Every yabancı with a Turkish residence permit dreads the annual visit to the Yabancı Şübesi (foreigner office) at the police headquarters (the Emniyet) for the renewal process. You look forward to it the same way you look forward to a visit to the gynecologist, only it's more invasive and there are a lot more Central Asians in the waiting room.
Today was our third annual visit to the Emniyet for this purpose. We approached it with confidence, given that we have a self-promoted reputation as a Bureaucracy Usta. Clearly, our skills have slipped because it took us two separate trips, approximately six hours of waiting and a side excursion to the bank just to file the correct paperwork. But those details are boring.
What's important about this story is this: Turkey is becoming more civilized before our eyes.
The first year we went, hundreds of foreigners of all nationalities scrummed at each of 17 windows, waving documents at sullen clerks who pointedly ignored Russians and Bulgarians. Every window looked the same but had a different purpose which would only be revealed after you visited every one at least twice looking for the stamp you needed. Our effort was inelegant but ultimately successful. Obtaining our residence permit without speaking one word of Turkish was probably our greatest achievement in 2007.
Last year at renewal time, a feeble number system had been implemented. Our Turkish was advanced enough to understand that even though we were given a number, it was little more than a meaningless gesture toward the concept of chaos reduction (recognizing this scenario requires far more than language skills, by the way).
This year, the 120 people ahead of us when we arrived waited patiently for their number to be called in a room specially designed for this purpose. In a nod to the comfort of children accompanying their parents, a Turkish cartoon looped on a plasma screen. After approximately 15 viewings over four hours, we knew the dialogue by heart. A policeman ensured that every new arrival received a number. His gun deterred potential violence inspired by the six hour-long wait facing the fools who showed up after 10am.
While we acknowledge that the new system treats everyone the same, the old system rewarded the aggressive, the highly emotional and the clever. And even though the Yabancı Şübesi was in dire need of Stalinesque order imposition, it's sort of sad to realize your skills have become anachronistic.
Still, it's reassuring to note that you can still be sent on a wild goose chase for missing documents, be forced to make at least two visits, obtain random stamps and spend a metric assload of cash to obtain a permit that, in the end, confers few meaningful benefits. That part is still refreshingly Turkish.
And really, all this new Yabancı Şübesi order means is that yabancıs are capable of waiting for their number to be called. Nothing suggests that Turks have developed these skills, so maybe all is not yet lost.