The “American Way”

Things move so quickly that I can’t keep up with them. I’d have to be paid to write these words in order to be able to share my thoughts on all that’s going on on the other side of the Atlantic and how it is becoming more than simply worrisome. Unfortunately, I make my daily bread at a so-called “day job”.

I am an American, living in Spain. I’ve been here since Reagan and partially because of Reagan. I worked for years as an ESL teacher, until I landed a fairly well-paid job administrating a small agricultural machinery import company here.

One of my tasks at the day job is to document machinery. Spain has a rather, shall I say “complicated” system for this documentation. I have to go through a lot of red tape in order for a farmer to be able to legally drive a combine harvester on the highway or local roads to get to the wheat or rice field he needs to harvest. Because the process is so complex, I use a special type of “agency”, called a gestoría, that takes the innumerable papers I collect to the administration and gets me the final documents necessary to license this farm machinery. The lady who handles my paperwork is named Eva.

Eva and I have been struggling with a particular roll of red tape that just gets more tangled as we try to untangle it. Our most serious obstacle is the head civil servant at the local branch of the Agricultural Department, someone we simply call “the witch”, which obviously rhymes with what we’d really like to call her. She’s Noemi.

The next-to-the-last step on that long road to licensing is registering the machine in the Registro Oficial de Maquinaria Agrícola, or, ironically, ROMA. This is a provincial, then nation-wide data base, basically a list that demonstrates where a machine is, who is the owner of the machine, and where that machine operates regularly. That’s grossly simplifying all that’s involved in attaining the ROMA ID card, but it is delicately defining the real purpose of ROMA: statistical record keeping. This ID card has been linked to the Traffic Department for licensing and, without it, the machine can not have a tag, which means it can not be driven on roads.

The case in our hands at this time is stuck in the ROMA phase. Someone messed up and there is no established way to correct the mistake made. After negotiating with Noemi, she allowed us an out for the mistake that would facilitate correction and final licensing. That was until yesterday.

Eva phoned me while I was running about picking up documents to bring to her on other matters. I went to her office and found her smoking from the ears. Eva is a very efficient, positive woman, able to weed her way through local and state bureaucracy and still smile, something I personally wouldn’t be able to do anymore, not without actually calling Noemi a bitch to her face, which would not help with future red tape.

Eva set up the bad news with the following comment: “It’s like Noemi is taking her cues from America.” Eva meant, clearly, that whatever is going on in the now confusing, fact-bending world of American bureaucracy, it has finally gotten to our small community and into the hands of Noemi.

The details of what Noemi actually did don’t matter here. She made a couple of phone calls, made an “executive decision” and is insisting that we take a long, complicated and nearly impossible route to something that she could have resolved in five minutes had she not taken the “I’m a civil servant and what I say is unquestionable truth” route.

What should we take from this anecdote? Well, in a small farming community, where the most interest I’ve seen about Mr Trump is people asking me what I think because I’m the only American they know, the “American Way” has been used to describe the nasty, “I’m in charge because I stand on this side of the window” attitude of a minor civil servant with a useless job that only complicates what is basically the collection of information.