The Joy of Getting Carded - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
The Joy of Getting Carded

Everyone has a secret passion. It might be a truly unspeakable lust, deserving of all society’s censure and even time behind bars. Or it might be a tendency most would find harmless, but which one’s peer group deems beyond the pale. Like voting Republican if you’re a graduate student, or rooting for the Cowboys if you live in Washington, D.C.

My source of guilty pleasure is something I carry, in more than a dozen versions, every day in my back pocket. Driver’s license, charge plates, membership cards for video club and fitness center — these bits of paper and plastic give me far more satisfaction than mere utility can account for.

This is shamefully un-American, I know. The folks back home who oppose a national identity card, despite post-9/11 fears, have my support. I even see the privacy advocates’ point about Social Security numbers, which let the government and other big organizations track our activities, financial and otherwise. In principle on this issue I’m an ardent libertarian.

Yet I’m a sucker for any official-looking document with my name on it, especially if the document is stamped and laminated, and most especially if it bears my photo. It’s a wonder I didn’t join the Communist Party merely to become a “card-carrying member.”

The most obvious explanation for this weakness is that I’m insecure about my identity, and these cards reassure me of it. They confirm that I have a certain name, was born on a certain date, reside on a certain street, etc. Living in a foreign country as I do, such insecurity seems natural, though in fact it long preceded my move.

Uncertainty about who and what I am may be why I moved in the first place. Perhaps I hoped to find abroad what I missed in my native land. In that case I came to the right place. Not because I now identify with the Italians (thought occasionally I do), or because living here has made me appreciate my American-ness (though it has). For a card-fetishist, the best thing about living in Italy is simply that it requires so many cards.

There’s my driver’s license, of course. If any document in my wallet really should make me proud, this is it. Earning it cost over $500 and six months studying what must be Europe’s most complicated regulations for the use of a motor vehicle (none of which have any bearing on the reckless way people actually drive).

My national health services card, which fortunately I haven’t had to use much, gives me access to public medical care. (“Socialized medicine” is a scary expression to most Americans I know, as it is to me, but the reality here and in much of Europe is that state-sponsored care is often better than the private alternatives. An economist could no doubt explain why.)

My “sojourn permit,” the local equivalent of a green card, doesn’t fit in my wallet, so I carry around my government identity card. Only by reading the fine print on this can you learn that I am a “foreign” citizen — it doesn’t say what kind. Handing it to a hotel clerk in Spain or France, I’m naturally mistaken for an Italian. That’s fun in the same way as wearing a mask at a party.

Until I moved to Rome, I didn’t bother getting professionally accredited. It didn’t seem necessary while I was out in the sticks. But now, with the cooperation of the American Embassy and the Italian Foreign Ministry, I expect to receive official government recognition as a journalist. I’m not sure what the advantages will be, but at least it should mean one more card.

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