Feeling a Little Too Good About Yourself? Head to the Foreigners’ Office! (Part III)

(See here for Part I and Part II.)

When we were given our initial residence permits, we were also given a little green, folded sheet of paper. It looks like what a visa would be, were it actually attached into our passports. I’m assuming that this is what they used to do before they instituted electronic residence permits last fall. Now, however, you get both. When we first got the permits, I asked the woman handling the transaction what we needed to do with the green sheet of paper. “Do we need it?” I asked. “No!” she answered confidently. “You can just leave it home. In a drawer.”

We’ve been to about half a dozen other countries since we’ve been living in Germany. Anytime that we’ve been asked for our passports, we show them the little green card. Invariably, we get some version of this: “What is this?” “I don’t want this.” “What am I looking at?” – tinged with disgust and/or confusion, depending on how British or French or German we’re talking.

So, into the drawer it went. And since we were in the middle of packing up for a move on the day we went to the foreigner’s office, we couldn’t find my husband’s little green sheet of paper. Whatevs. It’s in a drawer. And France didn’t care, so it’s all good.


“What do you mean you do not have it? You have to have it on you at all times! Someone could ask to see it and if you don’t have it, you could be arrested!”

“Um. Someone from this office told us that we never needed to have it again.”

“No. No one from here said that.”

Here’s the part where I get angry. Yes, you’re doing your job. Yes, things have to be a certain way. I get it. But you’re treating me like I’m an idiot. I don’t speak the best German (far from it) but I know what I was told, and I would not compromise the entire legality of my living situation for 9 months by walking away from a meeting and a question like that and not being entirely sure of what I was told.

“Yes. Someone from here said that. Her signature is right here.”

“No. That’s not right. No one said that.”

You wanna tussle? Fine.

“Look. I know that my German is not very good. But I understand a lot. I understood what she told me. We have been to France. We have been to Hungary. We have flown to so many countries. Everywhere we have flown, we have shown them that piece of paper. And no one knows what it is. No one understands it.  They get mad when we try to show it them.”

“But you need to have it.”

“I understand that. I understand what you are saying to me right now. But that is not what the woman who works here said 9 months ago. Someone who works here made a mistake, and if we had known, we would have always had the pieces of paper with us. But we didn’t. I really don’t know what else to tell you.”

With that, I threw my hands up in the air.

And then, the unthinkable happened.

She smiled.

At me. (I think.)

It was all so sudden, I can’t truthfully recount what happened. But everything suddenly…softened. She was still mumbling about how we need to have the papers, but it was not our fault anymore. She was processing things, clicking things, shaking her head ruefully at the same things that I was pissed about. At least, that’s what she thought – she assumed that we were both mad at bureaucracy and “the Man,” though I’m pretty sure I was just pissed at her. However, I’d take whatever I could get at that point.

In the end, we did walk out of there with a promise that we would get our extended visas. This was despite the fact that we did not have the little green pieces of paper (which we were reminded that we needed to always have), and did not bring any photos (which was not brought up again, because we were right – no photos required).

So, naturally, because everything turned out okay in the end, I started to cry before we even left the building. (See my previous post about why this is so not allowed in Germany). An experience like that can shave many, many years off of your maturity in just a few seconds. There is so much to be said to that woman, but I couldn’t say any of it. Not because I didn’t want to, but because my lack of German was holding me back – the very same factor that made her treat me like a little kid.

Lesson learned? Keep your head up. Stand up for yourself. Yell right back (if applicable). And if you do fall flat on the pavement, don’t let them see your tears. Best to just get back up and keep toddling along to your next destination, be it the grocery store, the flea market, the bank


4 responses to “Feeling a Little Too Good About Yourself? Head to the Foreigners’ Office! (Part III)

  1. Oh no!!! This story is getting better and better. But you managed it very well, kudos!
    I remember the visa process in the US to be similarly confusing. We got all kinds of different information on whether or not to keep the little white card in our passports when traveling or handing it in… My husband even got stuck at the Mexican border for hours and had to undergo severe investigation (in Spanish which he didn’t spoke back then). But I have to admit that at least, the US visa guys were always, always very polite and helpful.
    You just got to looove the Germans! 😉

  2. Oh, wow! I’m sure it is confusing in every country – and I’m equally sure that this woman’s crankiness has nothing to do with her being German (you could find one like her anywhere). Glad that your husband got through it and they were relatively nice about it!

  3. Pingback: Man Muss: Register Yourself in Germany | Wie sagt man...?·

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