Red Tape

I’ve heard about it, worked with it, and honestly thought I experienced it, but never fully grasped the concept of incessant bureaucratic red tape until we moved to Bucharest. On my previous travels, I dealt with translation issues, bribes, and liars, but I have never dealt with anything quite like this. Every day seems to be one frustration after another. Don’t get me wrong- we are definitely enjoying our time here. We really do love living here. However, I am very surprised at how much red tape and how quickly procedures change around here. The rules seems to change with the wind.

Last Monday I was supposed to pick up Isaac’s crib cover. I arrived at the time that the seamstress told me and discovered that not only were the crib covers incomplete but that she hadn’t even started them and forgot she told me to pick them up on Monday. She asked us to come back on Wednesday afternoon because Tuesday was a holiday (Navy Day). I didn’t have much of a choice and said ok. Because the standards are at a lower level than what we’re used it, it’s also very hard to communicate our expectations as well as our frustrations. When I asked the seamstress what happened and why she did not complete the covers, she did not try to apologize and rather just told me that she couldn’t get to it. Though, I am sure that she forgot. As soon as I walked in the door, I could tell by the look on her face that she forgot.  (FYI– She did have them ready for me on Wednesday and they are working out great. So at least that’s good!)

Another area of frustration is surrounding work permits. Work permits here require that the physical diploma from your university get sent to the government for processing. The diploma? Yes, the diploma. Not the transcripts from the Registrar in a sealed envelope… the diploma. I suppose no one has been to Khao San Road in Thailand where the fake documents industry runs 24/7? However, it also seems like it depends on who you talk to. Standards and policies are not very strict here, until they are, and that level of strictness, again, depends on who you talk to.

For instance, we opened a Romanian bank account last week. We did not go to the bank together (Isaac was napping) and were told over the phone that they could add me to the account without being there in person. The CSR told Carl that as long he brought all of my documents that they could add me to the account. We thought.. great! Weird, but great! Carl was asked for certain documents to prove his identity, when I had to go on a separate trip (because, as you may have guessed, the CSR was incorrect) I was asked for a completely different set. No standards. Totally different requirements for me. It’s really strange! Particularly at a bank.

The final bit of frustration that we have been dealing with the past few weeks is about Isaac’s daycare. His daycare requires a few medical tests before he starts school in a couple of weeks (they’re closed during the month of August). In my opinion, the tests are absolutely ludicrous. We are required to get him a strep and a stool test that shows that he is not sick with a couple of different illnesses. From a theoretical perspective that makes sense. They want to make sure that all kids are healthy before they start daycare. Okay, fine. But from a practical perspective– it’s asinine. Isaac could easily catch strep tomorrow. So what does that test prove? That he was fine yesterday, not that he will continue to be fine by the time he enters daycare. Additionally, there are multiple steps to get these tests which include several appointments that are one week apart. Who has time for all of this nonsense?

But then the straw that finally broke the camel’s back was when they told us that Isaac had to fast with no food or water for the appointment. This directive made no sense to me. He wasn’t getting a blood test– they swabbed him for strep. Keep in mind that Isaac is one– he has no concept of “toughing it out” for a medical exam. We fed him a little bit in the morning and then planned to lie since we couldn’t get an appointment until 10am (shhhh… don’t tell anyone). When we were finally seen (at 11am), we were told that the receptionist told us the wrong thing and that he could have eaten. Thanks… yeah BIG thanks for that. He was utterly ballistic at that point. I was frustrated with myself because I knew the fasting directive made no sense but didn’t want to jeopardize a medical test. Live and learn, I suppose.

As I mentioned before, I don’t want you to think that we hate what we’re doing. Honestly, we really do love it and are adjusting. It’s just frustrating getting acquainted to a new way of doing things. It is part of the process and we mentally prepared ourselves for this before we moved here. It’s going to take a little while to get fully settled, but it will happen soon. We’ve met some really lovely people here and believe it not–are finally starting to make friends here. In fact, I’m having lunch with a new Romanian friend tomorrow! Everyone here gets our frustrations and they all hate it just as much as we do (Romanians and expats). We just have to get used to a new normal.

You might be wondering why folks are okay with sub-standard service and blown timelines? I believe that many of these frustrations are tied to the low wages here. Increasing wages has been a pet project of the government for many years. Our Romanian salaries have us living like 1%’s here, even though we find many of the costs are the same, if not higher, than they are in Chicago. For instance, rent is pretty high here. Most folks can’t afford to move out of their parents’ two bedroom apartment, so they live with their parents until they get married and have a kid. Sometimes they stay with the parents even after they start their own family. It depends on the level of education and the jobs that are obtained. Many folks stay with their relatives indefinitely because that’s all that they can afford. So while one benefit is that families are very close here, there are some downstream consequences, too. For one thing, employers are incentivized to keep the salaries low because they can continue to hire workers who will accept these low wages. And by low, I mean REALLY low. Doctors–who are top earners around here– net a little more than $1300 a month (take home is 30% less due to taxes).

Secondly, Romania is an authoritative culture: you listen to your parents or those in authority and shut up. If you continue to live with your parents, you continue to do things the way your parents do, thereby inhibiting any cultural evolution. One of the things I find intriguing is that 30% of Romanians donate to the church (who do not provide schools, hospitals, or rescue services like in the US), but many refuse to donate to nonprofits. Why? One reason is because their parents don’t, so they don’t. The full explanation is obviously a lot more complicated, but that’s the first step.

To help with wage increases, the government is intervening and is increasing salaries of public servants as a way to increase competition in the private sector and inherently raise everyone’s wages. Romania is seeing quite a bit of brain drain since it’s easy for Romanians to work in other EU countries. Countries’ economies tend to do poorly when their best and brightest leave for work elsewhere. Particularly when your doctors, teachers, and lawyers are leaving in droves. Fortunately, though, the Romanian government is taking this seriously and most public servants will see their salaries double over the next couple of years. I will be interested to see what happens to their economy once this policy launches. This is an interesting article if you would like to read more about Romanian salaries.

Aside from our frustrations, we’ve had several happy times this week as well. We both purchased bikes! Our bikes will be our main mode of transportation at least until the winter– I keep hearing threats of -25 degrees!. Isaac also has a bike seat for my bike. We’ve taken a few family rides and he seems to enjoy the bike seat quite a bit. It will make his commute to daycare much easier since the walk to his daycare does not have the best sidewalks. Still so much more to learn and do!

Here are some pictures from this past week!

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