There are any number of books, blogs and articles that make Italian bureaucracy sound akin to one of the Circles of Hell that Dante never quite got around to writing up. If you're like us, you may well think that these experiences are overwritten, playing on the worst of Italian stereotypes for comic effect. Or maybe you'll think the party involved just didn't have a good enough grasp of Italian, or simply hadn't done their research properly. Then, one day, you'll run into a bureaucratic brick wall that seemingly has no way over, under or round it. And then, like us, you'll regret ever having been such a smartarse.
We arrive at the confusingly-titled ex-Ospedale Giustinian (confusingly titled because it actually still is an ospedale) to register with the Italian Health Service. We have our passports, our codice fiscale, our rental contract, and bank account statements. Most importantly, we have our S1 forms, which state that, in the event of needing health care in Italy, the cost will be picked up by the UK NHS for a period of two years, or until we enter the Italian Social Security System.
We ask at the main desk where we need to go, the receptionist gives us directions, and the sign on the door does indeed seem to indicate that, amongst other things, this is where foreigners should go to register. There's a bit of a queue, so we take a ticket and sit down to wait.
It takes just ten minutes until our number is called, and in we go. We've scarcely begun to explain ourselves when the woman behind the sportello shakes her head, grabs a piece of paper with a phone number and address in Mestre, and tells us to go away and try there. We explain that we've come with our form S1 which needs to be registered here, and that it certifies our health care will be covered by the UK. She scarcely raises her head to look at it, shrugs, and says she's never heard of it.
We find ourselves back on the wrong side of the door after, perhaps, thirty seconds. This is absolutely soul-destroying. This isn't a question of language any more, this is just sheer bloody-mindedness coupled with an unhealthy dose of not giving a toss. Neither of us has any faith that the office in Mestre will do anything other than just send us straight back here. We really don't know what the hell to do.
And then something rather wonderful happens The man who'd been sitting next to us asks, in English, how we got on. We explain, and he looks genuinely concerned . His number is called so he asks us to wait while he has his appointment. Two minutes later he emerges, shaking his head sadly. The signora, he apologises, seems to have no interest in helping people at all. So he takes his telefonino out, dials the Mestre office, and explains the situation. He checks that they recognise the S1. He passes on all our details. He confirms that, yes, this is the place to go. He tells us what we need to take with us. He makes us an appointment for 8.30 on Monday morning, and gives us a contact name there.
Quite frankly, we could hug him. We really don't know what to say, he just smiles and says he's glad to help. As we leave, he stops at the main desk and politely, but firmly, remonstrates with the receptionist.
The world may be run by tedious pen-pushers but, just when you need one, there are still a few Lovely Blokes out there willing to lend a hand. Whoever you are, good sir, we thank you!