People sometimes wonder why it takes so long to do anything here in Italy.
Luckily (?), I have an example so recent, it's from today.
I had to go to the questura, or police station, today to file a denuncia. I'd lost my copy of my permesso di soggiorno (and no, I don't need to be reminded how stupid that was), and had to fill out a form declaring it had been lost. In lots of countries, that would be a relatively quick procedure.
Not in Italy.
(Scroll right to the bottom if, unlike me, you haven't already wasted lots of minutes today and don't want to waste any by reading a blog post about wasting minutes. That's where you'll find the simple numbers involved in What It Takes To Get Something Done In Italy).
First, there was the issue of where the questura even was. On the official website for the polizia di stato (a branch of the police which is, of course, different from the polizia municipale, guardia finanzia, carabinieri, or a host of other uniformed gun-toting men and a handful of women who make Italy sometimes look like a nation perpetually under fire), there is a list of locations. I picked the one nearest me, on Via Cavour.
On my way, I made two stops. This might sound boring...but it's really quite telling. My first stop was at the little photography shop near me where I meant to get passport photos taken for a new I.D. That's pretty much the only thing it does, and it's always empty, so I figured it would be a quick errand. Not quite. "La macchina è rota," the man told me as soon as I entered. "Mi dispiace." He was sorry, but the machine to take and print photographs was broken.
Unperturbed, since it was a beautiful crisp fall day and the sun was shining and oh, well, this was Italy, I continued to my second stop. This was at an internet point so I could print off a document from my email, sign it, re-scan it, and then email it. Last time I'd been to the internet point, though, the internet hadn't been working. (Yes, really). So I steeled myself for Strike Two. Here, though, I had luck: The internet still wasn't working at any of the computers, except for that of the owner's, so as long as I didn't mind the grimy, stuck keys and incredible slowness of his personal computer, we could still get the job done. Hooray!
(Question here: If you owned a shop that solely existed to take and print photos, or a shop that existed solely to provide internet, wouldn't you, I don't know, try to make sure that the photo-taking and internet-providing mechanisms were up to par? Then again, it's hardly the owners' fault. We are, after all, in Italy.)
Problem one: Nothing remotely near the location on Google maps looked like the photo I'd seen (at left, the photo, courtesy of Google maps... although I don't know if "courtesy" is the right word). No problem, I thought, pulling out my phone. I'd come prepared. I dialed the number for the station listed on the website. And got the operator. "This number does not exist," I was told in Italian.
Luckily, I saw a sign for the carabinieri. After some pacing back and forth trying to figure out where, exactly, the sign was pointing to (there wasn't an arrow), I found it around the corner. Went in. Asked the officer about a nearby questura. He looked at me like I had three heads. "On Via Cavour?" he asked me in Italian. "No, no, never. You need to go here." He told me about another one, on Via Nazionale. Armed with my new goal, I set off.
Twenty minutes and one on-the-run porchetta sandwich later, I was at the new station. It had the flags. It said "Questura." Everything about it looked right. Except....
When I asked the man at the counter about filing a denuncia, he smiled and shook his head. "Oggi c'è una manifestazione," he said. There's a strike today, so that particular office, in this particular building, is closed. But -- yay for Italian-style strikes! -- the same type of office, that does the same thing, but in a different building, that does the same thing as this building, is open until 7pm. I'd have to go there. Where was it? Back near Santa Maria Maggiore. You know, about a 10-minute walk from where I'd been at the carabinieri.
Here's the good news: By the time I got there, that questura was both open and seemingly functioning, at least by the looks of the six people wearily waiting in line in front of me. The officer told me to take a seat while he brought me the form to fill out. It just had to be photocopied, he said. "Due minuti." Two minutes. I sat. I waited. Two minutes went by. Then ten.
Forty-five minutes later, he returned with the paper. Nobody else in front of me in line had moved. Scribbling down the details of my own idiocy took about thirty seconds. Then I waited. And waited some more. Another forty-five minutes after that, I was called into the office. With a quick look at my passport, the second officer signed both documents, handed them back to me, and bid me good day.
By the time I left the questura, the sky had turned gray with the almost-twilight of a late November afternoon. But I had my paper.
And the funny thing was, it didn't really bother me. Because, sadly enough, I'd planned for this to take the entire afternoon.
Total time spent on getting to the point where I could get the denuncia: 2.5 hours (searching for open, functioning questura + waiting for form + waiting for meeting)
Total time spent filling out, discussing, and actually getting denuncia: 3 minutes.
How strongly the powers-that-be tell you that getting such a denuncia filled out is integral to your legality, life and well-being in Italy: On a scale of 1 to 10, a 9.
How useful this form will probably actually prove to be to me: 98.5% chance of not-at-all.
And that, my friends, is the eternal calculus of Italy.