Monday, January 20, 2014

Those Long Lines

article from July 20, 2011
By Jamie Douglas

Being an expat taxes your patience. Whatever you have to do with officialdom usually involves patiently standing in line, sometimes for hours. For US citizens, this inevitably brings about unfavorable comparisons with life in the good old USA, where you can do virtually everything via Internet and telephone.

But when you are out of the country and you have to go to your embassy or consulate to take care of some task such as getting your passport renewed, you may notice that there is a separate entrance for US citizens, while the “riff-raff” commoners are standing in long lines – most of the time started hours before the limited opening times – that wrap around the block. Often, you will find a whole industry of vendors selling refreshments and local foods to the poor souls who have been waiting for months or sometimes years to get (or not to get) visas to go pick lettuce and apples in the United States while having to deal with the constant discrimination they face when confronted by authorities, such as those in Arizona, who assume anyone with a Spanish surname or a darker skin tone is a criminal alien.

Having spent many years in lesser-developed countries, I have come to accept the fact that there is no special line for yanquis at the post office or bank, and I marvel at the patience displayed by those suffering in the hot sun, cold rain or even pleasant weather conditions. Inevitably someone in line has a friend join them, and no one flips out. It’s just the way things are.

I recently had to go make a payment at the Argentine National Bank, the end of the line being about 50 meters from the windows serving the public. This was to pay for making an illegal left turn. Lesson learned: never make a left turn off the major boulevards in San Rafael. The fine was a mere 100 pesos, or about US$25. But the real punishment looked to be the wait at Banco Nacional. The whole experience actually took only about 45 minutes, and when I was done, I had made several new friends. The way people deal with this standing in long lines is to be very chatty with strangers.

Once word got around that I was from Switzerland, several of the victims of bureaucracy engaged me in conversation, satisfying their curiosity about my marvelous ancestral home country. And so the time passed relatively quickly and as I left the bank, I received a couple of pecks on the cheek, which is as Argentine as mate, the national drink of this and several of the nations in the region.

Now if only those in charge would realize how many otherwise productive man-hours are lost annually by virtually all of the country’s citizens having to spend many hours a year standing in these lines to do many things, from buying a stamp to getting their pensions and making the various payments for electricity, phone service and everything else that generates monthly bills. There are agencies where you can pay your basic bills, but the post office is a monopoly, as are the banks. To conduct business with them, it is necessary to partake in the time-honored tradition of standing in line. And believe me, it is a much better experience if you do it with a good attitude, and perhaps bring something to drink and read – or do like I do: blatantly abuse the good will of your fellow line-standing-victims by practicing your language skills on them.

Jamie Douglas
San Rafael, Mendoza
Where the Malbec Wine is Always Fine!

I encourage you to write me at cruzansailor [at] gmail [dot] com with any questions or suggestions you may have. Disclaimer: I am not in any travel-related business. My advice is based on my own experiences and is free of charge (Donations welcome). It is always my pleasure to act as a beneficial counselor to those who are seekers of the next adventure.