Culture clash – at the Russian visa centre

28 June, 2021

Foreigns in Russia will no doubt have encountered things or people they do not understand. Sometimes, this makes life complicated. Other times, it makes for a funny situation. Maybe something that was scary or strange at first end up being funny once you’ve dealt with it. Here is one story of mine, which is the most memorable because it was also my first contact with Russia: from the visa centre no less.

Story from the visa centre

In spring 2021, I decided to spend the summer in Moscow. To do that, I needed a visa. I went to the Russian visa centre in Stockholm and every document needed was prepared. However, there was a sign inside the visa centre.

DUE TO TECHNICAL PROBLEMS, THE VISA CENTER CANNOT RECEIVE YOUR VISA DOCUMENTS AT THE MOMENT.

I turned back home. One week later, I came back, again with all my documents ready. But once again, I saw a sign:

DUE TO TECHNICAL PROBLEMS, THE VISA CENTER CANNOT RECEIVE YOUR VISA DOCUMENTS AT THE MOMENT.

Okay, I have plenty of time to come back later! I waited another week and came back for a the third time. Now, I saw people handing over their visa documents. Good sign! I was happy, but then saw a new sign on the wall:

YOU MUST BOOK AN APPOINTMENT BEFOREHAND IN ORDER TO HAND OVER YOUR VISA DOCUMENTS

I was astonished! Does this mean I have to go home again and then come back to the visa center for the fourth time!? While contemplating what to do, an elderly Russian woman (babushka) visiting the visa centre at the same time came up to me:

Babushka: Have you booked an appointment?

Me: No, I didn’t know!

Babushka: Oh it won’t be a problem! *waves her hand at me* 

Me: What do you mean!?

The babushka then went up to the Russian receptionist at the visa centre. As predicted, the receptionist pointed towards the sign that says one must book an appointment in advance. Of course, I thought, it says right there that you have to book first!

Then, however, she just sat down in front of the receptionist anyway and started talking to the receptionist in Russian. For several minutes! The conversation was clearly going well: the receptionist started to laugh and seemed to enjoy talking to the babushka very much. Eventually, the receptionist took the babushka’s visa documents (!), and all procedures for her were quickly done.

I was not sure what just happened, but I went to the receptionist and said:

Me: “Good to see that the problem’s solved! Here are my visa documents.”

Receptionist: “No no, you have to book an appointment first. See here” *points to the sign on the wall*

Finally, I learned that the rule may not be very strict. It goes completely against the Swedish instinct of following all rules without questioning, but my time is valuable!

Me: “But the babushka just went up to you and gave you her documents, and everything was fine!

Receptionist: “Well, but…”

Me: “Come on, I have been here twice already and was not able to hand over my documents! I saw that she could do it just now!”

Receptionist: “Okay, alright, give me your visa documents then.”

So it worked! Everything went quickly, and I left the visa center happily, having done what I needed to do. On my way out, I saw someone going up to the receptionist to hand over his visa documents. 

Man: “Here are my documents.”

Receptionist: “No, sorry! You have to book an appointment first!”

Nick Nguyen

Posted by Nick Nguyen

My name is Nick and I am studying Russian at Lidenz while keeping you updated with articles about Russia this summer. In my other life, I live in Sweden and study Political Science, focused on Russia and Eastern Europe.

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