Over the past few months I have been developing a theory about bureaucracy. In the UK, at least compared to other countries I've lived in, paperwork is kept to a minimum and is generally relatively easy to complete. As a result, people who administer it are generally pleasant and efficient, but rarely anything more than that. In Italy, on the other hand, bureaucracy is a crazy, incomprehensible mess that can only be confronted three days a week between the hours of 10.30 and 11.15 in an office on the other side of town from where you thought you had to be. As a result, the people who administer it feel the need, every so often, to be incredibly helpful, just to remind themselves that they are still human beings and that all this paper has nothing to do with the real world.
Because I work with children, I needed to get a certificate from the police before I left the country stating that I had no criminal record in Italy. The first part of this process is astonishingly simple. You fill out an online form and send it off, and a few days later you get an email telling you that you can collect the certificate, in my case from the Casellario Giudiziale di Milano.
This was where the fun started. At 11.30, after doing another little job in town, Mr A. and I set out to look for this building. Our search was somewhat hindered by the fact that my map of Milan, published by the ATM (which runs all the public transport) has an index that doesn't correspond to where the streets actually are on the map. As Mr A. kindly pointed out, if I had acquired a little less Italian inefficiency, or was less Scottish and less mean, I would have bought a new map by now, but seeing as I am clearly one or both of the above, we ended up wandering around for half an hour before sneaking a look at a street plan in the Mondadori bookshop. We found correct entrance to the Casellario Giudiziale, walked through the metal detector, surrendered our cameras to security and asked for directions for where to go.
And let me tell you, that place is massive. As well as what looked like court rooms and hundreds of offices, it also had its own bank and post office. The man who gave us the directions waved vaguely to the right, muttered something about “on the left” and sent us off on our way. It took us a good ten minutes to find the office number 500, which was not particularly near 500 bis, or where it appeared to be on the maps of the building. By this time, it was about 12.40 and the office workers were getting hungry and disinclined to work. I handed my piece of paper to the man behind the desk, along with my passport, and hoped for the best.
Only one problem. I needed a “bollo”. After ten months in Italy, I still don't really know what a “bollo” is for, but it's a little sticker that you can buy that appears on most official paperwork. I knew that I would need one before I went, but I didn't know where to buy it. I asked the man behind the desk and he gave me some more unclear directions. I asked him to clarify. If it was far away or there was a queue, I would never make it back before the office closed at one and would have to come back the next day. The guy said something else, which I didn't understand. I was obviously still looking confused, and he obviously wanted his lunch, because he asked if I had the 3.52 euros and, when I said that I did, reached into his bag, pulled out a stamp, stuck it on the piece of paper and handed me the certificate.
Italian bureaucracy at its best!