Saturday, April 08, 2006

Mean People

After a tedious drive across the country, all I wanted to do was relax and visit with family. We arrived near Chicago at my sister-in-law's home to a warm welcome and the promise of a massage for my car-confined aching muscles. Then the dreadful news. After several calls to the Los Angeles Consulate to check the status of our visa application, we were hit the stomach-dropping blow...our application was being returned. We were shocked. The pencil-pusher on the phone would give no additional details but seemed to delight in telling us we'd have to wait for the packet to arrive with the letter explaining the denial. Days and more miles passed.

With legalese, the letter stated that we submitted an incorrect form, thus not proving "adequate" evidence of housing arrangements. We had also included details of our enrollment in a three-week langage course (following the advice and format of a letter on an expatriates website, and also the recommendation of the vice-counsel with whom we'd had contact). This was, apparently a no-no. Yes, showing that we'd make effort to become part of society was forbidden by the government representative who reviewed our application, as it confused her into thinking we would be vagabonds, without proper housing, drifting from place to place.

We are stuck in bureacratic purgatory.

Phone calls to said government consular agent were not only unfruitful, they were downright discouraging. She told us we'd have to start all over again. She told us that "maybe" we could try again and "take your chances" at being approved. She was rude; she was glad to be glum. She was a dream-quelcher.

Unanswered emails. Unanswered phone calls. Questions abounding, frustrations darkening our dream. What to do? We drove to a nearby (read, 2 hours drive) consulate to inquire specifically about their application process, for while each consulate represents the Italian government, each has its own requirements instead of one, uniform policy. Rather than dealing with the Evil Woman in Los Angeles, we figure if we're entering a crap-shoot, we'll take our chances with other, hopefully nicer, people.

The intial impression wasn't too encouraging. The woman behind the glass had a grown man shaking and stammering. She cut off his questions and answered curtly. She grabbed papers through the little window, ticking off requirements and what he still needed, then pushed the papers back through the hole and sent him packing. She asked, "Who's next for the visa department?" and we quivered, as it was our turn.

We swallowed hard, tried to look confident in the face of obvious authority, and squeaked, "we're next". She eyed us calmly, then asked if we were Italian citizens. Alright, I admit to being flattered as it meant that 1) she'd not looked at the Germanic-sounding name on the sign-in sheet and 2) she'd sized us up and thought we were one of her. Not a bad start. We said no, that we'd researched citizenship through my grandmother's family but that we wouldn't qualify, and, kind lady if you please, we have some questions. Then we produced our list. She was tolerant for the first four inquiries, answering them evenly and without the edginess she'd displayed to the man before us. But after the fourth question, she was obviously becoming impatient with us and tried to wrap it up by saying, "alright then" firmly. We pressed on with a couple more questions until it became evident she was done with us, so we fled a bit breathlessly for the elevator. She did at least answer in a straightforward and fairly tolerant manner. Much more so than Evil Woman or her minions in L.A., and that alone felt like a welcome change, so we'd rather work through this kinder, gentler consulate.

But this entire ordeal has made me wonder...what is it about bureacracies that they always seem to produce that type of behavior? Are those impatient and almost-inhumane government workers born that way and thus recruited because of their callous attitudes, or are they normal, everyday people who must undergo extensive meanness training before being let loose to intimidate the public they are supposed to serve? I can understand becoming frustrated if you're having a bad day and seemingly ignorant people inundate you with seemingly inane questions. But to consistantly behave in a rude and malevolent manner, to delight in dashing people's dreams, to joyfully and sadistically make well-functioning, college-educated adults feel hopelessly inept seems to be their goal in life. They seem to enjoy plunging you down to the depths of a bureacratic abyss from which you must fight and claw your way out. Rather like Dante's Purgatory. I guess Dante could concoct such an image of Purgatory so adeptly because he had been in intimate contact with Italian bureacracy.

copyright 2006 Valerie Schneider


Dr. S said...

Holy Cow! I've been thinking of you and so I decided to look at this and see where in glorious Italia you might be by now, never dreaming, of course, that you were stuck in bureaucratic hell. This is awful.

Keep us all posted. I'm sure it will soon be sorted out. I've been through this kind of nonsense in various countries and things generally worked out for the best. And don't forget, you're always welcome back here in sunny Albuquerque! We miss you! :)

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