Samara Passport Control
I always found Moscow a bit of a pain to connect internally through (although I gather it has improved since I last went through there), and the flight is shorter from the UK to Frankfurt and from there to Samara. Plus the FRA-KUF route is served by Lufthansa and not Yuri Air so is usually on time and half decent. And being a German airline, the luggage usually arrives at the same time as me. Added to which, the UK to Frankfurt and then Samara is almost a straight line on the map. It only involves a 2 hour flight to Germany and a four hour one to Samara.
Samara has always been a drag to enter Russia through. One agency website a few years ago specifically and emphatically advised against it and said ONLY use Moscow and connect internally to avoid being rolled for a bribe or given a hard time there.
I have always found them to be slow but you get there in the end. The more old visas you have (and they look), the more they see you are not a newbie and let you by without grief. That has always been my experience anyway.
However, in 2008 it took an age to get in. But I got in.
But last time I went there was some sporting event going on. They had nice English speaking female staff out in the foyer helping foreigners, handing out pens and helping with immigration cards. At the time, I cited this as “changing Russia” and assumed the old days had gone.
Nope. Regression has occurred.
I had no pen. I always have a pen, but this time I didn’t. I needed to fill in my immigration card as they hadn’t given them out on the airline as usual. No problem, pens will be on the counter. Nope. No problem, I’ll borrow one…….
But nobody else seemed to have one either. I identified an American by sight (and non American travellers will know how I did that – ask if you want me to elaborate). He had the big fanny pack with pens. He gave me one. It didn’t work.
Not to be defeated, I asked a passing customs guy. He had one in his hand but wouldn’t lend it me.
So I wandered past the queue and asked a border guard. He had a pot of pens but said no.
So I went to the next cubicle, and that guy lent me one.
Then I noticed on the immigration card, one could choose between being a “Male” and a “Famale” – I mean my god, – on an official document? If they cant get basic stuff like that right, is there any hope?
So eventually I arrived at the cubicle to find a very bored and angry looking woman. The usual Russian bureaucrat behind glass. I make a point never to understand a word of Russian in such circumstances unless it behoves me to do so. But I slipped up.
“Gavarit pa Rooskie?”
“Nyet” – shit. “Ummm. I don’t understand?”
Then we have the usual five minutes of her reading all my old stamps and visas.
She then starts to write the usual War and Peace on her computer whilst intermittently intently staring at the screen. After a few minutes of this, I am thinking ‘Really, how long does it take?’ I am bored by now and say “problyema?” and quickly cough, and say again “is there a problem?” (Hours in Germany plus the flights had dulled my reactions and I was ready for sleep)
She says “Da, probleyma” and then something else garbled that I didn’t get about the issuing of my visa. Well, I know this gag, this is the old in a side room and invitation paperwork and $50-$100 gag I am being primed for. So I changed tack.
“Do you speak English?”
“Nyet” (Touche – well played, love.)
“I think you do. You must in your job. My visa was issued in London, I know there is no problem with it. However, I have people waiting outside to collect me, one of whom is a lawyer, I can call him and you can speak to him on my phone to clear up any misunderstandings if that helps?” (Complete bollox by the way, but worth a shot – and I cant do that sentence in Russian.)
Long delay with no eye contact……………..
Suddenly, feverish stamping happens. (When the stamping starts, you know you are in and its done). She pushes my visa and half registration slip back at me and looks the other way without a word.
I take them and go to move through the gate. But it is still locked and the lights are still red. Silly game huh?
“Dyevooshka?” I said mischievously while pointing at the red lights. She does this face together with a big dramatic sigh (like she had released it three times already but I was too stupid to walk).
“Welcome to Russia” I said back to her as I walked through the gate. I can feel a Tweet to Medvedev coming on…….
What do these people get out of this? Surely it takes less energy to not do all the sulking, sighing, delaying and just do your damn job! Check the visa and stamp it, What two minutes tops? Why should it take fifteen minutes and fifty overheated people behind you?
New Russia indeed……….