As you may have heard about Italian bureaucracy, red tape is like pasta sauce here. I’m married to an Italian, plus U.S. citizens don’t need a visa to enter the country, so I’ve got a much easier immigration path than most, but even Alberto and his parents couldn’t make sense of the permesso di soggiorno (permit of stay) documents I’m supposed to fill out. So, somehow (I rarely know the “how”), my father-in-law got in contact with a Filipino man who helps immigrants with their paperwork.
When we arrive for our “appointment” (quotes intentional), the door is locked. We wait a bit while I ponder what Italy’s deportation proceedings might look like. Then Lenny* shows up, apparently mid-appointment with another guy (let’s call him Vlad) walking beside him. “You told me to fill this out, Lenny! What? No! But then — how? But you said…” Buongiorno, Lenny. Buongiorno, Vlad. The four of us enter the office together.
Renzo and I stand awkwardly while Lenny continues to consult with this other man. All three of us end up sitting at the desk across from Lenny, who is also periodically answering the phone to handle other clients. I don’t have an address yet, so it’ll be hard for the authorities to arrest me, I tell myself.
Lenny-phone, Lenny-Vlad, Lenny-Christina, Lenny-phone, Lenny-Vlad, Lenny-Phone, Lenny-Christina.
I ask Lenny a question. “It really depends on how each government worker interprets each piece of information,” he responds. In Italy, of all places, of course government work would be an art form. You see the Statue of David, I see a misshapen gargoyle that will delay the legal process by fourteen months.
During all this, Lenny is going back and forth between English and Italian, not always speaking to the correct person in the room as he does so. “Ma io non parlo inglese,” Renzo responds after Lenny advises, in English, that his daughter-in-law needs to go to the Comune di Milano to get a certificate. Lenny is sweating, flustered; I’m worried his forehead droplets might smear my legal ink.
He prints off some documents, and I take a look. “Lenny, sorry, but you spelled my name wrong.” Oh! Here comes the white-out; scribble scribble all over my permesso di soggiorno packet. I ask another question.
“Maybe?” he responds.
“Have you had a case like this before? An Italian moving back with an American spouse?” Renzo asks.
“No, this is my first one,” Lenny admits.
“Thank you so much, Lenny. I really appreciate your help.” We leave with some new documents and action items — are they the right documents and actions? Only the bureaucratic art critics and time will tell.
Next stop: Agenzia delle Entrate to get my codice fiscale, kind of like a social security number but used more often and necessary to open bank accounts, get a phone number, shop online, etc.
“Lenny è bravo,” Renzo says as we leave. “Sì sì…è bravo,” I sigh.
*Name changed for his/my protection (?)