Bureaucracy at large
I have another confession to make. According to my records, the last time I confessed something embarassing in this blog was back in 2010, when I publicly declared my love of percentages. This time, it's my love of bureaucracy.
Indeed, I find bureaucracy so fascinating that I once wrote 100 columns for a magazine in Munich explaining Germany's red tape to English-speaking ex-pats.
I don't love all forms of bureaucracy, however. Many aspects are thoroughly annoying and a waste of time, not least in the workplace. Unnecessary form-filling and recording of activities can all too easily get in the way of productive work.
At Spotlight Verlag, to take a relative harmless example, we have to fill in a form in order to get items of stationery. A minor irritance I would say, and apparently the system has cut out a lot of waste and saved a lot of money.
And at least we don't have to fill in a form to get hold of the form that we need to fill in if we want stationery — the sort of procedure that Reinhard Mey once amusingly described in his song Einen Antrag auf Erteilung eines Antragsformulars (an application for an application form).
And unlike Reinhard Mey's description, my experience of German government bureaucracy has normally been positive: it is thorough and often time-consuming, but usually relatively efficient and not corrupt — at least at the level of ordinary citizens. I have never heard of anyone having to bribe officials to get a matter processed, which happens in many countries.
And it seems that Germany is also not the worse offender when it comes to rules. A German friend of mine, who now lives in the US, told me that she'd never come across a country that was so obsessed with having rules for everything as the Americans.
Having recently applied for dual nationality — German citizenship to go with my British citizenship — I have had the joy of taking a citizenship test (passed with flying colours), proving my language competence, finding and photocopying dozens of bits of paper, and filling in and signing numerous forms.
I have also had to go through a list of what seemed like hundreds of left-wing, right-wing and Islamic organizations that are deemed extremist by the Germany ministry for the interior, and declare that I am neither a member of them, nor support them in any way.
And, to be honest, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. And I know I'm not alone here in my love of form-filling. Maybe there is even a self-help group for bureaucracy lovers — the FFA, Form-Fillers Anonymous.
My only disappointment was being told in May that it could take the authorities up to a year to process my application for dual citizenship.
This slight annoyance is nothing, however, compared to the recent case of a Chinese man who wanted to report to the German authorities that he had lost his wallet. Instead, he ended up filling in a form for asylum and spent 12 days trapped in Germany's bureaucratic jungle at a refugee centre.
Somwehat frighteningly, an official for the German Red Cross, which runs the centre, said that the Chinese man had "set machinery in motion that he couldn’t get out of".
Now, that is definitely not the way a bureaucracy is supposed to work.
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