Monthly Archives: October 2013

Things in Italy Which May Lead Me to Kill…….The Public Office……

You know the joke about Italian bureaucracy?

Now it would  take up an entire book to recall with utmost clarity and calm every single time I’ve stood in a public office mentally taking notes and thinking,  well, there’s another chapter for my book…. so…..I will give them to you in bite-sized chunks…

We’ll start with the Big One. The sine qua non one. The *Permesso di Soggiorno one…….

Let us return to the halcyon and innocent days of late September 1994…. fresh-faced and optimistic and oh-so-naïve….we were traipsed by our boss on 4 successive mornings to the *Questura in Bari to do our “Permesso di Soggiorno” (leave to remain document) and on 4 successive mornings we stood in a huge yard in the middle of a multicultural crowd not quite knowing why we were there, how long we would have to stay there, and if there were any chance at all of getting anywhere near the door to the building in which  we were supposed to be filling in the  forms…(whatever the forms were for)

On the 5th morning, Boss woman said “We are not having this! We are British!” (she actually used to say this, the royal “we” thing- all the time. But more about her another time) “We cannot be expected to stand out here with these….these……(waving her hand dismissively) *extracommunitari  “I will go and speak to someone.”  She hoiked her blouse down, thrust her bosom out, and stomped off through the crowd, to return minutes later to tell us she had “spoken to a *friend” and we could go straight to the office. Which we did, and filled in 397 forms asking for permission to stay in Italy. (we were to discover that our boss “spoke” to a lot of “friends” usually friends in uniform, or friends who had come banging on the door for money she owed them)

Never has the term “it’s not what you know, it’s who” been more relevant than in Italy. It’s called being “*raccomandato” in Italian and it’s how people get jobs, (especially civil service ones) hospital appointments and to the front of the queue at the Questura.

In this case, I do think our being British TEFL teachers and our boss thrusting her knockers at her “friend”  rather than Moroccan labourers and farm workers probably helped with our raccomandazione.

We were somewhat perplexed when one Friday evening a few weeks later a leather knee booted  policeman came striding officiously through the English school brandishing our permessos. Mine was for 5 years, one of my male colleagues was for 1 year, my British but born abroad friend’s was delayed for further enquiries, and our Irish colleague’s never did materialise until he schlepped back off to the Questura to be raccomandato’d all over again.

The laws changed a few years later, and now, as an EU citizen (although try and tell the more obtuse  office workers that Britain might not use the Euro but is still in the EU and watch their wee faces contort in confusion until they have to go and ask “the director” for advice. (Obviously, the director won’t be in his office, he will be down the road in a bar, or doing his shopping, or his second (and highly illegal) job- so you will, of necessity, have to come back another day, thrusting your own bosoms at the “friend” you have contacted in the meantime. )

And I don’t need a Permesso now.  I need a Carta Europea.

With me so far? Let me explain the difference as I have understood it. (Using the term loosely, of course. Italian officialdom is not there to be understood, it is there to be accepted with a Latin shrug of the shoulders, with a nonchalent *“vabbe’ qua’ e’ cosi”, and with the secure knowledge that whatever office you are in, someone, somewhere will be able to raccomandare you…..)

I no longer have to go and stand in yards with immigrants from further afield. I get to go to the local police station (and try to convince them that the UK is in Europe)

The Carta Europea cannot be rescinded (unless I commit high treason or something, and even then it would take the judiciary so long to decide my bureaucratic fate I’d probably be long dead anyway) and it cannot be refused. The Italian state cannot not give me one. They cannot tell me I am not worthy. The one I have will not run out.

Er, hold on a minute with that last one…..

I have mine in front of me now, and there is a big black stamp saying TEMPO INDETERMINATO on it. I seem to have indefinite leave to remain in Italy. I say seem to…..because if you glance upwards, it also says the document expires in 2009. Or rather expired in 2009. I only just noticed that. I wonder if I am an illegal immigrant now? <wibble> My bosoms are now very much menopausal and post childbirth and several years of breastfeeding and I’m not sure they are up to being thrust into bureaucratic faces in the hope of a leg up. As it were….

I think it’s best summed up thus: I legally have the right to this document. The legal right to the document doesn’t run out, but the document itself does. And I am running 4 years late to renew it.

Reader, I may be gone some time…..


Permesso di Soggiorno: Residence Permit (Not to be confused with Certificato di Residenza- that’s something different!) Equates to UK “leave to remain”.

Questura: Big police station type of place. (Not to be confused with all the other 749 types of police station places)

Extracommunitari: Non EU Citizen. (Not to be confused with UK citizen, but try telling the lobotomised personnel in the public offices that. The connotation however is more akin to “nasty dirty furriner who is here to steal our jobs, our mammies and sisters and pasta mountains” and is usually said with a lowered voice and slight shudder as though merely speaking the word somehow contaminates a person. Extracommunitari are always the people who run people over when drunk (see previous blogpost on pedestrian crossings) (unless of course the runners-over are Italians and the dead people are Extracommunitari, in which case it doesn’t make the news)

Friend: Obviously an English term, but again, here connotation is all. In Italy, and when voiced within a 3 kilometre radius of a public office it means “the person to whom I am going to offer money or sexual favours to get us to the front of this goddamn queue”.

Raccomandato: You can send letters like this. Think about what it means if you are a parcel. You get there quicker, and more securely, but it costs a wee bit more. That’s how it works for humans in queues as well.

Vabbe’ qua’ e’ cosi’: What can you do? Life’s shit and then you die. (loose translation)

Serious Things That Can Kill You in Italy: The Pedestrian Crossing

Italy. A country where children come first……Or so we are told.

A country where approximately 15% of all deaths of children under the age of 13 is caused by road traffic accidents.

50% of those children are travelling either without seatbelts or, for the younger ones, not in carseats, but in the arms of someone who purports to love them.

I have yet to see a school bus (provided by the local town council, or private) with seatbelts. Indeed, the schoolbus which serves my daughter’s elementary school is overcrowded to the point of it looking like something we see on hilarious travelogues from the Indian sub-continent. On what looks like a 20-25 seater, there are at least 40 children. Standing, hanging out of the windows, pushing and shoving.

Last weekend the news headlines on Sunday were full of “yet another” drunken illegal immigrant driver destroying a family in a head-on crash. The parents survived. The two year old did not. The news broadcast didn’t say (well, it wouldn’t, would it, not when there was the juicy immigrant aspect to be covered) where the dead child had been sitting. Given the logistics that this was a head on crash and only the child died, I think we can assume that she wasn’t in her carseat in the back.

When I was heavily pregnant and on my way to buy my unborn daughter’s carseat, my mother-in-law told me that the English are cold, that we don’t want to hold our children even when they are babies. Angels protect babies, don’t you know? Shame no-one tells the angels what they are supposed to be doing every time a child dies because its parents were ignorant. Or lazy. Or “but we are only driving through town”.

My brother-in-law was given a fine by the local police. He was driving, with his 6 year old in the passenger seat with no belt, and his 2 year old on his knee. I was glad he was fined.  I laughed.

When me and my newborn were discharged from hospital, we were the only people being discharged that morning who had a carseat. And they looked at us like we were aliens.

Fast forward and I had a job and a half to even find a shop in my town of 60,000 inhabitants which even sold stage 2 carseats.

I have known families bereft after losing a loved one in a road accident still not getting it. Still riding round on mopeds with no helmet, still taking small children in the front seat with no belt, and still not dreaming of ever buying a carseat. These are people not to be pitied. These are people who are so obtuse that despite losing someone dear, they haven’t learned a damn thing.

Studies show that over the last 10 years, Europe-wide, road safety has improved overall. Fewer people in general are dying on our roads. That figure is generally higher for children as parents do start to take more active responsibility for their charges. Good news everywhere………except……guess where?

Sadly, Italy is developing in the opposite direction

compared to the rest of the EU. The

road mortality of children aged up to 14 is

improving at a lower pace than that for the

rest of the population. We need to reach

higher levels of child restraint use and, to

achieve that, we need to increase awareness

of parents. Secondly we need to generally

reduce driving speeds in urban areas where

pedestrians are particularly at risk. The introduction

of a mandatory practical training

test for moped drivers would also help improving

their safety.

Umberto Guidoni, Fondazione ANIA.

Of course it isn’t just kids in cars who are at risk.

Pedestrian crossings? Yes, they exist. No, I wouldn’t use them. Probably the most dangerous bit of a road to cross at. You think you’re OK, that you’re going to get over there in one peace, while the oncoming driver doesn’t give a shit.

When my daughter was about 15 months old her pushchair was caught by a car, on a pedestrian crossing. I screamed and shouted and hurled abuse about ringing the police, and made a great show of writing down their number plate. The couple leapt out of the car and tried to foist banknotes onto me.

A couple of years back, my daughter and I were crossing the road near our local supermarket. Again, on the crossing. An elderly woman with an (obviously) unsecured child in the front seat caught me. Luckily she was going slow because she was looking for a parking place. I hurled abuse again and she burst into tears begging me not to “denounce” her to the police because she had her grandchild in the car. The irony.

I didn’t contact the police about either of these incidents. You want to know why? Because it would have been a complete waste of my time. Police cars don’t stop for pedestrians on crossings, policeman’s wives don’t fasten their kids in.

At the end of the road upon which my daughter’s elementary school stands, there are 2 “traffic police” with their little lollipop signs. Quite what they are there to do is anyone’s guess. The idea (I presume) is that they stop cars going down the road fast when the children are coming out and crossing. Thing is, the mothers themselves park outside the school and then as soon as Junior is in (front seat, no belt) they hit that gas and roar off in the opposite direction of man-with-lollipop, ploughing straight through any children who might still be in the road. Myself and another group of mothers from our class have come to form a human barrier in the middle of the road until all our children are out and safe and Mrs Enormous Red Car just has to sit and wait, or run us over. The lollipop guys have no idea this is what we are having to do, day in day out.

As ever, in a country where laws are seemingly there to be flouted, often by those whose very job is to implement them, what chance do our children have?

Things in Italy That Can Kill You Part 1. Sweat.



Apparently. Sweat. Perspiration. Is a Very Bad Thing.


I have been in parks, on what Brits would call a warm Spring day. Children are bundled up like Michelin men. They are running and playing…it’s a park for heaven’s sake.


They are also being forbidden to sweat. “Don’t you dare go sweating!!!” “If I catch you sweating, there’ll be trouble!!!” “Look at you, you’re about to start with that sweating again!”


I have to stop myself from going up to them, tapping them on the shoulder and asking a) why sweating is so feared b) do they not realise that sweating is a biological function like erm, breathing, and trying to stop a child from doing it is a bit impossible c) have they considered perhaps taking off one of the 34 layers of woollen clothing that everyone, young and old, wears until the 15th June (after which date obviously people have carte blanche to  walk around semi naked for 4 months)


But I don’t. Because I know there would be no point. Sweating (or not) is an Italian obsession. Not many people send their children to the local swimming pool in the winter months….The pool area is heated you see, so they get out of the water, start to sweat, then miss 2 months of school with terrible fevers.


The minute you do start to sweat, you have to be rushed home and showered. Soft play centres are a study in human anthropology and psychology……I love ’em. I sit in a corner, while my unruly child runs round sweating…..(and no, she doesn’t get a shower when we get home, far too knackered…so shoot me) and other mothers run round brandishing hand towels to wipe up that nasty sweat before it does irreperable damage. They all arrive at the soft play with huge beach bags….full to the brim with towels and changes of clothes…because if you don’t get the handtowel round their heads in time, they will obviously need a complete change of clothes. And more than once. And the end……the end of the affair/party sees a rugby scrum with mothers shoving other people’s children to the floor and trampling them underfoot to get little Francesco to the hairdryers first. Yes, hairdryers…..there won’t be any loo roll in the toilets, but there will be a bank of child-head-high hairdryers. (note: using the hairdryer at the soft play does not let you off washing the hair once you get home, rogue droplets of you-know-what might be lurking in those curls, ready to do its worst….)


In the interests of subjective unbiased research I did a bit of googling this morning (reminds self to clear history before husband comes home and thinks have gone completely bonkers googling “sweat hairdryers softplay”) and came up with these interesting results….It’s not just Italians: the Spanish and Turks also share this fear of our bodies’ tried and trusted auto-cleansing method.  There are numerous blog posts scattergunning the web about this medical phenomenon.


We can draw only one conclusion I suppose: Mediterranean sweat must be made of sterner stuff than its northern counterparts.