Well, honestly, what comes to your mind when you see the word combination “Russian Bureaucracy”?
A soul-disintegrating medieval torture pit? A giant black-hole that sucks all breath, energy, and dignity out of any unfortunate life forms wandering too near its borders? A diagonally-slanted nightmare that has you hopelessly chasing paperwork through twisted hallways one minute, standing eternally deadlocked in a 30 kilometer line the next and begging for mercy from sadistic bureaucrats in green uniforms that gleefully watch you writhe as they flush your hard-earned documents down the toilet and then call out “NEXT!”
I want this blog to be more about the blessings I’ve been receiving in Moscow, but let’s be honest – Russian bureaucracy is a soul-sucking curse.
I’ve been working on trying to get a Russian residency permit for the last six months. It’s not like it’s impossible – I know a few expats here who wear their permits like a gold medal for bravery in their passports. “You can do it,” they say, “All you need to do is visit a few clinics, notarize and translate a bunch of documents, pay some money, and wait for a few months. Expect the worst and hope for the best.”
Well, this I CAN say – my idea of “the worst” has definitely reached a new level of expectation since beginning this whole process.
I don’t want to complain, but somewhere in between having to pee in a used pickle jar, hours and days of waiting in line, trekking to far corners of the city to prove that I’m not a drug addict, being called stupid by people whose job it is to help me, and the endless race to learn and keep up with new laws and requirements that change weekly, I’ve reached a new level of, shall we say, emotional engagement with the Russian immigration bureau.
Here are a few things I’ve learned:
- I am much worse of a person than I thought I was. I’ve unveiled a new layer of rage that I never knew was there…all over things like blue stamps, the spelling of words, and papers with strings on them. Seriously, I didn’t know how capable I was of intense levels of hatred!
- How to spell the word “bureaucracy.” Really, you’d be surprised at the number of variations I’ve tried. One tip: most of the vowels come after the letter “R”
- How to be assertive. Just do it.
- Bring paper and a pen to make notes on office hours, changes in forms/fees, and jot down every piece of advice or rule the officers might let on to. Also bring a good book for waiting in line.
- Don’t be intimidated. The person behind the desk might look mean, and they will probably greet you with sarcasm, and maybe yell at you but it helps to a) treat them as I would want to be treated b) act really brave, in control, and like you know what you’re doing, c) try to make a joke, or if they’re really cranky nod your head while they lecture you, and then politely and humbly ask for what you need.
- How to stand in line. Take control of the situation: ask who’s the last person in line and then go stand behind them. Look around for any signs that might tell you what the heck is going on, and if you don’t see any, then ask the people standing in line.
- Praying helps. Be specific, and pray about everything – the tiny things (“God, please help me know what questions to ask, and help me talk to someone before they all leave for lunch!”) and the big things.
- I married a great guy. I’ve found out that we make a really good team for getting crap done. He prays for me Also, He knows when I need a pep talk, and when I just need a long hug, and foot massage.
I’ve felt a lot of things too:
- Really, really angry.
- like a Russian – if nothing else, waiting in line is a good way to meet people, and feel like you’re all in this together. It gets me out of the English-speaking, Wi-Fi connected, comfortable cocoon I too often wrap myself in here. It makes me face the cold, confusion, and rudeness that I’m too often intimidated by.
- ALIVE. Mixed with all the frustration, anxiety, and anger is a wonderful sense of perseverance. With the little victories there comes a sense of accomplishment – like at least I’m going somewhere!
- Thankful for God’s grace. He has surprised me so many times when I’ve felt intimidated or resentful. It’s like being a fat, wet, unhappy, spoiled little kid, screaming in the grocery store, and just as I’m gulping for more air to yell, God shoves a big, beautiful ice cream cone into my mouth. It’s like I choke on the incredible, surprising gift of His grace and love.
So, in the end, I can’t call Russian bureaucracy a blessing, but God has used it for my good, joy, peace, and growth more than I ever would have thought possible………not to say that I don’t still mentally suppress swear words, and violent death wishes whenever the word comes to mind………..!