How to deal with bureaucracy

20 August, 2021

Russia is known for its complex bureaucracy. I remember reading an article on the Guardian years ago about how simple tasks, such as dry-cleaning your clothes, can take a lot of paperwork and signatures. Why is it that way? I do not know. That said, what I can do is to give some tips to foreigners, so they can prepare for when they, sooner or later, need to find a way to navigate bureaucracy.

Rules may, or may not, be strict

One thing that gives Russians an advantage over foreigners is their innate knowledge of how laws work. While there are many rules in Russia, some of them simply don’t apply. Only Russians would know which ones are important to follow, and which ones are not.

One example is the rule on wearing gloves to prevent covid-19 in Moscow, which was simply ignored.

When applying for an internship, I read the application guide to know how it works, but then the supervisor did not follow these guide when he selected me.

When I apply for a visa, I received a printed document from the visa centre that clearly lacks the information that the visa centre says must be stated on the document. Yet, everything worked out without problems.

Be firm and persistent 

One time, when my luggage was stuck at an airport in Moscow, I called them to find out where it is and how to get it back. I wanted to be nice, but a Russian friend told me that I have to be the opposite: be firm, strict, and keep on asking for information. Most importantly, don’t give up. This is because some of those who work in customer service might not do their job if you don’t say clearly what they must do. Being too nice encourages them to be passive and not help you, she said.

I thought she was too harsh, but she was right. One time at the Russian visa centre, being nice only led to me having to return several times because they were not taking documents or asking for a booked appointment. Yet, when I was firm, strict and keep on pushing them to let me have what I need, voila

Learn from the locals

The best way to deal with bureaucracy is to learn from locals.

At the visa centre, I watched how a babushka went about it, then did the same.

When organising an event and working as a volunteer, I observed how many guidelines to fellow Russian volunteers actually follow. 

If in doubt, copy others do until you learn how to do thing yourself!

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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