With a questioning look in his eyes he holds up one of the papers. “What is this?” I smile apologetically. It’s something I applied for online a long time ago with the help of my father’s digital certificate. “Does your father work?” he continues. “No, he is retired,” I answer. “In Spain?” He raises an eyebrow. “No, in the Netherlands.” I smile apologetically again. While shaking his head, though not in an unfriendly matter, he places the sheet of paper on top of the rest before handing it back to me. When he turns his eyes back onto the computer with nothing more than the S1 form and my father’s green residence card, I realize that I could have left all the paperwork at home this time. But hey, who dares to take that risk?
After my very first encounter with the Spanish bureaucracy, I learned that it is better to take too much paper with me than too little. Since then I have always thrown my entire administration in the trunk of the car. Just in case. You will see that they need it the moment you didn’t bring it with you. That one paycheck. From that time when, as a sixteen year old, you stood behind the cash register at the local camping shop. I try to avoid the risk of having to make a new appointment at all costs. Even if this time it went a lot faster than usual. Three calls before I understood what the robot on the other end of the line wanted from me exactly. And three working days before we were allowed to enter the office armed with a folder full of papers.
I am therefore extremely surprised when we are standing outside again no more than five minutes later. This time with the right paper. And five minutes before our appointment was supposed to start. That’s the ways to do it. In my mind I put a green check mark next to the INSS. As we walk back to the car, I take my phone out of my pocket. I quickly text my mother that we’ve succeeded. Next to me I hear my father sigh loudly. “Well, I could have done this on my own.” I do not doubt it. His Spanish is good enough. I happily put my arm through his. “But isn’t this what it should be like when you move abroad with the whole family?” I joke. “How often do you see that the children are pushed forward when communicating in the new, foreign language?” My father shrugs. “Who knows, maybe a future as a gestor lies ahead for you.” Now I shrug. Maybe. But that is not the case yet. Besides, we’re not there yet. I glance at my phone. “If we want to get you your SIP card today, we’ll have to hurry,” I shout as I quicken my pace. “Especially if we don’t want to skip Bon Patata,” I add. He throws me a shocked look. He is right. Skipping is not an option. That SIP card can wait a while. Those fries with mayonnaise however can’t.