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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.

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…..

Glossary:

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)