The 7 Stages of Bureaucracy
Portugal is an amazing place, and there are many, many reasons why we chose to relocate here. However, I would be crazy if I said it was perfect, and delusional if I did not mention the biggest challenge we have had to deal with: bureaucracy.
We knew this going in, of course, and accepted it as a small price to pay in the grander scheme of things. That helps, but unfortunately does not make us immune to the challenges of dealing with the issue.
This week has been particularly frustrating, as small wins – such as obtaining my Portuguese driver’s license and getting a first draft of a property map our topographer (oh yes, we have a topographer) – have been overshadowed. Firstly, by our newly hired solicitor laughing at me (no, I am not exaggerating) when I told her I was hoping we could sign before Christmas to become the official owners of the property we have had our eye on since mid-August, and then by an architect telling me that with luck we would maaaybe be partly operational by July or August (my goal was summer but preferably closer to May/June).
After a long stretch of optimism and a bout of frustration, I found myself approaching Vesuvius levels of anger. And it made me realize that there are stages to bureaucracy, just as there are stages to grief. The former is far less life-changing than the latter, but when your universe narrows down to a specific goal which requires jumping through bureaucratic hoops to achieve, the stages feel very real.
As a reminder, the Seven Stages of Grief are: shock & denial; pain & guilt; anger & bargaining; depression, reflection & loneliness; the upward turn; reconstruction & working through; acceptance & hope.
Here’s my take on bureaucracy – most likely more applicable in a Southern or developing country than somewhere Nordic where efficiency governs, but in no way an absolute rule:
The Seven Stages of Bureaucracy
- Optimism: you hear people say it has taken them months to achieve something seemingly simple, but you have faith in your ability to more efficiently navigate the waters of bureaucracy
- Frustration: diving into research, you realize everyone has their own interpretation of what has to happen before you achieve your goal but nobody’s version ever seems to involve efficiency of any kind, no matter how much you smile and cajole
- Bargaining: with a better grasp of the hoops you need to jump through, you start trying to bargain with experts and locals in the hopes of finding a miraculous short-cut that would still respect all the steps and laws
- Anger: everyone smiles and nods but keeps extending timelines and adding hoops to jump through as well as obstacles for you to trip over, and they do so with a smile as they are in fact being their most helpful selves
- Acceptance: it turns out you’re quite good at jumping through hoops so you keep doing so while juggling a few other projects and life goals, which makes the whole process almost not painful (or dare you say enjoyable? Ha, let’s not exaggerate)
- Working through & hope: having jumped through quite a few hoops, you realize you’re farther along than you thought and some of the obstacles are dissolving into thin air – so suddenly the kilometers disappear and the end is in sight
- Success: you made it! Your initial timeline will remain a fond joke everyone involved will occasionally remind you of but what’s important is that you achieved your goal in not quite as much time as everyone said and ultimately, making new friends and with flying colors. Time to pop the champagne – and tackle your next bureaucratic odyssey, which you have quite a list to choose from.
Bonus: You get to “Rinse & Repeat”!
In spite of having lived in Bolivia for a few years, this is my first real experience with a bureaucracy that a key aspect of my life depends on (as opposed to me just trying to renew my citizenship or create and operate a company in La Paz). As a result, I have technically only gone through stages 1-4, and may have to revisit the distribution, naming, and description of the stages once I am through the other side (don’t hold your breath).
It is not lost on me that the very fact that things take longer and people tend not to stress about deadlines is part of the charm that brought us to Portugal in the first place. However, I would currently give my appendix to have this process speed up, so hopefully we’ll get a Christmas miracle and jump ahead a few squares with no organs having to be harmed during the process.
 A friend in university used to rate how attractive he thought a girl was based on which organ he would be willing to give up to go on a date with her. In that line of logic, giving up your appendix is the minimal gesture you can do whereas giving up your heart or brain would be the ultimate one.
 The liver doesn’t count, it regenerates (trust me, I have a BA in Biology).
Header image credit: Coub.com