Monday, January 05, 2009

At Work

It was just getting light at half past eight. On the street outside a line of traffic waited impatiently to cross the tram tracks. With the wind chill, the temperature had fallen to minus twenty-four.

The short walk to work took me past the Stalinist Empire State Building, straight through the central railway station (blasts of heat, straggly queues in front of the ticket windows and a yellow shop sign with ‘Food Supplements, The Special goods, Functional Food’ written in three languages, including badly punctuated English), across the square in front of Rimi Supermarket, and to the edge of the misleadingly named Centrs, not quite, in fact, the centre of town but Riga’s most important shopping district, where small groups in uniform were scraping snow off the pavements with flat spades like pizza shovels.

I sat on my own for an hour filling out an Application for Requiring a Residence Permit, which asked in Russian, Latvian and English for the names, addresses and birthdays of my parents, siblings and ex-wife, my proficiency level in Latvian and other foreign languages, places of employment in the past five years, and whether I had "ever been inflicted a penalty on committing an offence" (No, I think).

And yet the application itself was surprisingly simple. The usual delay on a stiff-backed chair, two or three questions in English (and a brief telling off for "not understanding the form"), and a fortnight's wait until I go back to pick up my permit. In the Czech Republic the same process took six months; finally I gave up and worked as the Czechs do - in the black.

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