Cosmic Bitch-Slap

Catalyzing the Confidence that Redefines and Optimizes All your Relationships

Cosmic Bitch-Slap

Catalyzing the Confidence that Redefines and Optimizes All your Relationships

Cosmic Bitch-Slap

Catalyzing the Confidence that Redefines and Optimizes All your Relationships

The Office From Hell

Purchasing a one-way ticket to Warsaw Poland with no job lined up and arriving in August, the month that the entirety of Europe shuts down for the summer vacation, I’d used up 30 of the 90 days of residence allowed on my tourist visa when I got serious about finding a job.

Two weeks, twelve interviews, and seven job offers later, I had one. 

The first job interview had been absurdly invasive and abrupt, conducted by a pale intense woman who got defensive and insulted when I asked her questions about the job with her company. Learning from this first one and figuring out how to communicate better at each subsequent interview, I was stoked to be able to choose the English training company with the nicest people offering the most money.

At my nice company, there was a lady responsible for helping new foreign employees navigate the twisted red tape of government in a language they didn’t understand or speak. Anna was extremely outgoing, highly efficient, and happy with her position. Perfect. I was thrilled to have gotten this job so quickly, as residency status is established with employment. But my euphoria didn’t last long once she informed me that my residency status had to be approved by the state now that I was officially employed.

Despite having thrown off the shackles of communism in 1989, Poland still had a communist hangover that was evidenced by shit service in stores and restaurants, monstrous concrete apartment blocks, and mind-numbing bureaucracy. So anything requiring the participation of the state made me skeevy, and as it turned out, with good reason.

Once Anna had made copies of my passport and employment contract, along with a document proving the legitimacy of my employer, we set out for an office where I would obtain the taxpayer ID number that was needed on my residency application. Taking two trams and a bus to get there, we arrived to find a line a mile long. When I asked why we’d not made an appointment, she laughed and said that there were no appointments in government offices, just long lines. It was late afternoon by the time we’d gotten the precious piece of paper and returning to the office to fill out the lengthy residency application, I got my first taste of what was to come.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised at this twenty-page residency application, remembering the day when I went in to sign my employment contract and the HR lady gave me a ten-page document written in Polish. I politely told her I couldn’t read Polish and she politely showed me where to sign. No, no, no, I said – I’m not signing a contract I cannot read. Don’t worry, she said – it’s a standard employment contract. I replied that this meant nothing to me and that if she wanted me to sign it, it would have to be in English. By the look on her face, you’d have thought I’d just slapped her silly and seeing me smile and nod at her, she flounced from the room. An hour later, a different person came in wearing a scowl and bearing a contract written in English. I thanked him and indicated that he could get his sorry ass out of the room while I read over the contract prior to signing.

Leaving the office, I wondered how it was possible that with all the Brits working there who surely couldn’t read Polish either, the employment contract was written in Polish and having one in English was problematic for my employer. Foolishly, I shrugged it off and missed another critical element of the communist hangover, namely, that everyone should be grateful for whatever came their way and submissive to authority under all circumstances.

So of course, the residency application for foreigners in Poland was written in Polish. For foreigners. As in people who didn’t speak, read, or write Polish. Jesus H. Christ!

Anna laughed it off and got down to business translating the fields I had to fill in. Dates and addresses are written in a different order, which I was already aware of, but what I found vaguely disturbing were all the questions about the paternal side of my family. Who my father was, who his father was, and who my grandfather’s father was, with nothing about who my mother was, who her mother was, and who my grandmother’s mother was. The patronymic obsession seemed kinda Russian to me…

There was even info about identifying body markings, scars, tattoos, and deformities – just like the exhaustive forms the entire film crew had to fill out when we were shooting a movie on location in a high-security federal prison. But even worse were the essay questions. That’s right, essay questions. Just like in grade school. Why I wanted to live in Poland, what I liked most about my job, and how I would be contributing to Polish society. Obviously it was all a total waste of time, since I didn’t really want to live in Poland, hadn’t yet had the opportunity to do my job, and was contributing to their society by fucking teaching them how to speak English, which, if they’d read the very first page of the application they would know. Wow, another newsflash – Poland = parochial prison.

Finally completed, Anna made the requisite five copies of all my documents and told me to meet her outside the residency office the next morning at ten. We both arrived at the same time and fought our way through a vestibule packed with shouting people, all trying to get the attention of the sullen security guard manning the interior entrance. Anna approached him with a wide smile, said something to him in a low voice, showed my passport and we were in. Mounting an oval staircase, we trudged up three flights to the proper area and grabbed a numbered ticket from a machine at the entrance to the longest corridor I’d ever seen. It was just past ten in the morning, our number was 587, and looking up at an LED screen flashing out the number currently being served I saw that they were on number 172.

We spent the day reading, chatting, and watching frowning employees rush around with clipboards while waiting in the corridor filled with people don’t have deodorant in their country of origin. Just as we were getting close, number 550, a multi-lingual voice on the PA system announced that there would be no more applicants accepted today. Whaaat? Are you fucking kidding me? After waiting almost seven hours? Why wouldn’t the machine stop spitting out numbers once the daily limit was reached? Why couldn’t people schedule an appointment or do this online? Why wasn’t Anna as pissed off as I was?

Seeing my outraged disbelief, she patted my hand saying that tomorrow, we would get there when the office opened, but now we would go get a drink. Over our beers, Anna explained that this was how it is in Poland – people wait without complaint and return until they get what they came for. It made me wonder if choosing to work in Eastern Europe had been a good idea, since I definitely lacked that attitude of passive complacency.

The next day we got number 128 and only had to wait for two hours. Seated across a desk from an extremely disgruntled state employee, Anna handed over my application packet and we watched the woman painstakingly go through each page. After looking at everything, the woman spat out a rapid stream of Polish and indicated the interview was over. Too nervous to say anything, I waited until we were out on the street before asking Anna what hapened. She sighed and said they needed proof of medical insurance before my application could be accepted, but at least it was in the system now.

It took her three days to find an insurance broker who carried medical insurance for a non-EU citizen. When I balked at the additional cost, Anna explained that this was the minimum insurance required by the state and pretty hard to come by, which was her way of telling me to stop whining. In this guy’s closet-sized office with room for only one of us, Anna showed him my passport and confirmed my address before forking over my cash in return for something that looked like a graduation certificate while I waited out in the hall.

Back at the residency office early the next morning, we only had to wait ninety minutes before entering the office of another pissed-off state employee who grudgingly looked up my application and giving me a filthy look, grabbed the insurance certificate from Anna, and spewed a stream of angry-sounding Polish. Anna countered with her own spewfest, but the interview was clearly at an end. I had no idea what the hell had just happened, but Anna’s ire was apparent as she stomped down the stairs and out of the building muttering under her breath.

Turned out that in addition to all the shit we’d already submitted, they now wanted copies of my employer’s insurance and some additional financial document along with a year’s worth of my US bank statements. Seeing her almost at the end of her rope, I didn’t dare ask why our employer didn’t have a complete list of the paperwork required by the state for the residency applications of Americans who surely must work as English teachers there. But it bugged the bejeezus outta me that they didn’t, and we had to keep coming back to this hellhole full of unhappy, unhelpful, and ungracious civil servants.

Back at my employer’s, it took me hours to make the requisite five copies of a year’s worth of downloaded bank statements, and when finished, I offered to take Anna to the pub around the corner and drown our misery in some fine Polish Pilsner. She readily accepted and we spent a great couple of hours getting to know each other and bitching about bureaucracy in Poland’s capital city.

In what I hoped was our final visit to the office from hell, we lugged the shopping bag filled with bank statements into the office of a young gum-chewing person who, oddly, wasn’t angry or nasty or anything. And our wait had been a mere two hours. Having stamped my employer’s additional documents, she had just dropped the huge stack of bank statements on her desktop when her alarm clock went off. Practically leaping up from behind her desk, the state employee grabbed her cigarettes and mobile phone, and bolted from the room telling us we’d have to come back another day because now it was her break time.

Seeing the shock on Anna’s face mirroring my own, I asked if we were really gonna leave and was thrilled when she refused to get up, insisting we wait for the gum chewer’s return. When the gum chewer did return half an hour later, she tried to give Anna shit about us still being in her office, but Anna’s aggressive posture and demeanor were no joke and the massive pile of bank statements was dealt with.

We were then directed down the hall to a different office where only eight people sat waiting. Hearing my name called, Anna and I entered the inner sanctum where we found a grim-faced older woman peering at a computer printout. Another burst of rapid-fire Polish happened and stamping the printout with at least five different stamps, she handed it to Anna and said goodbye to me in English. Assuming we’d achieved the desired outcome, I was stoked but Anna’s attitude was subdued.

Once we were outside the building and sitting on a bench, she told me that my application would take at least 45 days to process and since my visa would expire before that, I would have to leave and reenter the Schengen zone to get another 90 days. Just like getting a temporary Drivers License while waiting for the actual one, this stamped printout proves that my residency application was accepted and in progress, so I’m no longer here on a tourist visa, right? Nope. The concept of a waiver status while a government agency processes something already approved isn’t an option here. WTF??? Really???

So my first trip to the Ukraine from this country still drunk with its communist hangover was under duress, but my payback soon arrived. Seeing that nobody had the faintest idea of the documentation required for non-EU citizen residency in Poland, I made serious bank selling the comprehensive list I’d compiled to English training companies and to other poor souls condemned to spend hours of their lives in the office from hell.