“Non c’e possibile.”
Whether it’s the bank clerk, the bus driver, the civil servant, or the Post Office clerk, the first words out of their mouths are “Non c’e possibile.” It is not possible.
This refrain is accompanied by a vigorous head-shaking no, a deep frown, a shrug of the shoulders, and hands splayed open, all meant to convey a sorrowful expression of “I’d love to help you, but it is not possible.”
I confess that in the eight months I’ve been living in Italy, I have heard this expression on a daily basis. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Comune clerk or the tobacconist telling me what I want to do is impossible.
I confess that that phrase, till now, has sent my blood boiling and my blood pressure skyrocketing. My instinct has been to ask for a reason why a simple task cannot be done. Stupid, I know, to ask for a reason.
I’ve begun to suspect that that phrase, ‘non c’e possibile’ is taught as the conversation starter in the curriculum on how to deal with the public. I’m not sure if it’s laziness–easier to get rid of me than deal with something. Or if it’s an easy way of getting rid of someone who’s asking a question that you don’t know the answer to. Or possibly a way to test my resolve. After all, if I walk away after being told ‘it is not possible’, then maybe they figure I didn’t want it bad enough!
But I will share a recent epiphany. I am reminded of that comic sketch in the satire comedy, Little Britain, where the clerk types a few keystrokes into her computer, and no matter what is asked of her–mortgage, cruise, loan application, anything–her response is ‘Computer says no.”
It hit me. I am in that comic sketch! I’m sitting on the other side of that woman and her computer that only says no!
The other day I went to the Comune to see about an identity card. I wasn’t sure what benefits were attached to that (I have yet to find out), but I learned I was eligible, so why not add that to my ever-growing stack of documents.
I actually found the right office, and the nice man invited me to sit down. I asked to get an identity card. I pulled out all my documentation and set it on the desk. He glanced at that and then studied his computer with a greatly furrowed brow and was silent. After a few minutes of him staring at his computer, I asked if I was eligible.
Si, si, he said, while shaking his head no (head-shaking no is apparently mandatory).
He finally started pecking away at his keyboard, pushed my documents back at me which I put away, then asked to see them again so I took them out again, typed some more, asked me to stand near a height chart, and typed some more. Wow, I thought I was making progress.
He told me that I needed to return the next day (after all, it was almost lunchtime, and the office was closing) with a passport size photo and 22.21 euro. No problemo. What time to return? Tomorrow morning, around 10:00.
Boy, this went smoothly, I thought. The next morning, I was eager to return with my photo and the required payment, so I admit it wasn’t 10:00 but closer to 09:40. I was early, and his desk was empty.
I asked the clerk sitting at the other desk (whom I had seen the day before) where this man was, and as best as I could understand, he was out of the office attending to business in another city.
Ok, I thought I’d wait. After fifteen minutes, I asked this other woman if she was expecting him back. She shrugged in an “I don’t know” gesture (although frankly, the gesture could have also meant he’s never returning because he retired yesterday).
So I took a big gulp and asked if she would accept my photo and payment. You guessed it: non c’e possibile.
I explained that the other man had done the paperwork on my identity card and only needed my photo and payment. No matter what I said, the head-shaking no continued.
But, haha, Lady. I’m on to you! I know what this is about. I’m in the comic skit, right? Your computer is saying no (despite the fact that she hadn’t even looked at her computer).
She said I needed proof of my residence. Si, I have that! She said I needed the permesso. Si, I have that! Quite clearly, she was dubious I had everything she could think to ask for.
I was not going to let her win this round, by golly. I sat down at her desk and waited till she ran out of excuses.
Finally, she deigned to ask me my name and looked me up on her computer. I was there! I was legit! She asked for my photo which I handed over. She asked for the payment and told me which office at the end of the hallway would take my money and to return with the receipt. Done. I handed over the receipt which she stapled to my application and said it would arrive in the mail 5-10 days hence.
Victory! I walked out in triumph. It was much easier to think I was participating in a comedy skit than get irritated at nonsensical bureaucracy. C’e possible if you persist.