City Hall Homework

pile of folders

We just walked out of the local city hall where we tried to get registered as residents at our new address. For the second time in two weeks. With more homework to be done – for the second time in two weeks. 

When you’re starting up a new project in a new cultural environment you would think there will be a point that you will start feeling less of a foreigner. Or a ‘straniero’ as it’s said in Italian, which to me, as a foreigner, sounds more like the word ‘stranger’ in English. 

Some of our Italian team members will turn it into the catchy phrase, ‘strani stranieri.’ And that’s exactly what it sounds like: ‘strange strangers!’ 

We definitely had another moment feeling like a strange stranger the last two times we tried to change our residence at the comune (city hall).

By nature, I’m personally not the biggest fan of admin work and back in The Netherlands it was mostly my wife, Rianne, who would take care of that type of work. Now that we are in a different cultural environment we both know how much we need each other to get all the admin work done. So yeah, that’s the end of me dodging admin bullets. 

Last week Tuesday we went to the city hall to get things done. I felt so proud of myself. I had already made the phone call a week before we even moved – in Italian! I might not have been packing boxes (see Who gets the credit?) but I felt so accomplished and prepared to change our residence. We brought our passports, new rental contract – even our Italian ID cards! 

Once in the office I couldn’t stop looking around to see if everyone noticed how well prepared we were and how well we’re fitting in after 4 years of living in Italy. 

“It looks like there’s a problem with the contract.”

Those were not the words we wanted to hear. I’ll spare you the details, but 30 minutes later we walked out of the city hall with NO registration of residence and THREE items of new homework to be done. 

Some of the homework got done fast, so we went back this morning, just over a week later. Aren’t you proud of us? We were filled with a little less confidence, however, because we were reminded once again of how there are days that we can feel that we’re doing everything right, but it doesn’t always turn out to be the way we thought it would. We did fill in all the right paper work, we had the right contract this time, and we tried to be as confident as possible to once again ‘get things done.’


There was another problem. This time it turned out that there’s someone registered at our address who doesn’t actually live there. 

We were lucky to have such a kind lady helping us at the comune, but to her and our surprise she kept asking us, “are you sure this person is not living there?” 

“Yes we’re sure about that.” 

“How do you know?” 

“We know that we live there.” 

“Did you already move there?” 

“Yes we did.” 

“And there’s no other person?” 

“No, just us, 4 kids and a couple pets.” 

This conversation repeated itself a few times in different variations, until we all realised there is nothing we could do until we find out how to ask ‘the other person’ to change residence before we can then change our residence to our new address. 

More homework. 

Some days it feels like ticking off one box of your homework is the secret key to unlocking three new boxes of homework. ADMIN HOMEWORK. It makes me wonder if I’d rather not tick that one box at all, and just leave it as it is, and see how it’s going to play out. 

Some days I get tired of being the strano straniero and I just want to move on with my day. 

This is what the conversation in the car back home sounded like. 

“Well, at least it keeps us off the streets.” We were literally on the streets, so now I have proof to tell my kids that mom also does make dad jokes. 

“It keeps me off my work you mean!” was my response, wondering how I could catch up on lost time.

But maybe it didn’t. Maybe that’s exactly what my work is. Maybe it wasn’t lost time at all.

“I just want to get the job done.” 

Maybe that is my job. Figuring out how everything works by trial and error. Trying to get things done, only to realise that everything is different. Going in proud, and leaving humbled. 

Learning to be a learner. 

That is my job. 

Lead to learn. Learn to lead.

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