By PETER KOLK
NEW YORK -- If you're a former illegal alien seeking to extend your "green card," for the right to live and work in America, you expect at least a whiff of Kafka from the immigration bureaucracy -- if not the stench of the gulag. By contrast, dealing with a for-profit corporation should imply nothing but efficiency.
These assumptions are, I have learned, completely off the mark.
What used to be the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service -- now the Bureau of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services of the Department of Homeland Security -- turns out to have a navigable and informative Web site. And filling out the forms and paying the fee online turn out to be quite easy.
After doing so -- and armed with a mug of coffee large enough to see me through several hours on hold -- I called the bureau's toll-free number. To my surprise, a friendly but efficient voice answered. The woman said that I had to go to the local New York office; and she offered me an appointment for the next morning.
That office is well-guarded, but the staff is polite and efficient. Fingerprinted, photographed and asked to fill out a customer-satisfaction (!) form, I was out again in 20 minutes -- complete with a year's extension taped to my green card.
Meanwhile, dealing with the service-focused FedEx proved for me an exercise in frustration.
I was trying to steer a damage claim for a shipment that had arrived in November, but each employee, though well-trained in corporate courtesy, only added to my sense of making no progress. My goods were picked up for inspection but then sent back across the country to the shipper, instead of being returned to me. Eventually, in December, they came to my door -- at which point I was told that they had to be picked up for inspection.
Things were finally cleared up when I spoke with a polite employee, whose computer seemed to lack some information.
Anyway, after these two experiences, I find myself reflecting that the government -- the government -- could give some lessons to the private sector in getting things done.
X Peter Kolk is a British photographer based in New York. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.