Friday, 22 August 2014

Your papers are in order, Panie Dembinski

Over the summer I finally got myself legitimate in the eyes of the Polish state. Principally, this meant a) obtaining a personal ID card (dowód osobisty), and then b) swapping my UK driving licence for a Polish one.

Now that Poland has been in the EU for ten years, I found the whole process very straightforward and simple. My UK-born colleagues who went through this in the past had to endure a Kafka-style maze of unpleasantness being sent from office to office and still not sorting things out. Today it's become easy, and the people serving the citizen are efficient and friendly. (In Ursynów at least; I can't judge for other urzędy.)

Day one. Go to the Urząd Dzielnicy Ursynów, get a numerek from the ticket machine, wait in short queue. Explain my situation to nice lady at counter no. 24, who tells me precisely what documents are needed. I return a few hours later with said documents, which she says are all fine; she photocopies them, gives me back the originals. I get a nice photo done at the photo studio at the end of the open-plan first floor, and pay some money - can't even remember now how much - to the cash office downstairs. Back at counter no. 24, we go through the application form together to ensure no mistakes. The lady says I'll get an SMS from the urząd when my dowód (below) is ready for collection.

One disappointment in the whole process - the Polish state still refuses to accept me as a Dembiński, insisting that my surname is 'Dembinski' because that's what it says on my birth certificate. I can change my surname from Dembinski to Dembiński by the Polish equivalent of deed poll, but why go through all that effort for one diacritic mark. If I'm going to change my name by deed poll it should be to something dramatic like Gromosław Ångstrom von Shöck-Therapy Jnr. And yet despite there being no 'ł' in my first name on my birth certificate, the Polish state now happily accepts me as 'Michał' rather than insisting on me being 'Michal'. So there we go - that's my official name, Michał Dembinski.

Day two occurs some two weeks later, after I get an SMS saying that I can come and collect my dowód. I go. It's there, I collect it after checking that there are no mistakes. Next I get another numerek and after another short wait I'm talking to a guy at counter no. 19 about swapping my UK driving licence (below) for a Polish one. I worry that officially, a sworn translation of my licence is needed as an attachment to my application. The friendly guy says that as it's in English rather than Flemish or Herzegovinian, there is no need. I fill in a form, he photocopies my licence; again I pay some small fee in the cash office downstairs, submit another one of the photos from my dowód photo session, and I'm done. Once again, I have to await an SMS.

In the meantime, my new dowód enables me to pick up my Karta Warszawiaka hologram to stick onto my ZTM travel pass. This proves I'm a tax-paying Warsaw resident, and entitled to a 35zł discount on a quarterly contract. I've done all the form-filling online a long time ago, having a dowód makes it far easier when it comes to proving who I am and where I live. After three minutes in the ZTM customer service office by Metro Centrum, I'm out again with a hologram affixed to my Karta Miejska (below).

Day three, some ten working days after applying, I get the SMS to say my Polish driving licence (below) is ready for collection. I go, check the details on it are all correct, sign for it and leave. As simple as that. My wallet is now noticeably slimmer now that I don't have to take my passport with me everywhere as proof of identity (which in Poland, unlike the UK, one has to carry around compulsorily). And with the new driving licence, a plastic card replaces a large sheet of paper folded three times and carried in a plastic cover.

Four visits over three days spanning less than a month, a total time of around two and half hours to sort it all out. Marvellous. Miraculous, almost, thinking back to my early days in Poland where every visit to an urząd tested one's patience to the utmost - being sent from office to office, being told that this paper's wrong or that some other paper's needed - an often-futile wild goose chase organised by deeply unpleasant and officious people who believed that the citizen's place was on their knees before them.

How times change. It's demographics and EU membership, training, exposure to Western best practice and an increased level of social trust that we can thank.

The whole process has further reinforced my view that Poland is becoming an ever-nicer country to live as the years roll by.

This time two years ago:
Topiary garden by the Vistula

This time three years ago:
Raymond's Treasure - a short story


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your wonderful blog. I appreciate the insight into Poland and it's culture.

Anonymous said...

Zdecydowałam się skomentować po polsku, bo skoro Michał i w dodatku z wielką chęcią bycia Dembińskim to chyba bardziej wypada, żeby po polsku niż po angielsku, prawda? :-)

Zazdroszczę tak sprawnego załatwienia spraw. Ja, niestety, mam odmienne doświadczenia w tej kwestii. :-( Może dlatego, ze nie musze po raz pierwszy wyrabiać dowodu osobistego, tylko legitymuję się nim od zawsze (ok, od 18. roku życia)
Podejrzewam, ze Pańskie miłe doświadczenia w polskich urzędach wynikają faktu, ze Pan tu dopiero zaczyna (polska mentalność: Gość w dom – Bóg w dom)

Lubię czytać Pańskie wpisy, dziękuję

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Anonymous:
[In English!]

Gość w domu etc - not so. When I arrived in Warsaw 17 years ago, my first brushes with bureaucracy (tax offices, gas company, notariusz etc) were excruciating. My Polish then was far worse than it is today, the bureaucrat was convinced that I was mentally subnormal a) because I couldn't talk properly and b) because I had, of my own volition, left London and moved permanently to Poland. I really had to control myself from flying into a rage; had I done so, it would have confirmed to them that indeed I am mentally ill.

Today, my spoken Polish has much improved (though is still far from perfect), but above all the attitude of the urzędnicy has improved greatly.

And a smile is an extremely useful tool when wanting something sorted out!

adthelad said...

Question - were all the categories from your UK licence carried over to your new licence?

Michael Dembinski said...

Yes indeed - Categories B and B+E (car and trailer). Kat B... know what that means in Poland as from tomorrow :-) :-)

adthelad said...

I do now :)Thanks

Anonymous said...

Just try to change a valid US driving license to a Polish one... no can do. You have to take the theory exam first. I can't face trying this impossible task. Even Poles have trouble with it, and with my poor Polish there's no chance for me. I'm stuck with the bus, tram or train forever more.

Marcin said...

OK, Michale. Czas zatem prowadzić bloga (pardon, dziennik internetowy) dwujęzycznie.

Michael Dembinski said...

No i cóż...