Wednesday, November 16, 2005

This is the back of my college diploma

The front side is just as wrinkled, creased, and crinkled.

As long as we're discussing Poland's less fine points, please allow me a cathardic howl over what recently befell this poor, innocent document, which understandably has a great amount of symbolic value for me.

As you may or may not know, arranging to live and work in Poland is a long, hard, nervewracking slog. To get a residence permit you need a work permit, but to get a work permit you need a residence permit. Each requires a significant sum of cash and hours of inconvenient line-waiting in drab offices packed with people crowding onto too-small benches. They also require piles of documents, pictures, stamps, signatures, notices, statements, permissions and so forth. What is required varies significantly from year to year, but there is always more, and whatever it is, it's harder to get.

As of November 1, 2005 one of these additional requirements came into effect. According to the regulation, what had previously been enough to satisfy the Ministry of Immigrant Affairs that you were educated - a signed, notarized translation of your diploma - was no longer enough. Now, it is required that each foreigner present his actual document - along with the signed, notarized translation - and a transcript from the school. These documents are then transferred to the Ministry of Education (which has nowhere near the capacity to handle such a job), where they will be evaluated and "adjusted" to the equivalent Polish degrees. Thus, a "Master's" degree in the States would most likely be adjusted to "Magister" in Poland.

My application for the renewal of my residence permit was due on November 4 - I got roped into this rule by three days.

So. Mom has to send the diploma from home, right?

No problem. Mom is a very dependable woman. She got the document in the mail virtually the next day (so as not to risk losing any more time), and even sent it priority with "Do not bend" stamped all over the bloody thing.

This is what I found in my mailbox last Monday:

There are shoe prints on the other side of the envelope you see above.

Of course, it wasn't laid out all flat like that - my mailbox is half that size. Instead it was folded - and I don't mean "gently rolled" folded, I mean creased and bent flat right down the middle. (It really is, though it's difficult to see in the first picture.)

This vandalism did not happen in the US, or in transit. It happened in that Polish mailman's hands. He could have brought this large envelope up to our door (we're on the fourth floor - there's an elevator) and at least attempted to deliver it in person. If he had, he would have found my girlfriend waiting there to receive it. She had a day off and was in the apartment when the mail was deliviered.

Instead, he pretended that he didn't understand "Do Not Bend" stamped five times on the envelope ("Do Not Bend" is global mail speak), and that whatever this was in this special priority envelope was surely not important enough to be kept flat that he must trudge all the way over to the elevator a meter away, travel up to the fourth floor, and knock on the door.

And hence, last Monday, I found my creased and crinkled diploma - a document I had studied four years to attain, a document which probably represents my life's greatest achievement so far (*sigh*), a document which most people have framed and hung on their office walls - smashed into my mailbox like a candy wrapper into an overfull garbage pail.

I will never be able to replace it, really. I could ask my college to send me another, but it certainly wouldn't be the same - the man who was President of my college and signed my diploma has moved onto another school. I don't know what the dating policy would be either. And to be honest, I'm not sure my college would even allow me to replace it.

I know. It's just a piece of paper. But damn it, that piece of paper represents my life in a way, and they trampled on it, crushed it and ruined it.

And all I was trying to do was follow the rules.


At 11/16/2005 03:40:00 PM, Blogger Michael Farris said...

You can always go down to the post office and throw a fit (go when things are crowded and don't be afraid to raise your voice and ask what stable the letter carriers were raised in). It won't save your diploma, but it might make you feel better. And, IME a noisy scene tends to improve future service.

This does make me feel grateful that the guy that delivers my mail actually climbs up to the third (Polish) floor with no elevator to deliver that kind of thing.

At 11/16/2005 04:54:00 PM, Blogger Becca said...

I just got home to find they tried to deliver a parcel while I was out and instead of leaving the bit of paper in my letter box telling me to go to the post office, they stuck it on the outside of the building door with tape!

That's secure...

At 11/16/2005 06:51:00 PM, Blogger Gustav said...

You know, the point isn't really so much about the postal service.

The point is that being an immigrant (that's what I am, let's not joke) brings with it thousands of daily humiliations, some of which, though on their face insignificant, are truly soul-breaking. These are the things I think natives in every country (particularly my own) don't understand when they berate immigrants for somehow unjustly or artificially improving their position. "They're milking our welfare! They're stealing our jobs!" Being an immigrant is not all it's cracked up to be.

And further, about Poland - The idea that there are actually people out there whose job it is to contrive ways to make it harder for foreigners to get work makes me sick to my stomach. I could go on and on about all of the difficulties I've had this year alone, not to mention the four years previous. But my "immigration consultant" tells me I'm sailing, compared to some folks, who are at a distinct disadvantage because they aren't American. This goes especially for Ukranians and the Vietnamese.

When will the world realize that it's not in its interest to restrict people's movement?

At 11/16/2005 08:19:00 PM, Blogger Michael Farris said...

You have a consultant? As in_paid_? I had to figure it all out myself. True, being in a university I had it easier than a lot of people, but it's not like the foreigner's office in the university that's supposed to help foreign employees ever really did, you know, help.

But yeah, compared to ex-Soviet or Vietnamese immigrants, Americans get the red carpet treatment.

At 11/16/2005 08:21:00 PM, Blogger Becca said...

You know, even within the EU where it's suppose to be piss-easy to move around they like to get you to hang about in queues at rank offices.

Actually, I'm not registered here yet so maybe I should get back to you on this one...

At 11/17/2005 09:27:00 AM, Blogger Aaron Fowles said...

Hey, at least you got your mail. How many times have you had things lost in the mail?

My sister's X-mas presents (from 2003) still haven't arrived. I'm still waiting.

At 11/17/2005 05:49:00 PM, Blogger Andrew said...

Entertaining story Gus. Sorry about your diploma's new wrinkles.

At 11/17/2005 07:53:00 PM, Blogger Gustav said...

Thanks Andrew - and I'm over it. Hey, it's one hell of a souvenir from my time in Poland eh?

Hope you continue to stop by Andrew - when will you be back in Poland? Maybe you can make it out for a p3 night?

At 11/17/2005 07:56:00 PM, Blogger Gustav said...

michael -

Yes, I use a firm called Ekspert. They know the rules and sit in line for you. They do the paperwork too. But you have to go out and get them all the documents, etc. Still, it's a convenient, if expensive service


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