June 8, 2012 by JL Walker
Infamous. Complicated. Unpredictable. Labrynthine. All these words have been used to describe public offices in Italy. Not to mention the 4-letter words that are often uttered when dealing with bureaucracy.
Here’s just one example: renewing a driver’s license.
To renew an Ohio driver’s license, you just need a form of ID and a few bucks in your pocket, and you need to know the address and opening hours of the nearest Bureau of Motor Vehicles. The office will give you an eye exam and take your picture, and then you will receive your new driver’s license. Both times I’ve renewed my license, I’ve only stood in line a few minutes before my turn. The only possible inconvenience is that I had to pay the $25 fee in cash because they didn’t accept debit or credit card. The whole procedure takes around 15-20 minutes. And the license expires on your birthday, so it’s pretty easy to remember when it needs to be renewed.
The same process in Italy is quite different. First of all, the driver’s license expires based on when it was issued, not your birthday, so you have to remember to check its expiration date. There are several steps involved and several places to go to gather the proper documentation for a renewal application. And even after you’ve finished everything, you still have to wait for the updated license to arrive by post.
The 1st step is to purchase a stamp tax or revenue stamp and pay a small fee at a tabacconist shop. Before paying this fee, though, you need to pick up the correct form from the post office (you can also make the fee payment there) or the Motor Vehicles office. The 2nd step is to get a medical exam (usually an eye exam), which you need to reserve in advance. You’ll have to pay a fee ranging from €20-50 for the exam. You need to bring the receipts of the payments to the doctor’s office and leave it with the physician, who will then send it the correct office. Eventually, you’ll receive your renewal sticker to put on your driver’s license by mail. Estimated time to complete this: 2 weeks.
These two scenarios are quite different, no?
There are so many wonderful things about living in Italy, but bureaucracy happens to be one of the big challenges. When making a top 5 list of negatives about Italy, it will inevitably be included. Every. Single. Time.
What’s the explanation behind Italy’s infinite bureaucracy?
There are multiple answers, but the best one I’ve heard is the country’s history of foreign rule. The country of Italy has only existed for about 150 years. That means that before unification, many regions and cities were often governed by one foreign ruler or another. Its geography – the famous boot shape – resulted in Italy being attacked by various populations so that local rulers would often change and borders would be redrawn. This also caused neighboring powers to change. So, in the end, a system was put in place with layers and layers of bureaucracy and the local people had no choice but to accept it. I’m sure there are other reasons, but this a good explanation as to why red tape is so persistent and even accepted.
Like all things that are part of a country’s culture, Italian bureaucracy has been shaped by history. This is just one more element to add to that notorious list.