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Shiny Stamps at the Post Office and Other Italian Peculiarities

We have certain milestones to cross before we can really start relaxing.  Mind you, we’ve done our share of relaxing already, but these chores are always in the back of our minds.  Specifically, we have to get the utilities set up for the upstairs apartment, get our permesso di siggiorno, get a new bank account, and get our boxes we had shipped delivered.  If this doesn’t sound hard to you, then you must not be living in Italy.

If Italians didn’t invent bureaucracy, they perfected it.  As much as I love so many things about this culture, doing business here is one of the most maddening things ever.  In order to get our permesso di siggiorno, which is the legal document that shows we’re, well, legal, we have to have proof of health insurance.  Fine.  We are eligible for the national health insurance program so we go to the place and tell the woman what we want in perfectly fluent Italian (not).  She begins a stream of rapid-fire Italian while shaking her head and the only thing I caught during all this was “molto complicato”.  That didn’t sound good.

So we abandoned our dreams of doing this all on our own and called our friend Anna, who speaks English.  She met us there and we got the stack of papers we had to complete and took them to her office to fill out.  Then we had to go to the post office to get some official looking stamps and pay the bill.  I’m serious.  The post office in Italy is a clearinghouse for all kinds of things.  You can pay your bills there, get your pension check, and get your documents certified with these beautiful shiny stamps.  I assume you can also mail letters there, although I’ve never seen anyone actually do that.  One might ask why the agency that administers the health insurance program can’t put a shiny stamp on the application and take the payment.  One would have a very good question, which no one in Italy can answer.

So we head to the post office to find that it is closed on Thursdays.  Yes, that’s right, the whole thing is closed on Thursday.  So we head over to San Leo, the next little town over and get our shiny stamps at their post office.  We had to wait in line for about 45 minutes because each transaction takes at least 15 minutes.  And the line was long because everyone in Anghiari was in San Leo because the Anghiari post office was closed.  We get our shiny stamps and pay our bill ($700 for both of us for a year – for full health insurance coverage with no co-pays) and head back to the woman at the place.  She’s nodding her head and very pleased with us for getting all the shiny stamps.  Then everything grinds to a halt.  She can’t get to the next screen on her computer because something is not right.  After much back and forth, we figure out that our address is listed on our codice fiscale (another official government document that allows you to do business here – kind of like a SSN, but not) as our old address in Atlanta, not our new Italian address.

OK, easy fix.  But to fix it, we have to fill out new forms and go to a different office in Sanselpolcro which is only open on Wednesday and Thursday mornings and you have to have an appointment.  I am not kidding.  By now we have enlisted Michelangelo to help because Anna went on vacation.  We make an appointment, hand over all our documents (I can’t tell you how many times my passport has been copied during all this) and get another official paper with a shiny stamp that says we live here not there and go back to the place to finish getting the health insurance.  I’ve learned to read the body language of the person behind the desk.  If they have a measure of understanding on their face when they first look at our documents, things usually go well.  If they start out by shaking their heads, look out.  This guy was a little hard to read.  He had a blank look on his face as he looked at our beautiful Italian resident’s visa.  He studied it and made a couple of phone calls (not a good sign), called a colleague over to help, then finally got started on filling out more stacks of paper and copying our passports yet again and 20 minutes later we had our official Italian health insurance cards.  Six days after we started this process we got it accomplished.  Six days, two translators, three trips to Sansepolcro, and one trip to San Leo later.  And this was just one piece of what we have to do to get the permesso di siggiorno.  We have to go back to Sansepolcro on Tuesday to yet another government office for the final step – what we hope is the final step.

That’s just one example of what we’ve been dealing with.  We managed to get two of three utilities turned on, but the electricity has to wait until next week because the entire company is on vacation till Monday.  It’s August and things shut down, but the power company?  For two weeks?

About noon on Friday we got a call from the company that was shipping our boxes.  They were on their way and would be here around 3:00!  We were giddy with excitement.  We shipped those boxes four weeks ago and during this time we had almost abandoned hope of ever seeing our stuff again.  It got hung up in Turkey (don’t ask) and we had images of some Turkish customs agents rooting through our belongings and confiscating some things and breaking others.  But now they were on their way to us.  We were like kids waiting for Santa.  We went out to our little front patio and waited on the call.  And waited.  And waited.  Then it started to rain.  It hasn’t rained here to speak of since we arrived three weeks ago, but we had a nice little shower to welcome the arrival of our boxes.  Finally, about 4:30 the truck came.  The driver unloaded each box by himself, not hand truck or dollies, just heaved them onto his shoulder and carried them inside.  Steve tried to help, but the guy kept saying it was his job.  Far be it from us to get in the way of him doing his job, so we watched as he heaved in the rain.  We had cleared out a space for them in our living room and had the most fun opening them and remembering what we packed.  Some things we looked at and said “Why did we bring this?” and other things we petted like a favorite puppy.  And the most amazing thing of all is that only three little things were broken and the Turkish customs agents didn’t confiscate anything.

We’re getting there.  Despite the little setbacks we find along the way.  For all the beauty and joy we get from living here, it’s also very challenging for us.  We’re Americans.  We’re used to AC, clothes dryers, using all the water we want, going to a store whenever we want, and plugging in more than one electrical appliance at a time.  Sometimes it’s frustrating when we don’t have these things.  But more often than not, it reminds us of why we’re here.  To experience another way of living, another culture.  And I’ll tell you one thing, clothes hung out to dry are so very fresh and hanging them out is a practice in simplicity.  Yes, it takes more time and effort, and you have to remember they’re out there (there’s no timer on the clothes line), and you probably have to iron them.  But you’ve bonded with those clothes.  And the fresh Tuscan venticello has kissed them and made them alive again.  And us, too.

We take our small victories where we can get them and soon they’ll all add up to big wins and this will all be a distant memory.  And there’s always gelato.





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