By Mark van Engeland

Another Dotted Line...

<Rant mode on>

    There's a'gonna be trouble!
    I've just been to this Holland Ring thinghy, only to be confronted with statements like: "The Dutch have turned complaining into a life-style. Somehow they never agree about anything."
    Fine, I'm English, so it's not really my place to argue the point, but the writer of that crass statement is a naturalised American -- so the gloves are off!
    Calling the Dutch complainers is like saying that the English all wear bowler hats or that the French are all arrogant snobs...
    ...well, it's like saying that the English all wear bowler hats, anyway.

    <Shaggy Dog Story mode on>

      There's an Englishman, a Dutchman and an American, see, and the Englishman says, "Terrible weather we're having, isn't it?  Too cold.", and the Dutchman says, "Sure, but last week it was worse -- it was too hot.", so the American says, "Waal, back home, we've got real weather!", so the Englishman and the Dutchman throw him out of the 'plane.

    <Shaggy Dog Story mode off>

    The Dutch don't complain, anyway; they talk to each other!
    In England; or in English cities, at least; it's possible to spend entire days without talking to another living soul.  You can go through the usual Good morning--Good morning--Good morning routine, and discuss work-related matters, but it's very easy not to actually talk to anyone.
    Making a light-hearted complaint is a good way of breaking the ice, and that's what the Dutch do.
    That is, saying: "Crap weather we're having, isn't it?" is a good way of leading on to complaining about transport, the government, the kids *ahem!* ... a good way of leading on to talking about other things!

    Anyway, have you seen the weather we're having in Northern Europe, lately?
    It is crap!

<Rant mode off>

Back to the point...
Do we have one?
Ah.  Bureaucracy.
Now, apart from being a writer, I'm also a carpenter and a computer programmer (accredited in all three, too -- I'm one of those annoying swine who can turn his hand to anything).  Carpentry and computer programming are remarkably similar trades, in that they both require a mind-set that allows someone to put in a great deal of preparation, then follow-up with a comparatively short period of frantic activity.  What they also both require (to do well) is a huge amount of common sense, and a very, very logical, step-by-step attitude.
Ok, so I fly all over the place whilst I'm writing, but that's entertainment -- it's more fun working around Robin Hood's barn to arrive at a point; using perverse logic to be extremely silly, along the way (and I'm a world-class expert on both perverse logic and being silly!).
Ignoring that last statement, and given that I am a rational, logical person, take a wild guess at how I feel about bureaucracy!
Pretty much the same way that everyone else feels -- even bureaucrats, when faced with other bureaucrats' bureaucracy!

Yes, I can see the sense behind setting up bureaucratic methods.  It's similar to writing user-friendly programs -- you have to make it possible for people to do things when they don't know what the hell they are doing -- but the entire concept is just plain wrong!
Put it this way:  On the occasions when I've run offices, I've either hired people who could already do the job they had to do, or I've had them trained to do the job, before allowing them to start doing it.
The bureaucratic principle is largely based on setting up methods and procedures that an untrained monkey could perform; but these methods and procedures always become so cumbersome and complicated that your staff need eighteen weeks training a year, simply to learn all the ridiculous details that have to be added, every time something non-standard happens!
Nature always follows the path of least resistance, and this is always the best principle to copy.  A bureaucratic nature would not be able to cope with any tree which had branches that followed a non-standard pattern -- which accounts for every tree on the planet except one (the one used as the standard).

My last article on the subject showed a classic example of this.  The Dutch system requires that everyone can produce a legal 'status' document; and Dutchmen can -- they simply go to the Gemeentehuis and ask for one.  In my case, this document had to state that I existed, was male and single, and with no dependents.  There is no equivalent to this in England; it's not up to the state to know things like that, so far as we're concerned.
That's why I had to trek over to the British Consulate in Amsterdam, to get the worthless document -- worthless because it confirmed nothing.  I, myself, told the Consulate that I existed, was male and single, and with no dependents, and they put it on a document which read (more or less): 'Mark van Engeland says that he exists, is male and single, and has no dependents.  We suppose we'll have to take him at his word on that'.
I was a tree with wrongly-shaped branches; so a whole set of ridiculous procedures had to be invented to allow my square branches to pass through the available bureaucratic round hole.
The total cost of this priceless bit of bureaucracy was about ƒ250.00, including transport, coffee, café stroopwaffels, etc..  This does not, of course, take my time into account.
The line of least resistance would have been:  "Oh, the British don't have documents to this effect, so we'll just scrub around it."

It's with some amazement that I look upon this 'status' thing, anyway.
How the hell can you have a registered document which states that you are not married?
Surely, you get a certificate when you marry; so until you have one of those, you're single, no?  You can only certify what is, not what isn't!
I'm tempted to...

<Revenge on the Bureaucrats mode on>

    van Engeland :  Hello.  I'm thinking of having a baby.
    Bureaucrat :  You are?  But you're male!
    van Engeland :  {checks birth certificate}  Oh!  You're quite right!  Ok.  So I'll have to take on a female partner, specifically for the purpose of completing the exercise?
    Bureaucrat :  That would be one approved method, yes.  But you could also take on a male partner, and adopt.
    van Engeland :  Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeewwwwwwwwwwwww!!!!!!!!!!
    Bureaucrat :  Should I take it that idea doesn't meet with your tastes?  It will have to be a female partner, then.
    van Engeland :  {thinks it over}  Ok.  I suppose I can do that.  I wouldn't want to rock the boat.
    Bureaucrat :  That will be fine, then.  Carry on.
    van Engeland :  Carry on?  Carry on with what?
    Bureaucrat :  Well...  Carry on with having a baby, of course.
    van Engeland :  But...  But I need a certificate!
    Bureaucrat :  A certificate?  A certificate of what?
    van Engeland :  Well, I need a certificate to say that my child hasn't been born, yet, surely?
    Bureaucrat :  ???
    van Engeland :  ...And when the baby arrives, I get the birth certificate, to say that he or she is born!
    Bureaucrat :  ???
    van Engeland :  ...Just like you have to get a not-yet-married certificate, until you're marr...
    Bureaucrat :  ...Please go home, Mr. van Engeland.

<Revenge on the Bureaucrats mode off>

Another really good example of painful bureaucracy; which occurred whilst I was bouncing from Gemeentehuis to vram-a-lang-a-ding-dong to insurance office, and back again several times; was to do with my super-duper (worthlessly) appostillated birth certificate.
The Rotterdam Gemeentehuis is a lovely building, and the section which deals with incoming 'other nationals' is a huge room in the back.  This room has about thirty different counters; all for different purposes, which are separated by small dividers; which have a big common area behind them, full of desks and whatnot.
The procedure is that when you enter the 'other nationals' section, you stop at the security desk to tell them what you are there for, and they give you a numbered ticket for the counter you have to go to.  That's all nice and simple.  Tickety-boo.
Now, during the course of my many visits, I had been informed that my appostillated birth certificate would have to be presented at two separate counters.  So, when I arrived at the security desk, I was going to -- knowing what I know of bureaucratic methods -- ask for numbered tickets to both.
The Dutch person who had come along to hold my hand told me that that was pointless.  No office would be so silly, she said, as to demand that I sit in two queues to present a document twice -- not when the person at the first counter could simply hold up the document and say: "Hey, Fred!  Here's that crazy Englishman's birth certificate!", to the person at the other counter.
I took her word for it.

Question of the week:

*** Did Markie have to go back to the security desk (which, with it being later, was crowded, and had a long queue) and get a second numbered ticket for the second counter (which, with it being later, was also crowded, and had an even longer queue)? ***

Answers on a post-card, please, and include a stamped, self-addressed envelope....


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