Friends wonder how comes I rarely lose my temper: there are people with whom I worked for 20 years without ever seeing me throwing a fit.
I have no real idea why is that, but I put it down to my desire to adapt to situations, which is also perhaps my greatest asset when working abroad. However, I also think most Italians have a head start in this, having daily to deal with an environment that seems to have been designed to make them go crazy.
A month before my driving license was about to expire, I went to an agency specialising on automotive administrative procedures. Last time I did it (about 10 years ago) the thing was painless: you get an appointment with a doctor that carries out a (rather perfunctory) exam, fill in a form, pay some dues and you’re good to go. After a month or so, a new license is sent to your home. A simple, efficient procedure.
And I guess that’s why they changed it.
When I visited the admin agency, they said they’re no longer allowed to perform this service: you have to get your medical at the local unit of the NHS but – she said – before you do that, check which documents you have to prepare on the website so-and-so. Said documents include:
- a photograph (of a punctiliously stated size)
- a payment for EUR 9.00
- another payment for EUR 16.00
- your old license
I prepare the required documents, including a physical line at the Post Office because the two accounts to which the two payment go DO NOT accept online payments, book my appointment and show up about 30 minutes early at the NHS local unit offices.
After a little wait, my name gets called, the clerk checks my document and asks: “Do you need a Special?” I reply I have no idea what a Special is, and she points at my wrists saying, assertively “Of course you do, I’ll set you up with the Commission, come back in 15 days. Oh, and bring your rheumatologist’ diagnosis”
Fast-forward 15 days, armed with my papers I line up a second time; after about two hours the doctors (there’s feckin’ 5 of them! Why ?) visit me, pronounce me a victim of Rheumatoid Arthritis, prescribe me a Special (as predicted) which means I will need to use only cars with auto gearshift (which I was using anyway) and ask for the “Marca da Bollo”.
Foreigners probably don’t even understand the concept of a Marca da Bollo which, as far as I know, only exists in Italy. It is essentially a small tax on admin procedures: you buy a “stamp” (in this case worth 16 euro), stick it to the document which is ipso facto official. This stamp however is only sold by authorised dealers, so I must look for one, and they only accept cash for this stamp, despite the fact the same store takes plastic for everything else, so I must look also for a cash dispenser because I am so obtusely opposed to cash.
Gotten my stamp, when I think it’s over the clerk says in handing me my medical: “Now you can go to the Automotive Registry to file your request”. So the following morning I line up at the Automotive Registry: it’s a good idea I go there early, because the first line is solely to obtain another list of documents I need to prepare, including all the documents I have already presented plus:
- a form on triple-copy chemical paper which could not possibly be downloaded from anywhere – hence the line
- a SECOND photo, identical to the first one
- another 16 euro payment to an account – you guessed it – that does not accept online payments
- a copy of my ID card
- a copy of my taxpayer’s number
Don’t even ask why they could not merge the two lists: #3 is especially a problem, as the photo I gave them was a unique specimen: they stamped it and filed it with the medical and now I don’t have a second one. which is the one that will go on the license itself.
So I rush home, get the documents I need, go to the Post Office to make my payment, and stop by a photo booth to get a fresh set of pics. Back to the Automotive Registry for my sixth line (two at the NHS, two at the Post Office, two here), I finally file my request and succesfully negotiate the photograph affair by obtaining that the second pic will actually different from the certified one:
And when I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, this clerk gets me the closest I came in all this ordeal to losing my temper.
While the mysterious machinery of the Ministry of Transportation issues me a new license (a process that may take up to 60 days) I am given a temporary permit. valid for said 60 days; I therefore ask “When will my license be ready for me to pick up?” I had noticed they noted my cell number, but somehow it did not seem very likely they’d call me.
She stares at me blankly and responds: “Before the 60 days are over, of course!”
Now, this is a beautiful example of bureaucratic information-free precision: engaging in a conversation like this can be fatal to the inexpert citizen. I immediately understand I am dealing with a pro and rephrase my question: “When is the earliest time I can come and be sure my new license will be here?”. I see her squirming, desperately thinking of an answer whereby she could avoid giving me the actual date; her eyes blink, one, two, three times. She lets out a long sigh, a sort of guttural lament and then she concedes: “In fifty-seven days”.
So I won. Or did I?
Like Freddy Krueger in the Nightmare movies, the monster is never really dead, and she has a last lash: “By the way, your temp permit is only valid in Italy” I stagger, the blow is mortal as for the next six weeks I am going to commute weekly between Italy and France as I do every year.
How did she guess? What gave me away? I will never know…