Thursday, November 08, 2007

Apryl's Third-Year Peace Corps Mission: Drive Bulgarians Crazy

This post is going to be about the wonders of reapplying for a Bulgarian "lichna karta." For a reminder, please go back and see this post, and then go ahead and read the following. Andrea went four times to get her lichna karta. Now it looks like I'm going to have to do the same. So, the first time I went to fill out the documentation. The next week I went to get a stamp in my passport so I could return to the country the day my card expired... which I didn't get 'cause they told me I didn't need it. I got back in Bulgaria with few questions, but questions were asked. This time, it still isn't ready because they changed the date on it, and I have to wait a full ten business days from the expiration date to pick it up or something. I'm going to have to go again next week. But then I know that I won't have to deal with them, nor they with me, for another year. At least, I hope not. There's some question about having to get a new one now that I have a new address, but I'm hoping for the best.
Let me take you back to the days I worked in the pharmacy at Longs' Drugs. Christi and Brandy could really relate to this, but I don't know if they read the blog anymore. Anyway, I remember how annoying the customers could be at times. Let me break down an average situation for you:
Customer comes in with a prescription from their doctor. They want it filled in an hour, and then they can go home with their medicine. Their insurance doesn't cover it. Either the doctor needs to change the script, or s/he needs to submit what's called a "prior authorization" detailing why s/he wants his/her patient to have this specific medication. It sounds straight-forward enough, but all this takes time. Meanwhile, prescription drugs are expensive, and who wants to pay full price for their drugs? In all this time, the patient can't get medication 'cause we can only administer what the doctor prescribes, and we can only discount what's covered by insurance. Do you think a sick person cares about any of this? Most of the time, they're only worried about the fact that we're "denying" them their medication. We pharmacy workers always took the heat if some customer decided to get irate or debate the issue. A lot of customers don't care what we tell them; they think they should be able to get (at a reasonably insured price) whatever their doctor prescribes for them.
So now the tables were reversed. I went to Pazardjik to play the role of the annoying customer. The first time, I turned in all my paperwork - telling them that I would be back the next week to get a stamp in my passport because I would be coming back to the country the day my card expired. I thought they were cool with that. So, I went back the next week. The ladies try to explain to me that I don't need a stamp in my passport. My paperwork in the computer should be good enough. I don't believe them (because Peace Corps tells us we need a stamp), and I tell them I want a stamp (they gave me a stamp last year). They tell me to come back four hours later. I call Peace Corps. Peace Corps tells me I don't need a stamp. I go back and tell them I think I finally get what they're trying to tell me. The "nice lady" (I'll elaborate more on this in a minute) writes down my request/documentation number that I can show them at migration. I leave and go on my trip. I get back in the country with few questions. I go back today. The card isn't ready. I ask them if I can get a copy of my Bulgarian housing contract. "Nice lady" gets it for me. I go and make a copy and then return it to them. "Nice lady" tells me to come back next Monday or Tuesday.
So, there's "nice lady" and there's "mean lady" at immigration. I'm used to dealing with "nice lady." For the past two years (a total of three times - this being the third), I've applied through her, and she's always been pretty helpful in getting me my Bulgarian ID. Enter "mean lady" this year. "Mean lady" makes snide comments to "nice lady" about me. The glass is sound-proof if you're not right up against it and speaking loudly, but I can see how her face twists when I make a request of them. The only thing she's done with regard to getting me my documentation is throw documents back at me, twist her face into ugly expressions, and make snide comments to her colleague, "nice lady."
So, I went back today. I asked about my card. "Nice lady" started making some comments about how it wasn't ready, and she told me to come back next week. I wasn't understanding why it wasn't ready because I was there over two weeks ago, but whatever. At least now I'm in the country, and my paperwork is being processed. She asked if I had any problems getting back in. I said that I hadn't because I showed the imigration lady the "request number" she had written out to me that links to my documentation, and I thanked her for it. Then, I asked if she could find my housing contract so I could make a copy of it. "Mean lady" then starts making some comments that I can't hear, but she has expressions that I can see very well. There was another man in the office, and he calmed the situation. He saw the worried look on my face, and he indicated that I shouldn't worry. "Nice lady" set to looking for my contract in a stack of papers.
The man came over and started talking to me.
Man: "Why do you need that contract?"
Apryl: "I have to talk to my landlords about something, and I only have the English version. I need the Bulgarian one."
Man: "Why? Are they not fulfilling their end of the agreement?"
I indicated they weren't with a shake of the head.
Man: "What aren't they doing?"
Apryl: "Well, that's our issue, isn't it?"
Man: "Well, it's our issue if it has to do with foreigners. Our job is to take care of foreigners here."
He then came over to the window and continued with the questions: "Where are you from? What did you graduate college with? What will you do once the 'Peace Corps Mission' (I've rarely heard Bulgarians refer to it as 'mission') is over?" I was nervous, sweating (I swear they keep it at 100 degrees in there), and probably red. Knowing I'm annoying, while it doesn't stop me from getting done what I need to get done, flusters me.
"Nice lady" found my contract in a matter of a couple of minutes, and I presented her with a box of candy saying, "This is for you because I know I only plague you here." She broke out into a beautiful smile, and I took off. I got the contract copied. I dropped off a copy with them, and I asked her when I should come in. She said to come back early next week, and then she actually explained why the ID wasn't ready yet. Anyway....
So here's the thing: Everyone sees things from their own point of view. I'm sure "mean lady" and "nice lady" both see me how we used to see some of the customers at Longs'. No matter what they were telling me, I had it in my head that it needed to be a certain way. Excuse me, but I'm trying to make my life in a foreign country a little less stressful on me... but I stress them out in the meantime. Asking for a favor after that is like insult to injury or something. I know they don't want to deal with me anymore. The difference is in the attitude. Like I said, I know I'm bugging "nice lady." I know she's frustrated with me and my requests. I know she's probably thinking, "Why does this girl keep showing up when I gave her our phone number in the first place?" In spite of being obviously frustrated, however, she still treats me kindly and with respect. She fulfills my requests and does things to ease my stress: When I came in for the passport stamp, and then later told them that I finally understood why I didn't need it, she started writing out my request number to show them at immigration. I think that was the time they were most frustrated with me. "Mean lady" asked "nice lady," "Why are you even bothering with that?" And "nice lady" replied, "To give her peace of mind." Meanwhile, "mean lady" just sits there and makes faces when I make a request. It's all about customer service, which is hard to find these days... especially in Bulgaria. It's a lesson I could sure learn to use. Even if a customer is bugging you with their own ignorance, requests, whatever it is, you're there to provide them with a service. It's best to try and be considerate. If they really piss you off, you can always complain to friends later about how annoying they were.


Christi said...

I try to read them when I can! I love you and miss working at Longs with you!

Anonymous said...

Public administration and "cutomer service" are 2 different entities - the former is state funded and gererally contorl-free, while the latter is business-related so the compensation is directly related to the performance. IMHO, that comparison is far from being justified. Being a white male, I can get a similar level of service in most state and federal institutions in any black state (AL, MS, TN).
Have fun.