Saturday, April 25, 2009

Spaga Is Not An L.A. Eatery


I’ve been in Romania for an aggregate two and a half, nearly three years now, and besides the impossible-for-an-American-tongue language, there is another thing I never expect to master.  Spaga. 

Spaga  (Spa – gah) is the subtle art of, er, ah, making an offering to the  bureaucracy gods here to get papers processed if you need permits or permissions, and to get them, shall we say, NOT processed if you’re about to be cited for exceeding obscure or even occasionally non-existent regulations in a moving vehicle.

Now in my own olden days, I had been known to double tape a $10 or $20 to the back of my drivers’ license when I lived for a time in Chicago. This ploy came complete with rehearsed shocked look, and the plausible utterance of “Oh, Officer, that’s my emergency gas money.” should the encounter encounter an honest Boy-In-Blue.  Fortunately for me, the speed limit gods smiled on me the entire time I aboded in the Windy City, and eventually I moved to a less breezy geography, and never found out whether it would work in an emergency. 

But here I’m so American, it just never occurs to me. 

So let me share with you a wonderful double example of just how things really work in the land the Romans left behind. 

My apartment comes with a state assigned parking place.  Cool, huh?  No awkward, oddly-angled, illegal sidewalk parking for this kidlet.  Oh, no.  I have my own, thank you. It’s been in the family of the owners for over twenty years.  And suddenly, it was time to renew.  But, alas, the owner no longer had an actual auto registered at this address.  What to do? 

Well I, or rather my company, does actually have an auto registered here.  And unless we could get the carpark place listed with the proper authorities (of which there are about a gazillion), abracadabra, whoosh, disappearing parking place.  Fortunately, my LandLady, who is also a good friend, knows the Romanian ropes. And her mother, who had been the registered owner of the apartment before passing it along to her daughter, was concerned that the chain of ownership be kept intact. 

“We must go with your papers to birolul (the bureau) to get the space permit renewed. Can you meet me on Friday?”  Yes, of course.  So off we walked to the nearby appropriate institution. 

It was a short, straight walk, so I was a bit surprised when she veered left into the adjoining piata (pee-ah-t-za) (open market), took a sharp right into a magazine (store) and bought a relatively expensive box of chocolates. 

Well, I didn’t exactly just fall off the cabbage truck, so I knew we wouldn’t be enjoying any of the tempting, tasty truffles ourselves. I was about to see the Spaga system for myself.  Little did I know I would get to view a double. 

My LL set the box on the high counter, proceeded to ignore it, and asked specifically for a certain clerk. Ok, I can see how this is going to go.  Hmm. So far pretty smoothly.  I pulled out my car papers, my residence permit, my company registration, my rental contract, my insurance, the constitutional acts obligation documentation, and smiled dumbly, understanding about half of what was going on.  But it didn’t look good.  The clerk checked registration and I wasn’t there.  Oh oh.  And my residence permit was, it seemed, temporary. Yes, a mere five years.  So, sorry. No dice. It was looking a lot like street parking was going to have to be my fate.  Maybe it should have been a better box of bomboane (bomb–bwah-nay) (candy). 

The LL didn’t budge or give an inch. She seemed merely to continue smiling and inquiring.  Finally the clerk called her supervisor, and the conversation speeded up beyond my comprehension.  The supervisor also agreed that we had no viably registered vehicle.  Tut-tut.  Too bad.  I tried to help out by starting to tell the LL, in English, some seemingly significant factoid I thought would help. “Shhhh,” she replied. “This is bureaucracy. They’ll work it out.” she smiled at me conspiratorily. 

Lots more high speed confabs. A few trips back and forth to the books full of docs. A short wait and voilla!  The LL was passed a handwritten piece of paper with an official number and a sum that amounted to about seven and a half bucks, to be paid to the downstairs cashier, and we had a stamped, approved, official permis de parcare. (Do I have to translate that?)  Yee haw! 

“What just happened?” I asked the LL when we were again on the street walking back to the apartment.  

“The clerk told the supervisor that my mother was her doctor, and she’d really like to help us out.” 

10 minutes later, mission was accomplished.  

I realized that the LL had somehow “forgotten” to take the box of chocolates off the high counter when we left. Hmmm. But no surprise. 

Spaga. Plus Who You Know. My Eastern European education in old school methods enlarges. 

And only people who don’t live here say that the party system is dead.


Cory C said...

I know at least 4 words in Romanian that mean bribe: Mita, Spaga, Bacsis, Ciubuk. I'm sure there are a few more. Interestingly, at least 2 of the words come from Turkish...

Anonymous said...

Guess here you can EXPERIENCE spaga in this open, everyday and charming way - but do not be mistaken to believe it does not exist in the western world just as well. only in a more hidden in bigger scheme. Don't we all just feel it?