03 November 2011

Becoming Italian Part Uno (or Immigration, Man)

I knew that once I arrived in Italy, I had 8 days to present myself at the Questura to declare my presence and to find out how to get my stay permit (Permesso di Soggiorno).  I didn’t know where the Questura was, exactly, beyond a meaningless address in a city 2 hours away, written in my ever-present notebook.

from here...

...to here

First trip to Salerno, wasted.  A full day to drive down, combat motion sickness on the 8 tornati by Roccodispide, find the questura, find that that’s not where I needed to go to ask how to get my permesso, find the right place only to be told they don’t handle permessi on that day of the week. Nor, did it turn out according to the young-ish bald guy we saw on the steps, will they even answer questions about them on that day of the week. 

We returned a few days later, armed with every document we had.  Birth certificates, passports, marriage certificates. 

The immigration office of the questura in Salerno sits in a piazza atop a hill, up a flight of steps, with a few more to the door.  In front of the door is a movable metal barrier like you see at sporting events or when there’s a mudslide and the road is blocked.  As the opening time hour nears, the stairs fill up.  Africans, Russians, Romanians, and one lone American, all clutching their paper-filled folders. There is no line.  There are no numbers to take.  You just shove up as close as you can to the barrier and try to get the attention of the guy standing between you and your answers.  In the hot, hot, heat of Salerno in July.  Trying not to breathe too deeply.  Huddled masses, indeed. Periodically, a number is called and that person goes inside.  Where and how they got those numbers is a mystery.

The bald guy from the other day, who couldn’t answer our questions, sees me.  I’m short.  I’m shy.  I’m out of my element and I don’t speak his language, but he motions at me anyway.

“Parle inglese?”  I try.  He tries not to laugh. “Io bisogno un permesso di soggiorno.  Io posso qui o ufficio di postale?”.  Words I’ve looked up online and practiced and hope I’ve remembered correctly.

He motions for my fistful of papers and looks thru them.  “New Yorrrk?”


“Per che Italia? [Mumble mumble mumble] ?”

I reply that my husband is Italian, jerking my thumb in the general direction of V.

Bald Guy smirks.

 “Ashpett’,” he dialects.

The crowd gets smaller and smaller.  I try to catch the eye of the employee when he comes out again.

Another man comes out and says something to Bald Guy.  “Dov’e l’americana?”

I push my way up thru the crowd and around the barrier to follow him in.  To the left is a door behind which is an office and a woman who speaks English.  We explain that I need to apply for my Permesso or Carta di Soggiorno (we’re not sure which, as some things I’ve read regarding which document the spouse of an Italian citizen needs say Permesso, some say Carta), that I’m the wife of an Italian citizen.  Do I need to go to the Post Office to get a kit?  Here’s my Visa.  Here’s his passport.  No, he doesn’t speak Italian, yet.  Yes, he’s trying. Yes, it’s very important that we both learn. 

She looked thru our papers, made some copies, and sent me back outside with a sweatsoaked, pre-used paper with a number smudged on it like the ones you get at the deli counter.  Or the Italian bakery in my home town.  More waiting, thoughts of cannoli and rainbow cookies dancing in my head.

My Italian is virtually non-existent at this point.  I’ve been in the country for a week.  I’m trying desperately to recall how to translate “76”, struggling to hear, as they call the numbers from within the building.  Since there is no order to the numbers being called, I can’t just wait ‘til I hear “settante-cinque” and know that I’m next.

Numbers are called. People go in and form a line inside.  Someone nudges me and points at the grubby piece of paper in my hand.

We get up to the window, where the gruff man by behind the glass looks at my papers, starts typing up a form and asks where my passport stamp is.

“Quando blahblah Italia?  Dove somethingsomething?”

“Sette luglio.  Via Francia.  See?”  I reply, pointing at the stamp and not entirely sure I’ve answered his questions.  Turns out, I wasn’t supposed to enter thru another Schengen country.  I was supposed to take a direct flight to Italy.  He grumbled and gesticulated a bit, something about my stupidity, I’m sure.  Va bene.

Next, he asks for my marca di bolla, the little tax stamp you can buy at the tobacco shops for all sorts of administrative fees.  But somewhere, we’d read that spouses of citizens don’t need them.  We were sure of this.  The guy motions to Bald Guy, who’s been in this room since we arrived, eavesdropping on the proceedings and smiling occassionally.  He goes and gets the English-speaking woman.  They babble and mutter, something about Americani.  We insist we don’t need the marca.  We are not trying to get special treatment.  We just think we don’t want to be taken advantage of.  

They insist I need a marca, they tell us to go out to the tobaccanist and get one.  It’s nearing lunch time, the time when all non-food-related activity stops and I’m afraid I’m going to have to wait outside again and they will close and it’ll be another day wasted and I’m all ready past my eight day limit, but off we scramble, out to the piazza, down the hill, around the corner. 

Back up the hill, thru the piazza, up the steps, sweatier than before, marca in hand, €14.62 poorer, I stand there.  V. looks at me like I’m crazy.

“Go inside.”

“But there are all these people.  They’ll yell at me.  In foreign languages.”

He rolls his eyes.  His Italian-ness telling him there’s no need to wait to tell someone I was all ready there, that I just had to get a stamp, excuse me, sorry but that I should just walk in.

Bald Guy smiles and winks as we head back in.  Window Guy does some more paperwork, makes copies of passports and certificates.  He staples one of the photo-booth photos I got earlier in the day to a big blue piece of paper and gestures at the door to a courtyard behind me, “Blah blah blah gira sinistra mumble avanti.”

I go, more or less as instructed, get electronically  fingerprinted  and then sent on my way with my blue, temporary, permesso di soggiorno.

I’m not entirely sure what just happened, but I’m pretty excited that this trip to the questura was fruitful.  I didn’t really find out if I could do it, or how to do it, but it was done.  I just didn’t know what to do next.  How do I get the permanent one?  And what did Bald Guy mean as he shouted out a cheery “Buona fortuna!” on his way to lunch as I passed him, temporary permesso in hand?  Maybe I should have asked him to lunch to try to find out.

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