Friday, March 19, 2004

How these things work

There is a note of disdain in the way we talk about life as it was under the Soviet Union. Stubborn bureaucrats who could not be budged to give you the stamp or signature you needed, until suddenly, your cousin Ivan who is good friends with the consulate placed a call and all was cleared. When we see these special favors and preferential treatment for those who are connected, we note with a sniff that it's a relic, a holdover, a Soviet mindset.

But of course, it's just a coarser version of the cronyism that governs what we call the "Good Old Boys" network, and it is symptomatic of any bloated bureaucracy, anywhere.

Embassies, I have been learning, are no exception. You may read on their consular website that a certain visa will take 5 business days to process. But, of course, such deadlines are simply starting points for negotiation.

"Pleeeeease!" I'll beg the dubious Georgian woman behind the counter. "I know you need a week, but I really have to have it today. We do a lot of work in Georgia, and we can't delay." She'll sigh heavily and say "Come back at 2."

Today, I ran off to the Moldovan embassy, rushing to get a visa for my colleague. I arrived at their door only to find that the embassy is closed on Fridays. No luck.

Back at the office, I run into Andre. Andre is an endearing, rotund Russian chap who used to work at the Moldovan embassy.

"Andre!" I say. "I went by your old workplace today to get a visa. Didn't know they were closed on Fridays!"
"Of course closed on Friday, they're Muslim, you know, why do you not come see me first?"
"I don't know. But now I have to go on Monday and I don't have time."
"No, no Monday, I call the guy, you wait."

Sure enough, I get a ring from Andre in a few hours,
"So Susan you go now to embassy."
"But it's closed?"
"No, the guy is there, just ring and he'll give you visa today."
"Today? That's wonderful, thank you, Andre!"
"Ah yes, you are welcome Comrade."



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