The following Tuesday I still had three weeks to complete the Bureaucracy Game and get the special card/document/stamp you have to have to avoid deportation or something. I’ve learned the hard way against the expert players in the UK, that when you have to play the Bureaucracy Game, it’s no good putting it off until the last minute. You need plenty of time so that you can play at your best with the champion players inhabiting whichever branch of the state you’re dealing with. Once you’re up against a deadline and they know it, you’re doomed.
I only waited two months in the hope I’d be able to understand a bit more Magyarul. Ha! “Magyarúl nagyon nehéz” say the Magyars sympathetically when you tell them about your crazy plan to learn it, which means literally “Hungarian is very heavy”, but actually means it’s difficult. It’s complicated, is what it is, and they’re very proud of it and of it being non-Indo-European (Finno-Ugric, if you’re interested). So not even the numbers sound familiar.
Anyway, I followed my usual Bureaucracy Game strategy and gathered every document I could think of, got confirmation of where I’m living, teaching contract, passport etc etc yadda yadda. This is so worthwhile. I still remember the joy of watching the sad deflation of the little man with the dodgy toothbrush mustache and starched shirt in the Spanish equivalent of the Bevándorlási és Állampolgarsági Hivatal. Among the many documents I had brought him were two that were not mentioned on any list anywhere but were still completely essential. Hai! Yeah! I win, Mr Toothbrush Mustache, and you LOSE. He knew it too and my prize was the relevant card in record time so he could get rid of me and Forget.
With the light of battle in my eyes and a rucksack full of paper ammo, I headed for the correct bus. Bus #1, check, bus #2, check, Ujbuda Tesco’s, check, hello Bevándorlási és Állampolgarsági Hivatal – and yes, hooray, there were plenty of pissed-off foreigners hanging around, some black, some brown and quite a lot of them Chinese. Plus two taxis waiting by the side of the road which I should have recognised as a sign of trouble.
In I trotted to the first office, ignoring a sign telling me that holders of Type D passports should go somewhere else, on the grounds that if I was a Type D passport holder, I’d know I was, on account of having a funny Cornish-pasty-forehead and being a Klingon. Luck was with me – there was no queue for the information desk, although I was in the Official Standard Bureaucracy Game Waiting Room – about 50 bored people distributed around 70 very hard chairs in a striplit stuffy hot room, all gazing in despair at a digital noticeboard with numbers on it. Uh oh, I thought.
The nice girl at the information desk spoke embarassingly good English, as so many Magyars can, and told me that I needed a special payment stamp which I could only get from the Post Office across the road and asked if I had my Ehic card (European Health Insurance Card, if you’re wondering). By sheer good paranoia I did have it, as I carry it with my passport in case I’m in an accident. Or, as it turned out a few days later, have a stroke.
She gave me the essential Magic Ticket for the queue lottery (628) and when I looked, there was only 601 showing alongside several other sequences of numbers starting with 2s and 3s. OK, I’ve got an hour or two, I though in my innocence.
Across the road I twice completely circumambulated the large shopping centre, looking for the Posta. Various helpful Hungarians tried to explain where it was and I still couldn’t find it, until a girl at the Tesco’s information desk led me to it personally and I found it in a separate section only signposted with a toyshop. So well done, Tesco’s customer survice, you gained me some good points so I could win Round #3 of the Bureaucracy Game. Finding the Posta was their second try at their favourite Invisible Office gambit and might even have worked. Heh!
The nice girl at the information desk had written down the name of the special official stamp I had to get, so I got it, easy as pie. The whole thing had only taken an hour.
Back I trotted to the Bevándorlási és Állampolgarsági Hivatal, feeling optimistic. Back to the Official Standard Bureaucracy Game Waiting Room with the digital board and the numbers.
They had got to 603.