My Stamp Collection

Today I had to take a Bureaucracy Day. When you live in Latin America—or Germany—you occasionally have to set aside these days to do tedious paperwork and run around town trying to obtain documents, signatures, and various stamps of the rubber, postage, and embossed varieties.

Today’s Bureaucracy Day was related to my birth certificate. In my naturalization process, I need to have this document up to Costa Rica’s strict bureaucratic standards, and a simple document issued in 1980 by Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins with Baby Sitzman’s footprints just won’t cut it; neither will the fact that IF I am here now, talking to you and attempting to be naturalized, then it mean that I must have been born… so why all the fuss about the who’s, where’s, when’s, why’s, and how’s?

If you ever try to get either Permanent Resident or Citizen status in this country, you need to get all your documents—anywhere from 4 to 12 documents, depending on the circumstances–certified. A few times, by a few different people. Here’s an example, detailing how to do get your birth certificate up to bureaucratic speed:

First, you’ll need an official birth certificate. To do that, you may need to sign a lot of Power of Attorney documents so that your mom can request a copy of the birth certificate (Thanks, Ma!). Then, either you (or your mom) will have to send or take that birth certificate to the Secretary of State of the Great State of Colorado (if you were born in Colorado, like me). There, the secretary of state (or a machine that can copy his signature) will fill out a piece of paper stating that the signature on your birth certificate (that of one “Ronald S. Hyman”) was authentic and that Mr. Hyman was the duly appointed State Registrar of the State of Colorado at the time he signed the document. They’ll also put on a nice embossed stamp with the Great Seal of the State of Colorado. Then, you (or, again, your mom…thanks, Ma!) will have to get the birth certificate and the certification sent to the Consulate of Costa Rica in Houston, Texas. There, Consul Dania L Garcia Diaz will partially fill out another form stating that Bernie Buescher was actually the Secretary of State of Colorado, and that his certification of your birth certificate was authentic. Wait, did I say “partially fill out”? Yes, I did. Because then after that document gets sent back to you (or your mom), you (or your mom) has to get that document to Costa Rica. That honor fell to our dear friends Dustin and Sam when they visited us, schlepped document in hand. The next step is pretty simple. That partially filled out form from the Consulate in Houston needs to be taken to the Foreign Relations Ministry Consular Services Department in San José to be authenticated. There, Eduardo Cubero Barrantes will testify that “the preceding signature, the one of the Consul of Costa Rica in Houston, is authentic.” Yep, Señor Barrantes will authenticate the authentication of a certification of a certificate of my birth. Notice the usage of the future tense, with “will” in that last sentence. Because first you have to go to the Banco de Costa Rica and deposit 625 colones (approximately $1.10) for the legal “timbres,” which were basically like little postage stamps, but which have since been eliminated due to corruption and overcharging by people who would hoard stamps when the authorities would run out. So now, the deposit is just a 45-minute wait in line at the bank away.

At this point, you may be thinking, “Can’t we just trust each other, and maybe use the honor system?” How charmingly silly of you. If we used the honor system, then how would the Republic of Costa Rica know that you weren’t associated with Al Qaeda or –even worse!– Nicaragua? Why are you complaining about this process, if you’ve got nothing to hide? You’re not some sort of criminal or terrorist or foreigner, are you??

So when you get the receipt from the bank, take that and the little packet of authentications back to the Foreign Relations Whatever Place. They’ll glue the bank receipt to the back of the authentication, and put three nice stamps on it (also, make sure the bank teller puts a stamp on the receipt, or else it will not be accepted). Finally, you’re ready, and all that’s left for you to do is get the document translated into Spanish by a translator who’s certified by that Foreign Relations place. They have a list of a couple hundred of translators, but with addresses in Costa Rica being relatively vague or nonexistent, you may want to ask the lady at the information desk for advice. She’ll tell you that 200 meters south of the Parque España (which itself is 100 meters south of the Foreign Relations building), there’s a guy who can do the translation. This is true, but when you go 200 meters south of the park, there’ll be no sign of this translator’s office, nor of the “Edificio Borges,” which is the name of the building where his office supposedly is. You’ll have to ask a pair of police officers loitering on the corner, and they’ll point you another 100 meters (one block) to the south. There you’ll have to ask a crazy old lady looking out the bars of her window, a guy in a staircase, and another guy in the furniture store, and they’ll all have no idea what the fuck you’re talking about, an Edificio Borges? So, you’ll have to double back 100 meters, try not to make eye contact with the cops who gave you bad directions, and then call the office. Obviously, it’s about noon and there’s approximately 1,200 buses in that intersection, so you’ll have to slip into a church to try to make the call, but there’s no reception there. The secretary at the translator’s office will complain that she can’t hear you and then pass you to another guy, who’ll say he’s looking out the window at two police officers; do you see them? Sure, you’ll say, and then you’ll have to go wait near the cops and the guy will come meet you there (and a guy on a yellow moped will eat shit when he ditches his bike, after running a red light and nearly plowing into a girl, Thank God she’s OK, what a freakin’ dickhead on his yellow moped anyhow, am I right?). Finally, the guy from the office will find you, take you up to the office, and then the translator will translate your document for a relatively low fee of $20 (plus another 15 colones for three more timbres…what??…is that about 6 cents, or is my math off?). Signed, sealed, delivered! Or, more accurately, “signed, sealed, sealed, stamped, stamped, stamped, stapled, and delivered”! You’re set!

Now, be on your way, young man! Your birth certificate has been deemed appropriate by just about everyone except the taxi driver who’ll take you to the bus station or the drunk homeless guy who’ll try to open your door at the curb to “earn a tip.” Your birth certificate has been baptized in stamp ink and sponge water used for moistening stamps; it’s been converted from a mere document to a sort of booklet, una novela de autenticacion, if you will. You can now go home and rest assured that you are successful, and that you’ve got one document gathered, and only about five more to go.

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Errand-Running Monkey at Sitzblog
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4 thoughts on “My Stamp Collection

  1. oooo-eeee! a perfect description of my whole experience too, except change state of victoria for state of colorado, dad for mum, (thanks dad!) and red moped for yellow . . .amazing.

    and that’s a piece of cake next to getting your DEGREES authenticated. all of the above x 20, plus you need to find a university that accepts the courses you did as equivalent to theirs (translate and authenticate every course description (if you can find them – if not. . . .????) of every course taken over your whole schooling career . . .), then actually put on a silly hat and scholarly cloak/toga thingey and actually go through the whole graduation ceremony to be given a BLANK certificate . . . so they tell me – i’m still stuck with the course outline gig, most of which never existed in the first place. every trip home to australia involves hopeful lurking about university basements going through boxes of old papers – NOT JOKING!!! wish I were!!!!

  2. Wow, that degree translating ordeal is pretty intense. Even if it lasts two to four years, it’s probably just quicker to re-do a degree and get a diploma written in Spanish!

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