Italian Bureaucracy is So Bad It’s Comical

3 Aug

This should be the title of an off-Broadway play.

Here’s the thing, people. Today I write you this tidbit not to complain and bitch. No, no. Perish the thought. Complaining and bitching about Italian bureaucracy is strictly for amateurs. I’m over that. No, folks, I consider myself a seasoned pro by now, so I have better things to do with my time than tell you about long lines and unfriendly clerks at the post office, and mail that never or almost never arrives. (Besides, I’ve done that many times before.)

Today I just want to have a few “ha-has” about how silly this whole thing is. I was tempted to say “how silly this whole tarantella is.” The tarantella is a folk dance from southern Italy, and Italians say that as a colloquialism to refer to the elaborate song and dance you have to do to get stuff done.

So here’s the deal. I have cell phone and Internet service in a bundle from Wind/Infostrada. When I signed up I gave them a credit card to charge each billing cycle. This month the card didn’t go through. So I call to ask why, and get a card ready to give to the person on the phone so I can get the bill paid.

You know, you figure if you’re dealing with a private and not public office, a modicum of efficiency might be had.

Well. You figure wrong, my friends.

Besides the fact that the lady was sooo annoyed because I couldn’t understand her that well so I had to keep asking her to repeat herself (at one point I heard her audibly make one of those big, put-out sighs, and I go “Listen! I’m not trying to make your job difficult. But clearly I’m American and therefore Italian is not my native language. So, you know, help me out here. I just need you to spell it, ok?”), it’s just not that easy to pay your bill.

Annoyed lady: “Well, signora, now that your card has been rejected once, we can’t accept credit card payments anymore.”


Me: “Um, ok. So how am I supposed to pay?”

Her: “Bollettino postale.”

Cue death music.

The bollettino postale (oh God, here I go, amateur hour) is the dreaded “pay the bill at the post office.” Jesus. And believe me, he’d be the only one who could help me do that in a reasonable amount of time without hassle.

Me: “But I didn’t get a bollettino on my bill. So how do I go about paying it?” (Usually the bollettino is a slip of paper you tear off your bill and take to the post office to pay with.)

Her: “Get a blank one at the post office. Fill it out with this information…” And she proceeds to rattle off indecipherable numbers and street names and I’m thinking, are you kidding me? Not to mention the fact that they don’t leave these forms out for the public, so you have to ask for them. One time I asked why they don’t leave forms out for the public. The clerk told me “Because people steal them.” I go, “Why on God’s green Earth would people STEAL postal forms?” Then it occurred to me. They “steal” them because they hoard them so they don’t have to ask for them because the postal people never leave them out for the public because they steal them. Catch, meet 22.

Droning on: “Then after you pay it, you need to fax the proof of payment to this number…one-five-wearethemostinefficientserviceintheworld-four-ten.”

Me: “Wait. What if I just want to put a new card on file? Couldn’t I just do that now with you, over the phone?”

Her: (sinister laughing) “No, for that you’d have to go to the Wind store in person.”

Me: “Whaaa?”

Her: “You have to go in person, and ask the clerk for the form. Then you fill it out, and fax it to this other number.”

Now I swear, at this point, I started laughing for reals. Which, of course, only served to piss her off further. Me: “Wait. You mean to tell me that not only do I have to go IN PERSON to a shop, but then I can’t even give the completed form BACK to the guy who gives it to me?”

Her: (completely offended) “Of COURSE not! That’s private information, signora!!”

Oh, right. Now I’M the asshole. No, seriously, people. THE MIND BOGGLES.

So obviously, after a week, I’ve gotten absolutely no where paying my bill because I avoid going to the post office like the plague. My only consolation is that it’s August, so probably no one will be at the post office except me and maybe some other poor schmuck whose card didn’t go through at Wind.

Pssst! Come in real close. I want to ask you something.

How much do you want to bet that if I call back and get a different operator, I might be able to pay over the phone with a credit card?

Lesson #1 in Italian bureaucracy, public or private: Never give up with the first employee. They all make up their own rules based on their own needs. Try a few until you are absolutely sure this is actually policy.

People, I need to hold a masterclass, I swear. I should give flipping GUIDED TOURS to new arrivals about how to navigate this stuff. So, if you were wondering about the screen shot from the arcade version of Double Dragon, here it is: I continue to contend that Italian bureaucracy is akin to a 1980s-era Nintendo video game, where you need to complete all the levels to then get to the “big boss” and if you kill him with fire power and have extra lives, you win. A.k.a. you get to pay your bill.

Game over!

44 Responses to “Italian Bureaucracy is So Bad It’s Comical”

  1. Marc August 3, 2013 at 8:02 am #

    Welcome to italy

  2. Marc August 3, 2013 at 8:05 am #

    Did you know that in italy there is certificate called “proof that you are alive” you use that to show to a goverment office that you are alive and not dead!!
    In italian it’s called “certificato di esistenza in vita”

  3. AZinItaly August 3, 2013 at 8:16 am #

    Mama Mia girlfriend! Yes, the art is amazing and the countryside lovely. The wine is good, pasta and pizza too; but the levels of inefficiency and bullshit in Italia will wear you down faster than the wine can hold you up!

  4. AZinItaly August 3, 2013 at 8:17 am #

    Reblogged this on AZinItaly and commented:
    I couldn’t have said it better! Thanks, once again, Un’americana a Roma.

  5. Catherine August 3, 2013 at 8:22 am #

    I’m not laughing but crying here. But you are right, the only way to beat these jerks is to cue another operator – then the whole story can change. Have you ever tried the dumb blonde trick? That also helps. Ahh the ****ing boxes! One of the priceless things about living in the country is that you can ‘befriend’ the lady in the post office, who lets you in just before they close, and fills in the form while you chat to her about the George Clooney calendar she treasures on the wall.. Xcat

  6. Marc August 3, 2013 at 8:28 am #

    I remember when i ordered thru ordinary mail my social security number:

    Envelope and inside my certificate of Birth and 10 bucks

    after 10 days an envelope with my SSN and 85 cents inside 🙂

  7. Marc August 3, 2013 at 8:33 am #

    Now you know why Italy is dying

    Go back to USA dear, you are still in time!

    Italy sucks your brain and when you realize it it is too late!

    Like a book of Steven King!

  8. Andrea Troiani August 3, 2013 at 9:10 am #

    Ah ah ah ah°…. ah….. ah.
    In what kind of s*it nation we live…
    (° this is for the “comical” part)

  9. Un'americana a Roma August 3, 2013 at 9:41 am #

    Holy crap! NO WAY! This is a first for me, and I’ve been here 12 years. That is awesome.

  10. Un'americana a Roma August 3, 2013 at 9:41 am #

    Yep, best bet is to try to avoid offices at all costs, if possible. I am amazed that my post office is open today (Saturday) until noon, so I’m going. Everyone but me and the postal clerks will be at the beach, so *fingers crossed* it should be rather painless.

  11. Un'americana a Roma August 3, 2013 at 9:43 am #

    HAHAHAHA Cat I love you, you know I do. I never have talked about how the PT has become a freaking bazaar hawking everything from cookbooks to piggy banks, besides being a banking center and not a post office. One time, (confession), I had to wait like an hour, so I pulled a book off the shelf (Saviano’s Zero Zero Zero) and started to read it like it was my own. Just put it back when I left. Ha!

  12. Un'americana a Roma August 3, 2013 at 9:44 am #

    WHAT? You’re killing me here, Marc. (oops better get that certificato di esistenza in vita, subito!) no, seriously. 85 cents? WTF? Where did the other 15 go? Why not at least a full euro? Just enough to buy you an espresso.

  13. Un'americana a Roma August 3, 2013 at 9:44 am #

    Oh Marc, silly you, is this the first time you’ve been on my blog? I’ve been here 12 years and I’m raising preschoolers, and, silly me, I love it here. LOVE IT. Not going ANYWHERE. Rome needs more cheerleaders.

  14. Un'americana a Roma August 3, 2013 at 9:45 am #

    Hey Andy if you want to laugh in English just type HA HA HA… 😉 Fun, right?

  15. Andrea Troiani August 3, 2013 at 10:58 am #

    Well, no, when I laugh (how much I try differently) I do it in Italian… 😀

  16. Andrea Troiani August 3, 2013 at 11:02 am #

    thank God (and Rome) for this! 🙂

  17. Marc August 3, 2013 at 11:04 am #

    hey i was talking about my SSN in USA in 1980, i asked for it and the office gave me back the rest.
    In Italy that’s is SCI-FI!

  18. Marc August 3, 2013 at 11:08 am #

    I did my military service in Rome and i had also a girlfriend in Rome that was about 30 yrs ago

    Rome is a damned city, beautiful town, but forget about the romans!!

    I have a lot of friends still in Rome, but they are weird ppl.

    Anyway after 50 yrs lived in this crazy country, i ‘ll move back to USA, this country has gone forever!

    It was really nice to live in Italy 30-40 yrs ago.

    Now is just a mess!

  19. Beth August 3, 2013 at 12:45 pm #

    The one bill one can’t pay on-line is the internet….and don’t be surprised if you post office is closed on Sat. in August for ‘technical reasons’…it has happened to me more than once, including the one at San Silvestro, although once my postino amico scurried under the grate to retrieve mail for me.
    I also learned the a wonderful anti-bureaucratic technique from my husband’s secretary…appropriately name ‘beautiful eyes’ : just stand there until you get what you need.

  20. triciatierney August 3, 2013 at 12:51 pm #

    I’ve lived other places in the world and now am pretty entrenched in my corner in Connecticut – but if you said I could go live anywhere I want – Italy pops up at the top of the list. But this stuff — I remember this stuff – and especially as I get older and crankier, is a reminder that I might not be up to the task.
    Thanks for that. (but oh, if I could!)

  21. Nora August 3, 2013 at 1:33 pm #

    A woman from a loan company once told me to pay with a VAGLIA postale.
    I said: Can I pay with a bank transfer, right now from my own computer here at home?
    No. You have to go to the post office and make a VAGLIA.
    Me: Are you kidding? I didn’t even know “vaglia” still existed! We are in 2012, for God’s sake!
    The lady got really angry at me. I didn’t pay.
    Next time she called, Alessandro asked her if we could maybe send a pigeon with money attached on his leg.
    You can imagine, we never paid that bill. But at least we had fun!

    And Dutch people insist THEIR bureocracy is mad! Amateurs.

  22. Nora August 3, 2013 at 1:35 pm #

    I agree with Marc. Italy is dying and it literally sucks your brain and all your energies. This is why we left. Too late maybe…

  23. Nora August 3, 2013 at 1:38 pm #

    Shelley, are you telling me you don’t have one?! How can I be sure you are really alive when you write me?! Please FAX me a copy as soon as possible so that I can be sure my friend is not a zombie.

  24. Julie Richey August 3, 2013 at 3:31 pm #

    I hear you, sister. I’ve navigated the Italian university system, post office, bank system. By far the worst witches I’ve ever encountered were at the Ravenna post office. Even the locals were appalled at how mean and uncooperative they were to tourists trying to mail packages. I actually heard a Ravenna resident shout at the postal worker, “Come on! These people are foreigners, they don’t know how this system works! You have to cut them a break and give them a hand! You can’t treat people like this!” Amazing.

  25. Gil August 4, 2013 at 12:21 am #

    You must live in Western Connecticut, because Eastern Connecticut isn’t much better than Italy. You can’t even buy decent Italian: cheeses, cold cuts, sausages, etc here these days.

  26. Un'americana a Roma August 4, 2013 at 7:06 am #

    Wow Julie, that frankly shocks me, as I thought that in the small towns the system worked better. Goes to show, you can’t generalize. PT is pretty bad though, generally speaking. Certain online retailers won’t even send to Italy because they’ve had too many problems with packages going missing.

  27. triciatierney August 4, 2013 at 1:46 pm #

    Neither – South Eastern – commuting distance from NYC where there are plenty of Italians and and every other nationality and great foods from around the globe. No complaints. (except about the damn woodchuck)

  28. Gil August 5, 2013 at 4:01 am #

    Western CT is close to NY. Eastern CT is close to RI and there are Italian stores in Westerly and Providence. We usually go to Angelo’s Market in New Britain or D & D Market in Hartford if we want the REAL stuff.

  29. Alice Teh August 13, 2013 at 9:55 am #

    And to think that I have this grand plan to relocate to Italy. You ARE scaring me! I read every single funny comments here and girl, you gave me the courage to go ahead and conquer Italia! You said 12 years and loving it – I AM DETERMINED. Nothing is going to stop me unless I’m dead, but I’d be sure to have il certificato di esistenza in vita handy…

  30. Andy Troiani August 13, 2013 at 9:59 am #

    Please, come here and conquer (really) this country with your American and Anglosaxon way to view and do the things!
    Our way is too much complicated (and useless).

  31. Un'americana a Roma August 15, 2013 at 8:19 am #

    This comment Nora, my dear, it’s fantastic. Also because, and I kind of hesitate to do this in such a public forum, but I heard it’s sort of trendy now. Here’s the thing. I AM A ZOMBIE. Is this going to change our friendship?

  32. Un'americana a Roma August 15, 2013 at 8:21 am #

    Awww! That’s so sweet. Thank you! It takes many years of hard training in the field to acquire this level of knowledge, so hey, I’m just doing this as a sort of public service. Many tears were sacrificed in the testing of these theories, trust.

  33. Un'americana a Roma August 15, 2013 at 8:23 am #

    Sorry I didn’t get that … yes, it’s quite amazing the efficiency of the US system. There are pros and cons, like everywhere. I’ll be honest with you. I can hack the inefficiency because I benefit from the leniency. Does that make any sense? What I mean by that is, Italian life is more flexible (IMHO) that US life. It’s a sort of paradox.

  34. Un'americana a Roma August 15, 2013 at 8:27 am #

    Yes, Beth. Awesome. Here you have highlighted two very important concepts. 1) Italy is still about community and who you know, and people help each other out. 2) Life in Italy teaches one how to be assertive. This has been a good skill for me to learn, as coming from the States I was accustomed to the “let me speak to your manager” style of fixing my problems. The “difficulties” in Rome have pulled out some very valuable resources inside that I didn’t know I possessed. I pulled the “not leaving til you do it” act last summer with a super A-hole doctor who refused to write me a prescription I needed refilled, telling me I needed to wait one day and come back, because “that’s the rule.” When I said I wouldn’t move til he did it (only 3 other old people in the doc office and he was pulling the same S)% on them!) he said he’d call the cops on me for blocking a public service. I asked him for his name and he refused. I told him “Call the cops. I’m sure they’ll be happy to give me your name.” I could go on. It was EPIC and I had to start raving and screaming like a real lunatic. I do not like having to do this. But it’s rare. Luckily.

  35. Un'americana a Roma August 15, 2013 at 8:31 am #

    Italy, or rather, I should say Rome as that’s the only reality I have experience living with, is not for the faint-hearted. You really have to have an appreciation for the surreal and the absurd, otherwise it will just piss you off and make you bitter and cranky. All joking aside, this city is in dire straits on an emotional level, esp. with the financial problems, the famous “crisi” that everyone always talks about. So the energy around here is massively heavy and aggressive. That’s why you have to look for the fun and the good. I enjoy doing that, it’s like a sport for me, and that’s why I write my blog, to show the city through my eyes.

  36. Un'americana a Roma August 15, 2013 at 8:33 am #

    YES!!! That’s the spirit, girl! Wishing you all the luck in the world. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

    When I was planning my big move, I had this quote taped on my bathroom mirror so I saw it all the time:

    “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.” -Goethe

  37. Linda Martinez August 15, 2013 at 9:24 am #

    Yup, Steve’s got one. Sometime ask him about his process of getting that piece of worthless documentation.

  38. dianabaur August 15, 2013 at 9:31 am #

    When I was renewing my PdS four years ago (after having had one for five years that they gave me because I showed them that I had a credit card to support myself with – no shit – because they said being married to a European wouldn’t cut it – which, legally it does but the dude didn’t believe it so he photocopied the credit card instead), I went to the office in Alexandria with my 5 year PdS, my at-that-time Stato di Famiglia and Acqui certificate of residency, and just in case my marriage certificate, my husband’s passport, my passport and the rest of my binder called “Very Important Papers”.

    Dude says, you have to go back to the consulate in New York City and reapply.

    After being here five years with a permesso. And still being married to same European. Who had already gotten permanent residency.

    Good I took the Xanax before going.

    After I finished break dancing in the office in front of, I don’t know, 342 Moroccans and Albanians, I asked how that could be since I had been living here already, legally, with all these official papers for Five Fucking Years.

    He says, in broken English, “How I know you don’t get divorce in the five years?”

    I drove home crying, because I had just returned from the States, and could not believe this could be happening to me, because there were construction guys and cost overruns at my house that I couldn’t fathom. I didn’t want to go back there, to my house, because there was no safe harbor and I was going to become a clandestina in the next two months anyway so why bother with any of it, any of it at all?

    Micha went back with me the following whatever day you’re supposed to go. I had upped the Xanax to

    not to give a shit about my permesso, the muratori, the cost overruns, or the fact that we’d never get the construction done in time for the guests who promised they didn’t mind construction but probably would


    On that day, with Micha, we got to the front door, pushing by what was now 867 Morrocans and Albanians. There, at the door, was the bad Questura dude but NEXT TO HIM was the dude who gave me my permesso in exchange for my credit card five years earlier. I cried in joy, if that’s possible on 2mg of Xanax.

    Good Questura Dude recognized us!

    Come stai il B&B? he asked me! Bad Questura dude scowled.

    Why you here? asked good Questura dude.

    Because HE wouldn’t let me renew my permesso last time! The Xanax spoke through me while I pointed at bad Questura dude.

    At this point, it became evident to me, the Xanax, and Micha that good Questura dude was bad Questura dude’s BOSS. Lucky me. Lucky us.

    GQD parted the Red Sea of waiting immigrants, dragging us along with BQD into his office.

    “Get her her permesso. It’s a fucking renewal.” GQD said to BQD after hearing my story, complete with big Xanax tears.

    There was some kind of exchange between the two of them and then GQD took Micha and I out for a coffee and we talked about how pretty the wine hills are outside of Acqui Terme.

    I am sorry. I didn’t mean to go on, but this is what came out this morning after reading your post. I had really buried this. I’m going back to cleaning now.

    I love you.

  39. dianabaur August 15, 2013 at 9:32 am #

    did I write Alexandria? No this was not in Egypt. I meant Alessandria.

  40. triciatierney August 15, 2013 at 11:45 am #

    Keep those posts coming — always delightful insightful and often, guffaw-inducing.

  41. Nora August 16, 2013 at 10:26 am #

    Honey, I know you love to be trendy, and, no, being a zombie is not going to change our friendship. Please fax me a copy of your zombie certificate please.

  42. Pecora Nera August 23, 2013 at 1:58 pm #

    I asked Mrs Sensible, my Italian wife if this certificate exists, (sorry for being a doubting Tommaso) her reply “It, wouldn’t surprise me” So you can add 2 more Zombies to your list.

    P:S I really want one of these certificates, after I get through exchanging my driving licence for an Italian one, this will be my next big challenge.

  43. Pecora Nera August 23, 2013 at 2:01 pm #

    Italy is fab, but you need to make sure you bring your sense of humour. It is either cry or laugh at life here

  44. Dave May 8, 2015 at 6:19 am #

    jeez . . . I have been at trying to get my italian nationality for the past 6 years and I met the same idiocy at the consulate in philadelphia . . Im as close as ever but now have to deal with stupid minutae ! Hope I can have patience for idiots and chaos . . . planning to move to Italy and teach as I hold a Master degree in ESL and 22 experience . . .pray for me please !!!!!!!

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