Yesterday I went to pick up a package that came for me from the US and ended up in the international department of the Hungarian Post Office because they decided I had to pay VAT. It wasn't going to be a pleasant trip because
a) I was pretty pissed off that they calculated VAT not just on the amount of money I paid for this package but on the shipping that I paid, too. Not that I want to avoid paying my dues but I thought you are supposed to pay a charge on the value of your imports? The US post already charges me quite a lot to get stuff sent to here, thank you very much.
b) The international department is in a far away and rather shabby part of town. It took me a while to get there and I didn't enjoy the views. I always knew that VIII district is as bad as it gets in Budapest but I never realised how different it is from Budapest I know--social housing, ugly streets, ghetto feeling.
But, back to the Post Office. They have an incredibly ugly, huge, yellowish building right in the middle of Orczy ter. It looks like a relic from the socialist times from the outside and a little bit like I imagine a secret services prison could look on the inside. But the lady working at the reception was very friendly and, after looking at the document I had she directed me to the second floor, office number 5. That's where my amusement begins.
There was, as you might expect, nobody at window number 5. I could hear voices from the room next door (whose door was open), then someone came into my room, gave me a quick glance and told to wait a bit. There was some more room-crossing and telling me to wait before someone decided to deal with me. A lady looked at my document, gave me a pile of papers and told to go to window number 1.
There was nobody there, either. I could see a bunch of people sitting in the room and chatting and they could see me, too, but, hey, what's the rush? Finally a guy appears and I try to strike up a conversation because I want him to explain to me why I have to pay VAT on the shipping.
Beszel angolul (Do you speak English)? says I, hopefully.
Ermm, a little bit but it will be easier if we talk in Hungarian, says he.
(Yeah, right. I guess it is too much to expect someone working in the international department to speak a foreign language?)
Anyway, I make my case re: VAT and he tells me that it is how it is, basically.
Rendben, de ez nekem nem logikus (Fine, but this is not logical to me), says I with a friendly smile but firm tone. He looks at me as if I had committed the gravest crime against the constitution. I bet he is thinking how weird those foreigners are, saying stuff like that. You know, a rule is a rule. So what if it doesn't make sense to you?
But he doesn't say any of that, he proceeds to calculate the amount of VAT I have to pay (mind you, it had already been calculated and stated in the letter that I got from the Post Office and which brought me there anyway, but I guess the guy needs to earn his salary). When he is done, he sends me back to window number 5 (with a feeble smile).
After a little bit of waiting, a lady appears from somewhere, snatches the papers away from me and tells me to go to window number 6, where my name will be called, I will pay and can pick up my package.
Surprisingly, there IS someone at window number 6 but the instructions say clearly not to approach before you are called, so I just stand there in the corridor, for some time. Ultimately, I do manage to pay and get my stuff.
Total time of the operation? About an hour for something that should not have taken more than 15 minutes. How many people I had to deal with? Three people doing the job of one, on the taxpayer's money.
So when you hear it in the news that Hungary went bankrupt, don't be surprised.