a list of the bureaucratic entanglements i've been in since i arrived in Russia:
one: fresh off the plane in Moscow, I am shuttled into a dingy, smoky basement with about 200 other people who gather in a formless mass toward booths that keep opening and closing. after waiting for two hours, this Armenian guy and I decide to go to the one marked 'for diplomatic passports only' but is apparently for anyone brash or Russian enough to not care. i am told by a very angry woman that i don't have an immigration card. what that is i have no idea. the woman tells me to go to this tiny table on the other side of the room by the pay phones, and get a form which i was supposed to fill out (no one told me to). she fills the form out for me, and gives it and my passport back to me without even looking me in the face.
two: in Russia, a visitor has three days to register at a residence. i arrived Tuesday night, the passport office was closed on Thursday so I absolutely had to get it on Wednesday. last time my mom was here, she had to buy a night at a hotel because my aunt, whose apartment she was staying in, rents but does not own her room. my aunt technically owns my grandmother's room in Pyatigorsk (Grandma officially gave it to her in the 90's when she and my grandpa came to the US - otherwise they would have simply lost it). So while I was in Moscow, I had to get written declarations from my aunt, my uncle and my cousin sanctioning my stay in Pyatigorsk. My grandma and I take these letters, and hordes of other documents including my plane tickets and my mother's birth certificate (just to be safe) to the Passport Office. We arrive at 10, the hours have changed so it now opens at 2, we write our names on a list on the windowsill secured by a rock, etc, you know this story. Basically, we get shuttled from one office to two more, and back to the first, have to bribe two desk clerks with superiority complexes, have to come back the next day and now that I have left Pyatigorsk, my grandma has to go BACK to the Passport Office and "finalize the matter".
three: yesterday at the MinVody airport (closest big city to Pyatigorsk), I am pulled out of line at the x-ray machine at the entrance and asked where my tourist voucher is. i pull out the Immigration Card, and the thing I got at the Passport Office and hand it to the guy. "No, no," I am told, "a tourist voucher". I look at him blankly. He explains that since on my visa it says the purpose of my visit is "Tourism" I should have brought with me from the states a written explication of each place I was to have visited. "I see you speak Russian well, but sometimes there are people who can't speak Russian and come to the mountains on vacation and get lost. When we look at their tourist voucher we can see "oh, they went to Kabardino-Balkaria" and we can look for them there." WTF, I'm thinking, a) you just said I can speak Russian and one of the papers I showed you says I was staying with my grandma and b) I'm obviously RETURNING HOME, which means I DIDN'T GET LOST. I remember filling out the application for the visa and I was stumped by "Reason for Visit". I finally checked "Tourism" and scrawled in "to visit family." The guy looks somewhat uncomfortable to be holding me back and is a little unsure of what to do next. So my grandma pulls out 100 rubles from her wallet and hands it to him, and he refuses by saying "no, put that back, you're not at the bazaar." I think, well at least we finally found a decent (but still rude) public employee. Wrong - it turns out he just wanted her to be more discreet. He tells her to put the money in my passport (she puts in 500) and he takes it to the guy working the x-ray machine. We get by fine.
Now my mom says they are probably going to hold me up at the Moscow airport for the same reason. What'll probably happen is I will be forced to pay a fine. I am not giving them a cent if I can help it.