I’ve made my… not sure if “career” is the right word)… mark, by often blogging about the frustration of dealing with Croatian bureaucracy. Heck, half the space in my latest book Croatia Strikes Back is about epic battles with the bureaucracy. So, when I realized I needed to renew my temporary visa at the main police station on Petrinjska ulica part of me shuddered at the thought. The other part thought, at least I’ll have material for a new blog post.
And so I began what I thought was going to be the long and laborious process of renewing my visa. Don’t get me wrong, this process does suck. It’s frustrating in its redundancies. For example, you often have to provide documents and materials that you’ve already provided, several times.
These documents, like a copy of your passport, a photo ID, a marriage certificate, some paper from the health department are considered very vital and crucial to the process. All right, fine. But then you think, If these documents are SO important, why don’t they have them on file from the last time I turned them in? And, why aren’t they computerized and online in 2018? But then, as your heart begins to pound in frustration at such obvious questions, your temple throbs, and fists clench, you decide it’s best if you just don’t think of that. Take a breath and accept that things are the way they are. (Sigh). Relax. Breath. Count to ten… no, better count to 100.
Race to MUP
My wife and I arrived at MUP on a snowy, grey morning around 10:30. We’d rushed there after I suddenly realized that just because I feel at home in Croatia, doesn’t mean the state considers Croatia my home. For the last few months renewing my visa had been a nagging thought that I finally acknowledged, and once acknowledge remembered that this process is supposed to begin two months before my actual visa expires. And now I had less than a month before my visa was no longer valid. PANIC! So we raced to MUP!
I took a number, 102 and looked at the screen just as it changed to 55. Then something inside me died. Was I really going to have to wait a couple hours just to ask what all I needed to renew my visa? Maybe, but I haven’t lived in Croatia this whole time with out learning a thing or two.
I went into the hallway where all the offices are and when someone came out, I ask her if she could help me… AND She did! That’s right, a woman at MUP explained everything to me, what I needed, what I didn’t need, and she did so with a smile and kindness. What? Yes! She even went behind the desk and got me an application! Can you believe it? So, much for new “material.”
But wait, it gets worse (better?). I filled out the application and the next day went to HZZO for some document, and then photocopied my ID and passport. The application said I needed a small photo, but the woman I’d spoken to in the corridor said I didn’t. And apparently my wedding certificate could be retrieved by MUP, get this, online! Yeah, right.
Return to MUP
I waited until I had a free morning a few days later, left the house around 7:00 and arrived at MUP at 7:45. I primed social media with posts about going to MUP, took a photo of my number and declared that MUPaggedon had begun! I sat. I worried. What if I was missing something? I’d have to leave and then come back and do that awkward thing where you hover around the desk, hoping the clerk will recognize you from before. Would I have to pay a fee? And go down stairs to wait in line at the post office, get the receipt and return? Why can you just pay for stuff here? I seethed. What… if I had to do something at the police station in my neighborhood? Then I’d have to go all the way there and then come back. Ugh, I hate all of this, I thought.
Do you know who I am? No.
At after about half an hour of waiting it was my turn. I approached the desk hoping the person there had read my book or maybe seen me on TV at some point. The woman at the bakery saw me on TV, why can’t MUP? I submitted my documents and said: I need to extend my temporary visa (in Croatian). The clerk looked at me. I searched his face for a hint of recognition. None, just a bit of indifference, though it seemed less hostile than what I’d encountered in the past.
I waited as he went through my file. To pass the time I read all the signs tapped to the glass shield between us. I was impressed that most of them were both in English and in Croatian, after all this is the desk for foreigners. All, except perhaps the most important one, the one telling foreigners which desk this was. That sign just read: Stranci.
The clerk looked like he was finishing. I braced myself for disappointment and despair, like when someone breaks up with you. I waited for the MUP clerk to tell me my application was fine, BUT… and then the heartbreak, or hassle, would come. What was it going to be? A long wait at the post office? A hefty fine? A dash to my neighborhood’s police HQ? Those little photos? I resigned myself to the inevitable, and looked up, thinking: Let’s have it.
A Christmas Miracle
And have it he did. He gave me a little piece of paper, circled a phone number on it, and said call in three weeks! What? That’s it? We’re done! My world shifted. I-I-I can’t believe this. If it weren’t for the glass partition between us I think I would have kissed him (is that why they have those there?) HOLY. FUCKING. SHIT! I’m done! Wait, really? OK. I left, floating out into the STILL morning grey of Zagreb’s autumn. I couldn’t believe it!
As I glided home I was overcome with hope, pride, and happiness. Was this a NEW Croatia? A Croatia where shit worked reasonably well? I was so excited I wanted to grab people by the collar, shake them and tell them: I WAS AT MUP for just HALF AN HOUR! I felt like Scrooge from the end of A Christmas Carol, giddy with the spirit of Christmas, or in this case MUP. I was ready to run through the streets, shouting MERRY MUP-MAS! I wanted to evangelize the masses with the good news that MUP wasn’t really all that bad!
So, I celebrated the painless extension of my temporary visa in my adopted homeland of Croatia by doing the most American thing possible: I went to McDonald’s.