Thursday, March 10, 2011

The cost of being Italian

Saturday, March 5
Today we spend an English-speaking day with Stefano and Nancy Mammi. Perhaps we should try to practice our Italian with them, but that would limit our conversations too much, and we relish the chance to enjoy their company to the fullest. We drive to Lucca and spend much of the day looking at art and architecture, while I ask them questions about living in Italy.

They are happy they chose to live in Italy instead of America. They preferred raising children here because of the strong positive influence of Stefano’s family, and they also think Italian schools are stronger.

“Stefano’s mother has been an incredible influence on my children,” Nancy says. “In school, Italian students are ahead of American students. The classes stay together year after year, and the campus is more controlled. If a student misses a class, somebody definitely notices.”

They pay a price for living here, though. Stefano could earn twice as much teaching at an American university, and housing here is much more expensive. He is also frustrated by the Italian bureaucracy. Ordering chemicals for his laboratories has become a nightmare. First, he was required to get three prices for every order and had to chose the lowest, which sounds logical, but this creates a problem for research. As any science student from middle school on knows, every experiment must be repeated using exactly the same conditions. Chemicals from different companies could have slightly different properties.

The bureaucracy further complicated things by declaring that university buyers must rotate their purchases among sellers so that no favoritism is shown. Recently a new requirement was added: Stefano must obtain a statement that each company he buys from has paid its retirement benefits. The statement is only good for one month, so every month, he has to request another.

“It’s a way for the government to save money,” Stefano says, “by not letting us spend the money in our budgets.

Nancy still hasn’t been paid for contract work she did for the university in 2009 and 2010 because red tape has delayed the payments. One problem is that her doctorate degree from the U.S. does not transfer directly to Italy. To have her degree recognized here, she must provide a prospectus from every class she took in the states for her eight years of university study, with translations into Italian.

It is also very costly to get a drivers’ license here, thanks to a new requirement that driving tests can only be taken in cars that have dual controls—that is, brakes, clutch and steering for the driving examiner as well as the driver. Only the driving schools have these, so first one must take driving lessons, and then students can only take the exam when the instructor says the student has had enough lessons to be ready. It can easily cost $1000 to get a license.

Nancy thought it would be easier to apply to get her American license transferred, which was possible at the time she did it. However, it took her six months to finish the process, and she says she literally had an inch-thick stack of paperwork at the end. A simple process like a vision check takes a trip to the post office to pay an examination fee, and then a trip to an eye doctor. Her process was complicated by the fact that she had to get a certificate of residence first (this was before she became a citizen), and this process in itself is time-consuming.

We are familiar with these hurdles and face more of our own. In a couple of days, I will try again to apply for my Italian passport, so I will probably have another story about the Italian bureaucracy to add.


  1. I'm surprised anyone drives with those hurdles

  2. It's amazing anyone gets anything done (legally, that is)!


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