Thursday, December 02, 2004

Adventures in bureaucracy

So, I'm working on getting my legal status in Romania. It's an experience. Today for example we (Erika and I) went to the tax payment office to pay the two taxes that I need to pay to fulfil one of the requirements. One is a 30,000 Lei sum (not sure what for) and the other is a $60 (ie US Dollar) sum payable in Lei. So we showed up at the office and queued for a while, and when we got to the window the woman said that for the $60 fee we had to have a receipt from the bank showing that we had changed $60 into Lei, and what this worked out at. I don't have any dollars (well I do, but thy're sitting in a bank account in the US and I access them through the cashpoint at which point they instantly get turned into Lei). So, we had to go to the bank, queue up again, change $60 worth of Romanian Lei into dollars, and then change it back again into Lei. It's brilliant.

As everyone knows you lose money when changing back and forth through currencies, and in this case the bank was prepared to buy my Lei at 29,500 to the dollar*. And then to buy back those self same dollars at 28,500 Lei. Thus in the course of the transaction the bank made 60,000 Lei. The somewhat (he says understatedly) ridiculous aspect of this is that I would actually have been quite happy to pay the state this extra 60,000 Lei, but object to paying it to the bank. The closest bank to the tax office is in fact an Austrian owned bank, so it's not even going to Romania at all.

Once we had thrown 60,000 Lei in the direction of Jorg Haider or Kurt Waldheim or whichever nice Austrian person owns Raffeisen Bank, we took our Lei and our receipt and our slightly older selves back to the tax office queue and finally got the receipts necessary. Next up in my exciting trek to be officially legitimate in Romania: health insurance. I can hardly wait.

[* the fact that the dollar is now worth aproximately 29,000 Lei is proof if proof were needed as to what a worthless and useless currency the dollar currently is. 4 months ago the rate was about 33,500. In other words the US Dollar has lost over 13% of its value in the last four months against the Romanian Leu. Yes, that's right, you heard me correctly.]

The other fascinating (and somehow funnier) manifestation of rampant bureaucracy here is the cult of the stamp. To do anything you need to have a stamp. An inkstamp with which you stamp all offical documents and receipts etc. People carry around multiple stamps. They're really hi-tech also, they have ink somehow inside them and you can buy different styles and different sizes. I don't know if people look down on others with old or unfashionable stamps. There are entire stores devoted to selling stamps. (Really, I swear I'm not making this up). They're everywhere, almost more popular than mobile phone shops.

You don't believe me do you? Look, this is the website of one of the leading shops. Here you can see some of the vast array of stamps available, pictures of their store fronts around the country, a map of Romania with their locations marked, accessories to go with your stamp, and everything stamp related.

But I am not promoting their wares. I have no idea of the value for money in stamping that they offer, or cannot verify the quality of their stamping products. I myself did not buy my stamp from them, but from a local merchant. I take no responsibility for any of you if, transfixed by the Trodat Printy 4922, you find yourself unable to resist ordering a gross of them from Stampile. On your own head be it.

I'd stamp the bottom of this blog entry if I could. But you'll have to just imagine it.


Anonymous said...

Oh, man, I'd forgotten that. I had to go through exactly the same palaver when I needed to extend my tourist visa beyond the original 30 days back in '94. Schlepping out to some half-completed civic complex at the end of one of the tramlines in the middle of Ferentari (a pretty notorious district in Bucharest) only to have to go back and make that absurd trade-off to get 'official' lei (back when the leu was at around 3,300 to the pound). pounds-to-lei, lei-to-dollars, dollars-back-to-lei then back into Ferentari. On a sweltering hot day in July. Madness.


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