It seems that the Ancient Romans were largely responsible for the development of political bureaucracy. Commendable innovation to be sure, and necessity being the mother of invention, quite understandable given the size of the Empire.
Trouble arises when you go to public offices nowadays to expedite some bureaucratic need. You realize that while the Ancient Romans might have invented bureaucracy two thousand years ago, their descendants haven’t really been all that busy improving it much since then.
Cavernous, labyrinthine spaces for the offices… strange undecipherable signs indicating the official-unofficial office hours… personnel who will direct you to someone they heard of on the fourth floor who might have a friend within the department you should contact for information about which office to go to… the still ubiquitous use of enormous faldoni (folders basically, but the Titanic equivalent of same. Each holds about 25 lbs. of paper files if stuffed by expert hands) and the attendant archive and (ahem) filing challenges… all these are hallmarks of the Roman bureaucratic experience.
That said, there have been some improvements, technological even! Notice the new button box numbering system. (The guards standing around have become the defacto button box experts. Do not ask the guys at the information booth.. who we’re pretty sure are impostors, even if quite friendly.) Anyhow, you push the correct button and out flies a numbered ticket that denotes your position in “line”. You then go to the booth/window that the big board indicates when your number comes up.
Certainly Italians’ love of lotto and playing the numbers have something to do with its success. And with a wry smile Sig.ra Franca at booth n.11 says that since the introduction of the amazing new technology, murder rates in the waiting area seem to have gone down. (We are glad to report that hollering is still at time-honored levels).
And sure, the inefficiency and, well, bureaucracy of it all seems quite distressing if you take the modern approach (i.e. “This is a public office at which I need to get X, Y, and Z done, and it’s all just a useless gov’t hassle that I’m forced to endure.”) Fact of the matter is, you need to remember that this is an Ancient Roman invention, and so you must look at it with those eyes, not our contemporary, multi-tasked hyper-efficiency-is-everything lenses.
Think of yourself as an Ancient Roman going to the Forum… you meet nice fellow citizens who are also here by necessity conducting their daily business. You catch up on the previous day’s politics with info-booth Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum while waiting for your number to come up. On your way out you have a “Thank you” espresso with the guard who pointed you in the right direction. Sig.ra Franca shows you photos and shares stories of her grandchildren while she bangs on the malfunctioning 1980s printer in her booth. Etc. etc. etc.
And if nothing else, precisely because it does take two hours to get the most insignificant paperwork done, the catharsis and sense of elation you feel once you’ve finished your bureaucratic task and have walked out of the building definitely almost makes it all worthwhile!