Friday, October 25, 2013

Belgian Bureaucracy

I'm waiting at the Stadskantoor, the City Hall, a new-ish, glass-fronted building next to the train station in Leuven. EU and Belgian flags flutter in the afternoon breeze over a shiny metal sculpture called the "Hand of Prometheus" that reaches, palm outstretched, for the skies. As a foreigner, I've got to register here within 8 days of arrival, as soon as I get a permanent address, which thankfully, I've just secured; a 1-bedroom apartment not too far from work. I've got my ticket and am waiting for my number to be called out, an experience I've had quite a bit lately, what with changing countries and all. Quite a few counters seem to be empty as  other aliens from around the planet trying to make a life in Belgium wait their turn patiently. Where on the efficiency scale is Belgian bureaucracy going to lie? Slow and infuriating, with malfeasance and the almost compulsory greasing of palms at every level like in India, or is it going to be more like the well-oiled system in Australia, with super-friendly staff and little to no waiting times.

Ads for events at the Stadskantoor flash by on the display screen, interspersed with the flashing of ticket numbers accompanied by a 2-tone bell. "De Staadsoorpan" says one, which looks like a concert announcement, with a picture of a musician and some musical notes. I make a mental note of the event. Live classical music  could go some way towards livening up these increasingly long evenings of the fast approaching winter.
I strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to me, and it turns out he's about to complete a PhD at Leuven, and he's here to arrange his departure documentation. And, he's from Bangalore. I think it's fitting that one (erstwhile) Bangalorean begins his stay in this obscure part of Europe as another ends it. 

When my number finally flashes on screen, I've been waiting for three quarters of an hour. The girl at the counter is friendly, but I realize it's going to take a further 2 visits, with a police visit to my home to confirm my address in between to complete all registration formalities and be issued with a Belgian residence card. If I had to make a judgement based on this one experience with bureaucracy here, I would place it near the Australian end of the scale, maybe a few notches below it.

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