Location: Poland

Friday, October 28, 2005

Corruption and Poland: Damned bureaucrats (part two of ???)

In honor of Poland winning Transparency International's Miss Corruption Europe award, I'm looking at the (to me) gray areas, trying to find the border(s) between getting by and corruption. Here, I'm focusing on something I tend not to think of as corruption, but which many foreigners in Poland (and some Poles) do see as corruption.

As is probably true the world over, members of the bureaucracy in Poland are utterly deaf to pleas based on logic, fairness or sanity. I've worked in a bureaucracy and the only way to exist inside one and keep your own sanity is to treat it all like a big game, let's say tennis. You, the member of The Public, are serving and your opponent is the System. The bureaucrats that you're liable to deal with are the line judges and Those Who Make The Rules are the umpire (who's usually sound asleep but occasionally can be roused to make a final decision).

The line judges don't make the rules or establish where the lines are to be placed and are not responsible for the outcome of their calls. The rules don't have to make sense (any more than the placement of lines on a tennis court is guided by rational principles). The applied linguist Suzette Haden Elgin has a lot more on this in one of her books (I'll add that in an update).

Once you realize all this, you have several options available. You can muddle on the same as before and hope for the best. Ignore what you know and waste a lot of your time by arguing with the line judge that the baseline should be placed five centimeters further back (and lose, of course). You can expend a lot of time and effort in figuring out how to get a higher percentage of your first serves in (but remember, the lines are liable to move in mid-serve). Or you can look for loopholes, not in the rules, but in the system of enforcement. Human beings don't stop being human just because their job usually requires it. Remember this and take sustenance from it. Every system has weaknesses in enforcement and if you're not a bureaucrat at heart yourself, it's a good idea to know what those are.


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