WORKING WITH ITALIAN POLICE

There I was in the middle of November in my stuffy apartment room in Milan, tearing my luggage apart and opening every drawer and pocket in sight. My breathing came quicker and shallower and my hands began to shake. It was really happening.

My passport was gone.

I had just raced home from Milan’s Central Station after being pick pocketed. I was standing in a metro car with a hundred other people, my black dress sticking to my skin. We were packed like sardines, sharing our sweat with one another, because the metro had flooded and it was running slow. Everyone raced to jam themselves into the next available train. You could barely turn your neck without touching someone else’s face, and my arms were pinned near my head. I couldn’t move them any lower.

It was the perfect opportunity for a wandering hand to unzip my cross-body purse and take my wallet. I considered myself lucky because I rarely carry anything of importance in my wallet: a debit card that didn’t work in Italy, my driver’s license (that I had to replace upon my return to the U.S., but was in no way valuable in Italy), no cash, an old Bath & Body Works gift card. I thought I was in the clear. My $3 wallet from Target was worthless. I would make a few phone calls, put out a fraud alert just to be safe, and be on my merry way.

However, that wasn’t the case. Although I very rarely carry my passport with me unless I am traveling between countries, I had put it in my purse that day because I needed to purchase a special kind of bus ticket for an upcoming trip to Germany. The person who reached into my bag must have grabbed my passport as well. I was stuck in Italy without the most important document I needed as a foreigner.

I was frantic, stumbling out of my apartment and racing down the stairs into the street. After living in Milan for two months, I knew that I almost always could find some kind of police on a nearby street. After five minutes, I saw a local policeman standing on the corner laughing with a shop owner.

“La stazione di polizia più vicina?” I stammered, butchering every syllabus.

He shook his head and waved his hand at me, refusing to point me to the nearest police station. I asked again, pleading him to point me in the right direction. He only pointed to the man with whom he was speaking, signaling he was too busy to be bothered by a nervous American. I continued down the street until I eventually found someone who could give me some guidance. I understood enough of her directions to get myself to the nearest police station, where I intended to file a police report for my passport and wallet. I took a number and sat down in the crowded waiting room.

And I waited. and waited. and waited some more.

After nearly two hours of waiting, my number was finally called and I shuffled into the office, sitting across from a man at a computer. He looked at me and began spouting off many questions in Italian. I looked at him blankly.

“Non parlo Italiano.”

His hands pulled away from the keyboard and a loud sigh escaped from his lips.

“Tell me your problem,” he said slowly.

I began to explain that my passport and wallet were stolen and I wanted to file a police report. He asked for proper identification. I said my driver’s license (American ID) and my passport were stolen, so I only had copies of my passport and visa as well as copies of other stolen items. Physically, I had my metro card, some credit cards, and my student ID.

“No good. No passport, no help. Goodbye.”

My jaw dropped a little bit. I couldn’t get up from the chair. I asked again if he could please help. I couldn’t give him my passport because that was the item that was stolen. He didn’t even look up from his computer when he replied.

“No. Leave the chair. Have a good day.”

I proceeded to walk out of the room with watering eyes. I didn’t know what to do. I called my mom, who called my home university in America, who then called my university in Milan. They called me and asked to speak to a police man at the station, but the police only said my university could not make a difference.

I wandered to another police station closer to my university, where a policewoman gently informed me (much nicer than the first two policemen I encountered) that they indeed could not help me until I went to the American Consulate in Milan and got a temporary visa. Unfortunately, by the time this happened, the consulate was closed for the weekend. I would be without a passport for three days, when I was supposed to leave on a weekend trip to Dublin the very next day.

For someone who rarely cries, I definitely shed my fair share of terrified/pissed/nervous tears that weekend. Thankfully, the American consulate in Milan is extremely nice and helpful (so take heart if you are in an emergency!). But the lesson is, you must have a passport before the Italian police will even consider helping you. It’s understandable, but still unfortunate if your passport was the problem in the first place.

Second, don’t actually expect them to do anything other than file a report that you can give to your insurance company or mail in to the U.S. government so you can get your next passport free of charge (joking about that whole “free” thing though because you have to pay like $140 for the temporary passport they give you at the consulate).

Third, bring an Italian friend or a translator with you when you go to the police. Unless, of course, you can speak conversationally with them in Italian or you desire to have a painfully unsuccessful trip to the police station. They police won’t speak to someone over the phone for you, so your helper will need to be physically present. The police are much more willing to help you if you try to make it easier for them. That’s just the way it is.

And, finally, just try to stay out of trouble. And keep one hand on your purse at all times. And understand that if you’re without a doubt not Italian, like myself, you have a bigger target on your back. And sometimes people just aren’t nice. And you have to be a grown up and just deal with it. But life is still fun and beautiful and you learn a lot and you experience growing moments. So there’s my story about the time I ugly cried at two Italian police stations. Have a great day!

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