I'm currently in the middle of a bureaucratic nightmare. For once though, it's entirely of my own making. In a stubborn English way, I decided to take my husband's surname. Before you start waving burning bras in my face, let me make a few things clear: (a) it wasn't his idea, (b) it doesn't mean that I'm bowing down to him in any way and (c) I believe it's what you do in your life that shows whether or not you're an independent woman, not how you chose to call yourself. So there. Why should I one day have a different surname to my children? Not fair.
The problem lies in the fact that in Italy, by law a woman CAN'T take her husband's surname, so there's no official procedure to follow. As it is, the ancient rusty cogs of bureaucracy here have their own unique concept of time - one Italian bureaucratic minute represents an hour of normal human time, an hour is a couple of weeks, a month is a year etc. In Italy, new name means new tax code, which leads to a series of startling and terrifying trips to the tax office. New name means informing banks and getting new bank cards. I've sent numerous faxes and letters by recorded post with photocopies of my passport, ID card, national insurance card, great-grandfather's inside leg measurement, list of my favourite types of cheese etc. I've been waiting for my new bank card for a month.
Now that I'm almost at the end of the Great Name Change, I'm thinking about writing a book on the experience. I could fill several volumes on the tax office alone and I'm still not entirely sure that I'm not registered twice. I'm waiting for a letter in the post informing me that I am actually two people and that the government is sending a priest to my house to perform some kind of identity exorcism.
New name also means re-registering with your doctor. I was at the hospital recently, about to have a rather intimate medical test, when the nurse who was filling out the forms told the nurse with the freezing cold metal instrument to stop because it appeared that I was not myself, but someone else. An imposter.
'Don't worrry,' I said, trying to sound as nonchalant as a half-naked person in the company of two fully dressed people can sound, 'I've changed my name and this test was booked in my old name. I have all the documents in my bag.'
'But where has your old name gone?' replied the nurse at the desk, eyes narrowed.
'It's just gone.' I shrugged (not easy to shrug with your legs in stirrups).
'But where has it gone?' She wasn't giving up.
'It's just gone.'
'But where?' I was starting to feel really silly at this point. She looked at me hard. I wanted to say: 'Yes, my old name decided to swim to Elba and never came back. That bastard. I did get an anonymous postcard from the Bahamas last week and I have my suspicions that it was from that crafty old name, but I can't be sure so I had to get this new name.' Instead, seeing no way out of the impasse, I reluctantly got down, put on my knickers and retrieved all my ID documents from my bag.
'But your old name has just gone,' she gasped.
'Yes.' I said, with what I hope was an air of finality. Knickers came off again and the test was completed in awed silence.
Bureaucracy can be really fun.