Lessons in Bureaucracy Part 2: Purchasing a Pair of Slippers.

Buenos Aires is chilly in the winter. Especially when your building’s gas has been off for over a year and shows no sign of being fixed any time soon. Electric heaters are an okay alternative, but rue the day you want to use both the heater and another heavy duty electric appliance. We learned this after our fuse-box short-circuited and left us with nothing at all! So, when you’re a cold feet sufferer with limited heating options and tiled and wooden flooring, what better solution than to buy a pair of slippers?

As someone entering the country with only a smidgeon of Spanish and a complex about sounding like an idiot when speaking a foreign language, it took me a lot of build-up to venture out and purchase slippers for myself. Eventually, though, necessity got the better of me. After several weeks of searching with no avail (a surprise coming from Japan where slippers are just a given in any household!) I finally found a single shop with slippers in the shop window. Between thirty minutes to an hour passed between walking into the shop and leaving with a new pair of slippers, and it wasn’t because I was a fussy buyer. All I wanted was a pair of black slippers that fit me, and I already knew my size. Allow me to explain what happened, with GIFs of Jim Carrey to help lighten the load:

I walk into the shop to search for slippers. The tiny room is bursting with too many aisles and too little space. Smiling at the security guard on my way in, the guard taps me on the shoulder as I pass and hands me a ticket stub with a number on it. I thank him but feel a bit puzzled: surely it’s a bit presumptuous of him to be so sure that I’ll be making a purchase and need a ticket. A tiny shelf has a minuscule selection of too-small, ugly footwear. I decide that perhaps they’re out of stock. Too shy to reveal my foreignness by asking awkwardly for slippers in bad Spanish, I leave the store and check out the one next-door, which I hope will have slippers as well. It doesn’t.

Sheepishly I return to the store with a resolve to ask the guard whether he can help me find black slippers. When I ask the guard, he directs me to a counter on one side of the shop and asks one of the employees about black slippers. She nods and says that yes, they do have them in stock, behind the counter she works at. The guard nods at me and retreats. I wait around for one of the three employees to serve me, but they all ignore me. After about ten minutes of fruitless waiting and expectant glances at the staff, I finally ask one of them as they leave the counter to restock a shelf. She affirms that yes, they do have black slippers, and I should grab a ticket if I want some.

All of the sudden, the crowds of people clogging up all the aisles make sense. I look warily down at my ticket stub and listen to the numbers being called out. After a few numbers that are seemingly random and nowhere near mine, one is called out that is two past my ticket, so I conclude that while I was waiting at the service counter for service, my number had come and gone. Bugger.

After a bit of confusion with the security guard, I am able to procure another ticket. Then I only have to wait another ten minutes before my new number is called out. My actual transaction goes like this:

“Do you have black slippers?”

“Yes. What size?”

“Let me see… 41.”

“Here you are.”

“Perfect! I’ll take them.”

After that, it’s about 10-15 minutes of waiting in the line to pay for the slippers, which were taken behind the paying counter while I hung around as close to the front as I could lest I not hear the item being called out.

Then I don’t have enough cash…

In the end, I’m able to use my card and leave the shop without being labelled a cretin. Thankfully years of battering by Japanese bureaucracy have left me somewhat hardened to the frustrations of inefficient systems. I was just happy to get my slippers and that I’d managed to figure out the buying system by myself in the end. My feet are now snug and warm, and the ridiculous amount of effort it took to obtain them has made me more grateful for them, so I can’t really complain!

Okay, maybe I can complain just a little.

Any Remarks?