth. After all, if anyone knew about getting around rules of the establishment, it had to be this guy.

As you were reading that little story, you could be forgiven for thinking that this was our visit here in Italy to our local Municipality. 

In fact, I digressed. It was a visit several years ago to a Catholic Church in Half Moon Bay, California. The “official” was actually a Priest, and the “office” was actually the Church. Frank and I were trying to obtain permission to be married in a Catholic church that we fell in love with on the coast. We ended up having one of the most bazaar meetings I have ever encountered. 

My point to all of this, is to emphasize the fact that bureaucracy exists everywhere. “Officials” are corrupt in every language, rules are always a little ambiguous, and red tape can block your efforts at every turn, regardless of the country in which you are residing.

The actual visit to the Municipal Office here in Italy went surprising smooth, although not without some expected hurdles. Fortunately, our agent offered to accompany us as our official translator.

It turned out we needed to provide a few additional “official” documents to prove our documents were official. There was additional back and forth between our agent and the clerk, followed by a lot of note taking.

After thanking the clerk, we left the office and decided to go over the next steps. But first, we were in desperately need of a coffee. It was after all, eleven am in Italy. We settled in with our espressos (cappuccino for me) at a local coffee shop. In Italy, business is often done over espresso. We signed our home lease over an espresso, we met our private health insurance agent at a cafe and signed over an espresso, and I was called into the pre-school director’s office to discuss Archie’s placement….over an espresso. I’ve come to adore the ritual and formality of business over espresso.

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Seated around the table, our agent laid out a pile of paperwork before us and began to give us the lowdown on the remaining hiccups in the process. Basically, we needed a Residency Card, which would allow us to start work, enroll the kids in school, set up a bank account, and obtain public health insurance, etc. However, in order to obtain the Residency Card, we needed an Italian bank account and proof of health insurance, which of course, we needed a Residency Card for. You get the picture. 

It appeared that we were  caught in some major Catch 22 scenarios.

But to be honest, it actually all kind of made sense to me in a weird way: In order to get health insurance or a bank account, we needed to prove we live here (Residency Card). Yet in order to obtain a Residency Card, we needed to have proof that we lived here, (like do our banking here and have health insurance). It’s all quite simple, actually.

So am I worried about obtaining my Residency status? Not at all. Will the road to residency be long, and challenging? I can bet on it. But luckily I enjoy taking the scenic route, and what better view than from the vineyards visible from my own backyard? Waiting is a small price to pay.

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By the time we finished out espressos, our agent concluded it would be far easier and faster for Frank to obtain his Residency Card first, since he is an EU citizen, and we could do this by simply filling out the paperwork as if he were single, with no children, and simply relocating here as a German citizen. The boys could easily apply once we get their German passports. As for my card, well, we will pass that bridge when we get there. 

“For every rule, the Church invented ten rules to get around it.” 

In a country where the Church is omnipresent , I feel the same must be true for the State, and therefore, must be true for us.

I think I can get used to this way of thinking.

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