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)