Monday, March 3, 2008

German Bureaucracy

At 7.00 this morning my sweet wife N. and I were running into the Ausländeramt (foreign registration office) for my three year anniversary of arrival to Germany and hopefully an extension of my stay permit.

I say running in the literal sense rather than the figurative… Although I’m not really built for running, I do find that when I have an incredibly important appointment with a government official for which I am late I manage to put a little speed into my tree trunk thighs for at least a few steps. Well, for some reason we just kept losing time … five minutes here, ten minutes there… which simply had us arriving at the building just as the big hand hit the 12. Today was just such a day.

When I first came to Germany I was given a three year permission to stay, and then told to come back before that time expired for a re-evaluation of my situation. As long as I committed no crimes (well, I guess technically as long as I didn’t get caught), had not divorced my wife, and had learned a reasonable amount of the German language, I would most certainly get at least an extension of my Aufenthaltserlaubnis (restricted residence permit).

N. had been busy putting together all of the required paperwork (pretty much all I did to help was stand in front of a copier – I’m clueless when it comes to German bureaucracy), and months ago had gotten us an appointment so we would not need to wait in line for hours – she’s smart like that. As we walked past the 50 or so people who were in line, I decided that I would later thank N. profusely for her forethought.

Finding the room of the man who would hold my fate in his hands was rather easy. We knocked on his door at 7.02 which was evidently a bit early for him because he asked us to go back outside and wait for a short time. I was struck immediately by a very bad set of teeth, one of them sticking straight out at me… but his eyes were friendly and that was slightly soothing.
There are no words to explain just how nervous I really was… but I’m sure N. was quite surprised by it. She even asked me once if I was mad at her or something, and of course I was not… I was just REALLY uneasy.

There I sat anxiously waiting for this guy to get his morning coffee, take his office dump, or whatever and I’m almost chewing my fingernails! Dear, sweet N. was quite cute, trying to lighten the mood… all I could think of was that this guy would test my German, he might find it lacking… and then send me packing.

It is so easy to offend in German. When one is talking with a person who is older, superior in rank, a boss, or whatever you are expected to use the formal pronouns. For people of your own social stature, your age or younger, or family you use the informal pronouns for personal address. Unfortunately I keep getting this messed up, usually by speaking in the informal way to someone who should be treated formally and has not “offered” me the option of referring to them in this way. THIS IS A MAJOR NO NO… AND OF COURSE IT IS SOMETHING I DO WITH ANNOYING FREQUENCY!

Alas the man called us into an office filled with plants… the kind of room that makes me think immediately that someone here has a green thumb. I looked around and saw all of my failures as a plantkeeper. Look, that is what a fig tree is supposed to look like! Green, with leaves… and there is one of those crawly succulent plants… and hey, it can still crawl. Deep inside I wish I had a green thumb.

In a nice way he asked for my passport and my new biometric picture, and then wanted to know which one of us was working. At this time N. pushed forward my pay stubs from the past few months and mentioned that we are both working. Several more questions were put forth to which N. gazed around the large plant on the table and answered the man with the nice, rather friendly eyes.

All in all he seemed pretty OK to this point, but I was waiting for the question… when would he ask it, and would I mess it up? Then it came… fast and in German. “And do you understand German?” he said, pointedly looking at me.

HERE is your moment!! Make yourself proud! AND there is a perfect way to phrase my answer so I don’t have to worry about the pronoun stuff at all!! Thus I stammered in my crappy German something about how I understand a bit, but that I work for an international company and speak only English, so I feel it isn’t so good.

At that last sentence he turned away from me and looked back at his paperwork, making my heart skip a beat… those eyes, I can’t see if he liked what I said! He turned away! Maybe he is checking his huge sheet of paper for more questions to stump the goofy American applicant. But as he was looking at the paper in front of him a smile crossed his face. He said something to the effect that it seemed OK to him!!! Tee Hee Hee… Jump for joy!!

Today is a day for congratulations… as of 3 March I have an unlimited right to stay/work in Germany/Europe. By 7.12 the very nice man glued a Niederlassungserlaubnis (permanent alien residency) sticker into my Passport!!

Now, where is my celebratory beer!?!

7 comments:

tqe / Adam said...

Congratulations!

I'm buying your drinks this weekend.

J said...

Wooo hooo! Congrats! I got mine last year and know exactly how you feel.

pleite said...

That really is a cause for celebration. Well done!

Snooker said...

Thanks everybody!
Last night we went out for Tapas to celebrate and I drank Kamikazies like I didn't care about a headache in the morning.

@ Adam, I'll take you up on at least one of them!

@ J, whaddya know... Germany doesn't suck! I read your post on the subject and am sorry you had so much trouble. Getting married made it all so much easier for me.

@ Pleite, I promise that I celebrated... and oh my head hurts now!

Jul said...

Congrats! It must feel awesome to have that "permanent" sticker.

Snooker said...

@ Jul you are so right! I LOVE IT!

G in Berlin said...

I do that "du" for "Sie" thing all the time- catching myself and being embarrased. Seems most Germans find it amusing ffrom foreigners though. And all the Germans I have met so far acknowledge that German is a very difficult language to learn and are glad that we try!
Congratulations!