[Am I Lying?] Scary Stories from the Unemployed

So far I have stuck to my claim that my blog is 100% accurate (except when it isn’t). Did you believe everything you read before? I’m pretty sure some of you would claim that you can spot some half-truths and whole lies scattered inside my ramblings. Well, here’s your chance.

With Halloween coming up, let me tell you about my pre-employment scares. You can tell me when and where you think I am lying. Of course I reserve the right to neither confirm nor deny your observations, but this should still be fun.

In exactly three days I will once again join the labor force and become a productive member of society – as opposed to mooching off of my wife while writing a silly blog. Right now I’m just about all set, but I have to say, things got a little hairy back there.

My story begins about three weeks ago when I decided to finally accept the job offer. I went to the office and met with one of my interviewers (the psychologist from HR :D) who handed me the contract to sign. She laughed maniacally once I had my name on the dotted line. She said she always does that when new employees sign, because it means they’re part of the family now. I guess “part of the family” translates to “your soul is mine” in German. So, the deal is done and I have a little less than three weeks to get my shit in order.

Here are the things I needed to provide:

  1. A German tax identification number (Steueridentifikationsnummer)
  2. A German bank account
  3. A German health insurance fund membership
  4. A German working permit – normally an EU Blue Card

Possible Lie#1 – Banking Fun

My company has a partnership with Deutsche Bank. We can get a free salary account there, complete with ATM Card (or EC card as they call it here), phone, and Internet banking. They also speak English, so that’s a plus. I mean, I’m all for learning Deutsch and enjoy being able to practice it, but I’d rather make sure I understand everything when I’m trying to open a damn bank account.

So I went to the nearby Deutsche Bank branch right after singing the contract and asked if I could open an account. They were very accommodating. They just made copies of my contract and my identification cards, and then asked me to sit by a small lounge while someone prepared the details. They even gave me a bottle of water – a glass bottle, classy – and poured the contents into a glass for me, like I shouldn’t be troubled to pour it for myself.

There was a TV in the lounge and the news was on. I shit you not, the moment I paid attention, I saw Angela Merkel on a podium and the news ticker underneath said “Deutsche Bank in der Krise”, which translates to “Deutsche Bank in Crisis”. Wow. Luckily my friends in the Philippines were still actively chatting in Facebook at that time and one of them is an active trader and fund manager – essentially someone I can ask about this because I’m too lazy to Google. He put it in terms I can understand:

Banks give out loans, right? Imagine if Deutsche Bank only had $1M in capital from depositors, but then they gave out $12M worth of loans. If around 8.5% of those loans default or fail to pay, Deutsche Bank goes bankrupt. They’re also being fined around $14B for this. Basically, maybe you should just withdraw all your money when your salary comes in every month.

“I’m ready for you now, Mr. Inappropriator” (this doesn’t count as the lie). A very tall, white man was suddenly standing behind me right after I read my friend’s explanation. Blonde, blue eyes, basically what Hitler wanted.  I wanted to bolt, but they had my IDs and my contract. Long story short, I am now a proud Deutsche Bank client 🙂

Possible Lie#2 – Easy Tax Matters?

If you’re from the Philippines, you dread dealing with the government in any way, shape, or form. Imagine how I felt when I found out that I needed a German TIN, which should have been sent to me by post around two weeks after I registered my residence here. I didn’t receive any such correspondence from the government, and a Google search led me to an article that says if you lose your TIN, you can apply for a new one but it can take a couple of months.

A couple of months? Fuck. I need it in a couple of weeks!

I reviewed my registration papers, hoping maybe to see a TIN written there. No dice. I did see the email address of the registration office, however. Again, if you’re from the Philippines, the email of a government agency might as well be a raffle ticket drop box. No matter how many tickets you drop, you never get picked. What the hell, maybe I’ll just send them an email and ask for their advice. Nothing to lose, right?

It turns out, people actually do monitor government email addresses. I got a response from a person – let’s call her Frau Helpful – which said:

Normally, the tax number is delivered by post directly to your new address in Germany… However, do not hesitate to just come around without any appointment within our opening times and please bring  your passport / identitycard with you. We will give you a new hard copy of the tax number.

I went there, got a number, spent like 15 minutes in the waiting room, and then got to talk to the actual person who answered my email! In short order, she had my TIN printed and I went on my merry way.

A few days later, I found out that I also needed to know my tax category. I tried emailing Frau Helpful directly since time was growing short and I needed expedience. I was expecting some response like “next time please use the office email address instead of going to me directly”, but I got none of that. She instead apologized, saying her office did not know these details, but gave me a phone number of an office which should be able to help. Of all things I expected, an apology was not one of them! Am I in Canada?

Long story short, I was able to talk to a kind woman who told me my tax class, but advised me to make some request so that I end up paying less taxes. Amazing. The government, telling a tax payer how he can pay less taxes. Unfortunately she couldn’t do the change over the phone. No worries though. I can just send a request over email!

Can you imagine transacting with the BIR over email!? Maybe we should take some pointers.

Zero hassle. Tax matters done.

Possible Lie#3 – Is my wife working for the Mafia?

I needed a valid working permit of course. The “new employee from abroad” guide mentioned an EU Blue Card, which seems to be like the US Green Card, only blue and for the EU. I didn’t have this, but I was told that my residence permit here (granted through my wife’s employer) was already a working permit in itself. They even said “If you have any problems, just direct them to our legal department”. I had to make sure, though.

Given my success with emailing government offices, I tried writing the EU Blue Card office through the email on their website. I sent them a scan of my residence ID, and asked them to verify if it was valid as a working permit, or if I needed to get an EU Blue Card still.

[SIDE NOTE] Not a lot of people recognize our residence IDs. They often remark how “it’s the first time they’ve seen that kind of ID” or some such. Not that they contest its authenticity, it’s just that they’ve never seen one like it before. It also doesn’t look very professional. It’s just a flimsy laminated card. My Unicef membership card looks more professional than our Sonderausweis.

Anyway, as expected, the first dude who replied didn’t really know. He gave me more details regarding the EU Blue Card, and then mentioned that the Foreign Offices in Hamburg would know more. Naturally, I emailed the Foreign Office while I prepared the requirements to get a Blue Card – hedging my bets, so to speak.

I didn’t receive an immediate response that time. I thought maybe my luck with emailing government offices had run out. But, lo and behold, seven days after my email I got a response. It simply said:

Dear Sir,

you do not need a residence permit or blue card. You are already allowed to stay and work here.

Just that, and nothing else. How “sonder” is this Sonderausweis?

It should also be noted that through my wife’s employer, the German Embassy in the Philippines called me to schedule a Visa appointment, did not make me pay anything, and returned my passport, Visa attached, two days after my appointment. And my wife’s boss is Russian. How much more Mafia-like can my wife’s employer be?

So, here we are. Tell me, am I lying? Could it be that Deutsche Bank is not really in trouble? Or maybe I didn’t actually see that news bit while I was in the branch. Perhaps there’s no way German government offices are that helpful, and what I wrote down was wishful thinking. Could it be that my wife’s employer is not really all that special, and I’m just using it to make us seem more connected than we are?

Leave a comment and let me know.


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