A Damned Fine Thing

It is usually with very little delay that I post about negative experiences, especially negative experiences involving bureaucracies. This is understandable because

  • Bureacracies are the perfect hiding place for morons and passive-aggressives.
  • Dealing with such people, when they are in a position where their “decisions” and “mistakes” can affect your life in really significant ways, is extremely frustrating.
  • Dealing with bureaucracies in foreign countries, especially countries famed for sloppy procedure and last-minute rushing, is even more frustrating.

But I decided a while back that I would also write about positive experiences, and despite the fact that my local bureaucracy—the department office who tells us what paperwork we need for which procedure—has once again demonstrated an inability to make a simple goddamned list for anything without leaving out one or two crucial points, the more important bureaucratic experience I had today was overwhelmingly positive.

I didn’t expect it to be. After a stream of surprises today, from, “Oh, we forgot to deduct your pension money from your pay for the last few months, we’ll just take a lump sum in June, okay?” to, “Uh, yeah, guys, there’s even one more piece of paper we need that nobody mentioned to us, and which they were told to prepare weeks ago and haven’t done. Again.”

It is moments like this that come to mind when I am instructed to go to the office and say thanks for this or that. I don’t go to the office to say, “Are you smoking crack?” when idiocies like this come down the pipes to me. As far as I’m concerned, the pathetic dinners bought for us in lieu of yet-again-screwing-up-everyone’s-paperwork don’t come close to making up for the inconveniences caused.

It was one of those days when everything I experience seems ridiculously inefficient. Even the cabbie driving me over to the pension office took the longest route possible without my being able to complain about it. I saw a full thousand won (a dollar) added the the meter just sitting through a damned stop light that would not change.

But when I walked into that pension office, I knew things would be different. And they were. The moment I walked in, I was directed to sit down somewhere off behind the counter. A fellow came up and asked me which country I was from, and got someone to bring over the appropriate paperwork. He took my documents and copied what needed copying, went through the paperwork with me, and then, in the best English he could muster, explained what would happen to the pension funds that are being reimbursed to me.

(The situation is technically a little mystifying to me, but whatever. I’m told this is what is done for someone in my situation, and all the profs in my office are being told the same, and doing the same.)

The guy was friendly, as were the other two people assisting him and hanging around. The guy who seemed to be a supervisor for the office was extremely friendly, and tried to make conversation, without being intrusive.

It was all over in about three minutes, and I thanked them profusely for being so friendly and helpful for another three minutes, and then I was out of there.

I’m sure part of the reason it was so quick and easy was because I was not the first person to show up for this particular procedure. I know, in fact, that several people from my office had gone before me, on the same day—I was even provided with one person’s paper as a guide of what parts to fill out on my own. (Though they kept a friendly eye on me to see I didn’t fiddle with the other person’s papers, and I would expect no less than that anyway. No worries, I didn’t peek.)

But the fact that these guys learned from the new procedure, which I’m sure they had to look up the first time that day, and got it done much faster the 2nd, or 3rd, or Nth time in the same day, speaks volumes. They handled a pretty nonstandard procedure not only with friendliness, efficiency, and clarity; they retained the procedure in memory for the next time it had to be done. If you think this is a standard bureaucratic skill, you don’t have enough experience in immigration offices.

I cannot express in words how happy I am that it is this office, and not the local Immigration Office, that it turned out necessary to visit before my summer trip. These guys at the local Pension office, they rock. I will be hearing their friendly, happy “Bye-bye!” for the rest of the day, in the back of my mind, and wearing a smile.

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