by Melinda Gallo

Renewing our permessi di soggiorno

Waking up early to deal with Italian bureaucracy is not my idea of a good day. I called a taxi to take us to the Questura (police station) at 8:30AM. I thought of doing our habitual run to the bus stop, get on one bus to go to the Duomo and then get on another one to go to Piazza San Marco. But, in the morning hours the buses are packed and I'm too stressed about going to the Questura to want to add more stress to my morning.

We arrived a little before 9AM and I couldn't remember if the place closed at 9AM or 9:30AM. It's hard to remember every office's hours. The section of the Questura that we go to is open to the public only from 8AM to 9:30AM.

As we moved out of Sunnyvale in 2003, another family moved in down the street. The mother, Shruti, contacted me via email to ask about coming to Florence. They made it happen and arrived last Friday. We saw them face-to-face yesterday for the first time at their apartment in Piazza Pitti and we talked about going to the Questura together since we had to go as well.

They arrived right after us and took a number. We had to stand in line, which was about as straight as a circle. People were standing whichever which way and it wasn't clear who was behind whom. One guy cut in front of us and a large group of people (and I wasn't there, so I didn't say anything), but in the end, he didn't need to stand in the line at all. So, it all worked out in my mind. Two other guys behind me were mocking people in line and Dave and I think they were mocking me as well at one point, but I didn't care since they also stood in line for hours without having to.

When you get the receipt to come to pick up your permesso di soggiorno (permit to stay), you don't need to stand in line. That's the general rule. You go up to the front of the line, pushing past the nuns and other people, and hand the ticket to the officer behind the glass window. The last time I came I asked the question since I saw people do that and the officer told me that that's all you need to do.

I had gone to the Questura a week ago to make sure I had all my papers. This visit went smoother than I could have possibly imagined. I handed him my renewal form filled out, my photocopies, my ID photos, and my marca da bollo (stamp) and he handed me my receipt to come back in a month. I did the same for Dave and within a few minutes we were done.

Our friends were there for the first time and I told them to take photocopies of everything, even photocopies of photocopies. They just seem to want everything and anything you bring. I told her to also make sure she got 4 passport photos of each person in her family. When we got there, I told her that she'd need to get a marca da bollo as well, but I wasn't sure if she needed one for her or one for her and each person in her family. It turned out that she only needed one.

I didn't think about the assicurazione (health insurance), so I went to ask the man at the information desk, whose job I realized is to make sure you keep coming back for more torture. He told me to go to the desk when our number is called and they'll tell me how much it is. I told her that we'll just go to the Posta (post office) and pay for one for her (since she found out she only needed one marca da bollo.

Luckily, I had the receipt for my assicurazione from last year so when I asked the woman at the Posta how much it would be she just told me that it's probably the same as last year.

When it was Shruti's turn, about noon, I went up with her to help her get all the files in order. I didn't know they also had an English-speaking police officer who patrolled the area to help out when she could, but it's hard to hear them through the glass window. Although sometimes they speak into microphones that can be heard throughout the entire room, I was grateful that not everybody got to hear our business. At any rate, by the time it was Shruti's turn, there were only about 10 people left in the room. When we arrived we were well over 100!

The police officer was nice enough to sign off the children so that Shruti doesn't have to bring them again when she picks up her documents in a month. I told her to bring her kids to the Questura because you never know. You don't want to get there and then they say they were supposed to be there and won't even take your documents. Besides, I've been to the Questura many times and there are always children there, so I assumed it was necessary.

All in all, things went rather smoothly for us. Not so for a few of the other people who told us all their horror stories of how they've had to come back six times and never seem to have the correct documents. In one month, we should have our new permessi di soggiorno.

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