Friday, September 18, 2009

The Residence Permit/A Near Misadventure/Turkish Punctuality

Every year my residence permit expires, and every year it is renewed for me by my employer, no small advantage to working for an organization used to dealing with foreigners. Or rather, used to dealing with the Turkish bureaucracy involved in hiring foreigners. Before I started this job, my then-boyfriend (now my husband) and I had to fend for ourselves in this regard. But that’s another story. Suffice to say that it is so worth it to find a job that takes care of work visas, residence permits, etc.

The one hassle that my employer has not been able to take out of the equation is my having to go in person to pick up the new permit. So yesterday a small group of us hopped into one of the service vehicles and were chauffeured to the closest Emniyet Müdürlüğü, or police station, with a department for foreigners. The 35-kilometre drive should take about half an hour, and leaving at 4pm should have gotten us there comfortably before closing time at 5. But I was a little late getting to the van, realizing suddenly my unborn child was famished and I would miss my third lunch of the day unless I stopped at the canteen to pick up a sandwich; but there was a little extra traffic, being so close to the end of the working day; but it turned out that one is supposed to arrive at least fifteen minutes before closing.

I should add here that Turks, especially along the Mediterranean, are extremely relaxed about opening and closing times. This, coupled with their culture of hospitality and their discomfort in refusing the requests of others , means that latecomers are never turned away. (I'll have to write about the creative passive-agressive measures invented to evade saying no another time; perhaps I'll title that piece, ''How to Know When You've Been Told No.'')
I was therefore shocked when the last remaining officer in the foreigner's department grumpily said, at 4:55pm, ''It's 5pm, you'll have to come back tomorrow.''

Remember the sandwich I'd hastily bought before getting into the service bus? It'd been a kaşarlı tost, a grilled cheese on awful white bread, a desperate last resort to staving off hunger. For the second time that day. I'd also been quite thirsty, so had downed a can of Iced Tea, a sugary treat bought on impulse -- I never drink soft drinks or even fruit juices unless they're no-sugar-added. Well, I guess my stomach (or my baby?) decided to rebel, because for the first time in four months, I found myself overcome by nausea of the car sickness variety, as our driver ungracefully accelerated and braked his way all the way to Mersin. I'd gotten out of the van weak-kneed and just barely dragged myself up the three flights of stairs to the foreigners' affairs department, and now the police officer was telling me I'd have to come back tomorrow!

I protested in the undiplomatic manner that's unfortunately become quite normal for me since the start of this pregnancy, and he reluctantly began to exchange our signatures for our residence permits. One of my colleagues' permits had expired a day earlier, and he told her she'd have to pay an 8-Lira fine. Feeling feisty, I told him we were just there to pick up the permits; our employer takes care of all those kinds of things; after all, it was our employer's fault that my colleague's permit renewal application had been submitted late.

Me and my big mouth! The officer, whose daily dealings with foreigners had perhaps rubbed off on him, clapped his folder shut and said that in that case, we'd deal with our permits tomorrow after all. No, no, no! That's not the way the game works! I'd seen my husband do it thousands of times: you argue a little, you banter, you blow off a little steam, and in the end everyone gets what they want and parts as friends!

It turns out the officer was worried about missing his own service bus, and once he saw that it was still waiting outside, he relaxed and finished handing us our little booklets. In my case, it was a brand new shiny one, since I'd filled up the old one with previous renewals.

But there were no friendly goodbyes, no joking warnings to arrive earlier next time. I endured another forty minutes of nausea but returned home knowing my 'ordeal' could have been much worse, and that I wouldn't have to deal with my resident permit for another year. Now I just have to modify my overstated claims of Turkish disregard for punctuality. And learn a few subtleties of Turkish diplomacy.

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