Adventures in Paperwork

Opening a bank account is not easy when you are jetlagged.

So we are in KL, running around getting all the paperwork in order. (You need one document registering your, and your families’, address with the city. A second document to state that the children claimed to reside in the address in the first document do indeed reside in the address stated in the first document. There is an entire section in the form dealing with illegitimate children… You take these two documents to a different office where you apply for a “Child allowance” from the state. A further different office takes that money back as part of income taxes.) Like most countries’ immigration laws, German rules are inconsistently circular. You need the document from the city office to get bank accounts. But no landlord will rent you a place without the paperwork and a bank account.

We got through the paperwork smoothly enough, thanks to the MPI admins who shepherded us around (“Coming through! Idiot foreigners!”). The only magical trick I got to show off was the use of an IPhone app to convert our heights and weights to the metric system at diverse offices.

Picture this: it’s our first week in Germany, we are all extremely jetlagged. The kids have been up all night. It’s noon = 3 am Los Angeles time, and we have just spent an hour in a government office. But I see a shiny bank building and decide to open an account.

I walk in. I explain this in broken German. Really broken German. I use “gelb” (= yellow) for “geld” (=money), explainging my need to store many, many, yellow things in the bank to a confused receptionist. Nevertheless, we are ushered into a small office, waiting for the bigger financial muscles to show up. We decide to release the kids in the room. At least, the damage will be contained. Tandra lies back for a catnap.

Soon a banker comes in. The room is a sea of crawling infant, loud running boy, sleepy wife, and documents. He looks at the state of affairs, tries to find the cat that brought all this in, and gives a sorry nod.

“What can I do for you?”

I explain my need for a bank account. He looks me over, disbelieving that I could ever have Actual Coins I would want to vaultize. But an epsilon money received is an epsilon money earned for the bank, so he decides, against all better judgment, to continue.

“What do you do?”

I start talking about Petri nets. Tandra gives me a withering look. I hand the man my Very First Visiting Card made in the excellent German tradition pointing out (a) professorship, (b) a doctoral degree. Me, I would have preferred the Wile E. Coyote simple style:

Wile E. Coyote


Have brain. Will travel.

But that template ist verboten. Little did I know the bureaucracy I unleashed.

You see, there are 700 different categories of professorships, and about double that of Ph.D. degrees. And the bank requires the exact classification to be stored with my account information. So we patiently start going over the list. “Informatik” is, of course, absent (or in hiding). I try to convince the guy that “Electronische Zauberer” should do. Nope. We get into semantic arguments about Mathematics, Platonism, and Naturwissenschaft. There is a simple “Doctor of Philosophy” but that, apparently, requires knowledge of, umm, philosophy. I can hear Tandra groaning in the background. I lose track of time, descending into a vortex of academic categorization.

I must have dozed off. When I wake up, I see Ritwik madly stamping the office wall with an official-looking bank stamp. And Rajit thoughtfully chewing on the banker’s trousers. The Germans hide their emotions well. Instead of suing me for irreparable sartorial damages, the financial magnate gives me a painful smile of understanding.

“Children,” he pronounced ruefully, “are better outside.”

Outside, yes. I could see what he meant. For these two, for sure outside of Germany, preferably outside the solar system. We looked at each other, men of the world. Understanding. Tandra’s snores filled the background.

We finally settle on “technische wissenschaft” as my exact expertise. Forms are filled out, signed. The banker mops his brow, exhausted. We walk out into the bright sunlight.

I realize, a few days later, that the large “S” sign for the bank is a generic sign for a whole set of banks. There is the Kreissparkasse, the Stadtsparkasse, the Foosparkasse. All they have in common is the “S” (presumably, for Sparkasse). I am reminded of the section from Monty Python’s Life of Brian:

Brian	Are you the Judean People's Front?
Reg	Fuck off.
Brian	What?
Reg	Judean People's Front. We're the People's Front of Judea. Judean
	People's front, caw.
Francis Wankers.
Brian	Can I join your group?
Reg	No. Piss off.
Brian	I didn't want to sell this stuff. It's only a job. I hate the Romans
	as much as anybody.
PFJ	Sssh. Ssssh, sssh, sssh, ssssh
Judith	Are you sure?
Brian	Oh. Dead sure... I hate the Romans already.
Reg	Listen. If you really wanted to join the PFJ, you'd have to really
	hate the Romans.
Brian	I do.
Reg	Oh yeah? How much?
Brian	A lot!
Reg	Right. You're in. Listen. The only people we hate more than the
	Romans are the fucking Judean People's Front.
PFJ	Yeah
Judith	Splitters.
Francis And the Judean Popular Peoples Front.
PFJ	Oh yeah. Splitters.
Loretta And the peoples Front of Judea.
PFJ	Splitters.
Reg	What?
Loretta The Peoples front of Judea. Splitters.
Reg	We're the Peoples front of Judea.
Loretta Oh. I thought we were the Popular Front.
Reg	Peoples Front.
Francis Whatever happened to the Popular Front, Reg?
Reg	He's over there.

One Response to “Adventures in Paperwork”

  1. Marco Says:

    Ciao Rupak, hilarious post, hope you’re doing better now. And I thought Italy was the worst bureaucracy nightmare around!

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