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Italy vs. Britain - Bureaucracy!

Ottobre 2016
Esagerata, onnipresente, esasperante... si può dire qualcosa di nuovo (o di positivo) sulla burocrazia italiana? No. Ma qualche trucco su come affrontarla può tornare utile. Ovvero, a mali estremi, estremi rimedi! Parola di Rachel Roberts.

di Rachel Roberts

Rachel Roberts
Rachel Roberts

I’m not going to complain about Italian bureaucracy. Many other writers have done that, including some brilliant Italians. You only have to read Luigi Furini’s book I only wanted to sell pizza  to understand that Italians have a very clear idea about the difficulties caused by the jungle of rules and regulations that exists in Italy. What I do want to explain, is why British people in particular get so angry about it. I also have a great tip for British readers.

not so simple

You see, unlike Italians, we’re just not used to it. Back home government websites and official documents have to be user-friendly and written in clear language; the kind of language less well-educated people can understand without the need for help. Most Italian official documents are written in “gobbledygook.” This term, first coined by Texan congressman Maury Maverick during the Second World War, means  “talk or writing which is long, pompous, vague, involved, usually with Latinized words.”


Just try and fill in the online form to claim child benefit on the INPS website, and you’ll find many examples of gobbledygook. Now try running a Google search for “child benefit claim form UK.” If you download the form, I’m willing to bet that you will find it much easier to understand and simpler to complete that the equivalent INPS form, even if your level of English is only intermediate.


Even starting up a new business is quite simple in the UK. A British friend of mine had always dreamed of opening a Bed & Breakfast. She went online, searched: “How to open a bed and breakfast UK” and found a lot of really interesting and useful information. Inspired, she decided to go ahead and open a B&B on Lake Maggiore. After a few months she was practically suicidal. It took her at least six months to get permission to put up the official Bed & Breakfast sign outside her home. But the worst thing, from her point of view, was her inability, after 20 years of living in Italy, to understand the official documents.

little did i know...

Perhaps all this gobbledygook is there on purpose. Remember that in a court of law “ignorance is no defence.” If things are impossibly difficult to understand then we, the public, are less likely to complain or appeal when we get letters from the tax office asking us for money.
In my quaint little English way, I did try to appeal once. Yes, I actually thought that would be a good idea! I went to various government offices, expecting to find a nice person who would answer my questions so that I would be able to pay the correct amount of tax. I took it for granted that I would find an atmosphere of reciprocal trust.


After weeks and weeks of trying I learned nothing about my tax situation, but I did learn something very valuable! On the last occasion my Italian accountant came with me, and she gave me a great lesson in how to deal with Italian bureaucrats – she demonstrated the art of the classic Italian hissy fit.
What’s a hissy fit? It’s a sudden and violent outburst of hysterical screaming and shouting, often accompanied by tears. Stiff-upper-lipped Brits don’t usually like such things, but believe me it’s worth getting the technique right because they’re really useful when dealing with public officials.

the brexit effect

My accountant does them beautifully and on the day we walked around the national insurance office in Milan for hours, being sent from one bureaucrat to another and bombarded with gobbledygook, she suddenly exploded. Steam shot from her ears. Her voice shook with tears. She swore and cursed and declared she was ashamed to be Italian. After five minutes, people started arriving from other offices on different floors to watch the display.
Think about it, British readers! After Brexit we may have to go back to the days of endless queues at government offices to get residence permits, medical cover and all the other documents non-European citizens need? I estimate we’ve got about two years to relax our British reserve and perfect the art of the hissy fit!
As for me, well, I’m thinking of cheating. I’m going to ask my long-term partner to marry me, apparently Italian citizenship is pretty much automatic after that. I just wonder how many documents you need to get married!

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