A few days ago I had the great fortune of dealing first hand with how Spain does official paperwork. It was splendid.
Let me begin by saying that each morning the Oficinas de extranjeria– that is, the office that issues the NIE which is what legally allows me to stay in Spain- selects a specific number of individuals or cases they will meet with each day. After that, despite the hours of operation, they are done. Finito. To Americans this may seem utterly crazy and while it may well be, when I ask my Spanish friends they barely blink an eye. For those who have visited America I may get an acknowledgement that perhaps this isn’t the best or most efficient method, but such a sentiment is quickly dismissed. This is simply is the way it is.
The office opens at (around) 09.00. In light of the above tidbit of information, I obviously arrived early. Even so, when I turned the corner to find the nondescript building after wandering the winding streets for 10 or 15 minutes, there was already a line. When there’s a set number of appointments it’s first come first serve… literally. I was quite fortunate to learn pretty quickly I had secured a spot for the day, but in nearly the same breath learned that the monetary exchange that was supposedly something the office would process actually had to be completed at a bank. Apparently there was some special form that only the bank had that was necessary to the process. I was told there was a bank around the corner so away I went, scurrying feverishly.
Want to talk about vocabulary expansion for a language learner? Dios mio! But I did it and it honestly was rather seamless. I returned to my place in line which had been held for me within 20 minutes thinking between actually finding the place and the unexpected errand the worst of the stress was over. All that was left was to wait and although I had heard a few horror stories, I came prepared with reading material so all was well. At last the building opened. Once inside I took a seat and thought to myself how similar this seemed to the black hole that is the BMV in the States, then began the waiting process.
I waited…waited some more…more still… Finally they called H17, but they didn’t actually want to talk to me yet. They just wanted my documents. I handed them what they needed (including my passport which I was praying didn’t get consumed by the black hole) and hoped they would find no issue. Some thirty or so minutes later red flags went up. Apparently my passport pictures were producing an error message in the scanner. I would have to go get new photos taken at the silly passport photo booths all the Americans laugh at. I could find it at the market that was a three rights and a left away. With a smile and a nod that masked a furry of things I wanted but didn’t know how to say in Spanish I went scurrying feverishly. (Let’s not talk about the fact that I had to leave the house an hour earlier than normal so I wasn’t really looking photo ready, but let’s not let vanity get away with us.)
By some great fortune, the market actually was three rights and a left away. I enter the skeezy looking booth, pay the bloody 5€ and race back to the clerk not-so-patiently waiting for me. She takes the photos, gives me the faintest crack of a smile and tells me she’ll call me when she’s ready.
I think she said a soft hello simultaneous to reaching for my hand. As I wasn’t really sure what to expect, I found this a bit odd — naturally, right? Without a word she fingerprinted me and in silence reached for my left hand. Then she inspected the prints, checked something on the computer and handed me a sheet of paper as she instructed me to come back in two weeks. I was literally in and out within four minutes.
Two trains, two unexpected errands, and something like four hours later all for a less than five-minute exchange… Oh Spain, how you make me laugh (in retrospect).