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Anagrafe (an-ah-gra-fey) is the office in each comune that keeps track of who’s who and the status of each inhabitant: births, deaths, marriages, divorces, that sort of thing.  This is true, it seems, for both Italians and resident expatriates  (Anagrafe issues our Carte d’Identite).  I’m sure they do other things of which we’re completely unaware.

One such thing was brought to our attention last week when we received a visit from the very affable Piermanlio (a roman name, he told us) who spent two and a half hours grilling  interviewing us.  He works for the Statistics Department of Anagrafe (who knew?) and spends a good part of his life traveling from one expatriate domicile to the next interviewing people.  Then he spends some more time transmitting his data to the main office in Rome (without identity information attached) where it is all, presumably, crunched up and turned into important reports of some sort, which in turn lead to enlightened social policies, new laws and more bureaucracy.

Here are two things you might not be able to tell about Manlio from the above photo:  he is probably one of the most patient and kindest guys in the world; it is hard for him to find shoes because his feet are large.  For this reason he takes exceptionally good care of the shoes he wears. ( I guess that’s three things, but since the last two are so closely related I’m counting them as one.)

The last time the U.S. took the census we won the long-form lottery, and spent about thirty or forty minutes filling in the form with information about our race, gender, education, income and what kind of house we lived in.  Well.  Italy could certainly teach the U.S. something about long forms.

At first we thought Speedy would be the only one interviewed, which was fine by me, as it took ages.  To the surprise of all three of us Manlio was instructed by his computer to interview me when Speedy was done.  What response triggered that, I wonder?  Most of the questions were the same, but there were some amusing differences.    They were all multiple choice questions and all answers were entered immediately into Manlio’s laptop.  If an answer was wildly out of the norm the computer might give Manlio a query sign.  If it was totally ridiculous the system was blocked til a realistic answer was put in.  How do we know?  Speedy answered 8 years old when asked at what age he began working (happens to be true).  Turns out the question meant when he stopped being a student and began to work as an adult.  ‘8 years old’ caused a delicious block.

Here are some of the topics Manlio covered with us during our time together, other than the obvious of age, heritage, race, religion and education.

Do we have relatives living in Italy?  Do we have relatives living outside the US but not in Italy?

In our family, who makes the decisions?  Who does the housework, do we share the burden? Who does the marketing?  Who cooks?  Is it up to the husband to choose who the wife’s friends will be?

Do we like Italian food?  Do we eat it often? Do we eat food of other cuisines?

Are we healthy?  Smoke? Weight? Height? Do we take medicines? (polite Manlio: ‘oh yes?  They’re prescribed, I would assume.’  Us: ‘Of course!’)

Curious omission noted here: no questions about drinking and/or wine!

Do we have a car?  How many TV’s? Motorini?  A video camera? (why a video camera?)  When we watch TV, do we watch in English or Italian or ? Do we have a satellite dish?  More than one?

Do we have a telephone  land line?

Why did we move to Italy?  Who decided that we would move to Italy?  How did mother feel about it (Really!  This was a question for me, the only one of us with an extant mother when we came.)

What language do we use when speaking to each other?

Do we read newspapers, if yes in hard or virtual form? Magazines? Books?  In what language(s)?

Do we follow Italian politics?  Do we talk about politics with friends? Do we feel knowledgable about Italian Politics?  How often do we discuss politics?  Same questions again vis-a-vis the U.S.

What do we do for entertainment: movies? sports? concerts?

I guess one can catch the drift of the kinds of questions being asked and the kind of information they are trying to gather.  There are so many people from all over the world living in Italy now, there’s perhaps not unreasonable concern that the ‘national identity’ might erode.  At the very least there is also interest in knowing if the basic ‘rights’ generally recognized here are being observed by one and all.

I guess my favorite question, one directed to both of us, was: Has anyone in Italy made you feel uncomfortable because you are a foreigner?  How lucky I felt at that moment.  Italians like Americans; they do not necessarily like all the other nationalities represented in the immigrant population.  No.  No one has ever made us feel uncomfortable, I’m happy to say, though I’m certain others have not been so fortunate.

My favorite unasked question: Does your husband still beat you?

I guess it’s not just a cold, hard, statistical office after all.  They care about us, they really care.