A Small Step on a Long Journey

The rules are changing here, as far as the acceptance of foreigners is concerned. The Czechs aren’t particularly gung-ho about enforcing the new rules, but their neighbors in the European Union are. Now the Czech’s data systems have been integrated, reducing their ability to let things slide.

Currently I am completely legal here, but in the past I’ve let that slide a time or two. Getting the paperwork done to exist here legally will greatly improve my peace of mind, and get me reasonably affordable health insurance to boot. Overall, it’s the sensible thing to do. (It was the sensible thing to do long ago, but the recent changes have lit a fire under my butt.)

I don’t do well with bureaucracy in general, and although the communists were overthrown twenty years ago, some artifacts of that culture remain. There are plenty of government agencies here that exist for the sole purpose of existing, and to justify their existence they must create problems so that there are problems for them to solve. The Czechs certainly don’t have a monopoly on this sort of thing, but they’re awfully good at it.

Anyway, wading through all the requirements, getting all the documents together, and all that stuff is not the sort of thing I enjoy doing, and something that I tend to make even more complicated than necessary. Enter the professional bureaucracy-waders. You give them the power to represent you, and some money, and they take care of most of the crap. I have retained once such person, a nice guy named Robert. (Don’t tell him, but I expected to pay a lot more.)

The first step is to sign a series of nearly-identical forms granting him the power to represent me. He sent me the forms in an email, and today’s step was going to a friend’s house to print them out. They were Microsoft Word documents, but Word didn’t reproduce the wacky czech characters correctly, so I printed out a second batch using Apple’s butt-simple text editor, which did just fine. Armed with the documents, I set out in search of a notary. Soup Boy had told me where one was near my house, so that seemed like a slam-dunk.

The address Soup Boy gave me turned out to be a house. That was #7; across the street was #6, an office supply/copies/laminating shop that seemed like a natural place for a notary to be. (When Soup Boy had told me the address, I had originally assumed this was the place anyway.) I entered the shop, and in pre-rehearsed czech I asked for a notary. Confusion ensued.

It was not that I did a bad job asking for a notary; in fact I think I did a pretty good job. The difficulty was that no one present had any idea why the hell I would be asking for a notary there. What followed was a guessing game in which the shop owner and other shop patrons tried to figure out what I really wanted. One patron spoke pretty decent English. “What is it you want?” “Notař,” I replied. “Notary.” “You want something to write notes in?” I was actually pretty proud of my czech as I explained that I had documents I needed to sign and for someone official to stamp. Eventually everyone concerned decided that I did, indeed know what I wanted, and all agreed that they had no idea where I might find one in the area.

Tomorrow I’m heading to the embassy, and somewhere out there is a notary. Big steps tomorrow.

2 thoughts on “A Small Step on a Long Journey

  1. Understanding often falls victim to mismatched assumptions.

    This one time in France
    I asked for Place Charles de Gaulle
    He spoke of airplanes

    I was with Jesse, out in the Paris suburbs, and all we wanted were tickets into the city center. One of the major transit points in the city is Place Charles de Gaulle, the site of the Arc de Triumphe and some of the most dysfunctional traffic on the planet. I rehearsed ahead of time as I approached the RER ticket booth. “Two tickets for Place Charles de Gaulle.” Confusion ensued.

    “You want airplane?” the ticked guy asked (in French, of course). I recognized avion, but could make no connection between his question and my request. This was a train station. I registered my confusion. avion he repeated. “You want airplane?” He began to mime an airplane with his hand. “I understand airplane,” I said. “I don’t understand…” I was unable to explain what it was I didn’t understand, which was why the hell we were talking about airplanes. Place Charles de Gaulle I said a few more times, as clearly as I could. I double-checked the transit map, and there it was, in big black letters.

    Both the ticket guy and I were getting frustrated when I said etoille (rhymes with star), the colloquial name for P. Charles de Gaulle. The ticket guy sighed in relief. Ah, Etoille!, with a heavy dose of “why didn’t you say so in the first place?” Charles de Gaulle is, of course, the name of the airport that services Paris, and no Parisian refers to Etiolle as Place Charles de Gaulle, no matter what the transit maps say.

    Had I been a little sharper, I would have realized the airplane questions for what they were, an attempt to make sure that when he sold us tickets way north of the city he was giving us what we wanted. In return, I hope that he learned that tourists may refer to important destinations by the names they are given on the map, not the names everyone knows.

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