What, you might ask, is the MA35?! Well, put simply, it is the place you go to get your residence permit ("Aufenthaltstitel"). There are several magistrates around the city, however, all the Fulbrighters were asked to go to the MA 35 to streamline our process a bit more. And I am sure that each of us has had a *unique* and *interesting* experience. Ha.
So, you don't just "show up" or "go" to the MA 35. The process starts much, much further in advance--I'm talking months in advance. Luckily for us, the Fulbright Commission in Austria did an AMAZING job getting us prepared and telling us exactly what all we needed to bring with us (and what to do here in Vienna before we could go to the MA 35). So, before I even came to Vienna, I had to make sure I had all of my documents collected (including birth certificate and a police clearance letter certified with apostilles--and if you don't know what that is, Google it--I had to, too), my passport copied, my application filled out...
Anyway, after collecting all of these very important documents, I made my first groggy, jet-lagged trip to the MA 35 the day right after I arrived in Vienna. I was able to hand in all of my documents and they gave me a sheet of paper saying to come back on or any time after October 4 (except Wednesdays and Fridays). So, around rolls Thursday, October 6, and I prepare for my second trip to the MA 35. I am under the impression I am going there to pay my second fee and to hand in a copy of my Meldezettel.
Sidenote: Your "Meldezettel" is another form that proves you have an address of residence here in Vienna. It has to be signed by your landlord and must be turned in at the district magistrate office within three days of arrival... Are you noticing a trend?! ...By the way, we have discovered that the "Meldezettel" is your key to life in Austria. Everything from opening a bank account to getting a university library card requires proof that you do, in fact, live here (because, you know, otherwise I might skip town with that Bachmann book in my bag and they would have no way to track me down).
Anyway, I hop on the 2 tram, and head across town. Its 10 am and I am hoping to be out of there by noon at the very latest. Thursday is their long day, meaning its the one day of the week the office is open in the afternoons, so its also normally their busiest day of the week. Sure enough, I arrive there and there's a line to get in line. Literally. The way it works it that after standing in line, you are assigned a number, are told to ride the elevator up to the fifth floor, and are supposed to wait in a crowded room full of everyone else and their mother (quite literally) until your number blinks up on a screen with the room number next to it. Its all very Kafka-esque because you have no idea how long you will be waiting-- the numbers appear completely arbitrarily....367, 251, 588... so you sit, you wait, and you just watch the numbers change. I struck up a little conversation with a woman next to me from India... and I saw people with passports from Mexico, Iran, Turkey....I couldn't help but wonder what everyone's stories were and why they were here...
After waiting for about 2 hours (the Indian woman was long gone), my number was finally called. I was in the office for about 2 minutes and was told to take a "form" and go pay my second fee up on the sixth floor and to come back. Easy, just like last time. I was sure I'd be out of there within a few minutes, at long last.
So this is where it goes downhill.
I walk up to the teller and whip out my nice new Austrian debit card, ready to pay. This was the first time I had used it, but I thought to myself, how hard can it be, right? Wrong. Because as an American, I swipe the card (I'll explain that little detail later). And each time I do, an error signal keeps popping up. I start to sweat. There's a line of people impatiently waiting behind me... and a very rude and very unfriendly man staring at me from behind the glass teller window. I look at him helplessly and tell him its not working. Now at this point, if we were in the U.S. (I hate to make this comparison, but I have to!) usually the person behind the counter would lean over and see what's wrong. Or someone in line would maybe offer some kind advice. But no one budges. They all just stare. The sweat is pouring down my back at this point.
The teller doesn't bother to offer and help and tells me I have to pay in cash. I answer I don't have cash, and that the card should work because its brand new and I know I have money in the bank (but I am starting to panic because maybe I missed some activation step or something and that is why its not working). Someone from behind me in line tells me to try my pin, so I swipe and try entering my pin, but no luck. The teller, probably one of the most apathetic, rude men I have met in my life, orders me to get out of the line and go get cash. I mean, seriously, I wish I could replicate his tone and look of disdain. I seriously felt like I was in a Kafka novel, being accursed of committing a crime I had no idea I had committed. Beyond despair at this point, I ask him where the nearest ATM is and he mumbles at the post office before the next customer pushes me aside.
So I go dashing down 5 flights of stairs, rush out the door and luckily (or so I think) spot the P.O. just across the street. I run across, very aware I am committing a crime of jay-walking (this, at least, I knew--but thankfully was not caught) and up to the bright, shiny, yellow ATM, about to insert my card (I had at least used it at ATMs before and knew it worked that way!) when all of a sudden I see the notice that the ATM is out of order. That's when I really start to lose it because there are no banks in sight and we are nearing 12:30 and the offices close for lunch, so I was seeing myself stuck there until they re-open at 3:30, possibly locked out of the office and having to stand in line all over again. As my last chance, I ask at the P.O. where the next closest ATM was, and am told its about a half mile up the road at the U-Bahn station. So, off I go again ("Tessa rennt":.... die Uhr tickt... instead of "die Tasche, die Tasche" its "das Bankomat, das Bankomat!").
I am literally in tears at this point--at hot mess, as we would say back in college--mainly because I am so irritated and upset that the teller back at the MA 35 was so rude, mean and unhelpful to me. Completely out of breath and profusely sweating, I rush into the bank at the U-Bahn, withdrawal 50 Euros (my card worked!!) and then sprint back to the MA 35. By now, the main entrance had closed for the lunch break, meaning the elevators were closed, too, and I decide to give the stairwell a shot, hoping the doors were still unlocked. They were and I run all the way up to the 6th floor, slam my cash down in front of the man (who pretended to have never seen me before in his life, pure apathy). It took all I had to hold myself back from making a snide remark. I left as quick as possible, took my receipt down to the original office I started in, arriving panting, with blotchy, red eyes and a sweat-stained t-shirt.
But it all paid off, because, quite unexpectedly, the lady handed me my residence permit, meaning there will (God willing) not be any more trips to the MA 35 in the near future.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, I learned my lesson with the debit card later that week at the grocery store, as I watched another person use his at the check-out. The trick is that instead of swiping, you keep the card in the machine, type in your pin, press enter and THEN remove the card from the debit machine. I must have looked like a fool to everyone else standing in line at the MA35, but then I thought, you know, how hard would it have been for SOMEONE to tell me I was doing it wrong, especially after watching me repeatedly swipe the card. Sigh. I guess the golden rule does not apply to the MA 35. I am tempted to think that Hunger Games rules are more applicable here... I mean, you know, there are districts and everything...
Ah, the little cultural lessons you learn in a new place. Quite humbling, indeed. And the next time I see some a confused tourist fumbling with his ticket in the D.C. metro, I sure as hell am going to be the first one to help that poor soul.