Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Lada Legend: How to Deal with Bureaucracy

Vehicle registration is a nightmare. Ask anyone. Our good friend who had been assumed kidnapped recently went through the process. After 11 windows, multiple explanations about how he will not pay bribes, and many hours, he came out alive with the right documents, stickers, and vehicle passports. Contrast that to our freakishly easy experience and it’s easy to see how the number one rule of dealing with bureaucracy is knowing the right people.

During my first 11 months here, I was invited to four weddings. Each time I was made to dance Azeri-style because, well, that’s what you’re supposed to do. By the fourth time, the consensus was that I was getting pretty good at it. What does this have to do with anything? It’s all about who is watching.

The bride and groom at that fourth wedding are good friends of mine. Their whole extended family was there watching me trying to fit in on the dance floor. One member of said extended family happens to be an influential figure at the place you go to get your car registered. Imagine my surprise when I found this out.

This place you need to go is about 15 minutes outside of Baku. There is a constant line of cars protruding from the garage-like structure and a surprising number of people just milling about. Cars were being inspected from top to bottom by guys that really didn’t look like they knew what they were looking for. Different groups of people stood in line outside a couple of doors, waiting for the chance to go inside. We had been there without the car on two other occasions, each time thinking “When are we ever going to have time to sit through this mess?”

It was last Friday that I found out the identity of the connection at the place. And knowing the way things work in this country, such a friend in the system was sure to make life easier. After all, he saw me dance Azeri-style at a wedding. That had to count for something, right?

So on Saturday we showed up in the car only to see a lineup of about twelve cars. We parked and went inside to find our man. Things looked good early as he closed his office right in front of a guy that was waiting before us. Outside, he told us to skip the line and bring the car to the side. The look on our guy’s face when he saw the Colonel pull up was one of incredulity mixed with the understanding that “this is only something foreigners would do.” Our check involved one other guy looking for the engine number, finding it, and then pronouncing the check complete. No need to turn the car on or even show that we had seatbelts.

We parked the car under a tree while our guy went inside to get a stamp on our trust document. After about ten minutes, he came out and proclaimed that all was done. Unfortunately, that wasn’t quite it; we still needed a decal to put on our windshield. He told us that we’d have to pay, which we already knew, and then proceeded to bypass a big line in front of one door. A few minutes later, he came out and then bypassed line in front of another door. He then went back into the first room and emerged with our decal. “All done,” he said, with an “it’s so easy when you work here/what i just did really wasn’t that difficult” look on his face.

Brilliant. In and out in about 25 minutes. At one point I remember asking the guy if he remembered me from his niece’s wedding. “Of course I do,” was his response.

If that isn’t a reason to get up and dance at a foreign wedding, I don’t know what is.


At 12:53 PM, Anonymous Gary said...

Ab the value of friends in high places. Great story with a happy ending.


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