My on-the-ground experiences

The public administration office – Who’s notarising the Notaries?

notaryWhen I was about 7 years old my father gave me an extensive selection of obsolete company stationary from his business. For weeks after that, every piece of paper I could get my hands on was covered in date stamps, signatures and company seals, each with carbon copy, receipt slip all stapled together and filed into separate envelopes with a wax seal, in turn stored in a large box file….. for what purpose? Absolutely none, it gave me a something to do and I felt important. Well, I think you can see where I am going with this…

So I am British, and along with our common law cousins (USA excepted!) the whole notion is somewhat alien and I regularly find myself in conversations asking “…so explain to me again why you really need Notaries?” and whilst I never entirely understand the answer, I do of course recognise that in some countries they provide independent authentication of documentation, contractual agreements and in some cases expert advice. However, in other countries it has become somewhat of a self-serving mechanism whose rules appear as little more than to justify and perpetuate its own existence.

For example, in Istanbul one of the rudimentary documents you need for carrying out business is a notarised copy of your signature. You get this by having the photo page of your passport translated, showing it to the notary and signing an A4 piece of paper 3 times. They stamp this piece of paper declaring that the signature is the same as the one on your passport (you might then argue that the passport was the best proof of signature in the first place, but let’s not go there).

In addition, some Notaries put a 12 month expiration date on this document, great news for the guy who changes his signature every year, but for the rest of us it is just something else to forget until one day, 366 days later, when it throws your whole plans awry.

Worse than that, last year I was in a Notary Public to carry out some routine business and presented my signature document, valid, stamped and authorised from a Notary Public not 500 metres away. I was subsequently told that it was not admissible as it had been notarised by a different Notary Public!!?? …I hear you ask “Well what’s the point in notarising it in the first place?” I’m afraid I couldn’t answer that that question then, and I cannot answer it now, all I know is that, incredulity suitably suppressed, I just sat patiently whilst they produced another one and continued with my business.

Maybe we need another notary to notarise the work of notaries…. but then who would notarise them? It’s a bit like the mathematician’s conundrum of infinity, no doubt there is a solution involving waiting, fees and lots more paper!


Time is relative

The perception of time has been a topic of philosophical and scientific debate for generations. The Theories of Relativity have provided convincing evidence as to whether there is any absolute measure of time.

timeThe theory states that:

“Measurements depend on the motions of the observer and the observed, and that space and time are relative, rather than absolute concepts. Although they may disagree, every observer’s measurement is equally valid”

It won’t really help you trying to comprehend how the norms of certain countries perpetuate a tendency to appear somewhat disorganised, inefficient or in your opinion, even a little lazy. The key to mentally reconciling certain cross-border dealings is to simply understand and acknowledge the law of relativity.

To put it simply:

Your interpretation of when something will be done, based upon what you are explicitly told, will never be the same as that of the person telling you.

Below is some pretty accurate data that I have compiled over the years for one country in particular. It’s no ‘e=mc2’ but in some situations, no less valid.

“I will do it immediately” = 1 week
“I will do it tonight” = 2 weeks
“It will take a few weeks” = 6 months
“It may take 6 months” = 5 years
“We will start it next year” = never

Of course, the principle of relativity is different in every part of the world, only experience will teach you which formula to apply. So unless you have a suitably adapted DeLorean (or work in Switzerland) ignore this rule at your peril!


The public administration office – A universal truth

public admin officeThere are some universal truths when dealing with public administrators in deeply bureaucratic countries. The first of which is:

‘No matter how well prepared you are, they will always ask for a document that you don’t have.’

It will probably be something you have never had, or even knew existed.

Don’t panic, my advice is never admit anything! To leave now with a view to returning at a later date with said document is just setting you up for the same problem next time. What you must do is to begin confidently searching through a huge bundle of badly organised documents (that you prepared earlier) and make it look like it will take a good while.

If you are really lucky they will continue processing your paperwork and forget about it

If they decide to sit and wait, or ask for it again after 10 minutes, wait momentarily for them to get interrupted by the telephone, or someone else butting in from behind asking a really awkward convoluted question (don’t worry, that will definitely happen) and confidently hand over a document (anything similar looking to what they asked for) just out of direct sight, but within peripheral vision.

As they are busy that moment, they will likely leave it to one side and hopefully resume without actually looking at it

If that doesn’t work, you are left with the all-or-nothing option, which is to fain a sudden realisation as to where the document actually is and promptly send your colleague off to get it from a conveniently close location. The goal of all this tedious procrastination is to arrive at the perfect point in time whereby it is more effort for them to undo what they have already done and hand your stuff back, than it is to finish it and get rid of you regardless. Good luck!


The public administration office – Nobody asked for your opinion

I am reminded of the late trouble-shooter Sir John Harvey-Jones frustratingly, and correctly, trying to explain to a once successful family business how they need to modernise or face certain failure – they simply don’t want to hear it! No amount of evidence-based reason will dispel the belligerent certainty that everything stays the same.

This is my experience of countries that persist with a deeply entrenched bureaucratic mind-set, but of course these public administrations cannot fail, they are engrained into the fabric of society and culture and protected therein. Any naive heartfelt plea from you, no matter how justified and well-meaning, to highlight some inefficiency or futility of a procedure will at absolute best fall upon deaf ears, but in many cases cause personal offence.

public admin officeLeave your utopian vision at home, it is not welcome here, there are no customer feedback surveys and no suggestion boxes. It is a simple inevitability; the system will break your spirit and mindless acceptance is the only way to survive. The quicker you realise that the better.

The reams of documentation, signatures, stamps and seemingly pointless repetitive authentication by Public Notaries followed by days of lingering in rather unpleasant chaotic institutional public administration offices (all in different places) will reduce even the most self assured character into a helpless number, metaphorically of course because there is no queuing system.