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Italian Red Tape

Italian Red Tape: More Paperwork

I enter a room packed full of exhausted foreigners and no one

to talk to unless you hold a precious number in hand. I realized then

that the permesso di soggiorno was not going to happen today. I left

the Questura and the Cabinieri guy was there with a creepy grin while

his comrades behind held the same smirks. He then asked me where in

the United States I was from and I said “San Francisco”. Him speaking

through a glass wall and microphone said something I didn’t quite understand

but assumed he said “I hear San Francisco is beautiful” and I replied

Yes I miss it very much” which brought a roar of laughter from him

and his cronies. Then he said, “maybe you didn’t understand me. I asked

is San Francisco a city of the gays”

Then recalling the stupidity of

Cops all the world round said “Yes pretty much there are a lot of Gays

there.” His response was a pounding of his chest in ape like manner

stating “I will never go there then you wont find me there”. Well you

strong big boy I think San Francisco won’t miss your ignorant ape manner

at all. So anyway that was the first trip to the Questura. The second

trip to The Questura was yesterday. The first was last Monday. This

time I convince my husband to come because of the sleazy Cabinieri.

We get to the Questura at 7 am the line is already 70 to 100 people


I wait a half hour in the cold, watching Moroccans, Ukrainians, Senagalese and other weary looking immigrants arrive in droves. I realize

how easy I have it compared to these individuals. They are probably

living in small rooms working really hard cleaning houses, doing dishes

and selling cheap gadgets to passing traffic. I am living in the lap

of luxury compared to these individuals. I began to feel really guilty

for all the complaining I have been doing about bureaucracy and lack

of American conveniences. Finally the line begins to move at 7:30 and

I get my number, 73 and two forms to fill out. Whew.

So the place doesn’t open up until 8:30. My husband and I go get a coffee

and a hot croissant filled with apricot jam called brioche marmalatta.

I am quite addicted to those things now. Any time I am stressed out

or feeling low (which is often these days) I think of my brioche marmalatta.

An hour passes and we return to the Questura. The number is at 51 and

I think “wow it’s moving fast my number is almost up”. I check all my

documents making sure the t’s are crossed and I’s are dotted. I am darn

ready. What happens is someone’s number comes up and they race through

the maze of people to the front before the number has been cancelled


I stand stuffed against people in front deciphering which bureaucrat

is going to be the nicest and most competent in processing the paper

work. The number comes and I am exhilarated to get the friendly looking

women with a warm smile. I run up front smiling with excitement but… “what is this there is some one with the same number how could it

be”. The woman gently shows me that there is a D in front of my number

and the numbers are still on C. The numbers displayed of course don’t

have a letter in front of it but below on a small plastic card connected

to a rubber band hangs a sorry looking C with other cards with letters

on it. Ah of course I knew it was to fast and easy. Okay fine. I

will just wait until D73, only 100 numbers from now.

My husband and I decide to go into the center of Perugia and look around.

He is hesitant, concerned that my number could come up but I assure

him that we have at least a half hour if not more. We walk about town

look at stores but with an uneasy feeling that I could lose my number

after waking up so early and spending so much time already waiting.

We rush back to find that the number is only on D30. We go back to the

car and hang out a bit. Then I rush back to find only D40. At this point

I might as well wait. Time crawls. The spunky looking kids that people

had dragged with them to the Questura have spent their energy and now

are flopped in corners or lean against the wall with tired pouty faces.

The loud roar of people talking has died and one can only hear the murmurs

of poorly spoken Italian being uttered to the bureaucrats up front.

The bureaucrats who wore fresh faces and worked with almost a manic

energy are now leaning heavily on their desks with sour looks and deep

sighs having little to no patience to deal with us lost foreigners.

I regret not getting to the Questura earlier because I realize now that

the later your number is the less likely the bureaucrat is willing to

bend a few rules or work a bit harder for you to get your much needed

documents. As I am day dreaming with acute attention to only the numbers

changing, a young Asian girl comes into the room looks at her number

and then at the number displayed and frowns. I watch her passively.

She then passes me and asks to see my number D73 she then shows me her

number D53 and asks if we could change numbers. I ask why (greedily

thinking about getting this done earlier). She says she has been waiting

for her mother to come back but her mother still hasn’t arrived and

she would feel safer if she had a later number.

The current number being

seen is D49. I marvel briefly that it could be trick but then think

“nah”. It looks just like all the other numbers they wouldn’t think

it was false. So I agreed, grinning ear-to-ear thinking how fortunate

that she picked me to change an earlier number with. The only person

that I believe was aware of the number switch was an old yellow haired

man with milky blue eyes standing behind me. I give him a sly smile

thinking he is somewhat jealous that it was me the young Asian girl

picked to switch with. He stares back with an emotionless face. I wonder

if he even noticed the switch. Probably but is just focused on his number

like I was before. So my new number D53 is close and coming.

I squeeze to the front watching the interactions between the immigrants

and bureaucrats. Anger and annoyance flashes in the bureaucrat’s eyes.

I know they must be getting hungry and beyond exhaustion. It is 11:45

at this point and they probably haven’t had much time for a coffee break.

The immigrants struggle with the language trying to get there points

across repeating the same questions in hopes of fully understanding

how and when there documents will be ready. Their faces are full of

confusion and desperation trying to understand. They know, as we all

know, their time at the window is all they get to comprehend the process

of getting the much needed papers. One poor sole, a man in his late

30’s looking of Latino descent or maybe Arab goes to each window saying

his number was called but he didn’t hear it. Each bureaucrat tells him

the same thing, “I am sorry but it was called a long time ago you will

have to come another day.”

He finally picks the window of a stern looking

male who lost his patience a long time ago and has been yelling at almost

every customer between sighs of irritation. The poor man then begins

to beg to be seen and refuses to leave the window. The male bureaucrat

begins to yell at him to go away get lost and threatens to take him

out of the building himself. I then realize there is no bouncer in this

place and the amount of squaveling I have seen today I wonder why not?

What happen to the big strong “not going to SF because it has gays”

cabinieri gone. I actually feel sorry for the man who had his number

called and didn’t notice. He just stands there with sad hope in his


I also realize there is nothing I can do to help this man and

I am not going to jeopardize my chance to get my much needed papers,

that’s for gosh darn sure. The guy finally leaves quietly when another

man next to me says something in I guess the desperate man’s language.

Then as that man leaves my number is finally called D53 “all right!”.

A lovely looking bureaucrat fresh from a coffee break and wearing a

wide smile takes my number. At last I can do my documents.

I am almost out of here, but the man who was next to me comes to the

same window strongly stating “…But I have the same number”. There was

no buts about it he too had D53. I then realize the darn trick I fell

for with the sweet looking Asian girl. I still put up a fight and fake

confusion. The bureaucrats tell us both to wait there. Then they ask

whom we got our numbers from and I say the woman who gave me my original

number that morning and so does my opponent. The woman comes out and

says she remembers seeing me but not my opponent. Then I recognize that

I am creating a discriminatory situation in which the blond blue eyed

will always win while the dark haired, dark eyed and dark skinned will

never win even if they are in the right.

I then ask “please can’t you

see us both no one came for D54 can’t you put one of us in that place”.

They say, “Absolutely not, it is impossible to have two of the same

numbers. Some one is a fraud and they know who they are so we won’t

see either of you until one person leaves.” as they evilly look at my

opponent. The man next to me insists that he was here all morning and

it is the only day off he could take to get the much needed papers.

Guilt pounds in my heart and I am too embarrassed to tell them what

really occurred especially since I have been faking it until this point.

I also feel the blue milky eyes of the yellow haired man who witnessed

the number switch burning at the back of my neck.

I imagine that he is watching to see if I do the right thing. Voices

are raising and the situation has now become a spectacle. I give up

and say to the man ” Look you work and I do not have a job yet so I

can come back, go ahead.” He thanks me with a strange look of accusation

that I am the fraud and I walk away sheepishly but not before I get

an emotionless stare from the man with the yellow hair. I wonder what

he is thinking whether I am a complete idiot or a swindled innocent.

I am wondering myself which one I am. Probably both. Now I have to tell

my husband what happened which is even more shameful. He believes I

am an idiot but also feels really sorry for me. I will return to the

Questura again soon. Maybe I might spend the night there so I get an

early number.

Unfortunately I will be going by myself at this point. I will

bring a good book and avoid any number switching.

By Ginger Stash

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