Questura Tales – Part 3

I think we broke some kind of record today. We went to three different Italian government offices and actually accomplished our purpose at each one! Stop number one was the Questura. You’ll recall that last time I went I was afraid of violence, so I did have a few feelings about going (for the fourth time). We had everything all planned out, as usual. We had a slight hiccup when Tony’s alarm went off at 1:40 in the morning. Why, you may ask, would someone set his cell phone alarm to go off at such a time? (Believe me, I asked too). It turns out he had set his alarm because he needs to start thinking about going back to work after lunch at 1:40 in the afternoon. Well, 1:40 in the afternoon does not exist in Italy. It’s called 13:40. The only 1:40 is the one in the middle of the night. Unfortunately, he turned off the alarm and rolled back over to sleep without telling me. I spent the next half hour in a dazed stupor, assuming that Tony had decided to just sleep through our Questura visit after all.

We did finally get back to sleep, and then got the children up at 7:00. Tony dropped me off at the Questura at 8:00, and then took Axa to asilo. I waited at the door a little nervously. A couple of young Albanian men came up. I remembered the last time I’d been there, when I had been completely snubbed by a whole group of Albanians. But I gamely pressed forward and said, “buongiorno.” They were a little standoffish at first, but we were soon conversing as quickly as my Italian could manage. After a few minutes, another Albanian friend of theirs (or maybe not a friend. Maybe they just felt a comradeship of nationality) came up. He was much more talkative, and we spent the next half hour pleasantly conversing about the places in the world we would like to visit, and all his relations in vague places in the United States.

He taught me how to say hello and thank you in Albanian (which I repeated to his delight and then promptly forgot). He tried out all his English words on me too, and his accent was, I’m sure, better than my Albanian one. We conversed about the differences and similarities between Spanish, Italian, Albanian and Russian. I mentioned that I had studied Arabic, and he started quizzing me on Arabic vocabulary. Just at that moment (and much to my mortification), a man from Morocco joined our little group. He seemed to forgive my Arabic accent, though, and was just as nice as the Albanian. A few minutes later, the door opened, and the man who had been working inside for the past thirty minutes began handing out numbers. He gave me the first one, even though I wasn’t at the front of the line, because he said he’d seen me there waiting first (I’m sure he probably also recognized me as a regular visitor). So that was encouraging. Then the other Questura employee, who was so cross the day of the mini Questura riot, came up and smiled at me in response to my smile and greeting. So I felt totally different from the time before. Everyone seemed to like me today.

The man at the window remembered me too, and I had no problems completing my little business (which granted consisted only in asking for a list of documents I needed to complete my Permesso di Soggiorno application and setting an appointment). I was done in five minutes, and walked out of the Questura floating on air. That was good, because while I was popping into a little store to pick up oatmeal (still our breakfast staple), Tony was told by a policeman that he wasn’t allowed to park on Via Roma. So he just circled around until I came out. Unfortunately, shortly after I got back into the car, we were pulled over by another policeman who told us we weren’t even allowed to drive on the street without a permit, which are given only to people who live there. Apparently there was a sign posted on the street, which we completely missed. Oops. This policeman gave him a ticket, but told him to appeal it within sixty days. Actually, since the car is owned by Tony’s company, he said to have the company appeal it. He asked for Tony’s signature, and then solicited excuses and extenuating circumstances, contributed some of his own, and duly noted them all on a special section of the form reserved for them.

Tony said he may have also gotten another ticket earlier that morning. On the way back from dropping Axa off at asilo, he had completely failed to notice a cleverly placed new temporary stop sign, probably set up just to catch people on camera and give them tickets (do I sound cynical? Of course not). Poor thing, he behaved admirably, though, and we continued on to the Ufficio delle Entrate. Here we were supposed to get codice fiscale (the Italian equivalent of Social Security numbers) for the children, who need them for asilo.

We were supposed to have gotten them quite some time ago, but when we went to get them, shortly after we arrived in Italy, we didn’t have any documentation for them other than American passports, which the employees shook their heads over. This time we came prepared with their Italian birth certificates, and it worked. The worst thing is, when we signed them up for asilo, we did provide the asilo with codici fiscale–of a sort. Italian codice fiscale are generated according to a completely predictable algorithm based on one’s name, birthdate, and birth place. A long time ago, a cell phone salesman in Torino (what can I say? Anything for a sale) taught us how to generate your codice fiscale online (you need it to do just about any type of financial transaction in Italy, including buying a SIM card). The only thing is, even though the online program always generates the correct number, it doesn’t actually count as a real codice fiscale until it’s been officially bestowed upon you by the Italian government. We found this out from our landlord in Saluzzo, who was appalled. When he asked to make a photocopy of the official green plastic card with the number on it, we looked at him blankly. It took a while before we understood what he was asking for, and even longer before we were able to convey to him the whole sordid story, cell phone salesman and all. He took us down that instant himself to get us proper codici fiscale (which we now realized would have been impossible for us to do alone, because of various catch 22’s of Italian bureaucracy. Our whole family is now supplied with official codici fiscale, and we promise we will never generate them online again.

After the Ufficio delle Entrate, we made it to the Anagrafe in plenty of time to ask for an updated marriage certificate for my Permesso di Soggiorno application. No, nothing has changed about our marriage. Official documents just tend to expire after six months in Italy. Having done all this (and also bought various items at three different stores in between), we pulled up to Axa’s asilo in time to pick her up at noon.