I have to admit that the Russian Post has well earned its popular nickname “Hell’s Office”. It’s a very good example of the importance of The Rule to the life in the country, as opposed to the common sense. The Rule, one of many, established by those mentals sitting in Russian Duma.
This summer I was visiting Russia, as usual, to meet my family and friends in Tyumen. There was, however, a difference in my status. Since I’m now a Dutch citizen, I needed a Russian visa (obtaining which is a whole other story).
The immigration law dictates that any foreign national is obliged to notify a local immigration office about their arrival in a week’s time upon the entry.
If you stay in a hotel, it’s to be handled by the hotel’s administration. However if you use a private accommodation, the landlord and you are personally responsible for following the procedure.
A Russian friend, who deals a lot with foreigners, advised abiding by the rule, since you risk getting a three-year entry ban otherwise. He briefly explained how one can send an official notification by registered mail.
So the landlord and I set off on a journey to the nearest office of Russian Post.
The first surprise was that the post office provides no forms. You have to download and fill them out yourself. And, on a side note, they are only available in Russian.
This one we managed to solve by printing out forms in a nearby shopping mall. I was lucky to have printed several copies of them. Another surprise, also an unpleasant one (there was no pleasant surprise at all by the way), was when we discovered that the form containing tons of personal data, has to be filled out twice! All in block letters. Just to keep you off the streets. With my fair handwriting experience it takes about fifteen minutes per form.
Once we presented the forms and accompanying documents to the lady at the counter, she pretended to be genuinely surprised we didn’t provide copies of our passports. And a copy of the migration card. And one for the property certificate. Yes, why one would bother telling us that up front, of course we didn’t mind walking to the shopping mall again, this time to make copies. This way we can stay fit while the lady books some working time.
A bigger surprise, though, was when it turned out the property privatisation certificate (a document every apartment owner was given in early 90’s) couldn’t be accepted as an evidence of ownership rights. My question about what we were supposed to do in that case was answered that she didn’t care a hoot, we must provide a proper ownership certificate for the apartment. Obtaining one might easily take weeks, meaning I’d be long back to Holland by the time the landlord will have got it.
Fortunately, the landlord had another apartment she was renting out, with appropriate paperwork. However, since the address was different, I had to fill out another pair of forms yet again. It’s been a great pastime!
We were standing second in line, with a lady receiving two money transfers before us. Each of the two took ten (!) minutes of the officer’s time, because she had to type recipient’s every possible detail into the computer, then print it out and offer for a signature. Including note counting, the client’s service procedure took some 25 minutes. Twenty-five minutes!
Meanwhile, it was getting close to 7 P.M., and there were eight people standing after us. The counter was serviced by an average of 1.5 person, because the only other lady was running up and down for some obscure business. People on the other side of the counter were getting increasingly nervous, some blokes were popping up to ask something, somebody asked for a “quick” envelope, grannies and mums with crying little kids were allowed to jump the queue, a drunkard with a fake warrant cursed and claimed money. The two officers exchanged our documents with each other several times, so finally I’ve lost track who was actually working with our case. I had to step in and raise my voice to make them do their job, and that’s a common way to get things done when dealing with civil servants in Russia.
Yet again genuinely surprised, the lady asked us where our note of contents was. You have to have one! And—guess what—in duplicate! Then gave me an envelope and I started writing on it from her dictation. I was too tired to get surprised at the absurdity of the situation when she keeps us both busy instead of just having written the address herself. Grumbling about me not knowing the destination address, she charged me some 300 roubles (€4), and I was dismissed.
All in all, three hours of our time was wasted. Time, which myself, the landlord, the officer and all those people standing in line after us could spend elsewhere. And, mind you, I speak Russian. How this would have been handled with a non-Russian speaker, is beyond my imagination.
If you compare Russian immigration regulation with one in, say, the Netherlands, there’s almost nothing to talk about. After January 1, 2014 no one is obliged to register themselves upon arrival. The Dutch don’t even have migration cards!
It must have something to do with the mystifying Russian soul, I’m sure. ■