Thursday, March 18, 2010

Like a Hamster on his exercise wheel

Did you ever have one of those days when you feel just like that hamster running so fast on his little exercise wheel without really getting anywhere? Well, that was the type of morning I had. I guess it shouldn't have come as any surprise. After all, I was visiting a government office.

Last week I had the pleasure of waiting an hour at the tax office for something I really didn't need, only to find out that I was at the wrong place and that I needed to be at a different office in Jerusalem to get the thing I really didn't need.

Today my meeting was at the Absorption Ministry, a place I hadn't visited in a quite awhile. Now I remember why. This is where new immigrants learn very, very quickly about Israeli bureaucracy.

Two weeks ago, totally out of the blue, they phoned me to tell me that I was eligible for a 1,200 sheqel grant (about $325 - a days work)to subsidize the "taxi" driving course I took last year (which I took so that I could legally drive tourists around). I was pleasantly surprised by the call. I had been told previously that I had already received my quota of grants. But hey, who was I to argue!

The only thing was that I needed to set up a meeting immediately in order to bring in all the necessary paperwork. Easy enough.

And so I arrive 15 minutes early to my 9AM appointment today. I knock on the door. No response. I wait. Fifteen minutes later the door opens and (we'll use an alias) Ms. A asks me who I am, I tell her and she tells me that this will take an hour (an hour!)and to please come into her office and wait for her. After a few moments she returns and asks me for the reason for my visit and after I respond she says she has no recall of having ever called me (she phoned me twice, once to try to change the time of the appointment), but she does remember exactly what she told me to bring. So far so good.

Then she starts going through my paperwork. Nothing is good. She doesn't like the school's letterhead where I took the course. It doesn't look professional enough. (As if the file where it will be kept for eternity really cares). She doesn't like the syllabus - not enough details. She doesn't like the copy of the school's license. In short, she doesn't like anything. When she tells me that she doesn't have all day for this, I kindly remind her that she has an hour. She needs to speak with her supervisor. I chuckle to myself and tell her that I will definitely be writing about this experience. She is not amused.

She leaves the room for a few minutes and upon her return she says says that we will try our best. I suspect that her computer's internet connection is a dial-up modem. Each individual letter she types takes about 22 seconds for the computer to register. She spends a lot of time trying to figure out the code numbers for the responses I give to her inquiries. And when she finds out that I'm a tour guide, I suddenly become her best friend and she has about 45 minutes of questions regarding different locations around the country she would like to visit.

By now a line of people has formed outside the door with people waiting to have their turn. Some poor lady comes in just to get a letter which states that she doesn't receive any assistance. My clerk explains to her that she is tied up with me.

After an hour and a half I am informed that I will need to return with my wife in order to update our checking account information. Wipeedoo! Another visit to the office! I can hardly wait.

I walk back to my car only to find out that my quick park meter has malfunctioned and so now I have a 100 sheqel parking ticket to contend with.

And five minutes later they call me from the Absorption Ministry to apologize. It seems that after all, I am not eligible for the grant and only because the regular person was out sick did I mistakenly receive the call to come in.

Well, at least now there is no need for me to return with my wife. At least for now.