I set my Israeli bureaucratic office waiting time record this week. And where more fitting than the universally acknowledged institution for collective agony: The DMV.
Israel’s evil DMV twin, misrad harishui, is a wonderful place to visit… if you’re an anthropologist conducting an ethnographic study of nu-mah-yiheyeh?! Israeli citizens. Other than that, steer clear or prepare for the pain.
The army often militates against your efforts to get the things you want; if you’ve gotta get something done you learn to fight for it- a skill that translates wonderfully into dealing with Israeli bureaucracy. So the day I show up at misrad harishui ain’t gonna go down like it did pre-army at misrad haklita. No, today I’m gonna get in and out faster than a schnitzel sandwhich from the stand outside misrad harishui will give me indigestion.
I get on the earliest bus from kibbutz and before I know it I’m walking through the entrance. It’s 8:10 AM. So I didn’t make it by 8 but still, not too bad…right?
Wrong, oleh chadash living in a movie.
Apparently I should have gotten here yesterday because the office is packed like a train to Be’er Sheva Merkaz on a Sunday morning. Not to worry, I unreasonably convince myself, mostly everyone here is Israeli- so the line for converting a foreign license should move relatively quickly due to the proportional lack of people needing that service.
Nirah l’cha? oleh chadash in shock.
After getting my number (yes, Israel still simulates all bureaucratic waiting to be like ordering at a bakery) I sit down, look up at the number being serviced, back down to my number, double check the number above, dissuade my disbelief, glance back upwards, and stare in horror at the number above.
There are forty three numbers ahead of me.
MA PITOM?!?! I’m only ten minutes late! Did these people camp out in the parking lot and have mangals the night before?? Are they all Morrocanly related to the ticket guy?? I silently pray things will move fast, even though a quick glance to the reception area guarantees they won’t.
There are one and a half women servicing two windows. I say one and a half because the other one disappears soon after her counterpart returns from her coffee session, trip to the bathroom, cigarette break, hanging with her buddies from the second floor, her kids that she brought to the office, wherever she is she’s not here, at her window, doubling the amount of number dings per hour. Cue the anxiety as soon as she gets up:
Oh no. Please don’t go. I-ma-leh she just left. When will she come back? Will she come back?? What if she doesn’t come back??? HOW CAN ANYONE THINK ABOUT THEIR NUMBER BEING SERVICED AT A TIME LIKE THIS WHEN OSHRAT HAS GONE MISSING?!?!
But then there are those moments when she does come back, and for the time being there are two of them. A collective sigh of relief resounds throughout the room. Regular breathing commences. I consider introducing Israelis to the slow clap. All is good in the world. AND THEN THE OTHER ONE LEAVES.
After a few minutes of arriving I notice a feeling emanating, already extant in the people around me. It’s like you inhale eizeh-siyut syndrome at the door, the symptoms materializing in consonance: your eyes start to roll, your exhaling becomes audible, you meet the same glance from the person sitting next to you with that I-know-right? feeling boiling in the substratum of your being, pervading your nascent sabra essence and forcing your mouth open with utterances of “oof” and “yoo” and other english words that have somehow turned into hebrew exasperations that you’re suddenly totally cool with using right about now.
Psychologists call it collective closure, but I like to think of it as balagan bonding. It’s what happens when anyone must wait for service in an Israeli bureaucratic office. Everyone, and I mean everyone, must deal with the same shtuyot cuz unless you’ve got mad protexia there’s no way around it.
An essential part of balagan bonding is finding and identifying with people in the office that look or feel confirmedly as annoyed as you are. And after chatting with Hector from Guatamala (you’re also here to convert a foreign license? Ma ata omer! ¿Cuánto tiempo has estado esperando?) in searching for new candidates I have a surprisingly interesting time taking in my surroundings.
Some lady who clearly understands english is clearly eavesdropping on a clearly British couple’s conversation next to her that their ears just may as well be touching; A guy is reading The Hunger Games in Russian kinda intensely but juuuuusstt not intensely enough to not hear his number ding above; And one dude is just passed out. Like straight up tanked, taking up three seats. Hope he’s also not waiting. K let’s be real we all hope he is.
Most interestingly though are the number checkers. These are people whom, like me 2 hours ago, have a ton of people ahead of them and therefore attempt to do anything in their limited power to somehow expedite the process or find solace in the feeling of being involved in it. They go over and cut to the front and stand over the currently seated customer to sneak in “just one question really quick” and when they’re done interrupting rudely ask the next approaching guest to the exclusive window party to demonstrate that they are indeed the next number in line. Ma atem lo mitbayshim? Eizeh chatzufim.
My number is finally called.
This is it: the moment of truth. I feel like George Costanza ordering medium turkey chili from the soup nazi: If ONE document isn’t in order, ONE date past due, ONE unrecognized signature, one SOMETHING, ANYTHING, THAT WILL RAISE THE EYEBROWS OF OSHRAT the now controller of my near automotive future and I will have to come back to this place.
But everything’s in order and I’m all set! Whew. 4 hours. It takes 4 hours to hand over a form that takes three minutes to process. I want to give Oshrat a shomer negiah hug, bless her and her children with long life, and start high fiving the people waiting at the schnitzel stand outside.
It wasn’t short. It wasn’t pretty. But victory here tastes good. Even if it gives you indigestion.