Sunday, June 24, 2007

It's Just Visas...

There's a local coffee chain I go to every so often, just down the street from the consulate. They become really packed during the lunch hour. People get frazzled, particularly the counterstaff. At 12:30 you could always spot the manager sweating behind the register, glasses slightly askew, rumpled hair and uniform conveying a low-level stress that bordered on mild panic. His tension radiated out over the entire store. As a customer, you felt the only proper response to the pressure was to slap money on the counter as you hurriedly uttered your order, then grab the coffee they thrust at you as you were veritably pushed out the door by the other people in line. A rather stressful environment.

But on my last visit, I realized they'd had a change in management. The store is still every bit as packed, but this new manager is unflappable. I watched as he smilingly but firmly told a disappointed customer that they were out of what she wanted, and smoothly suggested something else. Taking orders and making change, this new manager was efficient, yet unrushed. The line might be long, but he's not panicked or harried. And why? Because... it's just coffee. No need for all the drama. The waitstaff is calmer; the customers are more relaxed.

This man is my hero.

So on Friday, when the Consular Chief came to me asking about the backlog, wanting to know when we'd up the numbers... I told him we'd do it when we were ready. And when he said someone had called complaining that there were no open appointments until mid-July, I said perhaps that person should consider applying in Tokyo where they seem to be fully staffed. Because the goal here is not to be martyrs. And because we're working very hard with the resources we have, more than meeting the '100 interviews per officer per day' guidelines of the State Department. Because at summer's end, I'd rather brag about how well we managed ourselves than how back-breakingly high our numbers were. And because you know what: it's just visas. No need for all the drama.

You forget sometimes.

12 comments:

Sharon said...

It's amazing how we find inspiration in the strangest of places. Let's hope your attitude catches on.

Geraldine said...

Right now I want to BE that manager! In spirit anyway!! Pack out starts tomorrow and I really, really hope I don't get any surprises. But if...more like, when...I do, I am determined to handle it with aplomb. After all, it's just MY STUFF!!! Ahhhhiiiiieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!! 8^)

Love,
mom

Consul-At-Arms said...

Nice story!

Katie said...

Not to worry, Mom. Remember how well they did my pack-out when I left Hawaii?

Though I myself am personally planning a massive divestment of property before I leave here. Some part of me just wants to live out of a suitcase or in a cave or something.

MC said...

Ah, if only such a philosophy could catch on at other posts - and in the Department!

Anonymous said...

that would never, ever, ever, fly here - lee

Katie said...

Yeah, well, it's good to be the stop-gap, all-the-responsibility-but-none-of-the-pay-or- training, titular NIV chief sometimes. :)

Honestly, I'm doing about 140-160 a day as it is. If State wanted no backlog, they shouldn't have arranged for us to be two officers short and one guy in training during peak visa season.

People can wait a bit. So you get your visa next week instead of tomorrow. No big deal.

Anonymous said...

You are my hero! I'm laminating a copy of this one.

fsowalla said...

Hmmm. Though I can't say it's great that you're now officially a bureaucrat in mindset, part of me does applaud the "it's just visas" attitude, as long as it leaves room for special, urgent cases. Sometimes it is a big deal. And in the bigger picture too.

Always ask for more resources.

Katie said...

Dear fsowalla,

Being an NIV officer is rather akin to being an ER doctor: long stretches of routine, boredom-inducing tasks, punctuated by only occasional moments of actual four-alarm emergency. The temptation in situations like that is to turn everything into an emergency, since you're told to be constantly ready for one. I'm merely advocating that only those cases that really do require heightened adrenaline rush receive it. Or, to go back to my coffee store analogy, don't turn:

coffeeofthedaycoffeeofthedaycoffeeofthe
dayCARAMELMACCHIATOcoffeeoftheday

into

COFFEEOFTHEDAYCOFFEEOFTHEDAYCOFFEE
OFTHEDAYOHMYLORDYOUWANTCREAMTOO?!!

If this is a bureaucratic mindset, well, then so be it.

We have already asked for more resources. They are not forthcoming. And I'm not going to sacrifice the people here to the flaws in the system; better to push for repairing the system itself instead, no? We're working on it.

mike said...

I strive to be like that manager in my own not-so-important retail job, and I meet with middling success. Today one of the first customers I had to deal with ended up yelling and cursing at me, just because she had picked the wrong type of milk for her WIC check (a government subsidized food program for "woman, infants, and childredn" FYI) and I offered to go get her the right one. It almost ruined my day, but I had grin and bear it, and continue on with my shift as normal and deal with the dozen other problems I was called for. (Friday the 13th today, by the way.)

Anyway, I admire someone who can keep their cool in a situation like the one you describe. You just have to focus on the things you can control, and deal with the rest as best you can.

A great post, as usual. Good luck with work. Hope your feeling well.

fsowalla said...

I understand. I think your post could just as easily apply to all the panic!-we've got to do something! over the passport backlog, no?

But wait, those are Americans we're providing services for.

It's just a passport.