10 November 2011

Becoming Italian Part Due (or I Should've Bribed the Bald Guy)

I think I know what my new questura boyfriend meant when he shouted, “Good luck!”  He meant, “Good luck getting the actual Permesso di Soggiorno, ever.” 

Next step, as deduced from the Questura website, translated into English via Google translate (since the Engish version of the page doesn’t work) and then confirmed via the invaluable Expats in Italy site:  check to see if your permesso (since the Carta is no longer issued) is ready for pick up by inserting the temporary document’s number in the specified field on the website.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  For months.

The document is supposed to be ready in ninety days.  The law states that the questura has that long to do it.  I have no idea what it says might happen if it takes longer than this, what evil befalls the questura that fails to meet the deadline, but the Salerno questura was guilty.

I checked every day, multiple times a day.  Sometimes, I got the message that it was being processed.  Sometimes, the message was “documento non esiste”.   I was getting the hang of this Italian bureaucracy thing.  Just because they say the document doesn’t exist doesn’t mean that it doesn’t (sort of like but different from the edict that you must present yourself within 8 days of arrival, but if you don’t, they don’t really say anything).  But it was slightly alarming.  I needed the permesso if I was going to leave Italy and try to return.  I had no plan to leave, but hey, I never really plan to do anything.  If I wanted to go, I couldn’t, and this bothered me.  Mostly, though, I needed it in order to register with the Anagrafe at the Comune (which is sort of like the townhall and also what they call the entire township; the anagrafe is the office of vital statistics there) where we were living.  

In Italy, everyone must register in the town where they live.  If you move, you must be removed from the books of the first town and added to the books of the next town.  Even tourists are registered. If you visit Italy, the hotel staff registers you (that’s why they take your passport for a few hours when you check in).  If you stay with friends, they’re supposed to register you with the local police.  Supposedly, it’s got something to do with anti-terrorism laws or something.  Really, I think it’s just another bureaucratic nightmare to inflict upon the citizens and possibly, it was a way to create job in each comune.  If you were a terrorist, would you register?

Everyone in that remote hill town of approximately 1000 people, including the Carabinieri who would order half beer/half coca cola from me at the pub while in uniform, knew I was there.  Four people work in that Comune.  Or should I say, four people are paid to work in that Comune.  Or, they’re supposed to be.  Often, they aren’t paid.  At least not in a timely manner.   So mostly, they avoid work.  You can see them, through out the day, having coffee at the various bars around town, smoking on the terrace of the Comune, and (occasionally) actually in the office but unable to do whichever thing it is that you need done.   People don’t move house often in Italy.  I think this is the reason why.

The person whose job it is to register people in that town refused to register me with only the temporary permesso.   He was the only one who could do it.   I have no idea what the other employees did, except defer to him.  He almost refused to register V., who has an Italian passport, who is a full-fledged citizen.  It seemed he just didn’t want to be bothered.  He tried to wait to register V. until I got my permesso, but I think even he realized that might never happen and he finally gave in.

We made the trek down to the Salerno one day in November to get a much-needed taste of civilization, to consult with an English speaking lawyer on a different matter, and, since we were there, to check with the Questura on the off chance that the website was wrong and my permesso really was ready.  Maybe the person who was supposed to update the website just didn’t, right?  Maybe he was too busy talking to the guy who worked in our Comune about their lack of pay.  I tried emailing them, in Google-translated Italian, but the response was something about how they don’t answer emails.  Typical.

Bald Guy was outside the questura, smiling at me, calling out names.

“Mouhammed Isa”
“Kournikhova Olga”

He took my paper, said something about the website, America and my husband.  I attempted to say the website said nothing but it had been four months, so I thought I’d “prova”.  He humored me by going inside to check.  No dice.  I really should’ve invited him to lunch.  Or baked him some cookies.  That could’ve made all the difference.  We left, him saying god-knows-what as we did (maybe something to do with leaving my non-Italian-speaking husband and taking him with me to America), and I spent the best €5 ever on a pocket Italian-English dictionary.

Sometime in December, we decided we were going to move and were in the new town, even though our belongings weren’t.  Five months and five hours away, the Salerno Questura website finally said my Permesso would be available for pick up on December 26th.  Merry Christmas to me. 

We made a plan to go back the second week of January with movers to get our stuff.  And pick up the permesso.  F. was coming with us to help and had set up some business meetings.  We had to get to Salerno before the questura opened at 2:20p, get the permesso (that was hopefully still there, almost a month after it was ready), find a hotel so we could get up early the following day, make the drive to the old apartment to pack our stuff as the movers moved it out and get to Battipaglia for F.’s meetings by 4p.  In Italy.  When the only time people rush is just before lunchtime and the only place they rush is on the roads.  If we missed the questura that day, it’d screw up everything.

This time, I had my papers in a plastic sleeve, just like all the other immigrants waiting in the damp chill of Salerno in January. 

I was in the second row of a mob about 7 deep and couldn’t get my paper over the heads of the others to the guy collecting them. My bald friend was nowhere to be seen. V. grabbed my paper and shoved it over everybody to the chubby guy who was there while F. stood away from the mob, smoking and checking out the female scenery, as Italian men are wont to do.

The first 10 names were called and none were mine. Then the papers were returned to those whose permessi weren’t ready (or had some problem or another).  Then, more names.  Polish, Russian, Arab—Hussein Mohammed, So-and-so Yusef, Something Svetlana). The line of people inside was now snaking closer to those of us waiting outside.

I was nervous that a) the website lied and my permesso wasn’t ready or b) we would be there for 2 hours and we’d never find a hotel, which would mean we’d be exhausted and be late meeting the movers and never make F.’s appointment.  Thirty minutes later, the chubby guy came out with no paper in his hand.

“Portulli Nancy?”

No, but close enough!

Now, the fear set in that I wouldn’t understand a word anybody said.  I knew a few more words, including, “I don’t speak Italian,” and “please repeat.”  The problem with both of those phrases is that Italians, upon hearing you don’t understand, repeat what they said much faster, adding even more unintelligible words, giving you less of a chance of catching any of it.  Unlike New Yorkers, who will say it again.  Much.  More.  Slowly. AND MUCH MORE LOUDLY.  At least we slow down.

Chubby walked in and past the line of people.  I followed hesitantly.   Was I supposed to follow him?  Why didn’t I have to wait in line like everyone else?  Was it because I’m American?  Because there was a problem?

“Prego, signora.”  OK!  So far, so good.  Unless I was being deported.   V. and F. were outside.  Would anyone tell them where I was taken?  Would the Immigration Police just bring me in a truck to the port to be put on a boat setting sail for America? I followed, passing the long line of people glaring at the straniera Americana.

“Sportello centro”.

Got it.  I headed to the middle window where the nice man behind it and I exchanged “hello”’s .



He passed a paper under the window to me. “Firma,” he said.

I signed the paper and that was it.   They didn’t even check my fingerprints on their little machine.  Finito.   Walking out, I saw my bald boyfriend and grinned.  He waved.  Six months, untold contradictions and infinitely wiser to the fact that nothing is straight forward or consistent in this country, Carta di Soggiorno in hand, we left the Questura, Salerno and the Bald Guy behind.

And the marca di bolla for  €14.62 from the day I applied?  Turns out I was supposed to pay that.  There was some other permesso fee, like the Visa fee back at the Italian consulate in NY that I didn’t pay, that I wasn’t supposed to be charged.  And I wasn’t.  Who says they take advantage of stranieri

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