Climb aboard your favorite european car, push the clutch in with your seatbelt on and let that first gear out like you mean it! Because this week we are buying a car and getting interrogated by a branch of the Italian police: The Carabinieri as they wave their red paddle of importance, tribulation and terror!
On the 15th of March, 2022 I welcomed a new “person” to my life! I named him Renato or Rene’. He is Renato the majority of the time and especially when I’m more emphatic but he is definitely a Rene’ when I’m surrounded by native speakers in the Toscana region of Italy where consonation is nonexistent. Perhaps the missing consonants vanished into the traditional Senese dish, Pappa al Pomodoro, but I lack the empirical evidence to prove it.
Renato or Rene’, which means re-born in Italian/ French, is a tiny blue, cobalt, or purpley car, (depending on his mood.) Indeed, Renato is a fab little Renault Twingo that I acquired second hand or usato. I believe that some things merit names, such as cars and bicycles. I have a bicycle named Silvestro, for example: Silvestro di Siena. At any rate, I was tired of lighting money on fire – POOF! for autonoleggio or car hire, so I searched for a way to buy an inexpensive car. Buying a car is also a way to light your money on fire yet more slowly, in that the fire burns longer POOOOOOOOOOOOFfffffvvvvvvvrooommm….
So without further ado, my dear readers, I present to you the story of Renato and what I needed to obtain my “first” european car, how I did it, and how I made up for the loss of my lovely little blue Fiat Punto. The Fiat Punto was a car I owned in the south of Italy but he was “appropriated” by a ruthless “relative.” Relative is in quotes, because when someone in an Italian family does something unjust or dishonest they are “persona non grata” and disgraziata. They don’t exist, in a sense (so he won’t be named.)
After driving a tiny blue Fiat Panda for two weeks as a hire car, I started looking for one secondo mano, or used and with low miles to buy. I loved the Panda so I contacted a fellow called Tino who runs his own business in Roma finding cars for expats. Tino’s service is worth it, because he gets you all the documents you need and the insurance for the car (you cannot drive a car sans insurance in Italy you MUST insure it.) Italy is a bureaucratic nightmare so your best bet when buying a car is having an Italian friend or someone like Tino who can get you through the nonsense. Tino and I both looked for a stick shift Fiat in blue, but one Sunday morning while he was visiting friends he sent me a picture of a blue-ish Renualt Twingo that one of those friends was selling.
Well. This was one of those situations I’m rather keen on in that the Twingo was not the car I was looking for and Tino came across the car totally by chance. It just “happened” and I immediately fell for this car. It had a happy face on it yet it was sad (I could tell from the photo) because he (now he is Renato, not sad, and he is mine!) was just sitting there not being driven, because his friend had two other cars. Thus my suggestion to you, is just let things happen here in Italy… in other words just “go with the tides” which is exactly what I did. Let the magic happen…
- Pro tip: I could not buy a car without an Italian identity card. In fact, it was Tino who told me it was possible to get one while I’m waiting on my citizenship. My carta identita has really been helpful to me, and not just for a car purchase so I suggest that you get one: even if you have to obtain a new one later, once your citizenship is finalized (if that is your situation.) Check out the post prior to this one in which I go into detail about the carta identita and how to get one.
The very next day I took a train from Siena to Florence then changed trains in Florence for the Freccia Rossa (the faster train) towards Rome to meet Tino, pick up my little car, and drive it back to Siena! When I arrived in Rome I took the underground (the tube) where at long last I found Tino waiting for me along with a fellow expat from UK. We drove for about an hour northward from Rome to pick up the car, which was now parked at a car insurance agency. At first there was discord at the agency, because at that time I still did not have my receipt that I’d turned in my paperwork for citizenship! so of course I also had no receipt for a permesso di soggiorno, either. Tino and I explained to everyone about the casino or discombobulation with the comune and we got through it. I’d also gathered enough cash to hand them and that certainly moved things in my favor.
- Pro tip: have cash ready for stuff like this. In Italy deals are done with cash in hand and bank transfers. When people see a stack of euros they are much more inclined to accommodate you.
I drove my little car back home to Siena from Rome on a rather quiet autostrada and even with a fuzzy head (Italian trains make me sleepy and fuzzy-headed) it was a beautiful drive. Along the way I thought about many things… including the navy blue Fiat Punto that had once been mine but now I’m the happy owner of a Renault Twingo named Renato.
- Carabinieri checks: expect the unexpected and panic all the same!
Many dream of owning a car in Italy yet are concerned that the carabinieri might catch them going the wrong way in what I call a “the silly circle” but in the “real world” a silly circle is simply a roundabout or rotunda in italiano. Well, the carabinieri indeed stopped me yesterday! And it was not in a silly circle and I had no idea why. I was shifting through the lower gears, enraptured in a twisty back road with the sun shining… when suddenly I noticed the carabinieri off to the side and out of no-where waving the “little red paddle of fear” at me.
There were two of them: a very tall man who looked exactly like an Irish Garda with a full head of white hair and blue eyes and a small lady with short brown hair who appeared to be bored. The male version of this dynamic duo of Armani terror asked me for my car insurance and driver license. Mind, Renato is new to me as is all of his paperwork proving that he is mine! I smiled at the Irish Garda, as I forgot how to express myself in any language and mumbled in Italian as I fumbled around in my car for the paperwork. ALL of Renato’s papers were neatly stowed in a little folder with the words ASSICURAZIONE or insurance on it. And here is where we have a problem. ALL the paperwork was in that folder not just insurance documents. I handed the little booklet to the Irishman speaking Italian at me in a high rate of speed (should he not be given a ticket for talking that fast? RALLENTARE!) Yet he did not open it. He just said “no” blah blah blah “yes” blah blah blah and more “no…” blah blah blah…. Indeed, the majority of the conversation was a lot of yes and no and blah blah blah. So while we are chattering away he keeps telling me that no; it’s not that one, usually it’s over there *he gestures pointing at the glove box* well yes ….so I pulled the papers out of the little folder and showed him the one that proved the ownership, which he is now suddenly looking for after asking me if this is a car hire as I firmly tell him that, “no this is not a car hire this is my car.” Now. If he’d just opened the folder with the papers in it then he’d have seen ALL, my documents BUT NO. And at the very start of this encounter I’d explained: here is ALL my paperwork for this car ….in this folder. Smiley face. But you see my dear reader, that would have been too easy. Finally, he motioned for me to be on my way and I drove off a bit rattled and in a daze… The first thing I said to him when he stopped me, was “did I do something wrong?” to which he apologetically reassured me that, no I’d not done anything wrong and that this was a routine check. No worries. Smiley face!
- Pro tip: the carabinieri are not “out to get you” but they are trained in interrogation. And if you drive the wrong way down a one-way street (no self-admonition here whatsoever…) a little old lady CAN, and WILL holler at you from the top floor of her building, “NON SI PUO!” In short, just get your Italian driver’s license. This encounter with the carabinieri unnerved me. And I’m totally legal as is my car! but due to my status in the country I must go to the auto schola to begin the process of obtaining an Italian driver’s license and I have less than a year to do it. If I’m caught, say a year from now, driving in Italy without a proper Italian license they can give me multe or derogatory marks, costly fines, and even take my car. Don’t risk this!
In sum, I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s excursion: a road trip about navigating the Italian bureaucracy of car purchases and Armani themed policing. Truly I wonder how they keep their cars and their uniforms so utterly spotless. Just today I was driving in the rain with a carabinieri car (an alfa romeo Giulietta ) that had just cut in front of me in the silly circle, because yes they can, and not a single rain drop on that car. And this, was in the pouring rain. How very strange indeed!
Until next week! Keep calm and drive on!