Thursday, September 15, 2011


Germany was rigorous in its application of rules, but there seemed to be an inherent logic to how everything worked, ultimately.  Regulations seem to - at least generally - have purposes that even as a foreigner one can generally surmise the meaning of.

Hungary is an entirely different beast.  I've spent much of the past two weeks trying to navigate the municipal, national, and university bureaucracies.  I still haven't completed.  And it makes little to no sense whatsoever.

The university layer of bureaucracy is perhaps the most frustrating.  I've been in universities for the past six years of drastically different characters, sizes, and purposes, but nothing has quite reached the level of pure arbitrariness of restrictions as I've encountered here.  Telling us to come to meetings and then kicking us out for not bringing the documents that they didn't tell us to bring; organizing mandatory things simultaneously; requiring the student shuffling papers from office to office in the same building, only the offices are all open different sets of hours on different days, requiring multiple trips; telling us that our temporary student ID cards couldn't be ready for a week and to buy a week pass, and then turning around and giving us them the next day.

The temporary student ID is necessary because it takes up to two months to get a real Hungarian student ID - which of course is not the same as my Central European University ID (or my student pass for the Budapest public transportation).  When one factors in that my lodging uses a hotel-style key as well, the Hungarian bureaucracy requires carrying 5 extra credit-card style objects in my wallet at all times.

The fifth among those is the residence permit.  Unlike in many places, where residence permits appear as a stamp/sticker/long term visa in your passport, I will receive yet another official ID card to carry around at all times.  That is, once I have the opportunity to finally finish collecting all of the documents needed for it.

Despite all of that, nothing quite sums up the post-Communist bureaucracy quite like the post office.  The Hungarian Posta fills all of the roles of the Western post office.  But it's much more than that.  The Posta also serves as the method of payment for basically all government functions.  One has to go to a post office (and figure out what button to press on the machine to get the appropriate numbered slip for when getting called to the desk) and pay fees for any and all unrelated government functions.  Then, the receipt is taken to the government office you actually need to go to wherever that might be in the city.  The appropriate government offices cannot take payment and you will be directed back to the post office (and have to wait in the long lines again) if you don't have the correct receipts ahead of time.

Even small functions like opening a bank account (where you usually receive the check card day of in the US) or picking up a pre-paid cell phone (which in the US you can do at a gas station with no forms of ID as far as The Wire has taught me) are lengthy processes here.  I had to sign several pages in Hungarian, give photocopies of my passport and address papers - all for just a prepaid SIM card in my existing German phone.

If nothing else, the Hungarian bureaucracy has taught me to appreciate the at least theoretical modicum of logic that is the DMV.  I have had a bit of time to (re-)explore Budapest a bit more, so I hope to write a more fun broad city scope post soon.


  1. Do the people at the Posta speak English? Or are you attempting to get by with your German and couple of words of Hungarian?

  2. The people at the posta speak I hand them a piece of paper with what I want underlined and then hand them money.