Wednesday, March 02, 2005
Man, I hate Mexican government offices. With a passion. Consular offices, in particular, are something to be reckoned with.
Oh, don't get me wrong. The Mexican consulates (and I've dealt with a few of them) are pretty efficient. You can typically get your passport done within a day, and with the correct smile and demeanor you can get a notarized signature without having to sit down to wait for more than, say, about two hours. But the thing with the Mexican consulates is that every transaction or business always requires two visits to the consulate: one, to get duped by the system, and the second one, to work within the system and get things done once you've figured out the system in your first visit.
So this morning, I was on my first visit in 3 years to the Mexican consulate of San Jose, Calif, to get my passport renewed. As I was looking for parking, I noticed that the habitual passport office location seemed unusually empty of people. At first I was suspicious, but as I glanced through the glass doors as I passed the offices in my car I was happy to notice two small children moving about inside, so I proceeded with the parking. Upon arriving at the entrance, however, I was greeted with a notice board that said that all passport transactions had moved to another building 10 blocks away. Alright, this is typical Mexican government office procedure, to shuffle you around between offices several times without apparent reason, so no surprises there.
So off I go to the other office, which has, on the contrary, lots of people inside (as was evident through the glass doors) and a handful of people waiting around confusedly outside. The glass doors were locked, but they were marked with the business hour notice, which read: "Open from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.". I glanced at my watch. It was quarter past nine.
I tried several of the other glass doors to no avail, until finally one of the government workers opened one of the doors and was flooded with questions from the confused outsiders, myself included.
Q: "At what time does the office open?"
A: "The hours are on the notice board."
Q: "O.K., at what time does the office close?"
A: "We closed the doors 20 minutes ago."
Q/C:"But the notice board says you're open 'till 12?"
[Notation note: Q/C: stands for complaint veiled as a question]
A: "You should get here earlier next time."
Q/C: "But it is only a quarter past nine?"
A:"You should get here earlier next time. We recommend 5:00 or 6:00 a.m."
I wasn't sure whether to laugh at this point. I started to, but everyone else around me was looking very serious, so I stopped laughing while someone else asked:
Q: "What then, do they give out numbers, or what?"
A: "Yes, we do. Then when the queue fills up we close the doors and no longer admit anyone. So get here in the early morning" [In Spanish there is an expression for "early morning"--madrugada. It means early enough that it is still dark outside]
Q:"But at what time do you start giving out the numbers?"
A:"We open at 8:00 a.m., like it says on the notice board."
At this point I left, having heard enough to figure out how the system worked for my next visit. But the thing is, attaining this information took me (and the several others who were waiting and asking), a couple of hours of wasted time.
You see, I don't object to the system. Giving out numbers and people arriving ridiculously early makes some amount of sense if you have a lot of people to attend to and not enough employees. What I object to is the way this information is conveyed. If the board says "Open to the public from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.", you don't expect to be greeted at the office entrance at 9:15 a.m. with locked doors. Instead, what they should do, to save a lot of people a lot of pain and suffering (well, I don't know about pain, but a lot of wasted time and anger, how's that?), is to advertise the true hours, and, in so doing, very compactly, also explain the system. This way, in that short sentence, the whole of how the system works is completely and precisely conveyed, and you'd only lose 30 seconds on your requisite first of two visits: only the time it takes you to read the notice board and extrapolate the hidden meaning. So I propose a notice board at the new passport office that reads as follows:
"Open from 8:00 a.m. to 8:01 a.m."
On the plus side, I got in early to work today (not having much to do hanging around outside the consular office after 9:15 anyway), which very much surprised my boss. ;P