Bureaucratic Spinnin’ Wheel, Got to Go Round

“What goes up must come down
Spinnin’ wheel, got to go round
Talkin’ ’bout your troubles, it’s a cryin’ sin
Ride a painted pony, let the spinnin’ wheel spin”

Appropriately, the song is by Blood, Sweat & Tears

bureaucracyCertainly you have heard of the game of Chicken. Generally, it is when two cars race toward each other; the first to pull to the side is the chicken (coward). However, growing up, I had a classmate who played chicken on the railroad tracks with an oncoming train and lost.

Being an immigrant can sometimes be synonymous with playing chicken of a different feather. The game seems to be who can outlast the other or how badly do you want this?

After trips to two different immigration offices and a total of eight hours and 47 minutes of waiting, we successfully received our renewed Residency Permits for a five year period. However, when I pointed out the other cards that fill my wallet were also expiring; we learned these had to be renewed at the district office. Ugh!

Monday, Ron and I went one of the multiple district offices, taking a gamble on where standing in linewe needed to go. It was so tempting to call a friend like they allow on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, but then again, we have already used more than our three lifelines. As it turned out our first office choice was the correct one. We and 237 other people, who made it there before we did, found the correct office for their needs.

What seems to be ubiquitous these days is a magic machine that spits out a number based on the choice massaged on the screen. There is a secret psychological benefit underlying this. It leads you to believe you will be served faster and in an orderly fashion. However, different categories have differing starter numbers, so 197 may be flashing, yet you are holding 957. It is discouraging at the least, until you solve the puzzle. With a shortage of seats to accompany all, it was like lifeboats on the Titanic. My sense of dread was very similar to those who sensed peril.

Perhaps it was our lucky day, our number appeared on the display just as we were moving into our second hour of co-habitation. Needless to say, the worker did not speak English. Thankfully, we have smartphones that are smarter than we are and can speak Hungarian somewhat. We were able to make our needs known. Once she gave me a paper to sign within the box. She did not like my handwriting apparently since she had me do it again and again and again. After each attempt she made noises that were as incomprehensible as the US political system. She did not have a smartphone to offer her aid. Again, I wanted to use a lifeline, poll the audience, or call a friend.

Finally, she had the good sense to call over another worker who mastered the English language to the degree she could explain things. They wanted me to sign in the box, BUT without touching any lines and perfectly centered. Suddenly, I had a flashback to first grade penmanship.

An electronic photo was taken of each of us and then we were given our temporary ID cards along with a sealed envelope. This is like a clandestine mission. We were instructed not to open it, but to bring it with us when we return for the final ID card. Inside, there is PIN number. Shrouded in mystery, we greatly anticipate the grand opening.

Before we left the office, we asked about our health card. This too expired April 12. Can we kill another bird with this stone? No, of course not! The medical card needs a trip to a different office, one that we know all too well, but was hoping to avoid. It is in a different district.

Yesterday, after I finished teaching my one private lesson, Ron met me at Árpád hid metro stop and we walked over to Teve utca in district XIII. Teve means camel in Hungarian, which tickles me that I have to walk a mile for a camel.

The sourpuss guard standing by the number machine in the office we have always gone to in the past, motioned, pointed and growled something. I was certain even a native Hungarian would be confused by his words. We followed his fingers which pointed around the corner. There on the building was the Hungarian flag logo and we found another office on the 2nd floor. Again, with the help of a different guard, we obtained a number.

Though across two rooms there were 26 numbered desks, only 10 people actively used them, while another 200 plus people were holding little white sheets of paper with numbers on them. Shockingly, the numbers on the screen rolled by fast and furious like a spinning roulette wheel. After just over an hour, our number was up.

Again, it was the smartphone to the rescue for us, and the help of a colleague for the

worker. Within minutes, we were walking out with our new health cards. But, yes, there is a but; they could not issue us new European health cards in this office. We needed to return to the office where we started today.

Back downstairs, out the door and around the corner, we showed Mr. Grumpy Guard why we had returned when he thought he had seen the last of us. Once again, a new number, once again sit and wait. This was the shortest amount of waiting time. I barely read one chapter of the book I had before we were called. Minutes later, we had our new European health cards.

We are done! When later telling this whole story to my student, he commented that I seem to be busier since I retired from teaching then I was before. Honestly, I do not know how I fit it all in when I was working.

After completing my Ed.D., the frustration of finding a teaching position where I was willing to live, led to Ron and I leaving the country. We intended to travel for a year before settling somewhere in MA or RI. We left the US without any credit card debt, no car payments and our house mortgage paid by renters. We had $10,000 in the bank to make our way through a year.