Tuesday, January 13, 2009

How the Russians renamed my wife and confused the French

Sometime in October 2008, my wife's Russian passport was about to expire. Because of that, she visited the Russian embassy in Prague in order to get it renewed. Because you never know what documents and in what form will the Russian authorities need (and how much it will cost), it took four visits in total: Marina initially forgot to bring a couple of her photographs with her, on her second visit they decided they needed our wedding certificate again (they've already had it since after our wedding when they official changed her name to Jermářová) and on her third visit, she successfully submitted the passport renewal form plus a negligible fee of CZK 3000, at that time an equivalent of roughly EUR 125 or USD 176. On the fourth visit, it was the embassy's turn. Because perhaps it would be considered a bad form in Russia to let the holder of the newly issued passport verify if everything is alright with it, they let her sign the completion certificate and let her go with the precious document. What a surprise when I found out that along with a new travel document, she has also received a new name! After the marriage, the old passport was altered to spell her new last name Jermářová (both in the Cyrillic and the Latin alphabet). In Cyrillic, the closest transcription from Czech would be Ермаржова (which translates back to Czech as Jermaržova), while the preferred transcription to mere Latin alphabet is simply Jermarova. Now, the problem is that in the new passport, they used a different transcription which is neither Czech nor mere Latin alphabet. It reads as: Ermarzhova, which is quite far from what I have in my passport: Jermář, and can confuse people with lack of imagination.

I suspected future problems, but the Czech authorities, despite all worries, did not have any problems with this and continued to call my wife using her Czech last name. They even managed to fix the name on the Czech/EU permanent-stay enclosure in the Russian passport, so I hoped that it is safe to travel with Marina at least across Europe. In December, we went to Paris and spent few days there. Right before our home flight, the French airport authority, who served at the check-in, diligently and compulsorily identified the name mismatch and called a more knowledgeable colleague to help. It took me by surprise that the French authorities, the true candid Europeans, would not consult the EU enclosure of the passport, but would accept the bigger challenge and try to decipher the national page which is half in Cyrillic and half a Latin transcription from Cyrillic. After some explanation from my side, the French were eventually able to find some lexical similarity between the two last names (the Levenshtein distance between Ermarzhova and Jermář is 7 and 4 between Ermarzhova and Jermarova).

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