Friday, January 22, 2010


So I went to my passport renewal appointment. Once you go through the doors of the Mexican Consulate in New York you are immediately transported, in a space warp, to Mexico: The Bureaucratic Version. A horrendous, uglyass space where the Foreign Affairs Ministry deals with the citizens of Mexico who live in NY.
I have many questions:
• Is there a budget for furniture and office decor and if so, is someone stealing it?
• Has the Ministry considered that the space in which they process applications is woefully inadequate for the amount of people they cram into it?
• If you are not Mexican, do they have a side door through which foreigners go to offices that don't look like a solitary confinement cell, that may have carpeting and wallpaper and perhaps even a fern? So as not to discourage potential travelers that think that perhaps Mexico is a modern republic and not the Godforsaken backwater some say it is?
• Does the government realize that this lack of the bare minimum of comfort and attractiveness makes Mexicans feel like second class citizens? Do we not deserve a nice, well appointed space in which to spend 2 hours of our time, mostly dealing with reams of photocopies and documents? Do we not deserve tissues and antibacterial liquid to remove the ink from the three sets of fingerprints we need to provide?

Having said this, indeed there has been progress. In a corner, there is a Xerox machine and they charge you 25 cents per each copy you forgot to bring. Next to the corner there is a photo station, and they charge you $10 for 4 photos. Perhaps they could scrounge up for some carpeting and some nice wallpaper, no?
Mexican bureaucrats have it tough these days. Someone is making them work. Gone are the days of the 2 hour coffee breaks or the nail filing sessions behind the counter. Perhaps even gone are the days of "if you want it done faster, I'll take your money under the table". Photocopies (what else?) proclaiming a commitment to the efficiency of the process are stuck to the bare walls. They seem rather impenetrable but they're there to remind us that we're supposed to be impressed.
The little perv who takes the photographs satisfies his dirty little mind by giving me a  skeevy ogle encompassing my entire frame, right before taking the close up of my face. I ask him more or less how long does the process take. I do not expect an attempt at humor, but a helpful answer.
"Only 2 hours and a half", he deadpans. I gasp.
"It's not that long is it? Used to take 8 hours. By around 3 pm, you'll be ready to get lunch" (it was 11:30 am).
His tone was laced not with lighthearted humor, but with bilious matter (which is what courses through the veins of most bureaucrats).
But after my last forays into the hell of Mexican and universal bureaucracy (because Americans are catching up), I discovered a tactic that drives the bureaucrats crazy and destroys their pathetic power games. I treat them with exaggerated cordiality. I thank them thrice for everything. I basically kill them with kindness. I strongly recommend this technique. It is priceless to see their faces collapse in disappointment that they can't get a rise out of you.

In fact, it took exactly 1 hour and a half, which is pretty impressive. And I must say that the poor woman who they have sitting on a high chair in front of an improvised desk leaning against a column, making sure that everybody has the correct reams of paper; that woman was unfailingly patient and polite. Women that did her kind of job used to be the meanest, bitterest, sourfaced evil bitches on Earth. And this woman needs all her patience, because my compatriots are hopeless when it comes to getting their shit together. However, who can blame them, when the requirements are so absurd? To renew your passport, you need the old passport plus 2 photocopies of the first two pages, plus two photocopies of the last page, except some people also need 2 copies of pages 5 and 6 or sometimes of page 6 but not 5.
As Lars Von Trier likes to say: Chaos Reigns.
And here let me digress, lest I forget:  With all due respect, is it a law that all Mexican toddlers be whiners and cryers and tantrum throwers worthy of La Scala? Or is it only when they are in the seat in front of you on the plane and/or Mexican government offices?
And here comes the surreal part: In the middle of this human maelstrom, I spot two agents for Citibank, very polite, pushing applications trying to get people standing in line to sign up for debit and credit cards. What fresh hell is this? Why are they allowed to do this? It is grossly inappropriate to be conducting business in an embassy. I thought of complaining in the box the Consulate so kindly (or cynically) provides, but I'd have to have been born yesterday. I'm going to complain to Citibank instead. And I want to know who is getting a kickback from Citibank for allowing this to happen. Outrageous.
Yet there is always something endearing about our unique version of the surreal. In this case, once you pay, you wait until someone calls your name to get your new passport. The name calling happens in three ways. First, the agent says the name loudly sans amplification. Then, only one agent has a functioning mike so he uses it to repeat the name, and if all else fails, a third agent takes out a megaphone, I kid you not, and blasts the name out of the megaphone, like in a cartoon.

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