Wednesday, April 7, 2010

She is the keeper of the bridge of death... (Monty Python clearly had experience with Belgian administration.)

Adventures with the joys of Belgian administration creep into my sleeping hours for the moment.  Last night I dreamt about not being able to get where I was going due to a series of small problems, including losing and then re-finding my bag and coat while on public-transport.  The confusion with my lost items added up to my passing my intended destination, and ending up in a very seedy part of town, at night, with strange people.  A few friends behaving strangely tried to offer odd advice, or to point out how bizarre the whole evening was, while I attempted to regroup myself and to hop a streetcar (tram) back to my missed destination.  This was when my brain finally decided that the dream was crap, and opted to wake me up.

I know exactly why I had this dream.  It's all about the cohabitation visa we're after.  Yesterday Boyfriend came home quite agitated.  He explained that he had received a call from the Commune, and the woman on the other end tried to explain to him that we were missing a paper in the bundle comprising my notarized, legalized, and officialized divorce certificate.  (The divorce must be recognized here in Belgium before we can begin the process of declaring ourselves legal cohabitants - which is the start of the process for the aforementioned grail, I mean, visa we seek.)

Apparently this particular administrative peon felt that we needed a translated copy of the actual, original divorce document issued by the court in Canada.  This, despite the Consulate telling us "no" when we'd asked them specifically if we should get the document translated, as well as an official at another nearby (and more experienced with immigration,) Commune providing the same "no" here whom boyfriend had called to ask the same question prior to our leaving for Canada.

We thought we were getting better at colouring in the lines, this time.  Including the surprise scavenger-hunt the Consulate in Toronto sent us on in order to have the legalization done, (which we completed successfully,) we thought we had done it all, completed all the steps.  We thought we were pretty safe.  We had two very different authorities who both told us that no, we did not need a translation of the original divorce certificate.  One a commune, and the other THE Consulate.  In fact, the Consulate in Canada is the only body that can perform the legalization of my divorce certificate for it to be recognized in Belgium.  One would think they might be the authority on what makes something from Canada passable here, no?  However this particular peon in our Commune felt yesterday that she knew better.  And therein is the frustration.  As time winds down on my permis de séjour, this woman is holding things up with her questions three, and so we hate her.

She probably doesn't actually look like this.  At least not on the outside.

Boyfriend was very calm (though seething inside) on the phone with her, and managed to convince her she should check with her boss, because she was certainly wrong in contradicting the word of the Consulate.  Today Boyfriend will again be speaking with her, and if he doesn't hear what we would like to hear (that everything is in fact, ok after all,) then he will be speaking with peon's boss, explicitly explaining that we directly asked this question TWICE, and received the answer that a translation was NOT needed.  He will demand that peon's boss explain why it is that the ONLY body who is able to perform the legalization of such a certificate answered directly and flatly that "no", we did not need a translation of the document in order for it to be legal in Belgium.  He will attempt to incite doubt into the mind of peon's boss, in the hopes that peon's boss will step away from his own ego long enough to make a few phone calls and discover that in fact, a translation is not needed.  If not, we just may have to play ball with peon and her boss, for No Good Reason.

Though there are many frustrating bits about it, I'd have to say that this is truly the worst part about dealing with administration in Belgium, and seems to be the frustration of expats all over... it's that nobody actually seems to have the whole story, the whole procedure down-pat.

Many of us come from nations where the list of documents you must bring with you is clearly and completely spelled out online, or on paper, or by phone.  Even in several non-official languages.  These are nations where you show up at the government office (even without an appointment!) take a number, wait, and present the documents asked for.  Though you might have had to queue for a bit... or wait a week or two for process, in the end it works like it should, within the estimated times given to users of the system, without unpleasant surprises.  All quite civilized, I think.

For those of us coming from nations like these, it seems rather like a game of cowboys and indians here.  The 'Wild-West', as it were, with everyone trying to be Sheriff, seeming to make the rules up as they go along.  The lists of required documents or procedural steps vary from commune to commune, (seemingly at the whim of the administrators who work there,) rather than remaining standard by the letters of the law,  The fingers on one hand of this administrative body appear to have no idea what the other hand is doing though they are supposed to be functioning as parts of a whole body.  Hell, to continue the metaphor, at times it seems the index finger has no idea what the thumb on the same hand is doing.

At any rate... it is what it is.  It's frustrating as hell, but I accept that I am here, it was my choice, and therefore I have little right to oppose the system or to claim to know better.  And it's because of this, because we both (one a Belgian, the other a Canadian,) know that sometimes (often) the whole system here is a little (a lot) 'quirky like that', that we will also be demanding the names and numbers of several commune-approved "translator-notaires" who could perform this seemingly unecessary suprise step in the process.  We'll ask for several, because we know that if we get one name, it's likely to be the notaire who is on vacation, or who only works Tuesday mornings between 9 and 10am, or something like this.  We want to be assured we can find the soonest available one should we have to run this fool's errand.

But, for today (as we approach the bridgekeeper and her gorge of eternal peril,) we are hoping that all the phone wrangling ends up something like this Monty Python clip, with our defeating the peon's confounding efforts, much in the manner of Arthur, here.

Fighting your own absurd battles administrative or otherwise?  Please, do tell...


Anonymous said...

One thing I have noticed is that really, no one knows what is going on. Probably something to do with the collapsible government. No one ever knows what the laws are because they're ever-changing or not applicable behind the scenes. I only turned in 1/4 of what was asked for on the website, probably because I was in one of the busiest communes...

It seems like such a mess now as I might be reversing all the hard work that went into getting this goddamn thing. It is such a fight, although sounds already as though it was easier than what you're experiencing. Surprising as Americans-as-immigrants seem to be well-hated in Europe, or anywhere else for that matter. :(

S said...

Hm the blog timed out, I'll try to write this again!

My experience with the commune is just... nobody knows what the laws are, no one knows what they're doing, everyone is running around like headless chickens. Probably a result of not having this totally collapsible government whose laws are ever-changing behind the scenes. Everyone I've spoken with just says, "yeah, the laws and requirements change from day to day, from commune to commune..." and it seems to depend on the mood of the person in the commune to begin with!

I don't think I had nearly as much difficult as you seem to be having, I think as a result of living in an extremely busy commune (which has better things to do). It's strange because Europe, well, most of the world, don't really enjoy anyone coming in from the U.S. - it's like we have to be married, or be some important ambassador, or a genius, or a student, or maybe, just maybe, have lived with a European for more than a year... even though it's fucking impossible to do that considering the visa restrictions going both ways!

I'm pretty annoyed with myself that I spent so much time jumping hoops here to get the Cohab visa and now I'm just going to toss it out the window. Ugh!