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Life in Italy: 'How Little Britain helped me deal with Italian bureaucracy'

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Life in Italy: 'How Little Britain helped me deal with Italian bureaucracy'
Moving to Italy? Get ready to have your patience tested. Photo: DepositPhotos"

In Italy, there's no point getting angry at unhelpful bureaucrats and their mantra: “non è possibile”. One writer tells us how she dealt wth them: by imagining she was a character in a satirical comedy sketch.


Whether it’s the bank clerk, the bus driver, a civil servant, or the post office clerk, the first words out of their mouths are “Non è possibile”: it's not possible.

This refrain is accompanied by a vigorous head-shaking, a deep frown, a shrug of the shoulders, and hands splayed open, all meant to convey a sorrowful expression of “I’d love to help you, but it is not possible.”

READ ALSO: How to beat (or just survive) bureaucracy in Italy: the essential pieces of paperwork

In the eight months I’ve been living in Italy, I've heard this expression on a daily basis. No matter if it’s the comune clerk or the tobacconist, they're telling me what I want to do is impossible.

Photo: Depositphotos

I confess that that phrase, till now, has sent my blood boiling and my blood pressure skyrocketing.

My instinct has been to ask for a reason why a simple task cannot be done. Stupid, I know, to ask for a reason.

But I will share a recent epiphany. I'm reminded of that comic sketch in Little Britain, where the clerk types a few keystrokes into her computer, and no matter what is asked of her – mortgage, cruise, loan application, anything – her response is ‘Computer says no.”

It hit me: I am in that comic sketch.

The other day I went to the comune to see about an identity card. I wasn’t sure what benefits were attached to that (I have yet to find out), but I learned I was eligible, so why not add that to my ever-growing stack of documents?

I actually found the right office, and the nice man invited me to sit down. I asked to get an identity card. I pulled out all my documentation and set it on the desk. He glanced at that and then studied his computer with a greatly furrowed brow and was silent. After a few minutes of him staring at his computer, I asked if I was eligible.

Si, si, he said, while shaking his head no (head-shaking is apparently mandatory).

He finally started pecking away at his keyboard, pushed my documents back at me, which I put away, then asked to see them again, so I took them out again, typed some more, asked me to stand near a height chart, and typed some more. Wow, I thought. I was making progress.

Visiting an office inside an Italian comune, or town hall. Photo: AFP

He told me that I needed to return the next day (after all, it was almost lunchtime, and the office was closing) with a passport size photo and 22.21 euro. What time to return? Tomorrow morning, around 10:00

Boy, that went smoothly, I thought.

The next morning, I was eager to return with my photo and the required payment. It wasn’t 10:00 but closer to 09:40. I was early, and his desk was empty.

I asked the clerk sitting at the other desk (whom I had seen the day before) where this man was, and as best as I could understand, he was out of the office attending to business in another city.


Ok, I thought I’d wait. After fifteen minutes, I asked this other woman if she was expecting him back. She shrugged in an “I don’t know” gesture (although frankly, the gesture could have also meant he’s never returning because he retired yesterday.)

So I took a big gulp and asked if she would accept my photo and payment. You guessed it: non è possibile

I explained that the other man had done the paperwork on my identity card and only needed my photo and payment. No matter what I said, the head-shaking continued.

But, haha, Lady. I’m on to you! I know what this is about. I’m in the comic skit. Your computer is saying no (despite the fact that she hadn’t even looked at her computer.)

READ ALSO: Ten things to know before moving to Italy

She said I needed proof of my residence. Si, I have that! She said I needed the permesso. Si, I have that too. I was not going to let her win this round, by golly. I sat down at her desk and waited till she ran out of excuses.

Finally, she deigned to ask me my name and looked me up on her computer. I was there! I was legit!

She asked for my photo, which I handed over. She asked for the payment and told me which office would take my money, and to return with the receipt. Done. I handed over the receipt which she stapled to my application and said it would arrive in the mail 5-10 days hence.

Victory! I walked out in triumph. It was much easier to think I was participating in a comedy skit than get irritated at nonsensical bureaucracy; è possibile if you persist.

Have you got a story about life in Italy that you'd like to share? Send us an email and let us know.

Anne Rose is President of Cameron Park, CA-based Celebrate-Travel, a boutique travel agency specializing in custom-designed leisure travel. She is passionate about travel and loves helping consumers experience the joys of travel. Prior to owning a travel agency, Anne served as Director of Communications for a multinational corporation, owned a marketing agency, hosted radio programs, and taught seminars on communications, publishing, and marketing and practiced nursing in various environments. She is currently residing in Italy while pursuing recognition of dual Italian citizenship. Follow her adventures on her blog.


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