Thursday, May 17, 2007

Good advice: “Don’t let them screw you!”

I must be wearing my lucky underwear these days since I had another very pleasant encounter with the Lebanese bureaucracy. This time I needed a so called sijil adlee, which is a statement of good behavior and it proves you don’t have a criminal record.

First, I had to find the place. This can be a challenge because Lebanese are good at many things, but giving clear directions sure isn’t one of them. This time, though, it miraculously worked out fine: First go to the main Philips store, then straight until you see a McDonald’s at your left. This is where you take a left and then you can park behind the Winston cigarette store. Who needs a route planner in the car when you have directions like that!

I went in and asked for the sijil adlee. Sure enough, no one spoke English so here we go, I thought. But no, one guy behind the counter yelled across the room to one of his colleagues who could speak a little English and almost more importantly, he was very nice and helpful.

First, he wanted my name. This was a small problem because of the fact Dutch people often have multiple middle names, whereas the Lebanese usually have one middle name only, typically their father’s name is used as a middle name. But after talking back and forth, we were able to solve this: all my middle names were added to my first name. Ah, if everything was so simple in life…

Then, he wanted stamps. This is the common way to pay for government transcripts and other official documents. You have to buy stamps which they meticulously stick on the document you ask for. Normally, the fees are small so you need only few stamps. But sometimes, it can get really impractical, e.g., the official deed of our house has many, many, many stamps. I still remember the official sticking them to the paper. He had to add another paper just so the stamps would fit. Quite a cumbersome way to collect the official government fees.

For a sijil adlee you only need two stamps of 1,000 Lebanese pounds. God only knows why they didn’t invent a 2,000 stamp, but like God, the government’s ways are not for humans to understand. The whole stamp business can be difficult to comprehend for foreigners, but thanks to my English speaking government employee, everything was crystal clear: go to the Winston store and buy stamps for 2,000 pounds only. “Don’t let them screw you!!”, he added proudly and with a big smile. What was even funnier was the accent: like some bad ass dude from an American movie.

Still, it is good advice when buying stamps because many times they overcharge you if you’re not careful. It’s not really related to being a foreigner, since Lebanese themselves are also complaining about the fact they often have to pay more for an official stamp, even though the price is clearly printed on the stamp.

Thanks to the tip, I came prepared to the store with my 2,000 Lebanese pounds already in my hand so they didn’t even try to scam me. Anyway, even if they do, the best advice is simply refuse to pay, play stupid and make a commotion if necessary.

The guy asked me later how much I paid, and he nodded approvingly when I told him. Of course, I thanked him for his tip and for his professional behavior and told him I wished everybody would be like him. Some days just roll smoothly and this government employee sure contributed to it.


George said...

Heh, a good story, thanks.

Gerard said...

I guess this event now appears like ages ago. Your worries will have changed. I wish you lots of courage.

christinA eijkhout said...

Yes, I hope this will go by soon.