This time moving to Italy seems different from last time. Last time it was one huge adventure, moving here not speaking a word of Italian, with no reason but that we felt like it. Now Tony has a job with an Italian company, and that makes everything different. We have a reason to be here, and even more, a reason to not just move off somewhere else when the idea pops into our heads.
Of course, I’ve always been very serious about keeping our status legal, even in the face of bizarre odds. So of course I’ve already spent a fair number of hours in Italian government offices. Especially the Questura. I’ve already recounted my first visit there, in which I was told that I must bring them Tony’s Declaration of Hospitality. After he’d been inscribed at the Comune (which takes a few days) and we had obtained the form (which I duly filled out in triplicate, being warned by Carla that just filling it in once and photocopying it twice wouldn’t work, even if I had Tony sign each copy), we went into the Questura on Tuesday morning. It was about 9:45, but I thought it would be fine, since I hadn’t had to wait long at all the first day. Wrong. The first rule of dealing with Italian bureaucracy is to always arrive early. There are several reasons for this. First, you may find a large queue of people waiting outside before it even opens. Second, you don’t want to end up being left until lunch-time, because lunch-time will not wait for you. Third, the earlier in the day it is, the better of a mood everyone is in (including people on both sides of the counter). In Italy, this can determine whether the people on the other side of the counter are willing to help you or not. The closer it is to lunch-time, the more situations they’ve had to deal with, and the less patience they have for any variation from the norm (including broken Italian).
So there was a medium-sized crowd waiting outside the door, which was shut by the bouncer shortly after we arrived. No, he’s not really a bouncer. He’s a non-uniformed Questura employee (meaning you have to spend some time observing the situation before you realize that he’s not just part of the milling crowd. There are no signs up anywhere explaining anything except a detailed exposition of correct positions for pictures). After observing him for three days, I believe I now understand what he does. When the Questura opens (which is supposed to be at 8:00 a.m., but is really more like 8:45), someone comes out and collects everyone’s convocation letters. Everyone who has them.
People at the Questura for another reason other than a convocation (general information, turning in applications, etc.) must wait until the non-uniformed employee arrives (they say at 9:00, but it’s more like 9:15 or so). He has a roll of little number tickets that he hands out to everyone who’s crowding around the door at the moment that he arrives. Then he stops handing out numbers. If you arrive after he’s handed them out, he’ll tell you to just wait outside. Theoretically, he tells himself that he will remember everyone who came after he stopped giving out numbers and the order in which they came. In practice, if you stay close to the door and catch his eye often, and he likes you, eventually he will let you in. Otherwise, you might just be shut out when the door closes at 12:30 (think of the parable of the ten virgins and you’ll get a sense of how that feels).
Unfortunately, as I was gamely trying to stay close to the door, there was a sudden mini-riot, in which several young African and Arab men shoved up to the door as it was opened for someone to exit (no, there’s not a separate exit, and the door doesn’t open from the outside, so the only chance to talk to the non-uniformed employee is while the door is briefly opening for someone who’s finished his business to sneak out). They demanded numbers, and he grudgingly handed out a dozen more, but only to the people directly crowded around the door. I couldn’t see what was going on, but Tony told me what happened afterward. Then a slight young Eastern European woman managed to get to the front, screaming that she should have a number too, because she’d been shoved out of the way by the stronger men. I realized that the only way I was going to get into the Questura that morning was to follow suit. And I just couldn’t do it. We gave up and went home.