Monthly Archives: September 2014

Qua’ siamo in Italia again. Or an optical odyssey.

In Italy you need to have an eye test when renewing your driving licence.

That’s good, isn’t it? And really, for a country where you take your life into your hands every time you get into a car, or step onto a road, quite surprising.

Until you hear how it works.

Obviously you have to go to the hospital, to the relevant “eye test for renewing driving licence” office, and there you have to book your appointment. There is a small fee to pa, known as  “the ticket” and obviously, you can’t pay that at the hospital. That would be too easy. You have to find a tobacconist who is able to accept your payment. Not all of them do. This is quite usual in Italy, paying for things in places you would never imagine. It stems from post-war governments trying to give as many people the chance to work as possible, rather like in Spain, where for many years all tobacconists were run by war widows. A noble experiment, but one which in the 21st century serves only to frustrate the hapless civilian who just wants to get things done NOW. You know, in the one place. Or heaven forbid, online…..

So here’s what happens once you’ve paid your “ticket”.

My friend went to her eye appointment and found herself in the hospital optician’s room along with other drivers needing licence renewals.

None of your hi tech optician’s equipment of the sort seen in Specsavers, oh no. Just a poster on a wall with ever decreasing in size black letters. Which everyone in the room sat and studied while the first to arrive stood behind a gaffer taped line on the floor and was told to cover up one eye. Which was a bit awkward, what with him being on his mobile throughout. He sort of wafted the mobile in the vague direction of the eye he was supposed to have covered up. The doctor didn’t seem unduly bothered.

My friend was absolved even of doing the test, as when she produced her glasses, the optician said there would be no need to test her eyes, as she had clearly already had them tested elsewhere. She waited for the doctor to produce the tablet interface for the requisite “digital signature” (the type the postman makes you use these days when he brings you a parcel) The doctor produced a piece of paper and drew 2 lines on it.

“Sign between the 2 lines”

” Erm, That’s not a digital signature?”

“It will be!”

And our doctor scanned the signature onto his computer to, indeed, render it digital. He used a scanner/printer of the type many of us have at home. Using his initiative you see.

To give her her own copy of the relevant document entailed my friend signing a form, which was scanned, and saved onto the computer, and then printed from a second printer also attached to his computer via usb. Seeing my friend looking bemused at the quantity of hardware needed for a simple document, the doctor asked her if she wanted to know why he was unable to print the document from the same machine that he had scanned the original with. But of course! The scanner/printer had no ink! And the poor doctor was unable to get any for it until the relevant and appropriate “public competition” had been held. In short, the Regional Health Department would have to publish, in many and varied places, and for a clearly stipulated length of time, and in accordance with so many laws and by-laws and rules and regulations that they take up approximately 8 pages of A4 every time anything, anywhere in Italy is put out to tender, an advert to find an ink cartridge supplier for its printers. You can only imagine how many weeks are wasted every time this happens. When someone could have nipped to Tesco to buy one. A cheaper one. Or logged on to Amazon. For a cheaper one still. But that’s not how things work here.

I have done many European Union funded afternoon projects in schools (the organization and implementation of which deserves, and will get, it’s own blog post) and at each one, all the students are presented with lovely folders, and pens, and rubbers. All purchased, with European money (ie yours) from a government, or regional government approved supplier. You can see the loophole here can’t you? That one that’s big enough for an elephant to get through? The supplier, and the region, and the school, and the parents, and you and I, well, we all know that it’s not our money buying that pencil at 25 times as much as a pencil would cost on Amazon, so who cares? It’s all been done completely above board, the supplier won the contract fair and square, so no-one can complain.

The Italian Health Service, when it works, is magnificent. I have a GP who I can call, 24/7, on her mobile. My one and only prescription, for migraine tablets, costs me about a quarter of what it would cost me in the UK. I can go to the local pharmacy to have my blood pressure taken and book a mammogram.

But if I want a photocopy of the document I’ve just had to renew, or a new pencil for my students, then the wheels and cogs are not just moving slowly, they are moving prehistorically. And sideways.