Culturally, expat life in Italy is the stuff of daydreams; logistically, it can be more of a nightmare. Just to apply for a local driver’s license, one first has to acquire a residence card, a requirement for which is a permesso di soggiorno—permission to stay in the country, for which one must have a visa which must be applied for in one’s native country but with documents that must be gotten in Italy. Each step in the process requires energy, patience, and a therapeutic sense of humor to keep sanity in place.
Say, for example, that you are ready to apply for your permesso. One of the documents you are required to bring is an official form certifying your housing situation, so you go ask your landlord for a copy. Your landlord doesn’t know anything about any such form. You do some research and finally figure out where he can go to apply for this form. Only he has had renovations done on the house that are not yet documented with the government, and what’s more, he doesn’t want to document them with the government because he neglected to apply for his permission to make those renovations in the first place. He stalls. You do more research and find that it is actually illegal for him to be renting to you without this housing form. He finally relents, finds a way to work around the system (you try not to think too much about this part), and applies for the form. After a few weeks, you are called to the housing office to verify information about how many people are living with you, only when you arrive, you discover the office is on vacation for the month. When the month is up, you return and find out that your American birth certificate needs a special stamp to guarantee its legitimacy before the office will accept it. You mail you birth certificate with fear and trembling to the States where it is stamped and mailed back to you (without getting lost en route, thank goodness), and you return once again to the housing office. All goes smoothly this time, but the form you are waiting on will not be ready for awhile. “Don’t worry,” the housing officials assure you. “We will mail your landlord a letter when the form is ready to be picked up.” And that’s just for one document.
Tobias Jones describes the process of dealing with Italian bureaucracy “like trying to catch confetti: having to race from one office to another, filling in forms and requests, trying to grasp pieces of paper which always just elude your grasp.” I would agree with that except that it sounds like a whirl of activity whereas most of our experience with government offices here has centered around waiting… and waiting… and waaaaaaiiiiiittttttiiiiiiinnnnngggg.
This country has our hearts firmly in its grasp though. We willingly jump through the hoops—or more accurately, wait in the lines—to wake up to the Appennine sun luring fog out of the valley to incandesce with it in open air. We do it for day trips to Etruscan villages, for “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” sung in two languages, for lunchtime chats with our favorite pizzaiolo while he twirls our pizza to perfection in his brick oven. Even Italians think we’re crazy for giving up the American Dream for a life swathed in red tape, and maybe of course we are. But this is home to us. Living here is worth the frustration of trying to do so legally.
And you know, the struggle, the confetti-grasping, and the forced cultivation of patience are exactly what make small victories like this morning’s trip to renew health cards all the more precious.