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FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Census 2001: Form and substance

Foreign residents of Slovakia may quickly get tired of filling out the endless forms that seem essential to life here. And there's now yet another office that wants to know who we are and what we're doing - the Statistical Office, which is conducting the first census in independent Slovakia. We're all required to complete it, even those of us who have been here less than 30 days and don't intend to stay. Here's how.
Wherever you live, you should by now have been given two forms - the list obyvateľa, or Resident's Form, and either the bytový list (Apartment Dweller's Form) or domový list (House Dweller's Form), depending on what kind of luxury you call home.
Nothing will happen to you if you ignore these requests for information. You may not even get one, if reports about Census 2001 confusion are true (Eva Kelemenová, spokeswoman of the Statistical Office itself, complained on May 30 that she hadn't yet been issued a census form).

Foreign residents of Slovakia may quickly get tired of filling out the endless forms that seem essential to life here. And there's now yet another office that wants to know who we are and what we're doing - the Statistical Office, which is conducting the first census in independent Slovakia. We're all required to complete it, even those of us who have been here less than 30 days and don't intend to stay. Here's how.

Wherever you live, you should by now have been given two forms - the list obyvateľa, or Resident's Form, and either the bytový list (Apartment Dweller's Form) or domový list (House Dweller's Form), depending on what kind of luxury you call home.

Nothing will happen to you if you ignore these requests for information. You may not even get one, if reports about Census 2001 confusion are true (Eva Kelemenová, spokeswoman of the Statistical Office itself, complained on May 30 that she hadn't yet been issued a census form).

But if you've been passed by, you can still repair to the obecný úrad (Town Hall) where you live (the address should be in the phone book, or call the census hotline at 0800 133 331) and pick one up. Even though the deadline to fill them out is June 4, we understand there is going to be broad tolerance, if not tears of gratitude, shown to anyone who cares enough to visit.

I think it's fair to say you can ignore the bytový list and domový list, because it's not likely you'll know much of the information they require. If perchance you do know when your flat was built, its exact square metrage, and the source of your water, gas and heating, then go ahead, or nech sa páči (you'll need more than just pub-Slovak to satisfy the state's insatiable curiosity). Better still, pass the forms on to your landlord.

But the one you can't get away from is the list obyvateľa. Here again, there are few concessions made to non-speakers of Slovak, but here's a quick guide.

Foreigners who have been here less than 30 days have to fill out only questions 3, 4, 9, 22 and 23. Question 3 asks for your date of birth (Dátum narodenia) - give them the day (deň), month (mesiac) and year (rok). Then move on to box 4, which asks your sex (pohlavie, literally meaning genitals). Are you a man (muž) or a woman (žena)? Check your genitals to make sure.

Which brings us to question 9, which is your nationality (štátne občianstvo). You'll most likely be iné, or 'different'. Look in the phone book to find out how Slovaks spell the name of your country.

Then we have the all-important permanent address, question 22 (adresa trvalého bydliska), which is to be filled out only be people temporarily residing at their current addresses and foreigners. You've got a choice of street (ulica), city (mestská časť), county (obec) and country (okres). The translations we've given you here aren't even close to the mark, but the help line says that's how foreigners should record their origins.

Finally, your name, which isn't absolutely required, just politely requested. They'd like your surname (meno) and your christian names (priezvisko).

For those who call Slovakia home, there's a lot more work in store (18 further questions), but for help with those you'll have to ask a Slovak friend - we simply don't have the space here.

The reasons we've devoted even this much space to one form are several. First, the foreign community in Slovakia has to be defined in hard numbers if its interests are to be taken seriously by the government. We're not all foreign investors whose hard currency registers on the radar screen - there are many more teachers, NGO workers, religious missionaries and general busybodies than anyone knows, and the census is one way of making their presence felt.

Secondly, you have to feel sorry for the buggers from the Statistical Office, with almost every minority in the country crying foul because the forms don't suit them, rather than just getting on with the job. We felt that foreigners would want to contribute to the process if they were given some small guidance.

Finally, learning how to fill out official forms - most of whose requirements have been translated above - is one of the rites of passage of being an expat in Slovakia. It's a curious process, but the way in which foreigners react to the basic elements of life here actually creates a chasm between those who have been here longer and those who have just arrived. If you attend a gathering of expats, you may find there are few old hands in the group, partly because having endured their own culture shock and acclimatization to life in Slovakia, they are loathe to relive vicariously through the newcomers their own former bewilderment.

Which is why a form like Census 2001's list obyvateľa - form SODB SL-O - is a test of expat mettle. Those of us who ignore it are likely those who still haven't found their feet in this chaotic, form-loving country.

Foreign Affairs is a bi-weekly column devoted to helping expats and foreigners navigate the spills and thrills of life in Slovakia.
The next Foreign Affairs column will appear on stands June 18, Vol. 7, No. 24.

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