Furious Fred: Red Tape

I live in Poland – that’s my country of residence, but I’m not Polish. My driver’s license, issued in my home country, is expiring. According to EU regulations, I need a new one issued in Poland.

I asked my consulate about the procedure and which documents I would need. They sent me a complete list of the documents, including their Polish names, and advised me to take action six weeks in advance.

First, I had to take a medical test. I choose a private clinic, because normally I can speak English with the doctors. Not this time. I had to deal with a very unfriendly lady who refused to or could not speak English. I had to manage with my pidgin Polish.

After that, I went to a municipal department with all the documents, handed them over and paid 100.50 złoty, at a separate desk of course – two queues are better than one in all dealings with Polish bureaucracy.

Surprisingly, the desk officer told me that I would receive an SMS asking me to come and collect my new license within two weeks. Not in the same building of course, somewhere else.

As promised, I got the message within two weeks, and picked up my shiny new document.

It wasn’t until I got home that I read the license more carefully. It’s expiration date was the same as my old license – the one I wanted to replace because it was almost expired.

I returned to the office and pointed out the absurdity. They were unimpressed, explaining that I first needed to get a Polish license before I could apply to get another one that wasn’t just about to expire – “It’s the procedure,” they shrugged.

I had to ask for a new license, then stand in the queue to the separate cash desk again, pay 100.50 złoty again, and wait two weeks, again.

This was not an isolated case. I could recount dozens of similar stories about the plain stupidity of bureaucratic procedures here. Most agonizing of all is that the civil servants involved have no interest in whether these procedures are sensible or not.

The individual who staff these offices are robotnicy – the standard Polish term for workers, which I can’t help using because it sounds like ‘robots.’ They should be the face of a public service, but they neither understand nor care about the public. No wonder there is so much tax evasion if the proceeds go to pay these guys.

Red tape is hindering the effective and efficient functioning of Polish society, which is bad for the economy and the country.

I don’t think that the robots are aware of that. Perhaps an awareness campaign and training could be a first step. Firing 20 percent of the robots might be another contribution. The set-in-their-ways oldies can take care of a their children and grandchildren. They can keep 70 percent of their wages, freeing the economic development of the country from the dead hand of bureaucracy.

21 thoughts on “Furious Fred: Red Tape

  • February 25, 2014 at 6:42 pm

    Furious Fred – Firstly, I am not justifying these government employees. If it were up to me, they would be whipped and then would go on a short rope on a tall tree. Alas, it is not up to me.

    But I am Polish born, I do (small) business in a few countries and think I know why these officials, you described, are doings this, and perhaps how one can avoid such problems.

    They are poorly paid, and thus do not participate in the rise of Poland. The Polish public sector pays poorly by Polish standards, they are unwilling to participate in the much better paying but far more demanding free market economy. They are bitter and jealous or people like you.

    Also, in many countries I observed, government officials do not like foreigners. A bottom up policy.

    Sticking it a bit to you may be the high point of their work week.

    If you go to such government office in Poland, it would be useful to bring along a well spoken Polish person, and not a youngster, to pilot you through and to insist on your rights. You see these guys felt you will not file a complaint. That is not a feeling they should have been left with.

  • February 25, 2014 at 7:38 pm


    Valid and succinct comments.

    I’m a Polish, and American, citizen whose father was a Polish Naval Officer in WWII. His three brothers fought in the Warsaw uprising and the resistance and my maternal grandmother, who was born in Warsaw, was arrested by the Gestapo in 1942 after having returned there from the US. Her property, including a valuable piece in Zakopane, was confiscated. I hired attorneys and spent thousands of dollars and years to recover it through numerous court appearances and appeals dealing with the bureaucracy eventually losing on the technicality that I couldn’t prove my mother’s Polish citizenship. She died when I was one year old. I have citizenship as did my grandmother. I was not born in Poland but visited for the first time in 1978 with my two oldest children so I had a good feel for what life was like in Poland then.

    Although orphaned by the time I was eight I had the great fortune to be raised by my maternal grandmother and uncle (who was also a Polish Naval Officer) and his wife. I learned from them and others, of their generation, of pride in our heritage and above all of the good character they had including such virtues as civility, courtesy, dignity and independent spirit. They all, as many of their generation, started with nothing, after the war, and succeeded, in varying degrees, building a new life in free and democratic societies. They didn’t whine and cry or expect the “state” to take care of them. I expected when I visited Poland I would find these same attributes common to the people of Poland but found quite often the opposite.

    I’ve returned many times in subsequent years and now have an apartment in Old Town Krakow where my daughter and granddaughter live. Both came from the US and are now Polish citizens.

    This all as background for my comments on your post. The bureaucratic attitude you and I encounter currently in Poland emanates from the socialist post War society which ingrained in people an entitlement mentality. (Unfortunately we’re seeing some of this creeping in to the US. God forbid). Some of this attitude was a result of the pure ideology forced on people but in many respects when independence became reality the post War generation carried these attitudes and systems over to current times. So we’re seeing a generational difference with many of the post war generation still clinging on to the old entitlement mentality, (many just don’t know any other way or can’t find a way to earn and live in a democratic era) while the younger generations, to a great degree, are not shackled by this mind set. I am proud and impressed by the one’s that I’ve met who are bent on improving their lives, getting good education and seeking opportunity to be financially independent and have a desire and pride in making Poland a free and democratic country.

    Yes, I too grind my teeth, when I encounter the type of scenarios you describe but love being in Poland. The people are generally friendly, (with the exception of those alluded to), the country is safe ( I wouldn’t have my eight year old granddaughter walking to school by herself in the US; she doesn’t in Krakow either but not because I fear harm to her in Krakow, just prudent). Courtesy and friendliness is becoming more the rule than the exception so there is much hope.

    I am amused, however, by the not infrequent attitude I observe of some of the self espoused “new rich” in Poland of self importance and aggrandizement of their own persona imposing their agenda and preening in public. They are the new BS’rs of Polish society that we could do well without. So don’t get any of them close to me!

    Hopefully we’ll meet sometime when I and my wife are in Krakow.

    Here’s to the demise of the bureaucrats!

    They are not what they think
    self important with
    no substance or finesse
    but over time
    our stronger Polish character
    and expat influence as well
    will cause them to disappear
    that’s not just a guess

  • February 25, 2014 at 8:09 pm

    A.G – Fully agreed on your perceptions in general.

    However, I am involved for some years in the business of recovering expropriated property in Poland and the story that your Mother’s valuable property could not be recovered because of absence of proof that Mother was a Polish citizen, does not make sense to me. I wonder if your lawyers told you the truth.

    In Lithuania, it is necessary to prove citizenship to recover, but not in Poland — except in one case. That case concerns property owned in Poland prior to WW2 by Germans. Even so, ethnic Germans, who remained in Poland after WW2 and emigrated many years later, have recovered properties.

    And in those days for your Mother to be both a German (citizen) and a wife of a Polish officer does not make sense.

    Feel free to call me for a free consult. I am on the East Coast at present. 302-351-6200 or awolf@alex-wolf.com.

  • February 26, 2014 at 8:30 am

    I agree the paperwork can be maddening. But there is always the option to leave Poland if you can’t put up with the bureaucracy! There are plenty of more ‘organized’ countries in the world.

    • February 26, 2014 at 4:05 pm

      Mark – Wstales lewa noga i bredzisz. Powienienes przeprosic Freda.
      You got up in bad mood and you make no sense. You should apologize to Fred.

  • February 26, 2014 at 1:58 pm

    I’m living here in Krakow. I pay my taxes in Poland and participate in the Polish Society. I’m entitled to criticise the society I’m living in that is a democratic duty in the benefit of the society. So the remark about leaving the country sound to me a xenophobic response.

  • February 26, 2014 at 5:26 pm

    Hi! I think a lot of the ‘robots’ behave this way because they have never been taught by example to behave polite and they are frustrated not only because of their low salaries, but also because they often feel thay cannot do anything to make things work better as it is their bosses who make decisions right now and in this post-Communist country bosses have been able to keep their job despite of the senseless rules they come up with. Why? It’s because they can fire the ‘robots’ who point out the absurdity of their rules.

  • February 26, 2014 at 5:31 pm

    As an American residing in Krakow, I can certainly testify to the convoluted nature of many bureaucratic requirements I’ve had to suffer through to live here with my Polish wife. I must agree with some of the comments above highlighting the utter disinterest many Polish government clerks have for your situation. From one clerk to the next you’ll even get contradictory instructions out of an obvious lack of knowledge or concern regarding their own processes. At times they simply don’t care enough to pick up a phone and call their managers to get accurate information.

    I’ve also been trying to get a Polish driver’s license, as apparently after 180 days in Poland, my US license is no longer considered valid (evidently Americans are assumed to have forgotten how to drive after 181 days in the country). Never mind the fact that I’ve been driving a car for 15 years. The process is even worse for US (or non-EU) citizens, as we have to pass a written exam which appears to have been Google translated at best, with many questions in the test bank lacking any logical sense. Moreover, the Polish bureaucracy requires we somehow prove our US license is presently valid. This is particularly challenging, since in the States, the license itself is considered proof of identification. Thus the Polish requirement has me trying to get a document from my State essentially proving that my proof is valid proof. Naturally, the bureaucracy back in the States is a little confused as to what I’m asking for.

    This is only one example, but I’ve witnessed a similar mentality in other offices here. If the Poles want to see their country better off, the quality of government services seems a fundamental place to start. In response to Mark’s comment that there is always the option to leave the country, believe me when I say there have been days when I considered it. However, I would say such an attitude is not very helpful since it ensures that these kinds of problems will go untended. Rest assured, such bureaucratic dysfunction impacts the lives of ordinary Poles even more so than foreign residents.

    • February 27, 2014 at 3:15 pm

      Thanks J. You’re probably right, but just the same I prefer to do things by-the-book. I absolutely understand Poles’ trying to skirt around the rules because the rules often create totally unnecessary complications, but at the same time I try to set a good example. Besides, if I ever find myself in an accident, I’d hate to give the insurance company any excuse not to pay up. I hear in Poland that’s already like pulling teeth under the best of circumstances.

    • February 27, 2014 at 5:21 pm

      Sorry, but I do not think it is entirely the clerk fault because the Polish law system is very complicated and can be interpreted in many ways. Moreover, there are raid changes in it. Even if you go to training workshops to get the rules explained to you you can get contradictory information from different workshop leaders. It is completely absurd, but it is Polish reality that officials sometimes repeat explanations they were given at one workshop and then repeat contradictory explanations from another workshop. If they are determined, they go to several workshops until they can figure it out by themselves what the best way of dealing with a problem is, but it takes time, so meanwhile they misinform you.
      And there is another thing, in Poland there is no great tradition of discussing things. Lets take the school, students are usually presented with new material and told to work on it at home. Full stop. If you ask questions, you are the troublemaker. Therefore, lots of teachers, workshop leaders, etc are used to presenting things in an authoritarian way without feeling the need to be able to answer all kind of questions well and make it understandable for others.

      • February 27, 2014 at 6:05 pm

        Barbara, I’m sure it must be frustrating for a lot of clerks who would like to make changes to the way things work. The fact that you have identified certain systemic problems certainly suggests there is hope, because the first step toward solving a problem is to understand it. If the upcoming generation of Poles can avoid getting beat down by the old systems and self-defeating ways of thinking, I have no doubt they will eventually come up with something better.

        • March 4, 2014 at 11:26 pm

          Chris, thanks for your support which has made me stronger..Well, I am not so young, I just have been studying English to learn a different mentality because I was soft-headed once and I am still paying the price. Fortunatelly, I know now there is no other way but to go in the right direction, and just dealing with people with the old way of thinking they have.
          Moreover, it was the first time I have ever shared a comment and it was in the community of people who have never been exposed to brainwashing techniques, so I was kind of scared, so your comment I find really nice and thanks. Still, there is helluva lot for me to learn. Reading KrakowPost, I believe, will be helpful. Thanks again.

      • March 3, 2014 at 3:57 pm

        It is not a problem in law system in general. Most of clerks do not know the law – that is one of problems with them.
        Other thing is that: the clerks and offices are not for you – you are for them :)

        BTW – word ‘robot’ is originally from Czech language (‘robota’ means hard work). It was coined by Karel Capek in 1920.

  • February 26, 2014 at 11:02 pm

    Never had any problems in Urzad Scarbowy. I’m basic in Polish. Maybe smile?

  • February 27, 2014 at 5:47 pm

    Fred, I am sorry, you meet unfriendly clerks who can shrug their shoulders when you point out some absurdity. However, I look, they can behave like this for a number of reasons and not only because they do not care. Here is a list of possible reasons:
    -‘Why are you blaming me?’ (I believe it is because of the religion that people often think here they are to blame).
    -‘I can’t change the rules, ‘I just work here’ so ..again why are you blaming me? (by the way it’s a classic from a Polish movie and it is Polish reality that the ruling class hardly ever listens to ideas of ‘robotnicy’ of lower rank. In fact, a better word would be ‘pracownicy’, but the resemblance between ‘robots’ and ‘robotnicy’ is not accidental, I believe. I guess, ‘robotnicy’ have always been meant to be those who do as they are told).
    -‘Leave me alone as all you can do is ..blame me although if I told my bosses my ideas on how to make things better, they’d just say something like: Yeah, that would be great, but it can’t be done. Full stop. Take it or leave it.’

    • February 27, 2014 at 6:08 pm

      Moreover, Fred, you can also look at Polish ‘unfriendliness’ as you called it in a more positive way. First of all, I was told at a training in England (and finally got it…) that you get the impression that the English are very polite because they usually do not want to find themselves in a situation when they are attacked verbally by others. The other reason is ‘work requirements’ So it is obviously not always about kindness.Therefore, when you meet an impolite Polish person you can be sure that:
      -he/she is at least frank with you.
      Oh, and I agree that a smile works great here as Polish people are often so frustrated and get angry at the absurdity of Polish bureaucracy and a smile can be like rays of sunlight which will brighten up their face.
      Ah, and if you smile to them, some of them (many of the religious ones, I believe) may think you do not blame them, feel better and be more eager to put an extra effort in helping you.

  • March 10, 2014 at 10:46 am

    I know that government bureaucrats can be a pain, but personally, the vast majority of my dealings with them have been positive. Yeah, sometimes, they are bound to seemingly archaic and arcane laws, but when that has happened, they have always been apologetic and as helpful as they could be. I’ve mostly had dealings with the foreigner services, vehicle registration and urzad skarbowy (when buying cars). Across the board, they’ve been as good to me as I could expect. In fact, the past couple times I’ve been back to the States, I felt that there, government workers have gone in the direction that workers here were in back in the 90s (try to register a car, or renew your driver’s license with only a P.O. Box now–reminds me of Poland in the mid-90s–you have to lie to be legal). It’s like Poland is moving forward and the States backward. In any case, I have begun to feel more comfortable here than in the States… ;-) I could complain about the workers and the laws, but everything I’ve seen has been steps in the right direction. Now, if only we could fix the courts and court system…


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *