A bureaucracy is “a government administered primarily by bureaus staffed with non-elected officials”. Bureaucracies were established in ancient China, in ancient Egypt, in the Roman empire and have continued to modern times. Karl Marx, Max Weber, Woodrow Wilson, among others, wrote about the advantages of bureaucracies.
Over time, the definition has moved to describe the “dark side” of bureaucracy. We talk about the red tape, the inefficiencies and the problems and have come to expect that an encounter with a bureaucrat will be negative. Ellen and I have heard horror stories about the French bureaucracy and have come to fear that we may have to meet with impatient and impolite functionaries.
Au contraire, mes amis! Our encounters with la bureaucratie française have been positive.
Maybe it is because the specter of an encounter with an impolite or bored functionary makes us invest an inordinate amount of time in preparation. Maybe it is because we are polite. Maybe it is because we speak French. Maybe it is because we’re old. Whatever the reason (most likely the last one), we have had only successful and positive encounters with the French system.
Case in point: the French visa process. In the original application, we had to travel to Chicago to visit the French consulate to obtain our first visa. We arrived armed for bear and encountered a lamb of a bureaucrat. She was most impressed with the notebooks with tabs marking the sections to match the questions that Ellen had created. “Très organisé!” she said to her colleague as she held up the notebook. A few weeks later – in the timeframe she had given us – our visas arrived and we were off to France.
Each time that we have gone to our local prefecture in Avignon to renew our visas, we have had similar experiences. The appointments have been efficient. At the prefecture, you are greeted by a person who asks why you are there and then helps you select the right category so you end up with the appropriate number for the queue (there are multiple reasons that people need to meet with a bureaucrat: driver’s license, identity cards, visas and each category appears on the overhead screens with the number of the person currently being served. Our waits have been short even though I am pretty meticulous about being there with plenty of time prior to our scheduled appointment time.
It seems now that the hardest part of our “day with the bureaucrats” comes after the appointment when we have to choose where we will have lunch in Avignon!😊