Conclusion, March 24
On March 15, I received a text from my friend that she had received a call from the foreigners’ police informing her that my new permit was ready. She had given them her number so that there was no confusion between Slovak and English, and I had opted not to have the permit sent to me because of confusion over mail that had been happening in my apartment building. Because I knew it would not be as much of an ordeal to pick up the permit, I opted not to go immediately. I had already made plans for Friday, March 17, and did not want to cancel any more classes. Thus, I told my friend that I would go to Petržalka the next Friday.
The night before, my phone turned itself off and I could not get it to turn back on. As a result, I could not set up the directions to Hrobákova 44 in GPS, nor could I call for a taxi. I tried to set something up that might work and set my alarm for 3:00 a.m. out of a sense of paranoia that my memory of the relative ease of picking up the permit was a fiction. Sleeping through the alarm again, I awoke at 4:00 a.m. and decided there was no point in heading down there now because, if I did need to get there earlier to pick up the permit, I was already too late. I slept for another two hours and couldn’t sleep anymore, so I did some work while waiting for the cell phone store to open in order to get my phone fixed.
Once the phone was fixed, it occurred to me that, with the typically thinned out crowds after lunch and the fact that I had reason to hope that this would be an easier process, I should try to go down there by 12:30. I asked my friend if she was available and she said she would meet me down there around 1:00 p.m.
When I arrived, I received a ticket with 642 and the sign read up to 622. I saw someone I know who told me that he had been there since 11:30 p.m. the previous night. He was attempting to renew his permit as well and this was his fifth time coming down this month, the first time not even getting a ticket because he had arrived at 6:00 a.m. Not having had to deal with the foreigners’ police very directly when he first arrived, I believe this was his first time experiencing it. I asked him if he knew about the list or the new “find the last person” systems and he did not. I tried to explain things a little bit and suggested he may need to be a bit more aggressive about not losing his place in line if he had to return yet again. He also told me that, that first day he’d come down, he was very frustrated and found an officer manning the section of the building that deals with people with EU passports in order to complain. The officer told him that he would just have to come back the next working day, to which my acquaintance said he couldn’t very easily keep taking time off from work just to try to submit his legally required paperwork to stay in a country which had no legal reason to prevent him from staying. The officer said he could just “go home” then.
While waiting, an American who was working with a facilitation representative was complaining about the system, and I got the feeling he may have been trying to set up permits for a number of employees, but I may have misunderstood what I overheard. My friend arrived and the numbers were up to 628. She went on her phone to do some work and I paced and killed time however else I could think to do. By about 2:00 p.m., I noticed my acquaintance entering the room to submit his paperwork.
Around 2:30, 642 came up and my friend and I walked through that door, which opens onto a small room with two desks, both of which were occupied. The officer asked for my old permit and my passport, showed me the document outlining my rights as a third-country national permitted to stay in Slovakia and asked me to sign one copy of it. She made some additions to my file—indicating dates, stamping some documents and signing others—entered some information into her computer, and returned my passport. I went to the second ticket machine where I paid the processing fee and returned to the officer to give her confirmation of having done so and she gave me the new permit.
We were out the door by about 2:45. I caught the eye of the American and he looked confused and possibly angry but perhaps just tired. My friend called for a cab and we chatted with my acquaintance, who had finally been able to submit his paperwork, and with a Turkish medical student who was there for the third or fourth time. I felt oddly guilty about having only been there for two hours to pick up the permit. However, I also know that I need to go through the process once again in the summer and that I have to begin collecting paperwork yet again in May. We got in the cab and returned to Staré Mesto.
James Griffith teaches political thought and philosophy at the Bratislava International School of Liberal Arts