Someday in the future, we’ll look back on this and laaaaaaugh.
People tell me that Africa might a bit rough going for an Aussie that enjoys planning and itineraries and the like. I admit it, I was spoiled in Australia. We like to complain that the major phone company farms out their call centres to India or that the train system is a load of shite, but in reality it all works pretty well.
They tell me that the move to Africa is going to be some harsh reality. It’s a different world, they say.
Sometimes I think they’re right. Then again, I remember I’ve been an immigrant in Italy for four years, with yearly renewals of my stay permit. I’m an expert at waiting a bajillion hours for nothing and coming away with exactly that.
Yeah, Africa will be different. But man, I survived Italian bureaucracy.
So with a nod to immigrants worldwide, and the hilarious-in-retrospect conversations that we experience, I present to you some hard-earned life lessons from Italy:
- Skip those documents, they probably don’t matter anyway
Italian Office #1: (Yelling in Italian) Go to office #2 before doing this form!
Italian Office #2: (Yelling in Italian) Why are you here?! You need the form from Office #1 completed first!
Me: Um, this isn’t working well. Could you please call Office #1?
Italian Office #2: This is not our job, you need to organise yourself.
- Learn to count
Italy: You need a contract no less than 90 days to renew your permit.
Me: Great! My new contract will be 3 months, so it’s ok.
Italy: No, you need 4 months.
Me: My 3 month contract is 92 days, so it’s more than 90 and therefore ok, right?
Italy: (after a few days silence)… We count in multiples of 30, so actually more than 90 days means 120 days.
Me: *Eye twitching* But you said ‘no less than’…
- Choose bank locations wisely
Step 1: Open bank account a stone’s throw from the lab, because moving sucks and easy options are found by looking out of the office window. Step 2: Go to the branch of the exact same bank located closer to house.
Bank: Why are you here, this is not your bank!
Me: But… the name is the same, I opened an account at the one near the university.
Bank: Then your bank is near the university! (Muttering in Italian… “Stupid girl”).
Me: But… you’re the same bank, you have the same name. Shouldn’t you have my details in the system?
Bank: No. We can’t help you. Go to your bank.
- Rules are flexible
Italy (to me): You need an Italian Identity Card to sign an apartment lease.
Italy (to friend): You need to sign an apartment lease get an Identity Card.
- Type nothing but rainbows and skittles
Massive, highlighted, note to self: Don’t send emails containing any semblance of a vaguely offensive statement about a government office (I called them ‘stupid’ for having stupid office hours) to the hapless lab secretary. She will accidentally forward the email onto said government office.
Six months of passive aggressiveness, mysterious new forms and procedures, previously unheard-of rules that appear out of the ether at the last possible moment, and blatant refusal of the staff to do their actual jobs makes me suspect that Italy may not be governed by functioning adults.
- Always, always, cover your belongings!
Workmen: No, we won’t make too much dust while fixing the heating system. No need to cover or move your belongings.
Me (one day later): *Sobbing*
- Before going to language class, be sure to learn the language
Italian language teacher: (blabbers incoherently in Italian)
Me: Eh? Ciao. I just arrived here and would like to learn Italian.
Italian language teacher: Non parli Italiano?
Me: Eh? No.
Italian language teacher (after finding someone that speaks English): How do you work in Italy without knowing Italian? You need to learn Italian before coming to this class.
- Just take the damn number
Police: Your appointment time is 11.30am.
Me: (Arrives at 11.30am) I’m here for my appointment.
Police: Take a number.
Me: But… I have an appointment, and there are now a million people in line before me.
Police: Take a number.
- Buy a cute hat
Police: You can pick up your permit at 2pm*
*Translation – Your appointment is 2pm but if you arrive looking like a harried dork in dirty jeans and a heavy coat, you’ll wait 2 hours. If you arrive in a dress with a cute knit hat you’ll wait 2 minutes plus we’ll give you free candy.
- Try not to kill house intruders… the patriarchy is looking after you, silly girl
My house comes with an old fogey handyman. He has a key and has fixed things in my house and many others on my street for what I guess is like the last five hundred years. Tanned and lean, he’s got the strength of a much younger man, and I respect him for that.
But he also believes that a lease means nothing and adult women are unable to function on their own.
After four years dealing with him, this how I imagine his ‘to-do-just-for-shiggles’ list looks:
– Never call ahead, just ring bell at ungodly hours of the morning. Preferably on a saturday or while occupant is napping.
– When tired of ringing, enter house without asking permission.
– If occupant is not home, drink a bottle of wine and have a jolly good time, maybe fix the tap.
– Ideally, enter house without permission while occupant is in the shower.
(Side note… I’ve seriously had to consider my bathroom-weapon options for damp and naked combat with an unknown intruder. Verdict: curling iron to the eye, with swift application of nail scissors to the jugular. Didn’t actually test this, but it seems like a pretty solid plan).
– If caught entering house without permission, quickly dash away down the street, like a little child caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
– If something breaks, hide it or claim it was always like that.
– Steal, hide, or generally misplace large items (oh, my dear plastic terrace chair and Chinese lanterns, I hope you are well, wherever you are).
– When painting, be sure to coat nearby plants or personal items with a jazzy speckly pattern. What fun!
- Oy, again with the language
Italian (supposedly internationally-renowned) University: Welcome! Do this 495-page radiation safety course and test.
Me: Is there an English version? I don’t want to misunderstand something, or take three years to read the booklet.
University: Nope. Just keep trying ’till you get it right.
- Close your eyes and point
Italian Health Department: Choose a doctor from this list.
Me: But, these are just names. Do any speak English?
Italian Health Department: No idea.
Me: So… How do I choose?
Italian Health Department: Close your eyes and point.
- Slower = louder
Italian Doctor: (Saying something in rapid-fire Italian)
Me: I’m sorry, I’m still learning, can you please speak slower?
Italian Doctor: (Yells louder, and faster)
Me: No, slower please, not louder.
Italian Doctor: (Yells louder again)
Me: Hm. Okaaay, si si yes ok ciao….
- It’s allergies
Me: (After 2 months of the worst flu complications ever) Bacteria have been having a party in my lungs.
Italian Doctor #2: No, you have allergies.
Me: No, I have bacteria, and for 2 months. I’ve tried everything. Please inspect my lungs, I need drugs.
Italian Doctor (still on the other side of the table): No, allergies, I’m sure. You said before, you suffer cat allergies.
Me: Don’t have a cat. Don’t have allergies right now. Have bacteria.
Italian Doctor: You should inhale steam.
Me: And antibiotics?
Italian Doctor: Antibiotics are not necessary for allergies.
Ah, Italy. I love you, but I also kinda want to punch you. ❤
Note #1: My job didn’t require Italian proficiency… In fact my boss wanted a non-Italian speaker to push the other lab members to better their English! Science is a global profession and I’m extremely privileged to have been born into the language in which it functions.
Note #2: I’ve learnt Italian now. It makes being an immigrant only marginally easier.