Tales from the DMV

I think  I suffer from Post Traumatic French Bureaucracy Disorder.

Birthed during the time I spent living in France, this symptom means that I fundamentally don’t believe in success when it comes to any sort of bureaucratic process.

Every time something went wrong, messing up my legal information so I didn’t get paid for months, losing all my official visa information necessary to get some stamp in my passport, etc. I spent so much time presenting myself at different official bureaus all over the city, every possible document needed in perfect order,  only to be told that I couldn’t get whatever I had come for. The reasons varied from “The requirements changed” to “the person who has the stamp to do this is at lunch” to “we can only approve things on Wednesdays before noon” to “this has to be mailed in, not brought by hand” to “we don’t do this anymore.” I would hang my head and turn to leave, as the person who had just turned me away would call out a chipper au revoir.

In this respect, D.C. is rather French. My dealings at the DMV have been nothing short of infuriating, with endless lines and pointless shuffling from one room to the next, only to be told at last that some tiny thing was wrong and I had just wasted hours of my time. Unfortunately, one of the least romantic parts of getting married is that there are lots of trips to the DMV.  Name changes, car titles, new license, parking pass. And for each of these things there is a stack of paperwork, confusing paperwork that often necessitates an illogical order.  I spent at least 8 hours in the DMV back in August just getting a parking pass. A parking pass – that I paid for. But to get said pass, I practically had to agree to sign away my firstborn child.

But even when I have exactly the paperwork that is requires, I still don’t actually believe that I will be successful. PTFBD.

So today I braced myself for a battle. I needed to get my 10-year old car to get expected, switch my registration, and get my new parking pass. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I have been praying about this for weeks.

Inspection: Passed. Then on to the DMV.

I get there, take my number, and wait in line. Luckily I got there shortly after they opened which meant I only had to wait in line for … 90 minutes. The whole time I wait, looking at my number and nervously leaving through my perfect documents. A soothing recorded British voice keeps calling out numbers. Why do we feel so much more at ease when the voice is British? What is it about that stuffy English voice calling out “E-16 Line 2” that calms the irritated masses at the DC DMV? Because it sure does work. On one side, I have a lady whispering to me under her breath about how she’s been driving without a license for six years but decided that 2013 was the time to turn over  new leaf. On the other side, I have a discontent man who smells like beef jerky. But when that British voice comes piping through the loud speaker, we all sit back and know that it’s going to be ok, eventually our number will be called. I believe in the British voice, almost to the point where I trust in my papers.

Finally, I was called [thank you, British voice].  I already had my comfort snack planned out – pastries from Paul around the corner – for when I was rejected and forced to waste another morning.

But, miracle of miracles, all my paperwork passed and I quickly left with my new No Taxation Without Representation DC Plates (DC- you realize you do actually have representation for most things, right? Let’s not play the victim).

Still, I didn’t let success stop me from heading to Paul for some pastries. Old habits die hard.

Any DMV horror stories out there?

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18 Responses to Tales from the DMV

  1. No DMV stories, but a friend of mine tried to get a check cashed in France, and the teller said she couldn’t. Why? Because it was Tuesday, of course.

  2. Anna Louisa says:

    Ummm, I still haven’t gotten a new driver’s license. I finally changed my name on my Social Security card (more than a year after I got married), but haven’t taken this final step. Maybe 2013 is the year to finally be a Dunham on all fronts?


    • Hannah says:

      Maybe so! I only did it because my license was expiring so I kind of had to, and that snowballed into all sorts of other name changes. Next up: bank and passport… baby steps. But I changed it on Facebook right away, so that counts, right?

  3. Nancy Hankel says:

    I was just at the DMV myself this morning. While my trip was fine, I had to wait next to a man loudly bragging about how he embezzled money from the McDonald’s he used to work at, was subsequently fired from, and then when a new manager was hired, he talked the new manager into hiring him again. No word on whether or not he’s still embezzling money because he left to go outside for a smoke. (His words, not mine.)

    All around class!

  4. Amanda says:

    When Ben’s hotel room in Paris was robbed, he and his roommate went to the front desk to have them call the police. Neither the front desk attendants nor the managers would do anything! They kept insisting that the story was, “Pas possible” with this smug little smirk. Our French teacher came down, surveyed the situation, took the hotel manager by the arm and spent fifteen minutes lavishly praising the hotel’s grandeur. She then explained the robbery situation with an appropriate amount of shock that a thing like that could have happened in such a luxurious hotel. The manager acted like it was the first time he’d heard about the robbery and practically ran to the phone to call the police.

    Lame, Systeme D. Lame.

    But I am glad that there were pastries in your story. That brings things slightly back into balance.

    • Hannah says:

      That story basically sums up the French . Their favorite phrase is “non, c’est pas possible.” it’s ALWAYS POSSIBLE if they really want it.

  5. E. Henry says:

    Yep. Been there. Prayed lots before going into the MVA (as it is called in Maryland). Was rejected the first time; was shuffled around the second time; had to have the same papers checked multiple times by one person only to have them checked again by another. All this just to get my new driver’s license with my new last name. It was very frustrating. My best friend had to go in three times, I believe, before she got her license.

    • Hannah says:

      I just feel that maybe the feminists are into that whole keeping your name thing not because of the statement it makes, but because they are lazy. I’m still only Wegmann on half my official stuff.

  6. Heidi says:

    I almost got kicked out of Germany. Same sort of thing. Very stressful in the moment, but it makes for good stories. The problem with that particular story is that it was so stressful, I forgot the details. I’d have to go look at my journals to remember.

  7. Gretchen says:

    I love your stories, Hannah. 🙂 My last DMV experience was so remarkably fast that I left feeling dazed. Like you I had been bracing myself for the hours I expected to spend in the DMV when I had to renew my license, but somehow I walked in, somebody snapped my picture and said “sign here”, and I was outside again in less than 5 minutes…no joke. It may have had something to do with the fact that the DMV closed at 5:00 and I walked in at about 4:52, and the person behind the desk wanted to go home. Regardless, the DMV moved faster that day than I had ever believed possible.

    • Hannah says:

      That’s probably a good call, going when everyone has to leave so they just usher you through quickly. Although, James tried that strategy with getting his haircut this week and the person wanted to leave so they just didn’t cut the front. Not quite as awesome…

  8. Jackie says:

    Oh man Hannah,
    I have had the most ridiculous experience with French bureaucracy lately! Warning: this is a rant.

    Upon arriving at my apartment I found that the pipes were clogged in our kitchen. No biggy right? Wrong. Apparently this is the pipe clog from the devil. Snaking the drain and drowning the pipes inproduct didnt cause relent in the slightest. After our clear defeat, we contacted our office (who officially rents the apt.) who then tried contacting the realty agency which took ages, but we got ahold of them. They said they were going to talk to the landlord (no we are not allowed to reach him directly)… We then found out a couple weeks later, when we could finally reach the agency again, that we needed to hand-write a letter stating our problem and send it to them. We did this with some grumbling. After all that the landlord had to go to an apartment association meeting to bring up the issue.. the association meets one time a month! on top of that no decision was made at the first meeting so we had to wait until the next month! All this time we are washing our dishes in the bathroom and carrying our clothes half a mile away to wash them at a friend’s house. Finally, now, we have been told to contact a plumber to write a letter saying that there is a legitimate problem. I called one plumber for a week but its snowing and you pretty much cant get a plumber when pipes are freezing over in France. Finally got ahold of a friend of a friend who is a plumber yesterday and he is writing a letter to the agency. It has been 4 months of living in this situation (aka 6 rue de third world, France)… I have serious doubts that this will get resolved in 2013.

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