You may recall my tragicomic post on my first visit to the office of the Italian Polizia di Stato for foreign religious. Today I was there again, and this time with more success. Nevertheless, it remains an interesting and curious business.
The first funny thing is that you don't go to the address to which your appointment directs you, but to a featureless waiting room next door. It is immediately recognizable by the wide variety of foreign religious (in their various habits) sitting there in anxious expectation. There you take a number. It's like the deli counter; first come, first served. This might lead you to believe that the time of your appointment is meaningless, whether it be 8:42 (mine, this time) or 10:03 (mine, last time), and if so you would be right. However, if you then made the logical leap to thinking that the day of your appointment didn't matter either, you would be very wrong. Indeed, you had better have the letter that says you are supposed to be there on that day.
With your number, you sit in the waiting room. Some read, some study their Italian. Others say their breviary or their rosary. Some make new friends. Numbers get called through a speaker. Because they are not easy to understand, they get repeated around the room in various other languages.
When your number is called you go to next door to the office proper and wait for your number to be called again. Then you approach the counter, surrendering first your number. Then you hand over your passport and your collection of diverse receipts and stamps, along with two photocopies thereof, your four passport pictures, and most importantly, your declaration from your religious community that they have invited you to come to Italy and would therefore be grateful if the Republic of Italy would grant you the coveted permesso di soggiorno. In this letter your religious institute not only promises to house and care for you, but also promises to inform the Republic if you go missing or run away. The official behind the counter inspects all these things. If they are all in order, as they seemed to be in my case this time, the official puts them into a folder and directs you back to the waiting room.
So back to the waiting room you go, where you wait to be called again. This time, however, you don't have a number, so you have to spend the wait meditating on the question of what your surname might sound like if an Italian tried to pronounce it. Just like with the numbers--which are also still being called--interpreting these invitations sometimes requires inter-lingual consultation in the waiting room. When your name is called you go back next door to the office and are invited to sit at the desk of another official. This fellow takes your fingerprints and extracts from you a promise to spend a day attending a special civics class so that can learn the culture and ways of Italy. An Irish Missionary of Charity, who was there today accompanying some of her sisters, informed me that the purpose of the class was to learn not to cut your spaghetti.
Once you are done with this fellow, you are invited to wait again. This time you don't have to go back to the waiting room, but are instructed to wait in the office proper. After another little while, a tall, stylish Italian lady in a white lab coat takes you into a back room, measures your height and looks into your eyes to asses their color. Once these things are written down, she takes you by the hand, and then by the other hand, pressing them in turn into another machine to take more fingerprints. After all this you are given back your passport, informed that your document will arrive 'within a couple of months' and dismissed. The whole process took about three and a half hours, most of which was waiting. How much waiting? Exactly enough to meet the aforementioned Irish sister, a young priest from Indiana looking forward to doing his JCL in Rome, another priest from Colombia, and say five decades of the rosary for the safety and consolation of all the migrating people of the world.