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If there’s one thing that Latin America does better than the United States, it’s the papeleo. This word comes from papel, meaning paper, and has to do with anything that involves pushing papers this way and that, whether it’s under a window or through the mail or any other way. In short, bureaucracy (which I have only recently learned how to spell, and of which I am inordinately proud).

Latin American bureaucracy is often multi-step and usually involves waiting in long lines. My main papeleo in Chile usually has to do with residency, and for the moment I am in the clear until 2012, when I will have to re-up to keep my residencia definitiva (like a green card). The story behind getting this is long and unwieldy, and your mileage may vary, but I basically had two one-year residencias sujeto a contrato (residency subject to work contract) and then applied for residencia definitiva, which took some months, and I had to get a piece of paper stamped to continue the vigencia (efficacy/up-to-datedness) of my carnet because it had expired but my paperwork was “en tramite” (in process). Your mileage may vary because this was during the amnesty period for people from the Americas (but not the US or Canada) who were in Chile without papers.


So, Latin America, tramites, papeleo, bureaucracy. But it was the United States government that had me sweating to a different tune just about a week ago, when I was in the middle of a summer cold. You see, I file my taxes electronically. And just after I hit send, about ten minutes later, I thought to myself, d’oh! there’s some more income I forgot to report. I work freelance in the states, and I had forgotten about some checks I’d been issued, where normally almost everyone pays me through Paypal.

But you can’t file your amended tax return electronically, for this you need paper. So I trudged into the city to the office of the people that prepared my taxes (and oh! was that sum of money not fun to part with, but I hope to take over once I see how they did it with all the me living internationally and freelance and all that stuff) on a day when the outdoor thermometers downtown said this:

weather, so not funny!

(which is about 38 Celsius, if you were wondering)

But at least I got to do this (love the mirrored camera-holding self portraits):

hey, that's me!

And see this:

they are watching you

Which was great, because if there’s one thing I love almost as much as street art, it’s murals. This one in the Fulton Street subway station exit near Dey Street.

And then there was this moment when my tax guy told me I could simply write a check for the extra $5 I owed, and for which I schlepped all the way downtown to sign a single, solitary piece of paper (couldn’t we have done this by fax?) and I smiled, and said to him, “I don’t have paper checks in the US.” (This because I hate the papeleo). And great incredulousness ensued and I handed someone at the office a $5 bill and they brought me a thick-bottomed glass of water and asked me about Santiago and I signed the paper and then went on my merry way, going right back to the railroad because I had a summer cold and if there’s one thing worse than a summer cold, it’s a summer cold with no diet rootbeer. And papeleo. But at least you got some pictures out of it.

Next time from Santiago!