If I thought that the past months of bureaucratic calm were an indication of a new status quo in my life, I was wrong. Israeli law mandates that if you have more than one source of employment, you must report it to the Israel Tax Authority. If you don''t, you risk losing a significant part of your salary in taxes.
I was instructed by the Authority that the best way to go about reporting my employment status is by filling out a form on their website. After submitting the form, papers would be sent to me by mail that I would then need to present to my employers.
Filling out the on-line form, I realized that the address appearing in their database is not in fact my updated one and any forms sent to me by the Authority would not reach my mailbox. I called their office to ask how to change my address and was told I''d just need to send in an email detailing my request. About an hour after I sent the email I received a call from the office:
We received your request to change your address, but we can''t fill it because apparently you don''t have a file with us.
How do I open a file?
Fill out the form on-line, we''ll send you some forms in the mail.
But the forms will never reach me, the address isn''t correct.
So send us an email requesting that we change it.
I did! You just told me you can''t.
You need to open a file first.
Of course, I ended up doing what I should have done from the beginning – showing up at their office in person.
Another thing I''ve learned that is worth trying is threatening to cry. My strategy for getting what I want in any bureaucratic office has often been to simply argue until I get it. Shula the secretary with the fake red hair and rhinestone studded shirt insists that I''m not in the system even though I''ve been a paying costumer for two years? Orange has been transferring me from department to department for twenty minutes? I know if I yell for long enough, they''ll get tired and give me what I want. I''m not proud of this method of communicating, but it works and in some ways is the best example of my assimilation into Israeli culture.
The problem with yelling, though, is that anyone who''s been in this country for more than three months has learned how to do it too. So, if poor Olga has been sitting at the same desk since nine and has been yelled at on average by at least three frustrated people an hour, at some point she will start to feel like a friar.
Friar is a term used here to describe people who have no spine and are easily taken advantage of. In English, we''d call them suckers, losers or push-overs. Being perceived as a friar is every Israeli''s worst nightmare. I''m sure there are anthropological reasons for this that have to do with collective memory and our development into one sovereign nation after thousands of years of exile, persecution, and dispersion. That''s all very interesting, but will not help me reason with Olga if she''s experiencing self-doubt and frustration with her ability to stand her ground.
There''s a part from a movie with Drew Barrymore that I saw years ago, called Riding in Cars with Boys. I remember it sometimes when I''m frustrated. I don''t remember the movie that well, or even if I liked it - just this one part where a father gives his estranged son advice:
"Women want to forgive. Even a total screw-up, they’ll help. It’s in their nature. You just gotta remember, you gotta tell them you need their help. Or else they won’t do it."
I don''t know if this is really specific to women. I think that people in general are more willing to give you a hand if you can articulate the simple fact that you need their help. This works well with Israelis especially because essentially you are saying, “Look at me, friar that I am. I am dependent on you, Powerful One, and your magical abilities to stamp my documents, transfer my call, etc.”
So back to Olga. She wasn''t listening. She couldn''t. Her ego simply wouldn''t let her. She was being rotten to me, but I understood that deep within her soul she was waging an internal war to prove her worth as a decisive human being. I couldn''t tear up what little dignity she had left (also, I really needed the Minhal to pay my tuition). Sitting across from her, I put my elbows on her desk and my head in my hands.
I don''t know Olga. I don''t know what to do anymore. I think I''m going to cry.
What? What do you mean you''re going to cry?
You need to help me because I''ve tried everything and now I just think I''m going to cry.
No, don''t cry. I''ll call someone, just whatever you do, don''t cry.
She ended up calling someone''s private cellphone in order to get approval for my file to be opened.
This experience was monumental because it changed the way I look at bureaucratic challenges. Or maybe just the way I look at bureaucrats. Because even though sometimes you can''t tell, beneath that bad hair dye job, tight leopard print shirt and the cloud of cigarette smoke hovering above, Olga is a human being. And all human beings just want to feel needed.
So it seems that if I want the “approved” stamp on my file and not “needs more documents,” I need to now commit myself to learning the business of emotional validation. Will keep you all updated.