It was a Wednesday morning in the beginning of July in Santo Domingo, and for some reason it seemed like the perfect time for me to finally go get my driver’s permit. I was 21 at the time, so yes, it kind of took me a long time to finally get that sorted, but hey, I lived abroad for four years in a city with a more-than-decent public transport system, so it’s not like I ever had the need to…
Anyways, it was probably the living abroad thing that completely spoiled me. Blame the fact that I was so used to Canadian bureaucracy that was kind of expecting a near-competent treatment from its Dominican counterpart. So, in the eve of my visit to the Transport Office, I looked up in their website (very naïve of me, in retrospect) which documents I needed to bring with me. I needed 2 2×2 photos (check), a copy of my ID (check), and the receipt of the payment of the corresponding taxes (check).
I arrived to the reception, only after receiving the “up and down stare” from every “officer” in the vicinity (the “up and down stare” is pretty much a custom among uneducated Dominican males, as they feel it is their legitimate right to violently observe every women that crosses their way, and their duty to shout at them any compliment that, in their view, is both clever and flattering).
“Buenas, I am here to get my driver’s permit”
“Did you pay the tax?”
“Yes I did” (Amalia: 1 – DGTT:0)
“Did you bring a copy of your ID?”
“Yes I did” (Amalia:2 – DGTT:0)
“Did you bring your photo?”
“Yes I did” (Amalia: 3 – DGTT:0)
“Did you bring your certificate of good behaviour?”
“CERTIFICATE-OF-GOOD-BEHAVIOUR” (Amalia: 3 – DGTT: 1)
“Yeah… I understood, but in the website… it didn’t say I needed one” (Again: NAÏVE)
“Well, nobody ever checks or updates the website anyways. But you do need one, you can get one at that booth over there to your left. It’s 150 pesos. “
“C*ño” I thought to myself. I headed over to where the receptionist pointed me, and struggled to find where exactly it was that I had to line up. You see, I firmly believe that practices like “making a line”, or “raising your hand to speak”, or “taking the right side if you’re standing up on electrical escalators” are specific to some cultures and not others, and well, I guess Dominican culture falls within the latter. I make my way to the front of the… bunch, and ask the guy at the other side of the window where was the line (Naïve). He told me to just hand him the papers, and that they would call my name when my papers were ready. Fair enough. I do so, and go to sit down.
If we Dominicans were not so creative at naming our offspring, that hour and-a-half that I waited for my certificate of good behaviour would have probably felt like 5 hours instead of 3 and a half. I tried to keep myself from laughing at hearing through the loudspeakers:
“HUGOBERTO DÍAZ. HUU-GO-BEEERTO DÍAZ”
“DAYNERIS MENCIÓN. DAY-NEE-RIS MENCIÓN”
or, my personal favourite:
“DESVALIDO PÉREZ. DEES-VA-LII-DO PÉREZ”
I also was somewhat amused at the guys who actually got nervous about whether they would actually qualify to get a paper of good conduct. I heard this one guy ask the window-man:
“Ey, amigo, so… if I have one teeny–tiny record in deportations, can I still get my license?”
The window-man just stared at him, but said that it was no problem. Finally, my name is called, I get my certificate, and move on to the next stage. So, in a nutshell: I had to go to the registration desk, where they get my documentation, and send me to get my eye exam. My eye exam consists of repeating three letters that were in a poster on the wall. I get a card that says that I have 20/20 vision, even though I was clearly wearing glasses. I then go to get tested for my blood type, to finally receive my “driver’s manual”, and sit on the waiting room for the infamous 45-minute long “educational video”.
By the time I walked into the classroom where the video was going to be projected, I had been in that building for almost 3 hours, and was at least one hour away from doing the actual test. It was Santo Domingo in the summer, so it was pretty hot, and it was a government building, so there was obviously no AC. The room starts packing up with others in my same situation. It was a very heterogeneous group: you had the 17 and 18-year old students, you had older ladies who finally decided it was about time to start driving legally, you had the truck drivers, motorcyclists, university students…. A fairly good sample of the Dominican ecosystem. Then, right after the room is at capacity two older ladies walk in, and the instructor asks if someone can give them their seat. Well, Dominicans are pretty good at not shutting up, but I can assure you, at this point, I heard crickets. All the guys just stared at the celing, one even complaining:
“I ain’t giving no one my seat”
“You have to move fast, otherwise people come and try to take your seat from you”.
Chivalry, my friends, is dead.
The video starts, and although it was only 45 minutes, it is as if the heat makes everything move slower. Every time the instructors would walk back into the room to check on us, someone would complain:
“Así no se puede”
“Turn on a fan or something que no vamo’ a morí”
or, my all-time favourite:
“We’re going to suffocate in here from all the carbon MONOXIDE” (hey, you can’t blame the guy for having an automobile-complex).
It only got worse after the video ended and the instructor walked back into the room. At that point, she was so kindly giving us some of the answers to questions that may appear on the test. In fact, she even made us repeat them: kindergarden-style:
At one point she even tried to spice it up, and instead of having us repeat the statements, she would ask yes/no questions:
“Do you stand half a meter apart from a motorcycle?”
“Do you stand a meter and a half apart from a motorcycle?”
(Apparently, she knew what she was doing, everyone around me was really getting into this “game”)
I finally go and take my exam. No fun stories there. I pass the exam (surprise, surprise), and finally, start to see the light at the end of the tunnel as I go to another booth to get my photo taken, get my card, and get the hell out of that office. (I was also starting to get hangry. Yes, hAngry). I make yet-another line for my picture, wait like 20 more minutes until I finally get to the counter. This guy sees my papers, asks for my weight, height, and all the other crap they have to put in your card. He takes my picture, I start to feel tears of joy coming, and then:
“It says here you have a restriction”
“A WHAT now?!”
“A restriction, because when you issued your previous permit you were underage.”
“Yes, but I did not went through all the stages as if I was renewing it, I started from SCRATCH.”
“Yes, but you have to get that removed”
“Well, remove it then”
“I can’t do that. You have to go to another booth…”
“ANOTHER BOOTH? LISTEN, I HAVE BEEN HERE FOR NEARLY FIVE HOURS. I HAVE BEEN TO EVERY SINGLE BOOTH IN THIS BUILDING, AND NOBODY EVER MENTIONED ANYTHING ABOUT A RESTRICTION. THE GUY WHO FIRST TOOK A LOOK AT MY PAPERS IN RECEPTION SAW MY RECORD, AND HE DID NOT SAY A THING, AND NOW YOU’RE TELLING ME THAT I HAVE TO GO SEE ANOTHER OFFICER TO GET THIS STUPID RESTRICTION REMOVED” (It may sound lame in print, but it was a pretty intimidating explosion, trust me on this). The guy got a little scared, and the sight of my bright red face was probably not helping much.
“It will only take a second, I promise. And you won’t have to line up when you come back”
I had no other choice, so I walk to the opposite end of the building, storm through every door that I had to storm, and pretty much answer in bark-form to every question that requires a yes/no answer. That last stage is a mere blur just now, but I remember that I had to go to one office to get a piece of paper, then take that piece of paper to someone else in another office to stamp, then take the stamped paper for someone else to sign, and then get that person’s signature signed over by her supervisor. They all noticed I was mad and tired (and if they were any clever, they would have realized that I was hangry too). So they were all like “No te quille” (don’t get mad, in Dominican slang). Or, “cambia esa cara, que tu eres muy linda” (Change that face because your pretty, a prime example of Dominican logic at work. Also, apparently is ok for workers in government office to say this to you). Or, “Que te pasa? No te preocupes, eso no es nada” (What’s going on? It’s nothing, don’t worry about it.
I go back, cut the line, and stare at the window-man that was going to give me my card straight in the eye. He takes my papers from me and says that it will only take a minute. I go sit down for the (hopefully final) wait. At that time, the two guys sitting next to me probably realized how mad I was (I would be surprised if there was no steam coming out of my head). So, he though it would make it all better to go for a round of compliments. This one was even more interesting, as he was not complimenting me directly, but rather talking to his friend next to me about me. Smooth guy. I wonder what could have been…
“Ella ta’ como killá” (She looks like she’s kinda mad)
“Eso é polque ella fea… pero a la inversa” (It’s because she’s ugly… but in inverse.)
Again, I’m not sure why I had never heard that brilliant piece of compliment before, but I encourage everyone to start using it: “She is ugly, but in inverse”.
Finally, yes FINALLY, my name is called; I get my card and shove it so quickly in my purse that I don’t even get a chance to look at it. 6-and-a-half hours later, I had my driver’s permit.