Posted by: jmarleneh | December 4, 2008

Что Россия вез Чиновиков?

Flight Update: New Departure Date January 10th!

I finally got a hold of Korean Air to change the departure date of my flight. It was a lot easier than I thought and didn’t even cost anything! I still have to call Alaska Airlines to cancel a domestic flight from Seattle to Portland and this is a lot more complicated somehow. But I still need to speak with the dorm director about staying the dorm longer since the Model UN conference ends January 1st I am not sure what I’ll do in Russia for the next 9 days?! But Jan. 9th is the closest open flight after the 1st!

Note: I don’t know why I can’t take off the bold setting for the text below.

Today in Conversation class we roled played as Чиновики or bureaucrats. When it was my turn to be the university administrator/consulate official I was abrupt, unhelpful and even joked about answering a phone call as I was asked a question. Boris Sergeivich laughed at this and told us some stories of his own experience with salespeople. It was altogether a really funny class because we’ve all had our own experiences like his own and customer service is a lot different in Korea, Japan and the U.S! He told us to expect to hear “Приходите завтра!” when we want to speak with someone important in an office who is too busy today. He told us of the saleslady who couldn’t help him because her nails were drying. Or that it’s not too unusal to have to wait for someone to finish a phone call with a friend or family member before helping you.  I remember the busdriver having a heated conversation with someone (his wife, perhaps?) while driving the bus in the crazy traffic here! I wanted to hold my breath but I already I could hardly breathe with the exhaust in the bus. Although I must add that I’ve come across many helpful people that stand out as exceptions. But for every helpful person you come across here there are many like the ones I impersonated today. Detached, disinterested, annoyed.

***I remember how upset I was about this when I first arrived. From what I’ve heard from my friend Anna about her St. Petersburg experience I think students here get a lot more exposure to what it’s really like to be enrolled in a Russian university- a lot of nonsensical bureaucratic hoops to jump through. There’s less pampering for us! And as annoying, exhausting and scary it can be. In retrospect it’s given me a lot to laugh about and learn patience from. I remember one day I was really distressed to learn I needed to return to a building somewhere for something (I’d like to say I just forgot this detail but it’s also possible i never really understood what it was for- something under the heading “registration”). I was visibly upset and in an attempt to explain why I sighed “I just wanted to be done” I really thought I had jumped through all the hoops. “This is Russia. It’s never done!” Marina replied. Somehow I found this comforting. My XYZ papers were overdue. If I didn’t turn them XYZ would happen and I could be deported. The building I need to find doesn’t seem to exist . . . this is all normal here! My Aids certificate had the wrong passport number on it. I returned less than a week before my visa expired after the renewal was rejected because of this. Some people at the HIV Clinic saw the mistake and scurried around for about 30 minutes before giving it back to me with some scratch marks and someone’s signature. I returned this form and recieved my new visa a couple days after the old one expired. I hid in the building during these days fearing each knock on the door may be deportation officers making sweeps throught the dorms.

When Kristi, another American student here arrived she was especially annoyed with the administration here and their “nonsensical” expectations and demands. But I think part of her misery (and my own) came from expecting it to be like in the U.S.  Efficiency has many different meanings in Russian. The association I think of with this word doesn’t always translate into the same situations. I remember Tatiana Osipovich’s advice on studying in Russia “lower your expectations”- meaning things will go wrong. Expect this and you can enjoy more of it! I still fondly think this is some of the most helpful advice I’ve recieved! Of course, my Aids Certificate would somehow have the wrong passport number on it! Of course, I couldn’t find Siber Bank for nearly a week! Of course it was late! Marina, who works in the adminstration office also taught me the word “Очивидно!” for whenever I learned about something new I had to for that office! “Of course- Очивидно, I still need to XYZ!”

I arrived like Kristi, expecting more help/”efficiency” from the administration. During my first visit to the administration office I was told I needed to get an HIV test at a clinic on the other side of the city and pay some registration fees at a bank and another university building across the city. Finding buildings in Vladivostok makes no sense. Streets magically become other streets without any warning! The building by the kiosk we frequently buy bread at is an excellent example. The building has two street names on it. I could stand in front of the sign and be on two different streets. Asking people where things are isn’t always helpful either because who can keep track of the address? I was amazed to hear  how many times street names were changed in Vladivostok. How peculiar that we expect street names to reflect so much about a city! I imagine (perhaps incorrectly) this led to a lot of quarrels about what the street names should be and to compromise they decided to keep them all! Three names for one street?!? Why not?!?! It’s just to sound nice anyways! No one seemd to think of addresses as helping other people figure out where places are located.

I was so elated to finally find Siber Bank only to discover that the particular branch I found couldn’t help me. Why can the bank have one location to offer all of their services?!?! The lady working there saw how lost I was and left the building with me to point down the street. I walked on that road until I discovered another branch, which of course still wasn’t the particular one I needed. Some days later (I forget how many exactly) I realized the SiberBank branch I wanted was just a little further down the street after turning the corner. How impossible it was to find!

Don’t get me started on “waiting” in line at the bank! I had assumed Russians from their experience would know how to wait in lines but apparently not. It’s complete chaos. People are sprawled all over the room. Some in chairs. Others leaning against walls or eachother. Near the small window where teh teller works people huddle together. I initially thought the two people standing close by the window must be together. But the lady next in line, practically leaning over the shoulder of the lady being helped was just “waiting” in line! I was amazed at this. Am I really expected to violate other people’s bubble in order to assert my presence in line!?!? As you can imagine I was terrible at this. How can “no one” know whose last or first!? They ask “кто последныи?” “who’s last?” over and over again. I wonder if not having a line formed allows them to imagine they really are farther ahead. I wonder if the babushka who cut me didn’t stop this other gentleman from doing the same I might have waited there till closing because everyone would just cut me. Perhaps this was especially bad because I was so a clueless foreigner.

Anyways, I have a lot beaucratic work ahead of me as I try to secure a place to live for the remainder of my stay! I also have to work on some documents for the Russian Far Eastern Model United Nations Conference I volunteered to participate in! It starts Dec 26th-January 1st! I am very excited about this conference! The working language of the conference will be English but during the social events I can use Russian!  I have so much work ahead of me! I apologize for not writing more as I should! Hopefully after this Sunday I should be able to write more about my time here guilt-free having dealt with all these errands/homework assignments!



  1. Yeah, it sure sounds like you have it a whole lot worse than we ever did – they definitely pampered the Americans on my program. It would be interesting to see how some of the students with me would have reacted to all of the problems you have faced. You certainly need patience in Russia!!

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