Monday, 14 December 2015

Office catastrophes in Norway - Part 4

This is the fourth and so far last part of the written series "Office catastrophes in Norway". Sorry for keeping you waiting for so long, but it was absolutely necessary to keep everything chronological, and you might have noticed the amount of text that needed to be produced in order to tell everything as detailed and as chronological as possible. 

If you haven't read the posts about the reasons for our move to Tromsø / Norway, how absolutely horrible the local housing market looks like and how "interesting" our first, second and third experiences in and with Norwegian offices turned out to be yet, please do so and read those posts first before continuing to read this fourth part of "Office catastrophes in Norway". Everything is more or less connected with each other, and it helps to read those previous posts first in order to get a better overall picture. 

So, let's start with a short recap about me and my / our background: I am a German citizen, hence an EU citizen, and a permanent resident of Finland since 2009. Finland is not only an EU country but also a Nordic country like Norway. Moving from one Nordic country to another is supposed to be even easier than moving from a Nordic country to an EU country which is not a Nordic country. In fact, persons who hold the citizenship of a Nordic country [Finland, Sweden, Denmark (including the Faroe Islands), Iceland and Norway] can go directly to "Skatteetaten" ["The Norwegian Tax Administration"] in order to be registered as a resident in Norway. The biggest advantage of that is the fact that the registration is handled right away. Who is not a Nordic citizen, needs to go to the police first. This is where the immigration office is located, and getting an appointment there is a matter of months (!)

Although I still hold a German passport, everything else is based in Finland, including me having a Finnish social security number, so I was wondering if I could be registered directly at "Skatteetaten". Just like my love who is a citizen of Finland. This thought was also based on the fact that my love and I are registered as a family in Finland and that my registration in Norway was based on family immigration. 

During my first visit at "Skatteetaten", it was suggested that I indeed could be registered directly at "Skatteetaten". The only thing missing was the presence of my love, so I had to return with him some other time. 

During my second visit at "Skatteetaten", accompanied by my love, the registration was carried out and we left "Skatteetaten" happily - until I made the huge mistake of returning there in order to ask another question. All of a sudden, it was not possible anymore for me to be registered directly at "Skatteetaten". I had to book an appointment at the police / immigration office, so the earliest possibility to register myself in Norway turned out to be on 16th October 2015, so two months (!) later. As said, all the details can be read in the corresponding post

Part 3 of "Office catastrophes in Norway" had nothing to do with my registration in Norway, at least not directly, but with me being excluded from our rental agreement, leading to me being forced to contact the police / immigration office prior to the actual appointment for the registration. Otherwise, there wouldn't have been any contact prior to the actual appointment. All the details about the email contact with the lady at the police / immigration office can be read in the corresponding post

As a matter of fact, I nearly had forgotten about that email contact since there were several weeks between the email contact and the actual appointment for the registration, and the problem discussed during the email contact was solved without the "help" of the lady at the police / immigration office. 

So, here we go with the fourth and so far last part of the written series "Office catastrophes in Norway" which took place on 16th October 2015 at the immigration office located in the headquarters of "Troms politidistrikt" ["Troms police district"] in the "Politihuset i Tromsø" ["Tromsø police station"]. The by far worst encounter in any kind of office in my life so far! 

As said, I nearly had forgotten about the mentioned email contact. In Norway, everything prior to the actual appointment for the registration is done electronically, so usually there is no contact prior to the actual appointment. One goes to the webpage of UDI ["Utlendingsdirektoratet" / in English: "The Norwegian Directorate of Immigration"] and books an appointment for the registration at the police / immigration office there, together with the scheme that is applying. In my case, it seemed that three different schemes seemed to be applicable: 

- The registration scheme for EU/EEA nationals 

- Family immigration with Norwegian or Nordic citizen 

and then there was also a 

- Checklist for family immigration with cohabitant who has a residence permit as a student in Norway. 

When you book an appointment for the registration, you do it in connection with the scheme applicable to you and your case, and whatever scheme applies to you and your case, it always comes with a checklist which tells you what to bring with you to the appointment for the registration. In fact, you also have to print out that checklist and bring it to the appointment for the registration so that the person handling your application will know what you are supposed to bring.

So, prior to the appointment for the registration, everything is done electronically, and during the appointment, you will hand in a checklist so that the person handling your application will know what you are supposed to hand it, yet the appointment itself is going to take place over two months later. 

You might argue that we arrived at the same time as many other international students - BUT: Tromsø has currently around 70 000 inhabitants. In 2009, I moved from Hamburg / Germany to Helsinki, the capital of Finland, which had around 580 000 inhabitants at that time and a much bigger flow of international students at the time of my registration in Finland, yet the registration was a matter of few weeks, without having everything digitalised and the customers bringing any checklists for the actual employees. 

The scheme I chose was by the way the "Registration scheme for EU/EEA nationals" as it seemed to be the by far most reasonable one to be applicable to me and my case. First of all, I am an EU citizen myself, independent from my love and our family status. Second of all, when choosing the "Registration scheme for EU/EEA nationals", there is the very possibility of choosing to be a "Family member of an EU/EEA national". Easy as pie as it seems, and the documents required in the corresponding checklist were gathered and prepared in good time. Also, the other two schemes / checklists included a questionnaire whose questions seemed to be quite "out of place" in a case like ours, e.g. "Have you and the reference person spent time together since you met? If yes, where and when?" and "How and how often do you and the reference person have contact with one another?". 

But back to the actual appointment. The appointment was scheduled for 12:45. We arrived well in advance, at 12:20, and waited in the very quiet lobby at the "Tromsø police station". At 12:55, my love was wondering when it was going to be our turn as the appointment was scheduled for 12:45. He went into the office cabin of the immigration office in order to ask when it was going to be our turn. The lady in the office claimed that she had called up my name already, so then it was our turn right away. And what an attitude she had right from the beginning... My goodness! 

Instead of a greeting like "Good afternoon!", only instant questions like "Why do you register at the police?" and "What are you doing in Norway?" came. This is how the whole conversation started! I replied to the first question just briefly that I was wondering about the same since I nearly had been registered directly at "Skatteetaten". Then, as a reply to the second question, I introduced myself and my case, when she asked if I was able to solve the problems regarding the rental agreement. This question reminded me of the email contact prior to this appointment which I nearly had forgotten about, and this question also revealed that the lady serving us now was the same lady I had been in contact with via email before. Well, there was absolutely no time to think any further about it while confirming that the issue indeed had been solved, since she asked instantly if I could "please put forth the 'right' papers; I don't want to go through all of them". Now here is the thing: All papers I had gathered and prepared were required and "right" in order to finally register me in Norway. It also said so in the checklist I had to print out and bring with me to this appointment. 

Despite her being very unfriendly to us right from the beginning (and we never got to know why she was obviously so irritated by our mere presence in the first place), we tried to maintain a friendly appearance. So I kept quiet and went through the papers while the lady in her 30s was chewing her bubblegum and sitting in a "Couldn't be buggered!" position on her chair... An office lady at the police, at the immigration department... Seriously!?! 

And then, a very familiar question was asked again: "Are you married?" Since that very question pops up all the time although it's written already on page 10 in the 135 paged "New in Norway" book that being cohabitants for more than two years (and intending to continue the cohabitation) is enough to be seen as a family and therefore enough to fulfil the requirements for family immigration, I had that very book with me and showed her the corresponding paragraph. 

Instead of caring, she now started to be extremely rude and to bitch since our evidence of cohabitation, our common tenancy agreement from Finland, was in Finnish, and she doesn't understand Finnish. Well, on all the pages I checked on UDI, especially on the one with the "Registration scheme for EU/EEA nationals", it did not say anywhere that such evidence should be officially translated into Norwegian or English. Nowhere. It only says that the cohabitation should be proved. And putting the heading "Vuokrasopimus" [Finnish for: "Rental agreement"] into the Google Translator and checking the dates and the signatures at the end of the document could have helped to understand the documentation, if one wanted to understand the documentation at all. It's not that the documentation was written in Chinese characters or Cyrillic. But, no, she became increasingly barefaced and arrogant and seriously talked to me like I was nothing but a worthless piece of shit. Excuse my French, but it is not possible to describe it in a more diplomatic way. 

And then the whole situation escalated: My love asked in a total normal, if not even friendly way if an English translation of our Finnish rental agreement would be understood by every person who would or could handle my registration. A very reasonable question, given that it is not even the case in very international countries such as Germany. She replied in a total derogative tone - as my love would have been a retarded idiot [Again, excuse my French] - what he would think: "Are you kidding me!?! Of course, we understand English, we are here at the immigration office, please!" My love became speechless with shock, and for the very first time in my life, I was forced to put someone loudly in his / her place since I became once and for all fed up with her excessive arrogance and her obvious "I don't give a s***" attitude. And no-one, really no-one talks that way to my love who just asked something very reasonable in a polite way. 

She became quiet and clicked around at her computer for around one minute. Then, she asked my love in Norwegian if he understands Norwegian. Completely out of context. Otherwise, you seem to be worth nothing in Norway in her eyes. He confirmed that he understands Norwegian (and so do I, but I wasn't asked in the first place so I just kept quiet). Silence again. Then she continued to bitch, saying that my opinions about how unorganised Norwegian authorities operate weren't "up for debate", assigning any possible blame to UDI. And then it became loud again. Since the day I arrived here in Norway, in August 2015, it is me who has to tell the ladies in the offices how to do their jobs, every single time I have to deal with Norwegian offices, and that's what I told the"lady" serving us now. Then, she started to demand more documents from which I know quite certainly that she does not need them but just wanted to bully us even more by requiring them. 

First of all, she wanted the rental agreement to be translated into a language she understands, so either into Norwegian or English, and Swedish would have been - according to her - ok, too. However, she could not specify what a "proper" translation would be and in what country the translation needed to be done. From my love, she wanted a documentation of his income in order to prove that he could support me financially. However, she could not specify how that kind of documentation should look like and how long that documentation should date back. When my love asked her if bank statements since our move to Norway - so bank statements from the past two months - would be sufficient enough, she just nodded in an insecure way. She gave him a piece of paper in Norwegian [I guess that's why she asked him about his Norwegian language skills before], stating that it was "the Norwegian law"

She did not specify the exact source of the printout and continued to talk exclusively to my love although it was my appointment and he was more or less just accompanying me. Moreover, she photocopied his ID, making us wonder if this appointment even could have taken place without his presence, and stated that I should rather search for a job and not register on the basis of family immigration in Norway, "I just want to help you!". 

We were dismissed with the assignment to hand in the additional papers. Neither did the printout of the "Norwegian law" answer or even refer to any of the questions asked before nor were we told a date until which we were supposed to hand in the "missing" documents. Furthermore, she refused to keep the colour copy of my passport which was stamped and signed by "Skatteetaten" and supposed to speed up the process for my registration at the police / immigration office. 

There was no "Goodbye!", "Thank you" or any other formality when we were dismissed, so it pretty much ended the same way as it started. And while leaving, I heard her calling up the name of the next customer, so quiet and unconcerned that I did not wonder anymore how we could miss her calling up my name before. 

First of all some facts we figured out later back at home... 

1. The printout of the "Norwegian law" was nothing else but a circular letter for the employees working for the Norwegian authorities from the year 2010, and the additional documents she started to ask for were a mix of the three different schemes and checklists applicable to me and my case, not following any of those schemes and checklists accurately. So quite clearly, she did not know herself what she was doing or supposed to do, not at all, so she just clicked around at her computer and printed out something very randomly and also just 1 1/2 pages of those parts suiting her the best. Parts of a circular letter from the year 2010 for the employees working for the Norwegian authorities. In Norwegian. The fact that I obviously knew better what I was supposed to hand in, thanks to the attached checklist, made her furious. Quite obviously. One friend of mine asked me in all seriousness if it maybe wasn't just mere unprofessionalism and pure incompetence that made her act like this, but also a general hatred against immigrants. To be honest, we had the same impression, to say the least. 

2. After some more research, I found something about translations on the webpage of UDI (However, not on the page with the "Registration scheme for EU/EEA nationals"). A page the lady at the police / immigration office should be way more familiar with than we are and hence should have found in no time. It states quite clearly that documents such as our Finnish rental agreement should be handed in in its original form, so in Finnish, and also as a certified translation into Norwegian or English if the original is in a language other than Norwegian, English, French or German. According to that, a translation into Swedish is not valid, even if the lady at the police / immigration office stated so, and she would have needed to process documents in French and German even if she herself does not understand those languages, as it is not up to her personal language skills whether documents can be accepted or not. It is up to the rules of UDI and not to the personal language skills of single employees. 

3. As for the documentation of my love being able to support me financially: It says in the very newsletter quite clearly that a piece of paper written by my love would be sufficient enough as such documentation. He just needs to state with one, two lines that he can support me financially. That's it. Even the effort to provide bank statements from the past two months wouldn't be necessary. This is probably the reason why she just nodded in an insecure way when my love asked her how the documentation should look like and if bank statements from the past two months would be sufficient enough. Otherwise, he could and would have written his statement on the spot. But that was maybe not what she wanted after all, I suppose. 

We were once again extremely shocked to see how excessively arrogant, ignorant, lazy and unprofessional the ladies in the offices here in Norway act, especially in the offices of highly official institutions. After all, Norway is a country of good reputation. One of the highly praised Nordic countries. Well, neither in Finland (where I had lived the past six years) nor in Germany (where I am originally from) have I ever faced such catastrophic conditions in any kind of offices as here in Norway. As sad as it is. The "I don't give a s***" attitude overall is as surprising as the tone which is anything but friendly. Me and my love (who was rather coincidentally with me when it all happened) had a lot of time to reflect about the whole event. Family, friends and acquaintances both in Norway and abroad (Finland, Sweden, Germany et cetera) have been informed about the event, and sadly, those living here in Norway haven't had anything flattering to say about the "Norwegian office culture" either. We still cannot believe what happened and we are still at a loss for words. 

Coincidentally, I stumbled on two German-speaking blogs in the meantime whose contents about living in Tromsø sound partly very similar to our own experiences. One of the bloggers moved back to Germany, the other blogger moved back to the previous location Sweden, dedicating the very first post on living in Norway to the failed UDI registration. Surprise, surprise. 

I know that I stated in the post written on the same weekend that our new life here in Tromsø is actually quite wonderful, 95% of the time, and that only 5% are seriously catastrophic, mainly due to those "office catastrophes". I'm afraid that I meanwhile have to revise that statement. Ever since that fourth "office catastrophe" (which led to this written series in the first place) and some other small things which happened afterwards, my view on Norway and living in Norway has changed a lot. I won't go into details since this post has become very long already. And very soon, there are going to be some news anyway. All I can say for now is that I'm absolutely not impressed by the life here in Norway and that I would definitely rank living in Tromsø / Norway below all the other places I have lived in so far, namely Hamburg / Germany, Helsinki / Finland and Turku / Finland. In fact, I meanwhile reached the point where I'm seriously asking myself if moving to e.g. Denmark wouldn't have been a better choice than moving to Norway. For many reasons. 
Sweet memories: New Year's Eve 2008 / 2009 in Denmark's capital Copenhagen 


Katzu said...

I am so sorry for you guys! It really sounds awful! No one should be treated like that, especially not by officials, it sounds so unprofessional! I hope you guys will be doing better soon, it's a bumpy ride but I'm sure once this is all cleared you'll be able to enjoy what Norway has to offer <3

Stefanie Singh [Sound Kitchen] said...

Thank you for your kind words, Katzu! ♥ Things have changed that way that we are meanwhile back in Finland ( Adrian received a very tempting job offer in Finland. It's a temporary employment and I decided to accompany him although I originally had plans of my own for January and February 2016 in Tromsø. It's the absolutely right thing to do. Without any doubt. We will give Norway another shot, not least because of Adrian's ongoing exchange year in Tromsø, but we won't be back in Norway before April 2016.