THIS POST WAS CONTRIBUTED BY MY GOOD FRIEND AND MOST EXPERIENCED YEREVAN EXPAT….TIMOTHY STRAIGHT
I have lived in Yerevan for nearly ten years. I think perhaps, maybe, hopefully, I have figured out how to pay my utilities and taxes, but well, I’m not quite sure… Now, mind you, I am the expat here, so all this is MY problem. I am not complaining. I just see an amusing story in all this.
A list stating the electrical bill for each apartment is posted on a scrap of paper in the stairway during the first days of each month- for all the neighbors to see! I can just hear the neighbors all clucking assuredly ‘AAAHHH…he used 30.000 drams worth of electricity last month…he’s the one with the jacuzzi in his living room…weirdo.’
My gas bill is read off each month and recorded dutifully on the gas company computer. They just don’t tell ME how much it is, thus potentially taking the numbers OTA (Out of Thin Air).
My water bill is based on a water meter in my apartment. Not once the past four years has anyone ever come to read it. So, I guess they are guessing and might be taking these numbers OTA, too.
My mobile phone bill is neatly sent to me as an SMS each month. Bravo…they get it.
Now, PAYING all these bills is another matter indeed. Until a couple of years ago, one had to go to any post office in the city and give them your land line number. They would bring all your bills up on the computer- electricity, gas, water, and land line phone. Not a bad system actually, except for the long lines of PWEs (People With Excuses) trying to get to the counter ahead of me (widow, uncle died in The Great War, doctor’s appointment in five minutes, whatever). Now, in my special case (remember, I’m the weirdo here), I have to give the land line number of the old, dead owner of my apartment, as I only have a mobile, no phone in the house. Thus, upon having batted down all the PWEs, I give them the telephone number I have never had (564488). Staring at the screen, the kind woman behind the counter calmly asks ‘Are you Sergey Galstyan? I say ‘Yes, I am’. They never blink. Never. And I pay my bills, never knowing if they are simply OTAing, as I never ever get a bill, a meter reading, nothing.
Then a few years ago, a couple of companies started putting pay terminals in supermarkets, drugstores, and even on the street. You can pay your utilities through these. Fantastic! Use the blue ones, as the orange ones take a hefty commission. They generally work really well, and allow me to avoid going to the post office to deal with the PWEs.
Howeeeeeeever, none of the machines recognize my gas subscription number, so it’s back to the post office to pay that one. This creates another problem. If I have paid bills on the machine, the machines don’t give change. This means that when I pay 20.000 drams towards my 18.500 mobile phone bill, there is a 1500 dram credit on my account. The ladies at the post office have NEVER in their lives met someone who would pay extra on their bills (go ahead, say it…weirdo!) so they assume that I owe that 1500 drams and want me to pay it again. Thus, I have stopped using that wonderful, effective machine at the local supermarket and have gone back to dealing with the PWEs at the post office in order to pay my assumedly OTA utility bills. Go figure.
I had lived in Yerevan for about eight years before I even knew there was real estate tax, car tax, etc. That’s because I was just supposed to KNOW that from yes, OTA….be my guest, this time with a roll of the eyes…WEIRDO! Never in all my years here have I seen a written notice or received a telephone call about it. Perhaps poor, dead Sergey Galstyan is really wishing I would pay my taxes so that he might rest in peace?
Anyway, taxes are collected by the ZHEIK. And yes, it is as awful a place as the name would indicate. In my case, it is tucked away in a basement way far away from where I live, and is staffed by a bunch of really really really overdressed and really really really sour ladies. It is at the ZHEIK that you pay your real estate tax and your car tax, as far as I can understand(I am still not quite sure, but can’t quite bring myself to ask ‘Are there any other taxes you want me to pay?’ as that would bring on a chorus of, ‘YES, WEIRDO!’). I have actually taken a radical step and hired an assistant to deal with the decidedly overdressed and sour ladies. I simply can’t cope with them.
Now if you learn one word in Russian, learn ‘SHTRAF’. Yes, it’s a word, not an abbreviation, and it means penalty or punishment. That is what you have to pay if you don’t pay your OTA taxes. I, for the past four years, have been in a pitched battle with ZHEIK, refusing to pay SHTRAF. ‘How can I pay SHTRAF on a tax that I never knew existed?’ is my argument. But they have a rule, and they are not bending it. For them, I am a PWE.
I used to get really angry and frustrated about all this. But now, I simply find it amusing. I might just even pay my SHTRAF, who knows…. It is I who am the expat. They all know and understand the system, and religiously implement and use it. I am the weirdo, not them.