The word “queue,” often very much like the concept which it denotes, is far longer than it needs to be. In fact, 80 percent of the word is entirely superfluous.
But the beauty of the word “queue” is that it quite poetically summarizes the queuing culture in Chile. Upon first glance, the word seems foreign, messy, and totally un-navigable. All those vowels piled one on top of the other – “ueue” – surely there must be an error with the rendering of this word?
That was how I felt the first time I joined a queue in Chile: I was confused and bewildered. I questioned whether there had been some mistake. I started using vowel language.
This is how it normally works: Let’s say, by way of illustration, that I want to buy some cheese. Perhaps I want to make a pizza. But that’s not important right now. Firstly, I’ll spend a few moments searching for a number dispenser. This is never immediately apparent, but once located I’ll collect my number. When my number is called, I’ll approach the counter and make my demands.
“Necessito queso! Para pizza!”
I’ll then specify the quantity of cheese I desire (“Mucho!”) and the helpful quesador will harvest the correct amount. He will weigh it, and then present me with a receipt. I’ll then have to take the receipt to another area of the room, where I’ll have to wait in a queue. At the front of that queue, I’ll pay for my purchase, and then be given another receipt. With that I’ll return to my original quesador, and show him that I made good on my commitment to pay for his wares. Only then will he give me my purchase. That, more or less, is the way things go, sometimes with fewer steps, sometimes with more.
But the most taxing trials of all are the queues that are found in a government office. These places take the idea of queuing to a whole new level. You could almost say that the task is quite Herculean. Her-queue-lean.
The first time I had to wage this battle was over a year ago, when I made the first steps towards registering as a legal resident of Chile. So yes, it’s an old story, but like I always say, “Bureaucratic stories make the best stories!”
Actually, that’s not true. I’ve never said that before and in fact I didn’t know how to spell “bureaucratic” until just now when I looked it up. But earlier this week I did have to face the queue again, and so all those old, dull, fragmented memories brought visions of the past back to me like a fist full of letters pulled out of a Scrabble bag.
What follows, Dear Reader, is a rather unexciting account of my adventures with bureaucracy. But in an effort to jazz things up a bit, I’m going to make the following substitutions:
Government Building will now be referred to as Beach Party.
Government worker will now be referred to as Velociraptor
Visa (or similar document) will now be referred to as Monster Truck.
The verb To Process will now be referred to as Roundhouse Kick
Queue will remain the same, because it’s a beautiful word.
So here’s how things progressed:
- I’d finally been given the go-ahead to collect my new Monster Truck, which legally entitles me to stay in the country for longer.
- I had to go to a Beach Party in the middle of town, which was swarming with foreigners. There seemed to be no recognizable order, but I spotted a Velociraptor at the foot of some stairs, and asked him what to do. The Velociraptor handed me a piece of paper which said 10.00 on it. It was 09.40 in the morning when he did this. He then explained that I had to wait until 10.00 before I could go up the stairs. This was a method of crowd control.
- At 10.00, I presented my paper and was allowed up the stairs. Thereafter I had to stand in a short Queue to collect another piece of paper with a number on in. My number was 197, and when I got there they had just called 72. After a two-hour wait, I was finally able to collect my Monster Truck. But I was not nearly done.
- A few days later, when I had time again, I had to go to another Beach Party in another part of town. This time, the Queue stretch three quarters of the way around the outside of the Beach Party. It took me two hours just to get inside.
- At the front of that Queue I had to pay a small processing fee, and then I had to stand in another line. After an additional hour, a friendly Velociraptor helped me Roundhouse Kick my Monster Truck. I could leave the Beach Party then, but I was still only two thirds of the way done. I still had to go and get an updated version of my Cédula de Identidad Monster Truck, which is basically my ID card here. That meant going to a third beach party, standing in two more Queues, and having another Velociraptor help me Roundhouse Kick another Monster Truck. That whole process took a further three-or-so hours.
If you weren’t able to follow that, then don’t worry. I mean, you missed out on a great story about dinosaurs and monster trucks, but other than that, nothing too important.
But here’s the thing: As messy as the government offices might appear, there is an order to them. Like the word “Queue,” once someone explains it to you, it becomes neat, almost pleasant – /Cue/. Very close to “Cute.”
But not that close. It’s still kind of annoying.
Once you understand the layout and the intention of the all the different queues, you see that it is designed to lubricate the bureaucratic process. Oh yes, it is about 80% superfluous, but it moves with purpose and, ultimately, it gets the job done.