Once you arrive in Russia you have to register with the Federal Migration Service. The ‘Federal’ part probably doesn't sound odd to the reader, but it's freaky to me since that word is fairly new in the Russian lexicon, spreading widely only post-Gorbachev, roughly speaking. And although you may have to get a visa to come to the US, us gringos will want to know what's up with the registration thing? Myself, I think it's part of the tit-for-tat. We make it *very* hard for Russians to come to the US. It's not quite as hard for us Americans to come to Russia, but we first have to get an invitation, then a visa, and then we have to register once we are in Russia.
So... registration. The previous two times I've come to Kazan, my landlady and I went to FMS and did the paperwork there. Such a pain. You have to fill out things by hand. There can be no corrections; the paperwork has to be letter perfect, and I do mean letter perfect. You can't use white out to fix things. You can't scratch it out and rewrite. You can't write in pencil. So it's a grueling process, even if the form is only one double-sided page.
So yesterday we went to FMS. We took a taxi. Arrived. Quickly looking at the schedule we realized we had arrived during their lunch break, so we went to grab a cola across the street and waited an hour. Then we went back. Nobody there. Then we read the door more carefully. It turns out they don't accept the "Notification of arrival of a foreign guest" form on Wednesdays. That will teach us not to read every line. I'd feel particularly stupid, but Lena, my hostess, is an attorney, and she also made the assumptions that I made without reading every line.
Last year some of our students actually managed to process their forms at the local post office. Lena dropped me off at the one closest to home to make the inquiry. There are four windows at the post office. Numbers 1 and 3 are working. I stand in line at number 1. I get through in about 1/2 hour. Yes, they accept those forms at the post office, but the person who does it isn't here today, so come back tomorrow after 9:00 and go to window number 2. They will help you.
So today we went back to the post office at two o'clock, which is when their lunch hour ends. Window 3 is open. Window 2 is not. I figured we would have to go elsewhere, but I stood in line anyway at number 3 just in case. Wow, she will accept the form. She starts to read it. Turns out I had made an error on the form. Under the "valid time period" form there were two dates on my visa. I had figured that since this is my statement of entry, they were interested in the entry date. Wrong. They wanted the exit date. Of course, that's not directly stated anywhere. Very often Russians state that there are "sample forms" to see how to fill them out, but trying to find those forms and figure out which one applies to you is an art.
So back home I went. The form has to be filled out in duplicate. I had cleverly done it on my computer, so I went back home to reprint it. Fortunately I had enough ink in my inkjet printer. Then I went back to the post office where Lena and her husband Lyonya were waiting. We stood in line again.
Ohmigoodness. This day was a flawless example of the frustrations of Russian life. Since the person at window 1 had not shown up today, only the woman at window 3 was working. I of course was standing in line again. But every person who entered wanted to know why windows 1, 2 and 4 weren't working. They all demanded an explanation of #3, but she of course was not a supervisor and had no say in the matter. Eventually I got to the front of the line. No errors, but we had neglected to make a copy of my landlady's passport. At this stage #3 could have simply sent us away again to make the copies, but she had pity on us and made the copies herself. Grateful I am. And then we had to fill out an envelope and an inventory of documents. And even there we made an error because only one copy of the notification was to go to the FMS, not two. But that got corrected without walking away. And finally I paid my money and got my official registration.
In short, success!
I left having a great deal of sympathy for this poor, underpaid woman. These postal workers not only have to sell stamps and send packages, they also have to accept payments for gas, water and other services, receive various immigration forms, process packages to be tracked, sell toys and baby food from their windows, not to mention coloring books. For them to deal with all these things with people standing in line and people thinking they shouldn't have to stand in line is simply frustrating.
And of course all the Russians who came in felt a need to be acknowledged as individual human beings. #3 simply didn't have time to do that. She just wanted to get her work done. And then the customers start grousing among themselves, experiencing the fellowship of the powerless. That's a very odd fellowship; there's a momentary comfort, but in the end we don't increase in wisdom from it. And to my surprise a few of them had the breadth of heart to eventually turn to laughter and lighter-heartedness.
In short, God bless the postal workers of Russia. They are in a very difficult position, dealing with customers who have long been in a difficult position. Finding joy in the midst of that is a task that only the strong and the wise can fulfill.