The ties of bureaucracy

Paulo Rebêlo
The Budapest Sun – 09.maio.2007 – link original

Excessive bureaucracy is part of eastern Europe folklore. You will always find yourself in a situation when a bureaucrat is behind a desk and you’re the next in line. He’ll make a fuss about forms and different offices you should go, sometimes related to small and insignificant things that do not make sense at all.

You cannot fix it in a day; most probably it will take you a week. Office hours are short and maybe you can’t find the proper person on a Friday, for example.

After your red tape adventure, you finally get back to the first office full of joy and happiness carrying a dozen forms and documents. When you finally meet that first guy again, two things might happen: he’ll say you missed one specific and very important form, and without that he’s sorry, but he can’t do anything. Or he’ll look at all documents and, in less than a second he’ll say it’s fine and BAM! He stamps the form and makes you a happy person.

Now you finally have the sacred stamp that will grant you the ability to… to do what? There is real a danger you might forget why you needed the stamp in the first place. In Latin America we are all used to that. In this sense, what eastern European citizens don’t actually realize is that the similarities among our so-distant nations also apply for the annoyances.

A French colleague was complaining about the excessive bureaucracy he was facing to live and work here. And France is pretty much famous for its bureaucracy. After talking to various expats from Germany, the US, France and even CEE countries about the infinite forms, their response was “Are you crazy? No one does that here.”

Well, it was too late. I had. And got very proud at having all my forms in proper time and with all the necessary stamps. Perhaps I’ll open a stamp collection.

The situation is not as bad as it looks, though. If you want to understand the meaning of “no bureaucracy,” all you have to do is look for a flat to rent in Budapest. When I arrived here 10 months ago, it was so easy that I really thought I might have missed some practical joke. But I hadn’t.

The whole process is surprisingly easy and fast. If you meet your landlord this morning and pay him the first month in advance, you’ll be moving in tonight. Forms? Forget them. Contracts? Well, yes, if you really need one.

Changing anything in the flat is usually a piece of cake, too. If you are lucky to find a landlady (instead of landlord), it is possible that she will treat you as a nephew, or even almost as son, if she’s very old.

In Latin America, we have excessive renting bureaucracy. No one rents a flat that fast. You have to go over a full set of forms and background checks, everything related to your bank account, bank history and even professional history – they want to check if you got fired too many times, if you have a fixed job or are a freelancer. If you’re a freelancer, things might be complicated.

When I first found my flat in Budapest, I asked a lot of questions of the landlady. Can I take down those portraits? Can I stick my Brazilian flag to the wall? Can I use your frying pans and kitchen stuff? I don’t watch TV, can you take it to make more space?

These are normal questions in Brazil. You can’t do or change anything without express permission from the owner.

In the middle of my questioning, while I was walking through and checking everything in that tiny flat, the very patient landlady interrupted me and said “Son, if you want to have sex with four women at the same, it is fine, don’t bother. So, are you staying or not?”

I got the message. I will really miss this tiny flat after these 10 months. It’s a shame that four women could not fit in the room – too small.