Friday, September 10, 2010

line dancing in salem

A nation of bureaucrats.

I have heard that refrain from several of my expatriate friends in Mexico.  Inevitably, the accusation is followed with a tale of woe involving long lines -- or bribery -- or illogical requirements -- or all of the above.

The cliche ranks right up there with sombreros and snoozing campesinos.

Of course, there is a smattering of truth.  Mexico loves paper.  And it loves giving jobs to people who believe that stamping and signing are the host and wine of good government.  I have been amazed at the effect that a blurred stamp on a piece of paper can have on a Mexican citizen.  Whether it is an FM3 or a letter of residency.

Even though a lot of governmental operations in Mexico appear to be inefficient, once you know the process, it is no more complicated than the samba.  Complex, but not complicated.

All of that came to mind today while I was sitting in line to get a small card from my national government.

I once had a Social Security card.  I remember my mother driving me into Portland to the federal building to get a Social Security number.  Unlike American children today, who cannot leave the womb without being registered into the Social Security system, I did not get a number until I was in the fifth grade.

It was my first job.  Pulling weeds for the Oak Grove branch of First State Bank.  But I had to have a Social Security number.  This was no under-the-table employment.  I was a working man who would early learn about the joy of working hard and having governments withhold part of my pay.

I remember having the card into my early college days.  Whenever I started a new job, I had to pull it out and put the number on some form or other.  No need to memorize it.  I needed to use it only every other year or so.

Then I entered federal service where my identification number was my Social Security number.  I memorized it because it went onto some form every week.  Having memorized the number, I thought I would no longer need the card.

Fast forward forty years.  All of a sudden, everyone wants proof that I was born in the United States.  And one of the few approved documents is a Social Security card.

I tried getting a new one through the mail.  No dice.  The cards are the equivalent of the Rosetta Stone -- or some religious rite.  They reacted as if I had ordered holy water through the mail.

So, during my lunch hour, I walked down to the local Social Security office.  I knew it was not going to be a quick trip when I saw a waiting room filled with enough people to fill a First Class bus to Guadalajara. 

I took my number and sat down.  At least, I remembered to bring along my Kindle.  For some reason, I took great comfort in reading about Dietrich Bonhoeffer's dealings with Nazi Germany while I waited for the line to clear.  I arrived at 11:27 AM.  My number was called at 12:28 PM.

A friend of mine recently argued condescension is the currency of bureaucracy.  My experience with Oregon DMV earlier this year would be proof of that.  But not my experience with the Social Security clerk today.

Other than having to swear that everything I said would meet Plato's definition of Truth, the process was simple.  In 9 minutes, I was done.  In two weeks, I should have a replacement for my long-lost card.

What I have learned is that there is no need to rail against the system -- whether in Mexico or in Salem.  The system is what the system will be.  In this instance, it afforded me an opportunity to work on my patience while reading a darn good book.

Patience is one of those virtues I often hear extolled by expatriates.  You can't survive without it, they say.

And they are right.  But life is not to be endured.  It is to be relished. 

And a Kindle in hand is relish enough for me these days.


Tancho said...

Sounds like you have crossed over to the other side....

Leah Flinn said...

"What I have learned is that there is no need to rail against the system"...perhaps Bonhoeffer said the same thing before they hung him?

I've also learned to roll with the punches but I can't help but be agitated by a controlling, yet inefficient government. Irish meets German blood in my gene pool, I suppose. I often wonder how Germans would deal living in Mexico. Patience, indeed.

Laurie said...

Good title. Hondurans love stamps and seals. No seal, no dice.

Felipe said...

With a good book, delivered electronically or otherwise, time passes agreeably unless the chair tilts.

I believe your reference to enough people to fill a first-class bus to Guadalajara would have been more realistic had you written a third-class bus. First-class buses usually are not full. At least, that´s been my experience. I have not ridden a bus in Mexico in years. First-class, third-class, any kind of class. I prefer my car.

I have a SS card. I believe I got a new one 15 or so years ago through the mail, maybe a bit longer. They weren´t so sacred back then.

As far as proving your citizenship, your Gringo passport doesn´t do that?

Anonymous said...

So my life-long tendency toward impatience can be solved with the purchase of a Kindle? I better get on it right now!

Alee' in Salem

Calypso said...

I still have my original ssi card - yikes - the one that reads on the back that this number will not be used for ANYTHING else; further that you should not have to supply the number for ANYTHING other than social security. hmmmm

Chrissy y Keith said...

I will be interested to know how the new card looks. Is it plastic with a magnetic strip on the back, or is it still just small bluw paper?