Bureaucracy hotline February 3, 2006Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
I was talked into ringing the Russian Embassy this morning on the Russian’s behalf as he is fed up of ringing himself to check whether his passport, for which he applied over four months ago, might soon be available. I thought the trade-off would be that he would then ring my bank(s) to ask them to extend and increase all my overdrafts exponentially, and hence spare me of speaking technical German, but the deal has so far remained decidedly unreciprocated.
Anyway, ringing Russian officialdom is a happy way to spend half a day and avoid doing work. As the phone rang and rang but remained unanswered, or beeped engagedly away, or was put interminably on hold, I had many a pleasant flashback to the days when I would try to get through to the Russian Embassy in London to ask some detail or other about my visa. Again, there’d be almost no hope, it seemed, of ever getting through, but then, all of a sudden, as you were about to put the receiver on the hall floor with the loud-speaker on and go and make a cup of tea, a disembodied, frantic, busy voice would shout, “Allo?” down the phone before unsatisfactorily answering your question and putting the phone down as quickly as possible – probably worried about the bacteria she’d get from the phone – or, alternatively, just putting the phone down and not bothering to deal with you at all.
Today, I eventually got through. The staff here, it turned out, seemed a bit less harried and a tad more polite than in London, or perhaps she’d been on an EU-funded customer service training programme. Or she was just nice. “Hello, can I check whether the passport for X is ready?” Either she had a photographic memory or remembered the surname, but she seemed to know the answer quick as a flash. “Have you phoned since December?” she asked. “I have,” I replied, temporarily becoming the Russian. “Best from now on if, when you ring, you just ask if we’ve had any post from Russia since such and such a date. But we haven’t had anything from Russia since the middle of December.” I took this postal hiatus on the chin without as much as a hint of consternation, surprise or moral defeat in my voice, but did venture to ask if she had any idea of when they might be expecting their next unspeedy dispatch from the snowy wastes of northern Russia. “Oj,” she cooed, homelily. “We never know that. It’s just like a gift when it comes. They put it on the table in front of you. Just like a gift.” And we left it at that, both contentedly and cosily defeated by the unknowability of an unfathomable and hopelessly creaking bureaucracy.