Letter from Prague

It's a fast changing world, especially here in the post-communist block.

But there are some things that never change, or so it seems. For instance, a bureaucrat's workplace is his castle. Decades ago -sometime in the Austro-Hungarian empire and the days of good soldier Sweik, someone- probably the emperor himself - decreed that all administrative institutions would open their doors to the public on Mondays and Wednesdays between 7.30am and 4.30pm. For my great grandmother, my grandmother and myself that has been an unquestionable fact of life. Mondays and Wednesdays during work hours only. At no other time are these good people to be bothered. After all, they have plenty of other things to attend to besides us. The futility of trying to change this age-old system is obvious from the fact that both the centre-right and centre-left governments in office after 1989 tried and failed. The Emperor would be proud.

Recently, some smug TV journalist discovered that there was no law on the grounds of which these public institutions could close their doors to the public 3 days a week, and allow queues to form on two days only. He misguidedly went to visit them out of office hours to break this earth-shattering news.

"Rubbish" said the battleship lady in charge. "Come back on Monday."

"BUT -countered the journalist - if there's no law -you could just say -we're closed 5 days a week".

"You've got the idea" the lady said and closed the door.

A lesson for the 10 million people who were left staring at their TV sets in disbelief at this presumptuousness on the part of a mere journalist.

Our politicians were rather embarrassed by the whole affair. But, to give them their due, they took a firm stand.

"I am sure that our people are not stupid," one of them said. "They would not visit administrative offices more often if they were open 5 days a week. It would just spread the work out and accommodate more people."

Well, but you never know do you? For instance there's this guy -Jan Petrzilka -who has been nagging the Prague authorities for years pointing out that one of the streets which appears on all maps of Prague is purely fictitious and must have got there by some bizarre mistake. The fact that this is true - the street in question is called Nova - or "new" makes no difference. Since it doesn't exist it can't possible bother anyone. And the suggestion that it could at least be re-named from "New" to "Non-existent" is ridiculous.