Monday, April 10, 2017

It's Questura time again

It’s been five years since Leif and I got married and the endless work of fulfilling the Italian lust for bureaucracy began winding down to its logical (but not necessarily logical, because you just never know with the Italian gov’t) conclusion. At the end of May the paperwork we spent months working for expires.

Well, that’s not technically true. If you’ll recall, when last we met over the topic of bureaucracy, the Questura, and my permission to stay in Italy I was ecstatic because instead of being granted a one or two year permission to stay I got a piece of paper that was good for five years. Five years! A giant weight lifted off my shoulders at that thought, because the Questura is hands down my least favorite Italian place to visit. It’s a soul sucking and mind bending experience that is only worth it because at the end you get the thing you most desire….permission to stay in Italy.

I dreaded 2017’s arrival because it meant going back to the paperwork of applying for my Permesso di Soggiorno. I remembered five years ago I was given a single piece of paper and was completely astounded that permission to stay with a spouse required less paperwork than the ½” stack for a one year study. I was fooled, of course, because they asked for more (see post from that experience here, I won’t bore you with recapping the whole thing) and we scrambled to get those papers from one government entity to another in a timely manner. I was legitimately freaking out over re-applying because even with all their schedules and footnoted directions it’s always difficult filling out paperwork in Italian. I’m not always sure about what they’re asking or if I’m answering correctly and so many of the questions sound very ambiguous till I ask an Italian and they tell me what they think it means and I’m seriously surprised that I didn’t even consider their answer a possibility.

It’s also important to start the paperwork early, like waaaay before the expiration date, several months at least in order to give the government time to do whatever it is they do to make sure you’re legit before printing your piece of paper, stapling your picture onto it and hermetically sealing it together with clear mailing tape. I had further motivation to get things done quickly and properly as we’re hoping to travel outside the EU this year and I need my Permesso to get back in.

I did a little research online about renewing my Permesso. It seems that many rules changed in 2016 and I wasn’t sure what the consequences would be for me. I even read blogs about those with work or just the funds to stay in Italy and it seemed that it would be more difficult with more paper and that didn’t ease my mind one bit. Which only freaked me out more. I was practically hyperventilating for days thinking about how to get the paperwork needed to get my new Permesso. I can’t even remember what prompted me to take out my Permesso and really read it but when I did I was both astonished and embarrassed.

Good Lord. For five years I’ve worried on and off about the prospect of renewing my Permesso. Sweated over the myriad ways I might find all the right pieces of paper that said all the right things so I could get the magical stamp of approval from Italy. Had myself convinced that at any moment Italy might decide it didn’t want me anymore and I’d be summarily escorted to the border, kissed on both cheeks and sent into a land more foreign to me than Italy to try and find shelter. Like France or Switzerland. Possibly Austria. Or Croatia, where I could drown my sorrows in slivovitz. I mean I really really worried about this.

All this time I thought I had this temporary permission to stay, something that I had to prove over and over again, always with the possibility that I’d say the exact wrong thing or present the wrong piece of paper to an Italian official having a bad day and the above scenario would unfold before I had time to pack.

The truth is I have a Carta di Soggiorno, which is a whole different animal from the Permesso. How is it different? Well, the Permesso, as I’ve said, has to be renewed and reviewed on a frequent basis and is always vulnerable to refusal. A Carta di Soggiorno has no expiration date. But every five years, whether to keep track of foreigners or to ensure a healthy income from fees, I have to update my photo. How did I miss this subtle yet important difference? Well, when I finally got my paperwork at the Questura five years ago I was so stunned and thrilled and afraid of losing it or something equally disastrous that I ran home with it, read it through once (thereby discovering I could pack it in mothballs for five years) and tucked it into a plastic sheet protector which I filed away in the place I put everything I don’t want to lose. I never thought to sit down and actually read it, even when my Italian reached a point where I might actually comprehend some of what it said. But when I was reading all the horror stories of others trying to renew their Permesso, I decided to read it again. Right at the top, in giant how-the-hell-did-I-miss-that letters it clearly reads Carta di Soggiorno. Five years of anticipatory stress for nothing. Argh.

Oh, I still have to fill out the stressfully worded paperwork and pay those fees at the Poste Italiane to a postal worker who really doesn’t want to answer any questions about why the fees are suddenly twice as much as I thought they should be. I’ll still stress about whether or not they’ll actually renew what is essentially permission to stay permanently without the need for review because I’ll still have to visit the Questura where uncertainty and hopelessness have permeated the walls. No one leaves happy, even when they get exactly what they came for.

I did get the first part done: paperwork filled out, the correct Marco di Bollo (tax stamp) affixed in the correct place, and the short but sweet conversation with the postal worker who shoved my paperwork back at me and said if I had questions get them answered by someone else to which I thought “Oh hell no” and paid the damn fees. She then handed me my appointment slip for the Questura.

Now I did all this quite early, I thought. We aren’t traveling until August and my picture on the paperwork with no expiration date is good till the end of May. Imagine our surprise (you didn’t think I went through this alone, did you? Of course, I brought Leif along) when we realized my appointment is for August, more than week after we fly out of Italy. Apparently the timeline has changed in the last five years. Instead of a couple of months lead time we should have planned on six months lead time. The only good news is that I can reenter Europe with my receipt and if past experience is any indicator my paperwork won’t be ready on time. In fact, it might not be ready when I come back six weeks later. Then again, because the universe loves to play with me, this time everything will work perfectly and my paperwork will be ready and waiting for me at 9:29am on 7 August. I just hope it'll still be there when I do finally get back into Italy.