Croatia Needs to Get Its Shit Together

My friend Duncan and I went to the Police station to register him as a tourist in Croatia and it only took 3 ½ hours.

The Croatian life, complete with fresh food, sunny skies, beautiful waters, and po malo (take-it-easy) attitude is wonderfully relaxing, most of the time. However, when it comes to bureaucratic matters, it’s incredibly frustrating. To live in this country you need at least three sheets of official stamped papers, that must go through at least two separate government agencies. Don’t worry though, you get to pay for the privilege!

Part of this is due to EU requirements, but most of it is due to a failed system left over from Yugoslavia that no one has bothered to fix. It’s infuriating for anyone who doesn’t know the right people, which is the select few.

I’ve dealt with a lot of bureaucratic bullshit since I’ve been in Croatia. I’ve spent countless hours registering myself and my place of residence at the police. Here is one of the many similar stories I could tell!

We called up the Police to simply register my friend. Of course this was completely naive and unreasonable. The people who work the weekend phone lines couldn’t care less and are clearly getting paid to do what a recorded message could do better. In less time. After struggling through the language barrier for ten minutes, we were told nothing could be done until we showed up in person on Monday.

On Monday, my friend and I ventured to the main Police station as directed. After waiting in line for thirty minutes we arrived at the counter and were greeted by ‘Perfect Lipstick Woman’. Perfect Lipson is famous among expats as the only helpful civil servant, known for her excellent English, knowledge of the system, efficiency and of course her killer make-up! As wonderful as she is though, she is the picture of frustrated ambivalence, which I have learned means she’s great at her job. One of my colleagues once told me, “the crankier the better when it comes to the Police, if they’re upset with you, they care enough to get the job done.”

After entering my friend’s information, Perfect Lipstick Woman told us my friend hadn’t been registered for two weeks of his stay in Croatia. This is a big no-no, as every tourist is supposed to be accounted for at all times.

To resolve the situation he could do one of two things: Cross the border into Bosnia & Herzegovina, then come back to Croatia with a new stamp to start fresh! (Yes, this was a legitimate, suggested, legal solution.) Or, pay a fine. The amount being entirely dependant on how the clerk is feeling that day. (Let’s hope she didn’t just get dumped.)

My friend chose the fine and we were directed to a different Police station that holds the ‘necessary’ records. Here’s the kicker: He would have gone under the radar, fine free had we not been asked to register him with the Police and do things by-the-book.

After wandering around aimlessly trying to find the unmarked Police station, we stopped for directions. We finally walked up some steps into a very non-descript concrete building. The Police stations in Croatia are intimidating, run-down relics of a socialist/communist time-gone-by. Loose wooden floorboards and faded plexiglass windows separate you from everyone working there.The ambivalence is palpable, mixed with the faint smell of stale cigarettes and coffee… mmmm Yugoslavia.

After attracting the attention of a guard, we explained our situation and were escorted to an office at the very end of a long hallway. After thirty plus minutes of discussion with a sufficiently cranky clerk, we were given two different fines. These had to be payed by 4pm at a bank or post office. Obviously you can’t pay the fine at the Police station as that would be far too convenient.

After paying the fine at the nearest bank, for a fee, we returned to Police station #2, where we were given a hand written, officially stamped document and then told to go back to the first Police station.

We waited in line for what seemed like an eternity (and by line I mean mass of impatient people waiting for their 5–10 minutes at the counter). The Police station had one woman at the counter dealing with a line of at 15 or so people, while the other three able-bodied employees took a coffee break in the back. Which is less of a coffee break and more of a coffee morning.

Eventually we made it up to the counter and were greeted by ‘Cranky Old Blond Lady #1’ (#1 because there are three of them). Cranky Old Blond lady #1 is the kind of clerk I dread to see; she knows enough English to help me out, but chooses not to use it by either ignoring me, or continuing to yell at me in Croatian. Helpful. After she brought out a colleague who was less than thrilled to help clarify in English, we were pushed to the side and given more paperwork to fill out.

While we were waiting to be “helped” again, we watched Cranky Blond Lady #1 delay a couple’s registration process by at least 20 minutes while she kept a watchful eye on the clock. She wasn’t going to stay a second longer than her shift and was playing for time! After the long wait, our angel, Perfect Lipstick Woman, returned to the counter and finally processed our paperwork, thus ending our agony.

We left the Police station exhausted and short HRK400 ($50). The good thing about all of this is that Croatia has made me a seasoned pro at dealing with bureaucracy. I only wish I could end this with an optimistic comment, but I can’t. Croatia just needs to get its shit together.

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