Do Civil servants read Kafka?
This is not new. Complaining about the strange way civil service has of not serving much of anything or anyone is almost cliché. Kafka showed us all a hundred years ago. ? made fun of it in the forties. And yet it’s amazing how much it still goes on, even after demands for change produced significant improvements.
It’s not that they don’t give a fuck – they do, though they didn’t used to, and the can deny that all they like. The structures are too inflexible to make movement forward anything but slow. Though sometimes you can’t quite see what’s wrong.
Everyone has their story. This is mine.
I joked on my facebook page back in August that it would have been quicker and easier to go home to Ireland and get my Irish driving licence renewed there rather than get a Spanish one here instead.
I wasn’t far wrong. I went home last month without having received my new Spanish licence. And it was far from easy to get….
Part of the problem was the fact that this project of European integration is not running on rails – some of it is active resistance and some just ineptitude. That goes from the top; government departments not really eager to make it easier for dirty foreigners to come and get along here, to the bottom; civil servants unwilling or unable to learn the new rules and systems to follow the new laws.
My old licence photo – part of the problem was having to hand this over, in case I tried to fool the system and get two licenses, and thereby having to saying goodbye to my last ID where I have black hair…
The Traffic department has been turned to an appointment only system. You can’t just walk in off the street and seek assistance, like you would in any other service. That keeps down the number of people arriving at any one time. It hides the flaws, means the slowness is not so apparent. The queues not visible there in the office, but in cyberspace, where you need to wait at least a week to get a window – if you’re flexible in what time you can get there.
So when you get there, if all goes well, you are out in around an hour and on with your life.
But if you hang around, as I had to on my recent visit, well, you notice things that if they happened in any store or restaurant, you’d ask to see the manager and point out the problems with their service. Since it’s the civil service, we’re shit scared to do so, since the bastards know our numbers and can get their own back with good old losing our info.
Anyway, I was trapped in there for a lot longer than I should have when I sought to get a new driving licence. My mistake was not having a photocopy of my identity documents. And they don’t make photocopies in there for Joe Public. They might have a photocopier going night and day, have several sitting around, but they expect you to bring your own, even when they don’t tell you to have them.
I pointed out that the photocopy of the information sheet I’d got after queuing up the previous w
eek hadn’t said to take said photocopy, and the lady behind the desk produced a different photocopy that said I did.
So what were my options?
Go to the stationary store across the street and pay twenty cents for copies.
I had no problem with that. As long as it means you don’t have to come back another day, you forgive a lot of shit in these situations.
She gave me directions and then said she was going on break, but the next person would take care of me.
The copy took twenty seconds. Add to that the minute and a half it took to get there and back and I was standing before her before she’d got her handbag together.
But she was not going to sit back down – or, more precisely, let me sit back down. She’d mentally checked out for her break already. Instead she said to wait just there the next guy was on his way.
He was. He came and told her he wasn’t going to sit at her desk, but at the one next door. There was already an older dude sat there, dealing with some South American selling his car or something. That dude wasn’t going on break, but would swap to the information desk (Yes, I hear you ask, why didn’t the new guy just sit at the info desk and let the old dude stay where he was? Because I’m sure there are strange rules about how much time you have to spend doing each type of job) when he’d done with the car buyer.
He was in no rush, and his computer wasn’t working the best, so the new guy, a long, tall, sour-looking guy with a Union Jack tee-shirt (not necessarily a point in favour or against him) stood there behind him, then started to pace, holding his water bottle, while I stood there in front of the desk, making sure he knew I was next in line.
And we waited.
And so did the poor people who were queuing for the information desk
Because there was nobody there. And the tall guy wasn’t going to sit down there. It wasn’t on his job list for the afternoon.
So for ten minutes, at least, as we waited for that computer to process the car purchase, people came in off the street to find an empty information desk, and the queue built up. And the only person doing any work to speak of was a the security guard – a short young South American lady, who, being responsible for our safety could not allow the line to get so big and out of control. So she gave out photocopies and information to those she could, zipping around the office from place to place, and she most probably getting paid a pittance by the hour compared to the civil servants sat on their arses, or standing like long streaks of piss and going redder all the time in embarrassment at the situation.
Eventually out of said embarrassment, the guy started to acknowledge my presence, and my frustration, and when I finally sat down, and he began to process my own application, he did his best to make the computer do it’s jobs, and he was even nice enough to photocopy of one of my documents for me, so I could keep the original – which I didn’t even want, since it would only be valid for six months and I purposefully didn’t bother photocopying it. But he insisted, and I wasn’t going to argue, though I did wish that his workmate had been half as nice so I could have avoided the whole wait and his embarrassment.
After all that, the poxy computer would not work (they work through the internet, not with their own internal programs and server, if you can believe that shit). So after another half an hour of so of sitting at that desk, I had to come back in half an hour. That didn’t help, and I’d to go back next day. Still the process wasn’t working, and in exasperation I decided that I’d not bother driving for the next few days.
That allowed me to leave my driving licence there with the dude so that he could work away on the renewal in his spare moments. This was because if the driver’s licence is not in his hands, he can’t work on the application – just in case, god forbid, I should try to send my old Irish licence back to Ireland and get a new Irish one in addition to my new Spanish one. Which is fair enough, I’d say – if I didn’t know better.
I’m sure he’s loads of spare moments, but at least he put a few to good use, so that the next day I got a call to go collect my temporary drivers licence, with the assurance that my new, ten-year licence would be in the post in a couple of weeks.
That was September. Now it’s December.
Even when you think you’ve finally won, you’re not always in the clear.
And then, just when you think you’ve seen it all, you get surprised. My new licence arrived eventually, just as I was about to get time off work to go to the DGT office and see what the hell the story was.
The new licence! Worth waiting for? Not for that photo… ;-(
And then it was joined by a second, identical, Spanish licence, so that, if I was so inclined, I could indeed go back to Ireland and get a new Irish one. It’s like waiting for a bus, sometimes.