Grouchin’ in a Winter Wonderland
In case you’re wondering, this is what I did not post yesterday:
I am done with winter, I am done with cold feet, and I am done with sick people trying to kiss me and my kids! I think I will spend the rest of the winter hibernating in my house. Wake me up when it is half-past May.
Yesterday at Church I hope I didn’t offend half the branch, because I just could not do the kissing thing. I resorted to the friendly wave from across the room, and acting really busy between meetings picking up all the food and pencils my children obligingly scatter around. I was only backed into a corner and basically forced to kiss two or three people. Am I the only one who thinks that everyone kissing each other’s faces during the cold and flu season is a really bad idea? Shaking hands is bad enough, but I can’t rub hand sanitizer on my children’s faces all the time! And I kept my son out of nursery not just because he was sick (which he was), but because all the rest of the children in nursery were sicker. (Am I a hypochondriac? well yes, I admit to certain tendencies.)
It’s not just the sickness, though. I need some more personal space. As in, approximately a foot of empty space around my immediate person that belongs just to me and will not be constantly intruded upon. Yesterday I was actually homesick for the United States, where people don’t put their face four inches from yours to say something, or come up and try to forcibly grab your children from you, or fall on your neck with joy every week as if they hadn’t seen you in decades.
Usually, I like the warmth that Italians exhibit in personal relationships. It’s hard to feel unloved in a place where acquaintances greet each other with more effusive enthusiasm than even close family members in the United States. And yes, when we were back in the United States, I missed how Italians share the love. But now I don’t want any more love. I just want space.
I would have gone on longer in this vein. However, I decided to spare myself and you. But today is better. We put up our Christmas tree last night, mostly with ornaments we had made, since all our Christmas stuff is still in storage in California. Axa did some paper chains, which she colored, cut out, and glued herself. She also made cardboard star, house, heart, and candy cane templates for our cookies. I made cookie dough and helped her and Dominique cut out the shapes. Since I told them they could eat any cookies that broke, we had quite a few “accidentally” broken cookies as we decorated the tree. But a few made it to the hanging stage. Dominique generously promised to also eat any that got broken in the night too, so I was surprised to find that they were all still hanging on the tree this morning.
Even better, today I had a euphoric visit to the Ufficio delle Entrate. The nice lady at the Comune had said that they were the ones to ask to change my name on my codice fiscale (the Italian equivalent of a social security number). So I went in with my documents today. Near the door is a receptionist desk with a ticket dispenser beside it. The receptionist looked over my documents, frowning over the fact that there was a discrepancy in the names. She was not mollified when I explained again that I was there in her office to fix that very name discrepancy. She did not seem to believe me that my last name was Familia, and she was irked that my middle name, Elisabeth, had just dropped off and disappeared. Finally, she asked to see my Italian residence permit, evidently feeling that these fishy things might be cleared up if she could just look at something from Italy with the correct name. Ever prepared, I whipped it out of my purse (I’ve learned through long and tortuous experience to have everything on hand but never present a document until it is requested). To my horror, I realized that I was holding my expired tourist permit, and not my family residence permit at all. Not batting an eye (maybe I would make a good spy after all), I pointed to my correctly annotated name, and she didn’t look at the rest of the paper. Just like always seems to happen in government offices, she gathered up my documents and went off to chat with a superior.
Surprisingly, she came back smiling, and gushed for a while about how beautiful my passport was. (I’ve found that the new biometric American passports with the quotes and patriotic pictures work wonders as an icebreaker at Italian government offices. When it comes to instant and undeserved brownie points, they’re the visual equivalent of saying you’re from California.) She then proceeded to explain to me what needed to be done, which coincidentally happened to be precisely what I had been trying to convince her to do before she left.
Then she went to the ticket machine, pressed a button, and handed me the ticket. I accepted it graciously, although Tony had already covertly helped himself to an earlier ticket while she was consulting her superior. We had fortunately arrived around 12:00, which is a half hour before lunch, and therefore exactly the time when government offices suddenly go into speed mode. Even if they have only called a dozen numbers during the entire preceding morning, they will all come back from their prolonged coffee break and zip through twice that many in a tenth of the time. After all, it would never do to be late for lunch.
After our number was called, everything went equally smoothly. There was one tense moment when the man behind the desk asked if my passport was my only identification. I really did not want to show him the expired tourist permit, because if he examined it closely, it could easily cause the whole process to grind to a halt, and cost us another visit to the Ufficio delle Entrate. I paused and asked coolly, “do you need something else?” He didn’t answer, and continued to methodically type away with one finger. I guess it was just a last-ditch attempt to avoid actually giving me what I had asked for. Or perhaps asking for more documentation is an instinct that government employees naturally develop, functioning as a sort of combination fight-and-flight reflex. In any case, after a few more minutes of silence, he printed out a paper, took it away to get the all-important stamp, and then returned, handing it to me. He informed me that my new card would be coming in the mail in about a month.
And that was it! We were done. Once again, through a combination of skill, ingenuity, cool-headedness, and just plain good luck, I had effortlessly sliced through the red tape of Italy. Interestingly, since the number is generated by a specific algorithm that draws on one’s personal information, they couldn’t just change the name. They had to change the number too. Maybe that’s the reason it is not normally legal to change your name in Italy. Hopefully, this doesn’t cause any problems with our bank or other places that already have my old number. But I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.