24 February 2013

LIFE: Settling In

CHIAVARI, Italy – For the record, my phone problems have been resolved and I am just about problem free – at least as far as getting settled in a new town. I think what surprised me the most about this move to Liguria was the amount of paperwork I had to plow through to do it. I’m still puzzled by it.

Commune of Chiavari
Back in the day when I moved to Saronno from Milan, there were the same services to contact, electric, gas and telephone and they only required a simple phone call. I never had reams of forms come in the mail that I to fill out and send back and pages of contracts in print so small it looks like Morse Code.

A quick phone calls to Enel and I had power and gas service, another call to the phone company and I had a phone line, a quick trip to the commune, the town hall in Saronno, and I was a resident. The ladies in the Saronno Registry Office even sent me a post card a few weeks later saying that they noticed I was born in Syracuse and therefore I could apply for citizenship if I wanted to. I later explained that I was born in Syracuse, New York, not Siracusa, Sicily and we all had a good laugh over that one.

But to get to the point, it was all fairly simple to do – and why it was more complicated here is something I’m still trying to work out.  When I applied for residency in Saronno all I had to do was give them my new address. Here in Chiavari I had to show my passport and the document that proves I am in Italy legally.

The guy at the Registry Office was very nice. It was only when he began to slowly leafed through all of the pages of my passport that I started to get butterflies in my stomach. What he was looking for?  It’s a new passport with hardly any stamps in it, so there really isn’t anything to see. But there he was, taking his time, looking at each page. Then he closed my passport and looked over at me and said, ‘how beautiful these drawings of America are’, and smiled. When he finished entering my data into his computer, he handed back my documents and then gave me another official looking piece of paper with the instructions to take it to the Health Office and chose my primary care physician.

Left to Right: Manuela, Gui and Dottoressa Loredana 
The next day, with the document from the Registry in hand, I went up to the Health Office.  Unlike the Health Office in Saronno where there is usually a half hour wait, within five minutes I was in front of a clerk explaining why I was there. Then another clerk came over and the two of them started discussing something or other and they decided it was best to call the ‘Doctoressa’. Within minutes the Doctoressa appeared and she got right down to business.

The first question she asked me was if I worked. It caught me off-guard and didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to say that I was working because then she would ask me to bring in some kind of pay stub, and I didn't want to say I wasn't working because in reality I am. So I mumbled something about working but only for a company in the United States which is true, but would be more true if I took out the word ‘only’.  It turned out she didn't care about that part, what she wanted to know was if I had ever worked in Italy and if I had paid into the health care system.

Paperwork Central
Well that was easy, the answer was yes. But could I prove it? That was a little more difficult. I said yes again, knowing it would mean going back to my apartment and trying to find the box with those documents in it. Now let me think. Was that box in the pile of boxes near the door, or in the boxes under my bed, or maybe in the boxes in the kitchen area?  This was going to take a bit of sleuthing.

But find them I did. After thinking about it, I realized that part of the new, stricter controls on residency and health care benefits has to do with the problems Italy has had in the past with illegal immigrants, problems that didn't exist when I first moved to Saronno.

I can’t fault the Italians for wanting the people who are applying for health care benefits to have at least paid into the system at one time or another. With the second best health system in the world, it is a benefit that should not be abused, so if it takes me four days to dig up and bring in the documents they need, it takes me four days. In the end four days is a small price to pay for what I get in return. But the best part is my dining room table is no longer covered with papers and documents and the apartment is kind of starting to feel like home – well almost.

For more about the Italian health care system see This Italian Life blog post  “Life: Italian Health Care System” of February 7, 2010.  

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