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Czech Life

Einstein wasn’t wrong

This morning I went to the office of the foreign police in Prague.  I’m not in any trouble – the office of foreign police deals with the admin for non-Czech citizens in Prague – visas, residency, applications for asylum and so on.  I am lucky enough that my employer’s HR department has lent a helping hand with a lot of the red-tape involved in moving here. This time however, I could not get out of making a personal appearance, in order to get the form that says I’m allowed to be here for longer than three months. With translator by my side and passport in hand I set off for Olsanska Street in Prague 3.

The foreign police have a reputation here for being about as easy to fathom as a rubric’s cube so I never supposed that this morning’s meeting would be plain sailing. I was not disappointed. In this country where so many people speak such good English, Russian, and a fair few other languages, one place remains where the staff speak only Czech. That place is, naturally enough, the foreign police office. Of course this would be the case. Why would an administrative centre, frequented solely by foreign people who have recently moved to the country, need to be at all sympathetic to the linguistic shortcomings of its customers?

The office is sparse and pretty grim.  There was no sunny “welcome to Czechland, we hope you have a nice stay” sign. No “Please queue from this side” notice. There was nothing at all in English, or so far as I could deduce, French, Spanish, Russian or any other language.

An English translation of a sign outside the office of the foreign police.

There was a large European map on the wall. It crossed my mind that they might just ask me to point to where I am from. How would I prove it? I know loads about Harry Potter, a bit about Wimbledon and Princess Diana and I am a huge fan of Simon Cowell and the upcoming royal nuptials…but based on that information, maybe they would think I am American.

I have no idea of the actual procedure for obtaining temporary residency (so anyone reading this in the hope that I can shed some light on this should look elsewhere. Try this handy link instead).   My lovely HR/translator lady did everything for me and I just signed at the bottom (I’m pretty sure it was all above-board). It did involve a stern Czech official and my translator having a very heated discussion, a number of documents, a lot of photocopying, two and a half hours of my life that I will never get back, and I was required to produce my passport.

The stern Czech official made me very nervous, in the same way that policemen do. I always feel that I am up to no good when a policeman is nearby. Or a security guard. If ever a security alarm in a shop goes off as I am leaving, I suddenly feel and look so guilty. I know I haven’t inadvertently done a Winona Ryder , but I just feel guilty. It’s the same at the opticians. I think it’s all the intense questioning. I feel as if I am giving the wrong answer, or trying to somehow dupe the optician into giving me glasses. I have no idea where this guilty conscience comes from, but it got me again today. I felt as if I was some sort of illegal immigrant trying to get registered here so that I could bring my family of twelve benefit-seeking dependents in with me.

I was also nervous as the process involved a thorough examination of my passport. I have travelled quite a lot this year with work and my passport is full of visas to weird places like Kazakhstan and Angola. It doesn’t always go down very well. I remember a particularly nervy chap at immigration control in Houston airport asking me “what keeps taking you to Kazak-ak-stan-land ma’am?”. I had the temerity to correct his pronunciation. (For clarification, one should not joke with airport-based officials. During their training their sense of humor is surgically removed via their derriere and is replaced with a very large stick.)  Before I knew it I was being asked to re-sign the immigration form declaring that I was not an international terrorist and had never committed any serious war-crimes. As if, had I lied the first time, I would now break down and confess.

Despite my concerns I do now have a completed form and a stamp in my passport. Confusingly, the form is for temporary residency of an unlimited duration. If I decide to stay permanently, I will need to apply for permanent residency. I must admit that I am struggling slightly to see the difference between (i) residency lasting for an unlimited period and (ii) permanent residency. More confusingly my husband went through the same process a month ago. Having filled out the same form, with the same details, gone to the same office with the same nice lady from HR, he walked away with a different document – permission for permanent residency, rather than temporary.

The big man, queuing outside the foreign police office

Albert Einstein once defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  Einstein lived in Prague from 1911-1912.  I can only assume that during that time he visited the office of the foreign police.


About CzechingIn

A blog about an English lady living in Prague.


3 thoughts on “Einstein wasn’t wrong

  1. ha! love the reference to einstein. the czech foreign police is an institution i’ll never understand. it also seems that the translator/official shouting at one another is a regular and integral part of any trip to the foreign police.

    Posted by Megan | December 21, 2010, 3:29 pm
  2. In line 2 para 2 you refer to “rubric’s cube”. Actually you mean “rubic’s cube”. But on reflection, the use of “rubric’s” is most apposite in its context. Was it a Freudian (or Einsteinian) mistake?

    Posted by Anon | December 21, 2010, 7:54 pm
  3. Hi Czechingin
    It is utterly absurd that no one at the Foreign Police will speak English or any other major language. Apparently, the rule is that the staff are not allowed to speak anything other than Czech. If you the foreign national, cannot understand them, then you must be accompanied by an official translator. The heated argument that your HR lady had with the stern Czech official was almost certainly partly about her not being an official translator. They don’t like it when foreign nationals just take a bilingual friend with them rather than paying for an official translator.

    Like you, as a fellow EU citizen, I have ‘Temporary Residency’ that is ‘neomezený’ – unlimited! Non EU citizens, once they have been here for a few years & are in employment, are usually granted ‘Permanent Residency’ but for a set time. I know of both a South African & an American who have ‘Permanent Residency’ but it is for ten years!!!! Why they gave your husband ‘Permanent Residency’ is beyond me. Welcome to the wonderful world of Czech bureaucracy!

    Part of the problem is that the communist era legacy lives on. Czechs, especially those who still run the system, cannot get their heads around the idea that someone might actually want to live here permanently. No doubt, one of the questions you were required to answer on your application form was ‘What is your permanent address?’ When my wife & I tried to answer that question by putting down the address of the flat that we live in here in Prague, we were told firmly that we couldn’t do that. ‘What is your permanent address in the UK or in Germany?’ ‘We don’t have one’ was our reply. But Czech bureaucracy insists that you must have one. So we put down the address of where we used to live in England even though it was at that point, an empty Rectory.

    Rozumíte? Read Kafka!

    Posted by Chaplain.cz | December 22, 2010, 7:47 pm

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