Blog: The peculiar order of numbers

A foreigners' real experience at the foreigners’ police department in Bratislava.

(Source: SME)

At some point while we were waiting, a woman behind me began yelling in Russian at a young man in front of me. He ignored her and she settled down, but a little while later began yelling at him again. He tried to ignore her again, but she shoved her way up to him and got in his face, to which he responded in Russian and with rolling eyes. Eventually, the young man in the couple, who spoke Russian, told me the young man at whom the woman was yelling had gotten in line far ahead of where he was supposed to be. After she’d returned to her place in line, the woman yelling in Russian periodically said things. I’m not sure what she was saying, but the Russian speakers were amused. At some point in the midst of this, an older couple from perhaps Spain or Italy returned from wherever they had been and asked the crowd when people had arrived since they’d gotten there at 5:00 a.m. and knew they should be farther up than they appeared to be now. This garnered a few laughs. I yelled that I’d arrived at 4:00. They worked their way somewhere behind me and chatted with their neighbors.

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The facilitation agent I recognized arrived with clients and worked them into their places in line, including the two placeholders in front of the women whom I was behind. They were replaced by a thirty- or forty-something man and a similarly aged woman with her young daughter who looked perhaps ten years old. A mild amount of protest arose from the back of the crowd until one of the placeholders explained they were just switching. When the door opened, there was of course a surge from the back of the zigzagging crowd. The two women in front of me seemed to be getting separated from each other and I did what I could to help them stay together. As the young man who’d cut in line got near the door, the Russian woman behind me began yelling very aggressively and the officer in charge of letting us through the door looked genuinely nervous that he would lose control over the situation. The officer asked a few people near him some questions, stopping the whole entry process, but finally the cutter went through the door. As I got nearer the entrance, the semblance of order began to collapse, though myself and those around me tried to keep ourselves organized. At least one person who was behind me got in ahead of me and the woman with her child somehow wound up father back than I’d thought they should be. Finally, I reached the officer in charge of the tickets and told him I needed to renew my residence permit. Somehow this confused him, I believe the renewal part, so I showed him the expiration date on my current permit and eventually got a number by about 7:45. My number was 347. After arriving about an hour earlier than I had on Friday, I was thirteen places farther back, but I suppose this depends on who shows up for what service on a given day. The screen read 301, 302, and 303.

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After my experience with the coffee from the machine by the bathroom, I decided to walk to where I thought I’d seen a café, near the Pizza Mizza. The café did not take cards and the cash I had on me needed to be reserved for the permit fee, about 45€ including the fee for the permit to be mailed. I walked to a Tesco Express ten minutes away, which did not have coffee but did have a bankomat. After getting some more cash, I went back to the café and bought a double espresso and a croissant. On returning to Hrobákova 44, the numbers were up to 307 by 8:30. I sat down on the same bench outside and took out some reading for class on Tuesday. While doing this, the two women who’d been in front of me asked if I thought they could go somewhere for a while, showing me their ticket, which read 342. They’d been immediately in front of me, but were five places ahead. I told them that they certainly had time to go somewhere and in fact should be prepared not to get in at all. The reading took about an hour. I checked on the numbers: 310.

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Back to the bench for some grading. Forty minutes in, I checked the numbers again, and the screen was blank. After ten more minutes of grading, it read 317, 325, and 336. I called my friend that the numbers were jumping around a lot and maybe she should come because I wasn’t sure what was going on. The next day, someone suggested that, because the agents have a number of clients there at any given moment and are there every day, they convince the officers to let them evaluate a series of their clients in a row, regardless of their position in line. This makes as much sense as anything I could come up with, but I am not sure I’ve seen that happen.

This account of the author’s real experience at the foreigners’ police department in Bratislava is to be continued.

James Griffith teaches political thought and philosophy at the Bratislava International School of Liberal Arts

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