On People and Paper: JO vs Western Bureaucracy

Recently there have been a spate of blogs examining how things work in Jordan.  Raghda Butros writes in 7iber on the positive experience of renewing her ID card in JO. Tarawnah compares renewing a passport in Jordan to doing so at the Canadian embassy, concluding that it’s ‘interesting to see something in the public sector that Jordan is actually better at than a first world nation.”

Meanwhile on 360east Humeid paints a black picture of Jordan’s deteriorating Universities, and why he’ll be sending his kids abroad to study unless something changes.  This was a fairly shocking post actually.

I thought I’d add my two cents, just generally.  I don’t know much about bureaucracy in Jordan, but I do know about it in the USA, UK and Europe – and at times it borders on the absurd.  If at times Jordan suffers from a lack of rules, the West suffers from way too many – the weight and intricacy of bureaucracy becomes an impediment to getting anything done. Try filling in a college application to a UK or US University, organizing anything with the banks, cancelling a mobile or satellite subscription, or working with the health services.

I met a British couple a few weeks back who had to have an interview with social services, three references from a priest, and a ‘home visit’ in order to get their child into a Catholic School for one year.  The bureaucracy only ever seems to work one way: student loans have taken half your salary by mistake and take four months to pay it back. Your Landlord goes into liquidation so the deposit takes a year and a half to be returned. The parking ticket machine is broken, but they fine you anyway…

I remember once walking into a small medical clinic in Warwick, to ask how a family member was doing:

Me: Am just checking up on my [relative]. Have they seen the doctor?

Receptionist: Sorry, data protection, that’s confidential

Me: Fine can I go inside to walk them back home when there’re finished?

Receptionist: For security reasons we can only allow patients inside.

Me: Fine can i wait here?

Receptionist: Please wait outside.

Me: It’s raining. Okay. Can I book an appointment for later in the week?

(Receptionist looks me up and down)

Receptionist: What’s wrong with you?

Me: Sorry I can’t tell you that – Data Protection.

Another time – at college – i got disciplined for standing on a department balcony one sunny spring day, due to ‘health and safety’ regulations and ‘concerns about suicide’….

Sometimes the way things work in Amman can be refreshing.  A few weeks ago i read a piece bemoaning the “excessive personalization of affairs in Middle Eastern Business and Politics” and a lack of “appropriate institutions.”  The comment left me feeling torn. After all, Europe has lots of institutions :-p


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2 Responses to On People and Paper: JO vs Western Bureaucracy

  1. kinzi says:

    I agree, sometimes the lack of regulations is good…although not knowing what the regulations concerning pesticides on food gives me pause. Humankind just doesn’t seem to find the balance between over and under regulation.

    Did you see Ahmad’s post on kids books? Wow, but so true. I tried local education for my kids, but the books drove me batty and I gave up.

    • shufimafi says:

      Shame about that Dad post – i guess it did its job though! Yeah i saw the kids books post (my dad is a high school teacher). For me the point is that text-books in general are outdated and unhelpful… they condense information into meaningless chunks, over-simplify, or somehow manage to turn what could be interesting into something banal.

      Even the expensive well-produced ones never did anything for me as a kid! But maybe that’s because i only cared about arts 🙂 Actually i should leave a comment on Ahmad’s post!

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