Italy is a gorgeous country with delectable food and fascinating history, but (1) You already know that. (2) It’s more fun to write about dumpster fires. So, here’s another one of my infernos.
“Sinistro. Sinistro. SINISTRO,” he screams at the foreigner. The man doesn’t understand that the officer wants him to put his left thumb on the screen for a fingerprint. Rather than holding his hand up and pointing calmly at the digit, he opts for angry outbursts and dramatic exhalations, a technique he will use on the next 20 immigrants who walk up to his desk.
This is the next stop on my residency permit (permesso di soggiorno) acquisition journey, and it smells like a basement gym. Impatience, anger and defeat make one sweat, and this bunker has zero airflow. There aren’t enough seats for everyone; a game of musical chairs commences every time someone leaves the room to pee, smoke or scream into a pillow.
Alberto, bless his heart, stays with me for an hour beyond my appointment slot. I don’t want him to use his PTO at this purgatory police station, so I tell him to go to work; I’ll be fine, I thought. But first, let me go pee in case they call my name while I’m gone.
Due to limited signage, I wander around the police station (which feels slightly illegal), opening random doors until I find a toilet. I scan the stall and see that not only is there no toilet paper, there’s not even a toilet paper dispenser, meaning they really DGAF, especially about us vajayjay holders. I decide to hold it; I probably would’ve caught one of the hepatitises in that chokey anyway.
I have no cell service in this storm shelter, but luckily Google Translate’s offline version allows me to confirm the word for pinky finger (mignolo), should I need it. I don’t want to be screamed at in front of everyone like the other guy.
A middle-aged Asian couple walks up to the counter. At one point, they have no clue what this officer is asking of them, and signore has zero interest in helping them understand. He seems to think that deep exaggerated sighs motivate people to suddenly become fluent in Italian. Fortunately, a young person in the waiting area who spoke their language stepped up to help.
Every 10-15 minutes the agent leaves the room. Helping a fellow colleague? Irritable bowel? Nope, smoke breaks. Alberto saw him across the street at a cafe when he left.
I watch and listen for almost two hours, making some mental assumptions that this young officer is racist, because all his clients have been Asian, African or Middle Eastern, but here’s where the story gets happier: My pale ass walks up there and he was refreshingly terrible to me as well.
“What are you doing here?” he spits. “You shouldn’t be here. You should be at the questura.”
I’m at the commissariato, a lower level of the questura. “Sorry, I don’t understand. My receipt from the post office says to be at this address at this time [two hours ago].”
*Siiiiiiighhhhhhhhhh to beat all other sighs* He repeats himself with extra gruff.
“At this office, we only do two-year permits. You’re married to an Italian? You should do a five-year permit. Grumble grumble indignant, incoherent complaining. Do you need a two or five?” he rattles off impatiently.
I’m a bit flustered after stewing in this United Nations locker room, thinking naively that I’d have an easier time than most of the others because I snagged myself an Italian man. I need a moment to suffocate my optimism.
“I’m not sure which permit I’m supposed to receive,” I begin. “All I know is that this is where the permesso di soggiorno submission receipt, which I acquired in May, indicates I should come.”
It’s not my fault you geniuses decided to have post office workers initiate immigration proceedings instead of delivering the mail, she would have added if she were braver and had nothing to lose.
There’s a wall of glass in between us with no hole except for a slot at waist height to pass documents, so I’m squatting in between sentences to stick my face in the opening so I can hear/speak more clearly.
He asks me something about my husband’s redditi but I don’t remember what that means.
*Squat* “I’m sorry, I don’t understand the word redditi,” I say calmly.
*HOLY MADONNA OF SIGHS* “Work! Does your husband work!?”
I hear other people in the waiting room make groaning noises — were those sympathetic sighs or get-on-with-it-American-girl moans? I choose to believe the former.
*Squat* “Yes, yes, he does. He was here with me earlier but had to go to work.”
“Go wait over there. You need an appointment at another office.”
Understanding, patient Christina is dead now. She takes her stank face and goes to stand against the wall, a few feet from Signor Sourpuss’ window. She doesn’t want him to be able to avoid her hostile eyes and at-capacity bladder.
A Belgian woman walks up to the counter and asks, “Inglese? English?” Note: She didn’t expect the guy to know her native tongue of probably French, German and/or Dutch. “NO,” he grunts definitively. She starts struggling a bit in Italian and then suddenly the dude says a few hesitant words in English.
I don’t expect everyone to know English, but in an Italian immigration office, it seems sensible that your employees would know at least one other language besides Italian, which is not a very international or well-known tongue. So, if not English, how about some Chinese, Arabic, French? Or, if you don’t speak another language, at least speak the one of decency, especially to people who are at your mercy.
I have several safe, warm beds I can go back to in Minnesota if these guys kick me out. Who knows what the story is of everybody else in there with me. Maybe I’ll learn when I see them again at my rescheduled appointment in November.
“Good luck, everyone,” I say to the room, in English, as I walk out.