We may have shed communism, said Elenko Elenkov, but we still have a byzantine bureaucracy reminiscent of that era. When I bought a few T-shirts from an American online store, for example, they weren’t sent to my home; instead, they were sent to the customs office in Sofia, and I was instructed to pick them up there.
“In an ideal world, you would simply pay the import tax and leave with your parcel.” But remember, this is Bulgaria. First, my package was ripped open for inspection. Then I was sent to counter No. 17, where I filled in a form and was ordered to hand over a photocopy of my ID card. The copier, “a remarkably pricey one at that,” was located at counter No. 21. Once I had my copy, I was sent to counter No. 13, where I got a certificate “with my own special online shopper’s provisional number, which differed only slightly from my social security number.” Then it was back to counter 17 for my certificate to be stamped, and then to counter 28 to fill in the customs declaration. There I was given a floppy disk, which I was instructed to take to counter No. 9, since “apparently the Bulgarian customs service has yet to discover the joys of local area networks.”
Four more counter visits later, I had finally paid my tax—just under $6—and collected my shirts. “It was the end of an unforgettable four hours.”