My fellow expat’s recent foray into the wild world that is being (nearly) arrested by German passport control had me scrambling to check the expiry date on my visa last week. I’ve been here seven years, which should mean that I’ve got permanent residency but I lost my first chance at permanent residency by taking a seven-month sabbatical in California two years ago.
Note to fellow expats: six months is tops you can be out of the country at a time without having to start over in the run-up to citizenship.
The good thing is that Germans are pretty heavy on the blood nationalism, so as Mama to a half-blooded German Diva, I can get a visa to stay here very easily and when I returned from impromptu sabbatical, I did. It helps that I speak the language and have income and come from the US, recognized by the beamters as a wealthy country that only idiots would leave willingly and therefore, the unofficial quota of Amis, at least in these here parts, remains unfilled. All those horror stories I’ve heard others have had to live through have not (knock wood) applied to me.
A visit to the foreigners’ office has always been a breeze for me (getting the paperwork in line, including health insurance paperwork has not, but that’s another story). Each time I’ve gone, though, the visa is stamped for a different amount of time. The first was for a year, the second for four, the latest for three. I think there’s logic to it, but I don’t understand the logic and they sure don’t tell you, nor do they tell you when your visa’s about to run out. It’s one of the fun things about German bureaucracy that I’m also learning while filing divorce paperwork: the beamters think you are an adult and have everything unter kontrolle, including magically remembering things like the first day you kicked your ex out of the house or when exactly your visa expires. It’s like they don’t understand that some people are just not that anal. Yes, there are calendars for this info, too, but Jezus, who uses those? Anyway….
I know from my last visit to the foreigner’s office that it isn’t always easy for everyone, but I have to say I have a lot of respect for the ladies wielding those stamps. They are grumpy for a reason: people are assholes. You might think that when applying for a visa to stay in a foreign country, a person would be respectful of the authority on the other side of the desk, but in the three hours I waited for my last visa, the only politeness in the office came from two super sweet Aussie teenies on an exchange who giggled uncontrollably whenever someone tried to speak to them in German. Of the hundred or so people who stumbled into the office, slamming doors and cursing on their way in, at least two were clearly prostitutes with their pimps, there were a dozen elderly ladies lacking teeth who chewed nonstop on sunflower seeds, and there were more than a few “holiday wives” recently imported from some exotic foreign locale on the arms of the ugliest German men I’ve ever seen. None, not a single one, spoke German (except the husbands who brought home their trophy wives from the third world). Not a single one bothered to pay mind to the sign on the door that said “due to personnel shortage, we are closed to new applicants today.” And everyone single person was pissed that they had to wait there in a poorly-lit, chairless hallway.
I was sweating something fierce that day — without the visa, I was going to have to leave the country right quick and give up some freelancing work that I was in desperate need of — but I managed to plaster on a smile and freshen up my German and was shocked — shocked! — by how nice the lady who expedited my visa was. “Thank God you speak German,” she told me. And also, “Of course we want to let you raise your German daughter here.”
So there you go: three simple tips to make your next visit to the foreigner’s office. Be nice. Speak German. Bring the kid. And don’t forget to renew your visa on time 🙂