Friday, November 17, 2006

I've managed to finish that Marta's-name-in-my-foreign-passport business - I've handed in all the paperwork and it should be ready in a week. I hope.

I found my tax identification number, wrote it into the form and went to the same sberkassa as last time - because it's close to the passports office. The line there seemed to be made up of exactly the same people as on Tuesday - especially the old women, I swear I've seen all of them before.

Turns out I don't remember how lines work here anymore: you take your place at the very end and by the time you're supposed to reach the cashier's window, at least five more people pop up in front of you, in addition to a dozen or so who were there from the start. These extra people are not cutting in, no. They were either seated on the chairs by the window or had gone out to buy bread next door and returned just in time for their turn. I wasn't prepared for that. I didn't let one such returnee in in front of me - he would've been the sixth one or so and that would've been too much for me. (Then, they didn't process the poor guy's payment for the same reason I had to leave empty-handed on Tuesday: the stupid tax number.)

One more thing: at that particular sberkassa, the line seems to grow in all directions - some people walk in and stop right there, by the entrance, after asking who the last one is, while others move to the line's tail. Very confusing.

Anyway, I paid my 20-something hryvnias ($4), rushed to the passports place, was the third one in line there (great luck), finally entered the room and sat across the table from a fat woman in gray cop uniform. She looked at my handwritten letter and said it had to be printed.

I really wanted to be done with it quickly, so I decided not to try to find out if she could prove to me that that was the law and not her personal whim. "Do I have to pay the typist," I asked. "Oh, I've no idea," she no doubt lied in reply.

So I went to the typist at the other end of the hallway, having first secured a promise from the cop woman that I wouldn't have to wait in line again to get back in. The typist charged me 18 hryvnias ($3.60) for practically nothing - for typing a few lines on an elderly Soviet typewriter:

I filled out a payment form and pretended that the typist was indeed doing me a favor when she agreed to take the money to the sberkassa herself - of course, she'd put it into her pocket. I should've fought, I know, should've resisted basically bribing someone and also allowing them to rob me, but I really felt I couldn't afford it, with Marta waiting for me and all. A perfect example of why corruption is flourishing in Ukraine.

I rushed back to the cop woman with the printed letter - but she was not there, and then they kicked us all out because it was lunchtime, and I spent the next hour wandering around the neighborhood, feeling misanthropic and unpatriotic.

At 3 pm, I went back and handed the cop woman all the papers without any problems. She could've sent me home again, though, because the propiska stamp in my internal passport is outdated: we are not Starokyivsky district anymore, it no longer exists; we are Pechersky district, and the stamp should be restamped. A trifle that could've caused me some more pain in the ass.


I didn't feel like teasing them with my camera in there, so here're two pictures that I took with my cell phone. The first one is the typist, the second one is the general view of the place:


  1. Strange story Neeka. Damn that was a hell of a day for you and your Marta. Will you get your passport stamped with the new stamp ?

  2. Thanks for those photos. I'd have been too nervous to take any in case I got arrested.

    And I do understand how low salaries contribute to this, and also I'm quite clear that I'd probably do the same as myself in her situation, but that routine low-level bribery has got to go in the long run.

  3. Not a strange story at all! Typical. That's why I saved the multi-stamped "propiska" that allowed me to go swimming in Moscow. And the "Intourist--Official Tour Agency of the USSR" document that allowed me to board a train in Khabarovsk. Unfortunately, I didn't save the one wonder of my travels in Russia--a numbered piece of paper from the Omsk vokzal that held our place in line regardless of "kto posledniy." Sasha may update this, but Omsk is the only place I know of in the former Soviet Union that actually uses the logical "take a number" system.

    Speaking of which, I was sitting in the Social Security office with a refugee from Russia recently waiting for her number to be called. She was in awe of all the things people did while waiting in the US--reading books, looking at computers, playing video games. It was just weird to her that we didn't just sit and wait.

    She wanted to change her name on her Social Security card because it had her husband's last name without the feminine "a" at the end. Alas they wouldn't let her do it. And it costs $170 to get a legal name change in court.

    "Unfortunately, they don't take bribes here usually," I told her. Corruption does have its place sometimes, I'm afraid--but usually it's a huge and ANNOYING pain in the ass.

  4. Indeed, a typical story. Also classic is the sign in front of the typist - "Spravok ne daiu" ("No information given") - which basically means, "don't bother me with your questions." I guess since a spravka can also be an official note or minor document, maybe it's a reference to something else she doesn't do, but my guess is that she's basically warning people that she doesn't intend to be super-helpful with their procedural inquiries.

    A version of this is also seen on the escalator monitors' booths in the Moscow metro ("Dezhurnyi u eskalatora spravok ne daiot"), and sometimes hand-lettered signs to the same effect appear in the windows of food kiosks on busy Moscow corners where, one imagines, the pancake-maker gets sick of answering everyone's questions about how to get here or there.

    As for taking a number, the one place I've seen it in sovok-land is at some of Aeroflot's offices (believe it or not) in Moscow, where you come it and press a button, get a number, then follow the screen to see when your number comes up. What was always funny while waiting was watching people walk in and harass the guard to determine who was "poslednii" in line until he could explain to them that they had to take a number.