Friday, August 17, 2007

Bureaucracy and Other Four Letter Words

Did you know that the first person to define a bureaucracy was the German sociologist Max Weber? In Wirtschaft and Gesellschaft (1922), he defines exactly what a bureaucracy is and its impact on society and politics. Since then, Germans have perfected the art of bureaucracy and people like me have been complaining about it.

Although the German and I wanted to do as little as possible this week, we did have to get moving yesterday and today. When two work-oholics get married, they often have little time for the small, but important tasks that need to get done. These tasks often involve a German "Behoerde" and bureaucracy, which I always dread. However, it was all no longer to be avoided.

The first item on our list was my visa. Although I got my passport a month ago and I started the process to get my new visa, I had not yet gotten the final "okay." There were still a few pieces of paper work that needed to be brought in. Yesterday morning we made our way over to the county immigration office.

In order to get my permanent visa, the German and I had to sign a document that we are not involved in a "Scheinehe" (fictiousious marriage). We also had to produce proof of our income. This is to insure that I will not become a "Sozialhilfeempfanger" (welfare recipient). We also had to prove the size of our house and our monthly mortgage payment in order to determine if we can actually pay for it (all of this goes back to Germany not wanting to give me welfare). I have a lot of experience at the immigration office. I came armed with all of my papers.

Immigration Officer (IO): I need to see proof of income.

Claire: He is a teacher, a "Beamte" (civil servant). Here is his last pay stub. I am self-employed and own my own business. Here is the financial report on my business, which my tax consultant prepared, as well as a table breaking down the rest of my income from last year.

The IO looked it over. His eyes widened a bit. The German said later that the IO was probably shocked that a teacher earns more than he does.

IO: Um. Great. Now I need some proof about your living situation.

Claire: Yes, I was not sure what you wanted. So I just brought everything.

THUMP! I dropped my big "House" binder on the table. The IO's eyes widened once again. I flipped through the binder a bit.

Claire: I could give you a copy of the house plans so that you can see how big it is.

IO: Um. No, that is not necessary. But I need to see how much you pay per month on the house.

I am sure that the IO thought he had me with that one; I know that the German did. But never underestimate a man's ability to underestimate an anal woman's filing system.

The German: Oh, I think the credit / mortgage contract is at home.

Claire: No it isn't. [I flipped from the "plans" section of the binder to the "mortgage" section of the binder. I pulled out a copy of our mortgage contract.] Here you go. I believe the information you need is on page 6.

I gave the IO my best smile. Everything was in order. There was nothing else that he could possibly need. He asked us to sit in the hall. Five minutes later he called us back in. He had printed out my new visa and put it in my passport. I knew that it would be relatively painless because I am pretty well organized. Also I know the key to getting through German bureaucracy: simply bring all of the papers you have.

However, I had gotten smug too quickly. Our next step was to get our cars registered. Since we moved to Wildeshausen in February, we have not registered our cars in our new county. This is probably slightly illegal. But on the other hand, we simply have not had the time to do it. Thursday afternoon we walked downstairs from the immigration office to the DMV.

German: Do you have the "Fahrzeugbrief?"

Claire: Fahrzeugbrief? What's is that? I brought copies of the insurance certificate, the car registration card, the inspection report and the payment stub for this year's taxes. That is all I have in our files. What is a Fahrzeugbrief?

German: Oh, its the longer version of the registration. It is probably at home. We can drive quickly and pick them up.

Claire: Um. If you say so, but I know those files, and I am not sure its in there.

We drove back home and the German looked through my filing system. He did find the one for his car, but not for Smarty. I knew that he wouldn't as I had never seen the thing before. At this point the German panicked a bit.

German: Oh, yeah! I think it is at my parent's house.

Claire: [in a bit of disbelief] At your parent's house? 45 minutes away? You are with holding things from the filing system?!?

Thursday afternoon we drove to his parent's house to pick-up the Fahrzeugbrief. This was not so bad, as we had a nice time chatting with my mother-in-law and wound up going out to dinner with her.

This morning we went to the DMV for the second time. I got a number for the line and the German filled out the paper work. We only had to wait about 5 minutes and then we were in. We sat in front of the woman and she looked over our papers.

DMV Worker: [with a bit of a scolding look] You don't have the "Doppelkarte" (double card).

German: [a bit confused] Doppelkarte?

DMV Worker: [sighing] Yes. The Doppelkarte is a small postcard size card that you get from your insurance company when you move to a different county, which has your new address on it.

German: But is our insurance certificate not enough?

DMV Worker: Afraid not. But I am sure that there is an office for your insurance company in Wildeshausen. Why don't you go get one and come back. Oh, and don't forget. We close at noon today.

I swear, if looks could kill, that woman would be dead right now. The German and I were pretty sure that there is no office for our insurance company in Wildeshausen. We went into town to the place the DMW worker mentioned. It was a different insurance company. We went into the tourist info office and sure enough - the closest insurance office was in Bremen, 30 to 40 minutes away.

By this time it was 11:00. We drove home in silence; mostly because I was fuming. I found the entire episode utterly ridiculous. We called our insurance agent when we got home. They are sending us the card per post today. Hopefully we will get it Monday and can go back to the DMV again . . . for the third time. Let's hope that the third time is a charm.


Bek said...

Homeland Security wanted to see exactly the same stuff from me too - proof that we have a "real" marriage: bills - especially house mortgage, car payments, electric bills, etc.. we also brought our wedding album. He actually took the time to look at every single picture. That's the thing with Buerokratie - there is always a chance that you don't have a certain paper with you and you have to stand in line or make an appointment again. I hope your DMV visit on Monday will be the last one;)

PapaScott said...

I doubt that you could register a car in the States without title and proof of insurance either... that's essentially what the Fahrzeugbrief and Doppelkarte are. Our Landkreis has a website that listed exactly what I needed to register our new company car last month. I was in and out in 10 minutes.

And if you think German bureaucracy is bad, just wait until you try to get a US passport for a child born abroad. :-)

Rositta said...

I think that's what made my parents leave Germany 50 years ago,they couldn't take the bureaucracy. It's not much better here now, not since 9/11...ciao

J said...

Bureaucracy seems to be a sport in Germany. Kind of like, 'let's see exactly how we can stuff up their plans'.

Dixie said...

I've never known an expatriate that didn't complain about the amount of paperwork and red tape that's involved in their new country. Doesn't matter which country it is, it's always the same.

Know how long it took me to get a permanent residency visa in Germany? Six years. And that was after I was married.

Rebecca said...

Trying to get a passport in the States is a time consuming and tedious process too..

Witty blog. I like it.

christina said...

Oh yeah, ain't it always the way -that the ONE slip of paper you don't have is the one you need.

I think they've become pretty strict in issuing residence permits in the past few years and 6 years is the standard time you need to wait to get permanent residence. Back on the good old days I got mine after four years and all I had to do was go down to the Ausländeramt and assure them I was still married and they'd extend my visa for whatever amount of time.

Thank goodness getting new Canadian passports issued is a piece of cake. All I need is more bureaucracy.

Anonymous said...

I agree with PapaScott, you'd need the equivalent of the same papers in the U.S.

On top of that you can easily look online to see what paperwork you need *before* going in to register your car.

PapaScott said...

I didn't mean to imply that our registration was completely without problems. In our case we were waiting on the business registration papers from the Amtsgericht (Handelsregisterauszug), without which a firm does not yet legally exist. No papers, no plates. We eventually picked up the papers from the court ourselves the day before the car arrived.

My native German wife has no idea what a Doppelkarte is, so you're already several steps ahead of her in the patience-with-bureaucracy department. :-)

Carrie said...

Wow and I thought the court system here was bad- they make up rules as they go along. I lost 20 IQ points just this morning dealing with them. But you have to figure, these people make barely enough to feed themselves, so are they really the cream of the crop? Not so much...