Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Red Tape Slovakian Style

 id=To loosely paraphrase Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Into each life, a little Red Tape must twist round your ankles - and I get that, I really do. The looping coils of Red Tape that Pán Kocúr and I feebly struggled against in Morocco seemed leviathan at the time, and I'm equally confident that its Spanish counterpart is an equally formidable opponent as well - which made our decision to work illegally in Spain an easy one to make.

Hubris! thundered Zeus of the Thunderbolt. Welcome to Slovakia.

First let me say that until fairly recently, foreigners in
Bratislava were serviced in the city's ubiquitous sex shops various police stations dotted across the city. But in a decision we're trying to take personally, it was determined that one central office with a fraction of the staff would better serve the increasing numbers of foreigners entering and staying in Bratislava.

Tee-off time was set for a bracing 6:30 a.m., so off we went
to the police station with a colleague - who would later rather eruditely inform us that the only difference between an American passport and a Canadian passport is that hers says "United States of America" on the cover - and a Slovak-speaking office gopher who assured us we'd be finished by noon.

By the time we arrived, there was already a prodigious line-up - or rather rabble - of individuals milling about the police station door - a door which would remain closed until 7:30 while the police
wisely smoked and drank coffee behind the building. Among the prodigious line-up - or rather rabble - of individuals milling about were a handful of Eastern and Central Europeans, a smattering of North Americans, and enough Asians to form a break-away state from the People's Republic (assuming they wouldn't be shot during the formation of that break-away state).

At 7:30, the door was opened and all pretense of order evaporated as the
prodigious line-up - or rather rabble - of individuals milling devolved into a mob and stormed the Bastille with pitchforks in hand in a heated effort to get an automated number first. The police, alas, did nothing to instill a sense of Queue Respect among the rabble; clearly, they saw no point in getting involved. It was interesting to note that our Slovakian counterparts didn't seem terribly partial to those few dozen Asians who, I must admit, were the first to breach the inner sanctum of the police station and I soon learned why. While Pán Kocúr and I each took one number, our counterparts from the East grabbed handfuls of numbers which would later be passed to friends and family members. Additionally, Immigration Hopefuls were divided into 2 groups: sheeps members of the EU and goats those from places of no consequence, and we had separate numbering systems. Then there are those professional immigration facilitators who have carte blanche and can sashay through the Magic Door at will. And then gum up the system for 45 minutes. Or those Immigration Hopefuls who have connections - one phone call and poof! there's no line-up. As we were told by a woman waiting in line behind us, just because there are 50 people in front of you doesn't mean that you'll be number 51. That comment seemed inscrutably profound at 7:30 in the morning, and I confess that it took me several hours to deduce its full import.

We were numbers 77 & 78.

It didn't take us long to realize that the 6 chairs in the waiting room would hardly accommodate the 200 or so of us ticket-holding Immigration Hopefuls so we repaired outside to sit on the pavement. We clutched our numbers and waited. Time moved by slowly - and by slowly, I mean slower than I thought the laws of physics would allow. It turned out that only one immigration officer was working.

As the morning passed, more and more Asians appeared out of nowhere and, with tickets in hand, disappeared through the Magic Door behind which the one immigration officer was working. Our eyes shot death rays at the tiny Asian woman in minuscule white short shorts and high heels, holding a vinyl Hello Kitty book bag, who was facilitating the continual flow of her co-patriots into through the Magic Door into the back office. By 11:55, we had reached number 49. By 12:00, the police station closed for lunch.

Aren't lunches staggered or is it because only one person is working today? I asked our
Slovak-speaking office gopher. No, she responded. They always close for lunch.

At 1:00 the doors of the police station opened and more and more Asians appeared out of nowhere and, with tickets in hand, disappeared through the Magic Door behind which the one immigration officer was working. Our eyes shot death rays at the tiny Asian woman in minuscule white short shorts and high heels, holding a vinyl Hello Kitty book bag, who was facilitating the continual flow of her co-patriots into the back office. A shift from a local Chinese restaurant - whose red & black uniforms smelled suspiciously like kung pao chicken - arrived around 2:00 with numbers lower than ours. By 3:00, we were in the 70's. Huzzah! We might actually get served today! Tick tick tick ... we watched the electronic monitor with baited breath.

And then - ping! - 77.

The four of us - who couldn't help but notice that we were among the last ones in the waiting room - passed through the Magic Door to the back office. Passports and documents were handed over to a rather Frazzled-Looking Woman and we waited. Three minutes later, we were dismissed. It was over. It was now 3:55 in the afternoon and we just had spent the last 8 1/2 hours in line or sitting on the ground outside.

We've
since been told that our little group set a record for the police station. It's nice to know that, in spite of the fact that we've only been in Bratislava for 4 days, we've already left our mark. I can't wait for our obligatory physical examinations tomorrow. Apparently we have to wait in line for those too. I wonder if we'll have to take numbers? - and more importantly, will our Asian friends be there as well?

4 comments:

MISTER NORRIS said...

You poor wee souls.

Mačka in Slovak said...

Wait until I tell you about the doctor's visit ... Mr. N: have you received any of our emails or texts??

Kristen said...

Sounds like a verrry popular destination!

Miss K

Frisco said...

I haven't received any e-mails or texts or return phone calls......Are you guys taking it as badly as GB seems to indicate?