The fastest bureaucrat ever (October 1, 2006)

Woo, Thursday I went through the fastest bureaucrat ever: kudos to the "Contrôle des Habitants" [1]! I walked in, handed them my forms, and handed them some money. They say not to stand there and wait; they will review the papers and then send my new residence permit in the mail. I had scheduled a whole afternoon for this visit. It went so fast that I was almost disappointed!

To contrast, human resources at EPFL just keeps underwhelming me. In theory, human resources is the connection between the cold machine of the organization and the warm, squishy human beings that scramble about the cogs trying, well, not to get squished. The practice is a little different.

For my most recent need from HR, it took me three tries to actually meet them, because apparently their hours are 9:30-4:30, except during "lunch" which is from 12:00-2:00 [2]. When I finally got to meet one of them, it took fifteen minutes for them to figure out what was needed to get a simple form printed [3]. My previous visit to HR was similarly underwhelming. I was signing papers to work at EPFL, and they assigned me a person to explain what was going on. They may as well not have bothered. I had not spoken French in about 10 years, so we tried English, but the communication did not work. I had trouble reading the forms, while she could not think of the English word for "pension", even though it's the same word, "pension". She, like this other fellow, was a nice person, but they and their department were not very helpful.

By the way, I had a chilling thought at my most recent visit to HR. What can you do if these guys just don't help you? You cannot do the work yourself. You cannot turn to someone else to do it. You have no common interest. You can try to go over their head, but that takes hours or weeks. Unless it gets really bad, your main hope is that they have pity on you. So, I figure your main strategy should be to go for the ride, look pathetic, and remind them repeatedly of what a decent human-resources person would do in this situation. Everybody wants to be decent, right? In other words, pure psychology.

I guess this is what being mugged is like. Or, being hauled into a police station.

Anyway, there is one good thing about underwhelming departments like EPFL's HR: They make the good guys look absolutely amazing. Kudos, Contrôle des Habitants!

[1] I am never sure about all these Bureau's of This's, Office's of That's -- I just read the addresses on the forms, go there, and then flash forms, sign papers, and hand over money until the guy is satisfied. As best I can tell, this one is the Office of People Who Live Here. I go to the upstairs branch, which is for Funny-Lookin' People Who Live Here Who Don't Talk Right.

[2] The concept of shifts is too hard. Heck, it might be illegal! Being useful during the lunch hours? Bizarre and self-destructive. Enabling other people to do work instead of to shut down? Preposterous.

[3] First, I needed to sign another form. Second, I am from the U.S., not from England, which apparently makes a difference. It's cool they can guess the language even; that pathetic r-rolling is a dead givaway, or something.

Lex Spoon