Expat-ish

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On the Beach

Thursday, 20 September 2012

I'm just trying to pay a bill

I absolutely cannot abide bureaucracy.  Bureaucracy is the fertile ground for administrative blunders. Petty little rules that empower petty little people to spoil your day.

Life is short- way too short -to spend in queues or on hold waiting to be attended to by an untrained, disinterested, incompetent  person who with one fell swoop of their clumsy paw, can reduce you to hours and hours of queues and hanging on.

So my latest foray into this misery started with trying to open a bank account. I won't bore you with misrepresentations by the bank, the time wasted, the misleading website because if I dip even into the memory of that mire of hopelessness, I may never haul myself out again.

The snippet I will reveal is that I needed proof of residence. The proof I had was not ideal- my utilities bill stated my address but the "address section" had my PO Box address (just don't ask, OK?).

I receive my utilities bill by email, which is great. So, I e-mailed them asking very clearly and simply to please put my address in the address section. Not rocket science, right?

Simple. Or so you'd think.

Except for the auto-reply- nothing. Radio silence. The day when I normally get my bill passes. A few days go by. I- being an EXTREMELY good citizen- try to call. Sadly (or not), I cannot afford to give up 3/4 hours of daylight being on hold, so I hung up and emailed them again on the basis that the auto-reply had absolutely assured me they would respond within 3 days. But they hadn't. Is anyone surprised?

So, 3 days after my second end email, I am very anxious. If you don't pay, you get cut off and the process for getting reconnected is enough to send anyone into therapy or on a plane to anywhere but here.

I call again and after some 30 minutes of the menu in pretty much all of South Africa's official languages and some especially aurally jagged muzak, I hang up. My kids are at home while I try to make this call and- for some reason- holding the phone immediately makes me the most interesting things with a 4km radius for them and a magnet for their noise. They really are like flies to you-know-what. So, I really think 30 mins on hold with children welded to my body screeching makes me eligible for sainthood. Or something close, at any rate.

3 days ago I receive an email entitled "Your Bill". Rarely, have I opened such a dull email with such delight and relief. Then I read it. I owe some money for this month under this bill, apparently, but R13,000 in arrears (say, around GBP1000.00). Horror, disbelief, wishing I'd never messed with them about where my "address" was located...

Upon further inspection, it transpires this is not my bill. Yes, my name is on it and my address is now in the right place (someone must be very pleased with themselves- only an eon to effect that mammoth change). But the payment dates don't tally, the amounts are wrong. The temptation to cry is overwhelming as is the urge to dig my own grave and just go and lie in it.

I wanted a bill. I have a bill but someone else's bill. Someone else's HUGE bill. I feel both suicidal and homicidal at the same time. The payment deadline looms.

So what did I do? I sent them an email. I received an auto-reply in all the official languages thanking me for my email and saying they'd respond in 3 days.

Whoever dealt with my query at the Council really took some time to get it wrong. It's a very special talent that really shouldn't be allowed to blossom.

I can't pay my bill even though I really want to. The Council won't get the money it needs, the money it really needs. It's incompetence on a basic level- it slows everyone down by wasting their time and there is far too much of it.

Pointless nuisances that ruin your day. Do I really have to beg to pay my bill? Should I attempt a reverse hold-up whereby I burst into the office of the City of Cape Town, desperately thrusting money at the cashier whilst flashing my account number? I can just see me ending up in the holding cells at Pollsmoor STILL not having managed to pay my bill.

I may blog again. If I'm allowed to pay my electricity bill.....

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