Dear MUP: An Open Letter On Experiences, Documents, And Smiling

Lauren Simmonds

Having to visit public, government or legal institutions is never a particularly enjoyable experience in any country. Nobody likes having to come face to face with the boys in blue. The scent of printer ink and the sound of pens being dropped is the usual sensory adventure which sets the tone. Boredom and waiting in lines behind other uncertain people is the physical adventure which promptly follows. Must existential anxiety be the mental one?

To the chorus of ‘’fali vam jos jedan papir’’ (you’re missing another paper) an increase in heart rate and a general sense of despair creeps up on you as the frustrated man in front of you mutters his final ‘’jebi se’’ (look that up) and shuffles away. You finally get within a few inches of the utterly uninspired looking woman sitting behind the dust infused pane of perspex.


You present her with your handful of documents, filed conspicuously neatly one behind the other (you know, as if you know what you’re doing because everything is so clearly explained and unchanging, that kind of way). You understand what about 30% of those documents are. The rest will be wrong in some way and you already know it, and if they’re not wrong, she’ll find a way of making you feel like they are, or should be. You are now entirely at the mercy of the woman who gives you the impression that she’d gladly crush you if that Godsent perspex pane wasn’t separating you. She still cannot bring herself to crack even a half-smile despite being a live witness to confusion personified – also known as you.


She joins the choir in singing the familiar chorus of ‘’fali vam jos jedan papir’’ as she turns over the third piece of paper, her prompt flicking through of the first two gave you a false sense of security. Hope is soon shattered and down you come, back down to earth. How dare you forget your place? This is probably the third or fourth time this has happened, what the hell did you expect?


The woman behind her in the same tiny, paperclip and biro pen (without lids) filled office turns her head away from whatever she is doing (or not doing, as the case may well be) to argue the first woman’s conclusion about you missing a paper, your hopes dare to rise a couple of inches. It is short lived. You’re not missing one paper, you’re missing multiple papers, documents nobody mentioned to you at any point in time, documents not talked about on any website, documents that have seemingly been invented in the past five or so minutes. Another change in the law, no doubt.


You try to understand why you need to do what she is asking as the ‘’other woman in the back’’ tries to contest each one of her words. Go back to another office to obtain document XYZ123 that you’ve never even heard of? Really? Again? But it’s past 15:00, they’re either closed now or it’s break time which lasts for an often differing and usually unknown period of time. Your problem, not theirs. You’re going to have to come back tomorrow because like I said, it’s YOUR problem and it is the job of nobody to even attempt to offer you help of some kind.


Are you a citizen of the EEA or the Swiss Federation? Are you not? Do you even remember anymore? It seems the two women in the office no longer care about what your issue is or where you’re from and would sooner argue between themselves about whether or not you need to show proof of sustainable earnings in a Croatian bank account (you know, like Raiffeisen, that AUSTRIAN place). As the darkness of the pit of sheer confusion begins to consume your soul, the otherworldly experience that follows poses the question ‘’what the f*ck am I doing here?’’ and the sound of the two women now firing cannons loaded with passive aggression over who is right at each other begin to die down.


Thoughts which act as the creative thesaurus for ‘’what the f*ck am I doing here?’’ begin to swirl around your brain and imagining crawling back to the tax office, the bank, the post office (because that’s the only way you can pay) or some other public institution filled with individuals who just want to exercise their power over you fills you with absolute dread. All you want to do is renew a permit, get something stamped, change an address or get a new card of some kind.


This article has been put together by the feelings and experiences of people (victims) from Croatia and outside of Croatia, from Europe and from outside Europe, individuals from all walks of life who are now allergic to state offices of any kind purely because of the cold, unforgiving reception and the utterly tedious work that is unnecessarily involved to do just about anything. My questions and points are as follows:


Is it really so difficult to display empathy for your fellow human beings by allowing a smile to grace your face every so often? It won’t crack your skin, I promise.


If a law is a law, why does it more often than not result in arguments between multiple women in the same office over what is correct and what is not? If things were simplified and made just that little bit clearer, such instances could easily be avoided, no?


Nobody enjoys being yelled at. If you do not wish to be yelled at by irritated people who literally JUST want to go about their lives with ease, don’t treat them as if you are better than them. Kindness does not kill. Have you ever watched a cat torture a mouse before it finally kills it? A display of sympathy towards the problems facing those who come to you would save you from being called all the names under the sun by an Average Joe who is being made to feel guilty for even walking into the building and, (God forbid) daring to have a small problem.


Croatia joined the European Union in 2013, with that came certain obligations and standards which should be upheld at all times. Constantly telling people they’re missing documents without offering even a word of assistance on how to resolve the matter is not one of them.


This article has no desire to disrespect the hard and respectable work of the police, the Ministry of the Interior as a whole or the very rare gems working in offices who have learned the concept of smiling that one can come across once in a blue moon on a Tuesday afternoon while trying to renew a document or two. This is merely a rundown of a set of experiences and feelings that have been forced on innocent people who only want to do the simplest of things with the help of other people who are willing to do their job professionally, efficiently and most importantly of all – kindly. While there are of course exceptions (I have surprisingly experienced a couple of them myself), crippling anxiety and a cold reception are not feelings one should be greeted with when entering a police station without handcuffs.

As a wise man once said: ‘’Do me a favour and smile.’’


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