How To Renew Your Russian Passport AND Avoid Homicide
Do not ask questions.
Do not (even attempt to) smile.
Do not expect fair treatment or consistent procedures.
Do not apologize.
Do not say hello or thank you.
Do not use upward inflections at the end of your sentences.
Whatever you are doing is already wrong.
Do wear fur and your best bitch face.
Do leave common sense and reason at home.
I drop by a fancy supermarket next door, and buy some cottage cheese with berries from the deli counter. I’m not really hungry. Just nervous. Something about knowing that you are about to get yelled at for not particular reason.
The little dingy office is peppered with notices full of words like “strictly”, “necessary” and “mandatory”. There is absolutely no sign up without appointment. At least that’s what one of the angry signs says. Yet I show up to the office to find a dozen people waiting without the appointment. [See do’s and don’ts above].
Ah, the eternal question at the tail of a line-up. I almost choke on nostalgia. And cottage cheese.
This is, essentially, a hostage situation. It’s “us” vs. “them”, and “they” are operating according the classic bureaucratic script of “I may not be very important, but today I have something you need, and you can’t do anything about it.”
“They” have something we desperately need. A conduit to family and loved ones back home. And so everyone keeps quiet, and hopes that as long as this bureaucracy bus keeps moving at certain speed, we will get where we need to get eventually. Hopefully, in one piece. Either that, or this whole shit show will blow up. And Keanu won’t save you.
A herd of slightly belligerent, but mostly helpful women at the front of the line examine every person who walks through the doors.
“Do you have an appointment?”
“What are you here for?”
The office opens at 9am, or so the sign says. However, I am told not to expect any activity for the first half an hour. The windows are closed.
I practice my speech.
I practice my angry voice.
I practice my bitch face.
I have to pee. I hold it.
It helps with the bitch face.
And I’m too afraid to miss my opportunity to get yelled at.
There are voices behind the draped windows. The office is open. Except it’s not. There is a whiff of USSR in the air. I shudder.
People are already bonding over tips and tricks. They whisper about forms and photos, swap strategies and ask each other how long the process takes.
“If you come here every day for a week, you’ll get it eventually”.
“Yesterday, I showed up without an appointment, and they served twelve people without an appointment.”
“Oh, that’s good, so we are good!”
‘There is hope!”
“Do you need to confirm your citizenship? Oh, they take very long time to do that”.
In fact, “they” take a very long time to do pretty much anything. If it can take longer, it will.
Fill out an unintelligible form online? Done.
Print out three copies. Done.
Bring the passport, photocopies of the passport, and the photocopies of the photocopies of the passport. Done.
Include the address I’ve been living at in 1992? Yes, of course, I know it by heart.
Money order? Here you go. Oh, the price has been increased? When? Last week? Of course, it has. No, no, I am not being a smart ass. Yes, sir. Yes, of course, sir. Right away.
Go to this other window to pay? And bring the receipt back to this window? Done.