I called it organised chaos. There was a system, quite a strict system, in place but the office I run is too busy really. Queues were building up where they didn’t need to because people didn’t know what they had to do and there was no guidance or instructions. When the bearded stranger and his colleague were there they joined the queue on the pavement outside, so I knew they were first-timers.
Anyone could come into the office on 1st Avenue in New York. Lots of people had to do so before they could get to where they needed to go - and most of them were regular enough to know how to play the system to their own advantage. When the stranger arrived I guess we had 60 people waiting. In uniform there was a General from Mali and a senior naval officer from Korea – and some others I didn’t recognise. There were two ambassadors from small states and some prominent journalists.
Most active were the fixers. These bobbed around, avoiding the queues which people like the bearded stranger felt they should join and in which they would barely shuffle along. The fixers barged ahead, greeting my colleagues by name. They had their papers signed off, grabbed their charges by the arm and took them to where the photographs were taken. They could then leave since it was simply a question of waiting for my colleagues in the back room to make the card and plastify it.
After 40 minutes the stranger had shuffled, and later, barged, his way to the front, he had had his papers signed and his photo taken. Now he was in another queue which shouldn’t exist: he’d been told his pass was ready so he should just collect it. I sent the guard, six foot three of unsmiling New York muscle, to unblock the problem. The stranger couldn’t get into whatever meeting he was to have in one of the UN buildings without this pass: maybe the card-issuing system is a good introduction to how the UN works?