A month after I had settled into my new apartment, my ex-landlady called. She had just received a notice in the mail from the garbage collectors. They had neglected to bill our neighborhood for three years and now that they’d finally gotten around to it, I was expected to pay for 36 months of service by mid-December.
‘I thought l’d let you know’, she told me, ‘but if I were you, I wouldn’t pay it. Just pretend you’re foreign and that you can’t read the bill.’
‘Technically, I’m not foreign. I have an ltalian passport’, I replied.
‘If un controllo arrives you’ll have to pay up immediately, including the fine. But Lord knows, they’re disorganized. Itwould take them months to find you. Unless you have residency papers at your new place. Still-you should be fine, unless arriva un controllo.’
Italians are always very conscious that a ‘control squad’ could someday appear out of nowhere and hold them responsible for all their past and future fudging. Fear of un controllo is virtually the only reason people are pushed to pay the majority of what they owe. My ex-landlady is a frail, 88-year-old noblewoman with the mind of a sharp 18-year-old. Still, she was talking like we were wrapped up in some sort of lurid scam, and I was feeling guilty already.
I’ve often argued that Italians do not foster the same self­ inducéd sense of guilt that plagues Anglo cultures. As Giorgio Moro says, ‘In Italy, we don’t feel guilty, we just are guilty.’ In other words, if a fraud squad were to suddenly knock on people’s doors in search of ‘proper paperwork’, half the country would be obliged to kneel on their doorsteps and beg for political asylum.
Have you avoided the TV tax by claiming you don’t have a television? Have you signed a contract that says you work fewer hours than you actually do? Have you strengthened your roof rafters without permission from the  City Building Committee? Have you paid the doctor in cash to have him move your urgent appointment  forward?
Yeah, well, so has everyone else. In Italy, there’s not enough time and certainly not enough money to do things the ‘right’ way. Public opinion is quasi unanimous : daily survival is hard, even for the fittest. We’re taxed on everything, including the kitchen sink.
Red-tape abounds in this country and it exists everywhere except between the sand and the seashore. Its bureaucratic maze is quite a challenge and, admittedly,  it may take a little side-stepping to escape the Minotaur. Thus, any efforts to successfully chop hassles in half should be congratulated rather than criminalized.
The morning after my landlady’s news I called Giorgio Moro in Milan. He was at a fair for electrical engineers and I was sure my phone call would constitute much of the day’s excitement. ‘Why does everyone fear ‘uncontrollo’?’ , I asked my friend.
‘Well, good morning to you too. Un controllo? What happened?’
‘Nothing. Nobody’s paid the garbage tax for three years and I’m wondering if I should feel threatened. Do controlli actually happen in real life, or is it just a case of collective paranoia?’
‘Maybe, it’s a fear left over from Fascism’, he said. ‘Or maybe we worry because we’re all guilty of trying to beat the system. But don’t worry  about the garbage tax-in all other ways you’re a perfectly respectable citizen. In fact, they might even arrest you for that.’
‘Giorgio, I’ve been waiting years for some sort of controllo to actually arrive.’
He laughed, ‘You want them to declare you Hopelessly Legal? ‘Yes. I want someone somewhere to study my tax forms and
commend my legality.’
‘Well, why didn’t you say so? I commend your legality.’ ‘No, I want it officially printed on stamped paper.’
‘Okay’, Giorgio agreed, ‘but I may have to blackmail someone to get you the stamp.’
‘Never mind. In cahoots with you, they’d surely find something wrong with me. How’s the fair?’
‘Good. Just pray that un controllo doesn’t arrive. They’d dose it down”in all of five minutes.’
‘The pavilion people haven’t paid the garbage tax either?’ ‘Garbage is nothing, compared to the garbage that goes on in
this place.’
‘Giorgio Moro, you’d better be good.’
I have  no choice. Unfortunately, I happen to have constant persona! controllo. Namely you.’
I smile. ‘There is no way I’m paying by mid-December.’ ‘I know. You’re gonna wait until January 1st
‘I was thinking more along the lines of the Befana, on the sixth.’
‘Done deal, Befana’, he said.
The man was comparing me to an old bag with a wart on her nose and the garbage men were coming after me. But I take it with a grain of salt. It’s called learning to survive in Italy.

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