What’s armada with Spanish bureaucracy?

Archaeological evidence suggests that one of the reasons the great Spanish Armada did not inflict that much damage on the smaller British fleet in the famous battle of 1588 is that the Spanish ships were initially loaded with canon balls without regard to whether they fit the canons on that ship. The delay in having to match and calibrate systems in mid-battle helped lead to the mighty navy’s demise.

Almost 450 years later, a very popular television series in Spain is El Ministerio del Tiempo (The Ministry of Time). The series centers about a secret division of the Spanish government that sends agents to the past to ensure History plays out as it should.

The show is entertaining and also very hip in showing Spanish self-awareness. The Ministry head’s response in the premier episode to “What’s the plan?” was, “We’re Spanish. We don’t plan, we improvise.”

In another episode, the Ministry must try to look like a typical government office for a visitor. This prompts the head of the Ministry to order that everyone immediately upload solitaire on their computers, stand around drinking coffee, and that he wanted to see NO ONE working after 2:00 pm.

Recently, Jiab and I went to renew our residency and encountered the new “streamlined” government system. We first had to go to a bank to pay for the renewal (you can’t do it at the government office), and then proceeded to the government office with our papers. There, we took a number and waited, only to be told on our turn that, while our papers were in order, they could not take them. We had to go to another office and file them there.

Why? So that office could scan them and send them to this office.

We walked to the next office, took another ticket and waited. It then took at one point five people gathered around a computer to figure out how to upload and send the documents under the new system.

Pleased with their success, they thanked us for our patience, until we asked why they didn’t ask for the receipt of renewal payment from the bank or send that on as well. They then re-huddled and debated whether to send the receipt as an addendum or if they had to scan and send the entire set of papers again. They opted for the former, giving us a handwritten receipt for the addendum scan.

They finally assured us it was all done correctly. We asked if they would email us notification of acceptance or, conversely, if there was a problem. Of course not; we would have to wait for any notices to come by regular mail, and they were not sure how long it would be (especially as much of Spain shuts down for a month-long vacation in August).

Total time for the new streamlined system? 3 1/2 hours, and they didn’t even have to match canon balls.

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