Well, we are there. Short of gaining citizenship – for which we would not yet be eligible anyway, regardless of the ongoing shenanigans in Westminster– we are now Brexit-proof. We are officially resident, we have the requisite health cover and a proper, grown-up bank account. And in the last few weeks – ok, months – we have swapped our UK driving licences for Italian ones, and we have also finally completed the bureaucratic equivalent of an SAS assault course that is otherwise known as importing a vehicle into Italy, wearily clutching our Italian registration plates to our heaving chests.
Not that anything to do with vehicles is complicated here, but there is a particular type of business, a consulenza automobilistica (vehicle licensing consultancy) exclusively dedicated to helping motorists to navigate the panoply of processes. Our local one, Lanciani, is down in Piediripa, a suburb of Macerata that consists mostly of anonymous yet busy light industrial estates. Founded in 1939 and now a sizeable outfit with several branches and a driving school, we felt comforted by its long experience in the business. And although I’ve been in more welcoming dentist’s waiting rooms, we received a reassuring response to our requests on our first visit to soulless offices for information on how to obtain Italian driving licences and import our UK-registered car. As blank-faced as any civil service functionary, the clerk who served us didn’t flinch at our request (a good sign) and he instantly rattled off the list of multiple steps each process involved. He reached for a fresh buff cardboard folder, wrote our name on the front in spidery capitals, licked finger and thumb and extracted a sheaf of forms – photocopies of photocopies, as ever – from a scruffy filing cabinet.
There being only so much bureaucracy we can deal with at any one time, we decided to warm up on the nursery slopes and get our driving licences sorted out first before graduating to the icy black slopes of importing the car. And we were spurred on by the clerk’s offer to talk us through the forms that set the process in motion on the spot – which involved entering into the wonky form all the details from our UK licences, enlarged photocopies of which he had just taken… We were underway, though, and a week or so later came the next step: an appointment with our GP for him just to measure our heart rate, test our reflexes, take our blood pressure, fill in a tick-box form, cover it with a rash of stamps and scrawl his artfully illegible signature across the bottom. Then, armed with our forms, it was back to Matteo, as we had discovered the clerk was called, so that he could set up the next stage for us, namely arrange an appointment with Lanciani’s own doctor at their driving school in Macerata itself, this time for a sight and hearing test.
When we got there, lots of people were milling about the reception area trying to book driving lessons, looking for their theory classes, or getting this, that or the other document stamped – as well as having a sight and hearing test. Having queued (I use the term loosely: there was no sign of the customary deli-ticket system to keep things on track) at the enquiries desk to find out where we needed to go and to pay, we were – surprise, surprise – given a form for the latest doctor to complete and shown to the cramped waiting area outside the doctor’s consulting room across the landing. The doctor was a tall mild-mannered chap with gold-rimmed glasses and an avuncular manner who seemed more interested in our reasons for moving to Le Marche than our hearing or sight. I say ‘our’, for when he realised that we were a couple, he invited both of us into his consulting room so that we could take our tests together. After a bit more chat he eventually got round to asking us for some information about our eyes and ears and switched on the old-fashioned illuminated sight test chart with a huge capital ‘H’ at the top with rows of successively smaller letters beneath it. Having seated me at the far end of the room, he handed me a folded-up sheet of A4 paper for me to hold first over one eye and then over the other as I read out the rows he indicated.
It was all starting to feel faintly comical, and when I realised that the doctor was wasn’t looking at me but at the chart as I read out whichever row he indicated, I just couldn’t keep up even a pretence of taking it seriously. I ditched the piece of paper and just read everything with both eyes. He was clearly satisfied that I my eyesight didn’t present a danger to other road users, so he signed my form with a flourish, added a volley of stamps and then invited Mr Blue-Shirt to take his seat for his sight test. He handed him the paper eye patch and once again turned to look at the chart as he indicated which rows he wanted Mr Blue-Shirt to read out. Even if Mr Blue-Shirt had bothered to use the patch, it wouldn’t have made the slightest bit of difference, as he had pretty much memorised the entire chart while I was having my test. And as he obediently read out each row, I could hear the giggles rising in his voice. A few minutes later, the doctor handed Mr Blue-Shirt his signed and stamped form, shook as both warmly by the hand ushered us from his consulting room as if he were bidding a pair of house guests farewell. We exploded into fits of laughter as soon as the door had closed behind us, and it was while still recovering our composure that it occurred to us that he hadn’t tested our hearing. We checked our forms, but since the hearing section had also been completed we could only conclude that by virtue of the fact that the good doctor had been able to hold a conversation with us without raising his voice, he was satisfied with the standard of our hearing. No matter: we had our latest stamp-spattered forms and were another step closer to securing our Italian driving licences.
A few days later, back we went to Matteo to fill out the final batch of wonky forms, and – this was the slightly scary part – actually hand over our UK driving licences. All the other bureaucratic processes had completed up until now had involved obtaining something: a card, a number, a name on a register – in return for which, nothing had been relinquished (apart from hard cash, of course). But this time, we had to give something up, and suddenly, parting with that little rectangle of baby-pink plastic that had lived quietly in my wallet since I was seventeen and a bit felt disproportionately significant. We knew that technically it was an exchange, and that in a couple of weeks our wallets would once again contain that familiar baby-pink rectangle of plastic – only this time there would be an ‘I’ in the EU emblem in the corner instead of ‘UK’. But in the meantime, the temporary licence-cum-receipt signed and stamped by Matteo was scant comfort. And over the next couple of weeks, I lost count of the number of times my heart leapt every time my eye fell on the empty slot in my wallet.
Matteo’s prediction had been spot-on, though, and barely a fortnight later we each slipped our shiny new Italian driving licence – complete with ‘I’ and tricolore, but otherwise barely distinguishable from our old UK licences – into its rightful place in our wallets. Which only left us with the car to import…