(It’s a pun, get it? Well, maybe after you actually read the post…)

One of the nice things about living overseas is that it’s easier to give yourself permission to feel really special and accomplished for completing basic tasks like almost signing up for a cell phone plan or buying a DVD player. Today I gave myself a huge pat on the back for successfully submitting my paperwork for a tourist visa at the Russian consulate in Sofia.

Like the Tanzanian visa/vaccination situation, this was one of those pleasant times when an interaction actually turned out to be easier than what you were anticipating. Living in a place where you don’t really speak the native language, you just get accustomed to expecting things to go wrong and mass confusion to reign supreme. And for me this is stressful because I don’t like being wrong and I don’t like being embarrassed (I think I’ve gotten a lot better at it while living here, but it’s still not something I’m very comfortable with). Plus, regarding the visa there was once again conflicting information on what I might need to bring (the lists of documents was anywhere from 4 to 10 items long), and I know from experience that anytime you get into paperwork with Bulgarians you know it’s going to be nonsensical and arbitrary, so I wasn’t expecting Russians to be much different.

The consulate itself didn’t do much to reassure me, with all of the signs exclusively in Russian Cyrillic (I mean, they couldn’t even throw me a bone by having bilingual Russian/Bulgarian signs!) and the whole interior giving me nauseating flashbacks to my ordeal at the central post office in Sofia, only the room was smaller and therefore more claustrophobic. I never wrote about that central post office incident, but just imagine a nightmare experience at the DMV and then multiply its dysfunction factor by 10. Anyway, I waited in line for a long time (because the woman at the front of the visa line seemed to be doing visas for an entire tour group or something) and became thoroughly convinced that I’d effed up by not cutting and pasting my passport photo onto the application as everyone else in the room seemingly had and only bringing them separately; by not having an actual bank statement printed out, only a screen cap (because every single link to “Statements and Documents” in Bank of America Online Banking, that paragon of Western efficiency, was somehow BROKEN this morning and I couldn’t print an actual statement), by not having a complete photocopy of my passport, only the ID page; and I was dreading how complicated it was going to be to explain this to the consulate officer in broken Bulgarian and how shameful it was going to be when I had to retreat in failure from the dingy consulate office and how all the Russians would point and laugh at me.

Then it didn’t help that the Russian guy in front of me did get turned away quite quickly for not having something (or maybe he was just asking a question), and that when I got up to the window and slide my English visa application and my conspicuously blue passport across, the consulate officer glanced at it, then got up and walked away from his desk for what felt like a long time but in reality was probably something like two minutes, and I started worrying that this was going to be another Ethiopian Air situation

But then he came back and finished reading my application form, and politely asked me questions in English when he needed to. He asked for my tourist invitation form, which I gave to him. He asked for my Bulgarian ID card and a photocopy, which I gave to him. He asked for my photo, and then when I slid the uncut FujiFilm form to him, he magically produced scissors from a location invisible to me and cut one photo loose, then magically produced a glue stick from that same location and glued my photo onto the application for me (who knows, maybe everyone else in the room also brought them loose and he’d cut and glued all of them).

And then he stamped it and told me I could pick it up on March 14 and that I should pay at the cashier window. It felt amazing! Then I had to run out and go get more money from an ATM because I didn’t have enough, but it still felt amazing.

For the record, I didn’t need any of the following, which I had read that I might need and thus had prepared in advance:

  • a photocopy of my passport
  • 2 copies of anything (application, form, or photo)
  • a bank statement proving sufficient funds to pay for the visit
  • proof of health insurance valid in Russia
  • flight itineraries
  • hotel reservations (you do have to write down one hotel name, address, and phone number on the application form)
  • any money other than leva (which actually was unfortunate because I pretty much cleaned out my bank account and now need to make it to a bank to deposit my extra USD, GBP, and euro–which I’ve somehow ended up with a lot of, all told–or else not be able to eat for a couple weeks)

I guess technically it remains to be seen whether the visa really does go through and appears in my passport on March 14 (it’s also a little unnerving to be without my passport until March 14), but at least for today, I felt like a badass.

And then I bought some martenitsi on the way home because Friday is Baba Marta Day (aka the best holiday ever) and I was just feeling so awesome and competent and Bulgarian after my consulate success story. This may be very short-lived when I get the phone call from the optician tomorrow to see whether my Bulgarian glasses-purchasing saga is going to end well (that’s a story for another day), but for now I’ll just enjoy it. YAY ME.


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