Penso di Sì (I think so)
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Penso di Sì (I think so)

We'd done everything we could to be prepared so that I could swiftly and efficiently take up Italian residency. Why did this seem harder than it should be?

Steven Lee Gilbert

Unfortunately


We thought we’d come prepared. For the most part anyway. We’d done the research. Scoured the internet for an endless amount of time to gather information, testimonials, anything that would ensure we were checking our own expectations against others’ actual experiences. We filled out the forms. Paid fees (too many). Made photocopies (not enough). Collected notary seals (just FYI, the closest ones are found in a phone book and best reached from a phone booth—why in the world is this silly step still even a thing today?). Finally, we requested apostilles, which makes any document created in one country valid in another (more notary bullshit), then had everything translated into Italian.

Despite our personal attitude that the less any government knows about us—much less two governments—the better, this was just too important. So we played by the rules, leaving no stone unturned, fully documenting who we were, at least on paper, in the apparently resource-rich (um, hello trees) administrative eyes of these two highly-developed, First World countries.

Once here, we did everything we could then to show up at the appointed times and with the necessary documents for me to swiftly and efficiently take up Italian residency.

After all, what really could go wrong? It wasn’t as if we were trying to pull the fleece over the eyes of those wielding the power that would grant me the privilege of remaining here after the ninety days allowed for tourists. Franca has been a citizen since birth and we’ve been married twenty-seven years. It was a matter of birthright with no hidden agenda, no intentions of tax evasion or in masterminding a clever, yet criminal, conclusion to a disagreeable child custody ruling. What could anyone find to possibly hold it up?

We also knew, of course, of the legendary reputation of Italian bureaucracy and that preparation is only one part of the challenge when squaring off against such a fragmented, nonfunctioning machine. So we had come, too, with a level of patience usually reserved, well, how best to compare it but to the workings of our own faulty American administrative apparatus. They all could take whatever time they wanted, they would not dissuade us.

And then we encountered one of the two phrases we would hear over and over again in our efforts to finalize the paperwork just to submit our request for residency for their consideration: Penso di sì (I think so).

Question: Are these all the forms we need?
Answer: Penso di sì.
Question (When it turned out they weren’t all the forms we needed and we were told to go somewhere else to get whatever seal, signature or articles of paper were necessary to continue): Is that office open now?
Answer: Penso di sì.
Question, at that other office (which wasn’t, in fact, open, but they opened the door anyway because they thought we were the postman): Can we make an appointment to come back tomorrow during regular hours?
A: No, we’re booked.
Q: Well then can we come in the afternoon for walk-ins?
A: Penso di sì.
Question, before heading to the post office to drop said papers in the mail: Is this how much it will cost (cash is king here)?
A: Penso di sì.
Q, while standing at the ATM getting more cash to pay the actual amount: I could use a drink. What about you?
A: Penso di sì.

Though all that’s written with a bit of hyperbole, it demonstrates just how dysfunctional of a process it’s been in just gathering and submitting the documents. The discovery alone of what’s required would, in fact, dissuade most from even trying. If they lacked the language skills, I imagine it would be nearly impossible. For sure, it would require more than a “penso di sì” level of knowledge and aptitude from the person hired to help others gain access to Italian citizenship.

It shouldn’t be, because for many it’s their birthright to have Italian citizenship. And what’s worse, the country needs it. The population and growth rate here, as in other developed countries, has been declining for decades. The door to entry should not be propped open by the promise of jus sanguinis, the right of blood,  but flung open wide and lined then with a red welcome mat crying out: Venite, Venite. Vi vogliamo! Vi vogliamo! (Come here, come here. We want you! We want you!)

But, life is what it is and until it changes we’re faced with all manner of detours, delays, and excuses, which arrive often just ahead or just after the second most popular phrase we’ve encountered on this journey to citizenship: Purtroppo, which, to the credit of those who choose to invoke it, means unfortunately.