Thursday, November 1, 2012

The second most important piece of paper to have in Italy

I thought there was only one piece of paper absolutely necessary for living here in Italy....the coveted Permesso di Soggiorno but yesterday I found out that I was wrong. Or at least, not totally right.

The Permesso simply gives me the right to stay in the country with Leif. The Tessera Sanitaria is a medical card that all Italians have that opens the doors to quicker care, discounts at the pharmacy and other exciting advantages too numerous to mention. According to Leif, it's as important (if not more important) as the Permesso because this is like an identity card that everyone recognizes. It basically confirms that you're here legally, with all the rights and responsibilities that implies.

We thought that we'd applied for it back in August but nothing has come in the mail so we headed over to the office to find out why.

I've described the whole get-a-number-and-wait process often, because everywhere you go you take a number and wait. It was the same yesterday, except that it was the day before a holiday and everyone decided to go to this office at the same time. There was one young woman at the counter trying to find out something but she only spoke English and the woman behind the counter only spoke Italian and the next woman in line started commiserating with my on the absurdity of English speakers even attempting to get the services this office offered. I nodded wisely because I was pretty sure if I opened my mouth she'd roll her eyes and I would be instantly put into the same category as the young woman. All three of us moved towards the second counter, which normally you are only allowed to approach after you've checked with the first counter, but as you heard that counter was tied up with a non-Italian speaker and looked to stay that way for some time.

[for those Minnesotans out there wondering why I didn't come to the young woman's rescue I have a very good reason. Italian government offices have a very long and very good memory. Make them angry and anything you try to get done for like the next ten years can end up at the bottom of the stack or lost forever or flatly refused. I was blatantly selfish. I admit it.]

Considering the number of people in the waiting room we didn't have to wait long for our number to flash on the screen. We went to desk number fifteen and smiled at the man behind desk. Who actually smiled back. Leif explained that we had applied for the card in August but haven't gotten anything in the mail. He asked for a few papers, looked stuff up on his computer and said that nothing had happened because when applying for the first time we have to go to a different office, which the guy we saw in August neglected to tell us. He told us what kind of office to go to, but he wasn't sure where the one in our residence area was.

We went home and Googled it, which gave us a location neither of us felt was right, but it wasn't far away and it was a good place to start. Leif said "Let's go!!!" He pretty much hates to wait once he starts on a project. So we went to the address Google showed us, which was totally wrong. But again, having started on this project he wasn't ready to quit just yet. We went to a pharmacy nearby thinking that they would know where this place was. (repeat number process....I told you they do this everywhere) After a short wait Leif got directions to the office we needed. He said he knew where it was so we started walking again.

Turns out this is an office in a hospice. I would never have found it on my own. Once again we took a number, although this machine didn't have any options we really understood so we just picked the first one and hoped. Things really moved along at this office. With only six desks they took care of business quickly and efficiently. Our number popped up and we dashed over to the door shown on the screen and walked in.

The woman behind the desk asked what we needed and when Leif told her I swear she turned whiter than the papers on her desk. My opinion is that she's pretty new. She's sharing an office with another woman and the whole time she helped us her hands were shaking. It's possible that she was cold....she was wearing her full length down coat at her desk.....but she asked her colleague so many questions that I think she just never had to deal with a "foreigner" before and the whole thing scared her.

She looked over my application (the first I've ever been able to complete without making numerous mistakes) and the copy of my Permesso, using them to fill in all the little blanks on her computer and without asking for another scrap of paper or giving us another office to visit printed out my brand-spanking new Documento per l'Assistenza Sanitaria and a paper copy of my Tessera Sanitaria to use until my real card came in the mail.

She heaved a giant sigh of relief as we all said "Arrivederci" and we walked out of her office. I imagine she immediately went out for a smoke break to celebrate our departure. As we left Leif said "That went surprisingly well,"and I couldn't agree more. When we consider the number of times we've been told we just need one more piece of paper from some obscure office we feel incredibly lucky to have done this all in one visit. That is if you don't count the first visit in August when we should have been sent here instead of told to wait for a card in the mail that was never going to come. But I'm not gonna hold a grudge.

Slowly I'm building the foundation of living here, creating my Italian identity one piece of paper at a time. I have no idea what comes next, or what kind of hoops I'll have to jump through. What I do know is that whatever it is, I can do it.

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