There are people who claim that preparing a trip is half the fun. I do not know where these people tend to go on a trip, but surely it can’t have been Russia.
“There you are”, an unknown voice hidden behind a blocked number said. “Who is this?”, I asked. “Gerda from the Visa Bureau. I have been trying to get a hold of you for over a week.” I told Gerda from the Visa Bureau that she was lucky to have gotten a hold of me at all, since I seldom answer blocked numbers.
But if it was so urgent, why hadn’t she left a message? A useless suggestion, I was soon to find out. The Visa Bureau can only be reached through a nerve-racking please press button system, that kicks you out as soon as you come close to being answered by a real person. But I didn’t know that then.
Suddenly Gerda said: “You have not not filled out your visa application correctly . “Not?”, I asked in surprise, thinking of the enormous amount of time we had spent filling out seventeen applications. “Not” or maybe she said ‘njet’, it was hard to determine. “No, the margin that you used on your application was too wide.
You used 0.5 millimetres for the prints but that should have been no more than 0.3 millimetres.” “Hmm, I saw her point. This geometrical misbehavior would not be taken lightly by the Russians. “Now what?”, I asked. “Now you fill it out again”, Gerda said happily. It would be the last time I would find her happy.
And so we printed seventeen new applications, meticulously calculating the margin. Filled out, once again, the religious denomination of our dog and promised to maintain two adjacent pages in our passport immaculately empty and sent the lot off with a pizza courier to Amsterdam.
The next morning I spent on the phone, being put on hold for hours, just like all the other 56 people waiting in line. Around lunch I got hold of an employee. No sorry, I was not to speak to Gerda. She was simply too busy. And she wasn’t going to check for me either whether our envelope had arrived.
Really, she had enough work to do. In order to get used to the pleasures of the Russian Utopia, the employees of the Visa Bureau introduce you to Eastern bloc decorum by just simply hanging up the phone.
Especially for the applicant going to Russia, every conversation is preceded by a sigh and I suspect them of continuously rolling their eyes. Rudeness and contempt formed the main ingredients of our treatment.
Luckily I found the weakest link who did me an offer I couldn’t refuse. “I will open your envelope today and if something is not in order I will call you first thing tomorrow morning.”
Of course no one phoned the next morning, nor was everything in order. By then we had created a group of six people calling 24/7 to the Visa Bureau. And that was how we learnt that something was wrong with the printer settings of our computer.
You see, this is how it works. You get the application forms by e-mail. Now you might be inclined to fill those out and print them. Wrong! What you should do is set the printer scale to zero, than go to the confuguration menu and change your IMC settings to post-communism.
Oh and don’t forget to check off the Russian colors red, blue and white in advanced settings. So you align everything by hand, keeping in mind the required 0.3 millimeters. Then you get a hold of the head of the Technical Department and only then, I repeat, only then will you print. Pizza courier off again to Amsterdam. It was Wednesday, 10 days before departure.
On Thursday I meditated to the text of the answering machine. A voice informed me that all the info I required was simply to be found on their website. And indeed the site mentioned our application was being processed. What they did not mention was that our application was rejected again.
Again? “Yep “, said Gerda, she hadn’t sounded happy for a while. By this time I had grown some Russian callus on my soul. “You see, the invitations the Russians sent are incorrect. The names of you as guests are written by hand instead of being printed.”
“But the invitations have been on your desk for five weeks now. Surely you could have noticed this before?”
“You don’t honestly think we check that long in advance?”
“But why do I have to hand in an apllication that long on forehand if… oh forget it. Now what?”
“Well you just type the names on a piece of paper, glue that to the invitation, copy that and send it off to us.”
“I beg your pardon?” I said. “Are you suggesting that a nation that gets upset over a 0,2 mm margin, that invents printer settings, that writes invitations in calligraphic Cyrillic on parchment and stamps them with hand-sewn seals made from the Russian flag, that those people will settle for a simple photocopy?”
Not that we had any choice. So we started the forgery. The pizza courier -by now driving a BMW- whizzed of to Amsterdam. It was Friday.
Of course no one phoned us on Monday, nor on Tuesday. Nor did our phone team manage to get a hold of the Visa Bureau. On Saturday we were supposed to leave. On Wednesday we discovered something strange. On the website an announcement appeared, stating that our visa would be ready on Friday.
Completely relaxed we got on the plane to Moscow that Saturday. We didn’t look up when the Russians threw their kit bags disguised as hand luggage in our laps.
Nor did we made a big fuss when the Russians were smoking in the aisle. And of course it was completely normal that nobody sat down during landing. Which was impossible anyway since they had planted their luggage on their seats.
And we understood completely, the man who, since he was standing anyway, grabbed his stuff from the overhead compartment. That all Russians dived into the cockpit when we touched down, we were cool about that too.
And to be quite honest, we didn’t give a damn when it turned out one of our passports had gone missing after landing.
Visa Bureau, thank you, we had the best training ever.
From Russia with love!
Text: Anneke de Bundel – Image: Shutterstock