There are days…oh, there are days. Days when you gamble your sanity. Days when you wonder why it’s so freaking hard to understand. Days when you wonder if it could get harder and then it does. Bureaucracy kills.
Jeff is exactly one year behind me in getting his driving license. I’ve been through the entire process. And you all went through it with me on this blog – lucky you! So I know the procedures. But do I? Do I, really? You’d think the answer to that would be a resounding ‘Yes!’ but it’s really ‘No’. Can you guess why that is? Well, you’re not alone. Me neither.
When I went through the process it was all hit and miss. And I hit everything in my way, and missed almost nothing. I made it through, battered and bruised, but I got my license. So I knew how to do it. Or so I thought. But like everything in Valencian bureaucracy ‘It depends’. And mostly it depends on who is manning the booth on the other side of the glass.
Now, I’ve been lucky in my forays with touching the third rail of the bureaucratic state here. And I think’s it’s because I usually approach everything with the naive (some might say foolish) enthusiasm of a Golden Retriever. I mean, really, who wants to kick a Golden Retriever who approaches you, tongue out and tail wagging, imploring you to just throw the ball? Even in your worst mood, you’ll grudgingly mutter ‘OK’ and you pick up the ball and throw it. And then you smile a little as the dog runs off to fetch it like it’s Spanish gold. I’m that dog. So when I have had to do anything involving a government office and a glass window, I approach it friendly, optimistic and appropriately humble. Because I truly am. Perhaps this was where my latest mistake was born.
We went to the Jefatura after I made the appointment online, to make the appointment in person, to take the theory test for El Jefe in middle of the rice field. Yes, this reminds me of the children’s book my Mom used to read to us as kids ‘When the fly went by’. But I digress.
Why has it taken him so long to take this test? The easy answer is he’s been busy. The real answer is that he didn’t want to do it at all. He rode his motorcycle over here on his international driving license and prepaid EU Green card insurance for a year. He doesn’t understand why he has to take tests. But surprise! The Spanish government doesn’t care what he wants or his lack of understanding as to ‘why’. And his whining and dragging of his feet have gotten him no closer to driving. We’re moving soon. So the clock is ticking.
Yes, I have figured out how to navigate in Valencia. I have contacts and resources here that I have cultivated for nearly 2 years. A network I can tap when needed. So I know how to do the paperwork and the one driving school here with lessons in Ingles. In Galicia I will have to start all over. I think that’s what Jeff was hoping for. In the meantime, he could use that as an excuse to delay the inevitable. And use me as a chauffeur while he was lamenting our lack of knowledge of how to get it done there. But I drew a line in the Valencian sand.
On Tuesday, I dragged him to the Jefatura like an angry toddler before his mid-day nap. I fed him before we left to ensure his blood sugar was at the appropriate level for the journey. I had all the copies and forms and stuck him in the photo booth at the metro station for the requisite photos on the way. His license picture will forever reflect his protest scowl and the bitterness of a man whose wife won’t take No for an answer. I held up the card of horrible images.
‘Really? This is what you want on your EU license – forever?’ I asked.
‘Who cares. If I get stopped, do you think the cops are gonna care what I look like? And anyway – it’s not like in the US. You don’t show your drivers license as ID for anything but driving. They ask for your NIE card to buy a couch or see a doctor. Not a drivers license.’
He was right, but his tone was a tad condescending. Good thing he had a little Panettone bread before leaving the house or we would be in full Escuela infantil mode in the Benimachlet subway station, all in front of the policia, who were standing nearby. I shook it off. We just needed to move this ball down the field. So, we made our way to the Jefatura at Jesus on the metro. The angry security guard had nothing on me this time. I just waved him away and we made our way upstairs and took our number, after entering in his NIE number – which I have now memorized.
The waiting ticket numbers are not sequential – letters and numbers – so you can’t just notice you’re 10 away from being called and read Twitter or Reddit – absently counting the dings. You have to watch the screens. Ding! We were up. We got to the window and I gave the guy all the papers I had filled in and prepared in advance, and explained – in my rudimentary Spanish – that Jeff needed an appointment for the theory test. Easy.
This guy unloaded on me. Like, he blew our hair back. He held up the paper with our appointment and pointed at words and shouted. Now I’m pretty good with understanding Spanish, even if I can’t conjure everything quickly in response. Except when I’m being shouted at. It’s like my brain goes into hibernation mode, and crawls into a ball somewhere, and sticks it’s thumb in it’s mouth. Jeff looked at me like ‘Do or say something!’ I found I could do neither. It was a few minute of this lament before I finally found my voice and said to the guy ‘He’s American.’ I only said it because I thought I had caught something in the rant about EU citizens. But it saved us.
The guy stopped. ‘American? Why didn’t you say so?!’ As if this man was that weird little guard at the gates of the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz. If he’d said ‘Dorothy? Dorothy from Kansas? Well, why didn’t you say so? In that case the Wizard will see you now!’ I wouldn’t have been surprised. Then he prints out another letter/number chit and tells us to ‘wait over there’. Which we do. We’re confused, and a little afraid, at this point.
The rest of the transaction goes much like I thought it should. We continue to keep our eyes glued to the screen. When our number is called we approach the window with a bucket of freshly minted PTSD, and a full tank of humility (based on our previous window). Snip Snap! It’s all done and he’s got his appointment to take the test in two weeks time. Plenty of time to cram for the exam.
It’s just a lesson that you never really know anything for sure, and a good one for when we move up north. If we live here 20 years, Dorothy and the Tin Man will always be foreigners in OZ, so we need to remember that and take nothing for granted.