Thursday, November 4, 2010
Here's one for the Rules and one more for the Roads
It’s time to bring up topics related to rules of the road, laws, and the Italian bureaucracy as witnessed by us here in Calabria. It’s pertinent because 1) we must, once again, apply for a permesso di soggiorno (permit to stay), and 2) I am getting ready to meet the challenge of seeking an Italian driver’s license.
The permesso story has been told and we are pretty well prepared to run the gauntlet again. At least the renewal permit is for two years. The longer we are here, the longer the permit is valid until, at the six year mark, it becomes permanent. Two documents we needed from the village took me 7 minutes to obtain, so things really are getting smoother and we have yet to pay a bribe to anyone or found a friend of the mayor or anybody else to grease any skids!
My American driver’s license from Oregon expires in December and they do not renew online. I could spend $900 to fly back to get a license or bite-the-bullet and get an Italian one. My law-abiding wife says I must do this because “legal residents must have an Italian license within one year of residency.” Well, residents are supposed to have an EU license from an EU country, but does anyone care? (Di points out to me that she intends to wait five years until her Oregon license expires to jump into this mess, so it's about driving with NO license that is upsetting to her).
I believe the reality is probably something else. I have been stopped a number of times by the national police – the Carabinieri – at their random roadblocks. Yeah, the guys in the cute uniforms and a sub-machinegun. Each time, they heard my stumbling Italian, recognized I was a stranieri and sent me along. The last time, the guy asked if I was English, so I acted insulted about such an accusation, stating I was an American. He then started asking why on earth I would move here, where was I from, etc. No documents were ever requested. Just a fluke perhaps?
The English language version of the driving test goes away next month, so I’ll have to take the written test in Italian and the driving test is given in Cosenza, the provincial seat. None of this can happen until January at the earliest. In fact, I cannot even get a copy of the driving study book until November 20. The good news is that for €450 ($630), I get the privilege of skipping the class work with teenagers and to take the test in Italian. More truly good news is that some online samples of the test are pretty easy, even in Italian. Va bene, eh?
Sounds easy and customer-friendly right? I should add that one of the documents I must provide is a health certificate from the “officials”. Well, that could be okay cuz the same office issues the national healthcare card that I’m eligible for as a resident. But, I’m told that that test will show I need glasses to drive, so I’ll have to go to an optical doctor for some other document. Ah, the never-ending Italian document chase is on.
You’ve probably already heard many hair-raising Italian driving stories. Posted speeds, stop signs, centerlines on the roads, any safety measure at all--just suggestions. Abide by the rules if they are convenient at the time is the reality of these roads. Last spring a young woman who tailgated me out of town (24 inches is typical), passed me as we hit the highway to Scalea. She blew past me AND the Carabinieri car in front of me at 80-90kph in a zone posted at 40. The two cops didn’t bother to put down their mobile phones or cigarettes when she went by. But hey, I know the rules and can really follow them with an examiner sitting next to me!
The condition of the roads in Calabria caused me to reflect on tax evasion – the national pastime of Italy. When I asked a mechanic and tow truck driver to show me the bill I paid for in cash, he told me it would cost an additional 20% for an official receipt from the cash register which is inspected by the tax police. Well, I have decided (being a non-Italian American Democrat) to pay these taxes as often as I can. Imagine what the roads COULD BE like around here if everyone paid the taxes they should!! I have paid the builders with bank checks this year in lieu of cash and no one has complained. It’s my contribution and bid for a sane system—but the fact that this empty gesture will never light the fire of the Italian heart takes away a bit of the sanity of it, I fear.
Saluti to Bureaucrats Everywhere, Guido