Thursday, March 31, 2005

American Embassy = 5th Circle of Hell

Well, I did it. I went to the Embassy to get some paperwork notarized. What would have taken me ten minutes in the US took me three hours and $30 bucks and not a little tension

Since the Embassy only "helps" folks from 9-12, I showed up at 10 am. I walked up to the first of the machine gun wielding, sun glasses wearing, gum chomping guards and smiled politely and showed my passport, then joined the queue. He was wearing a quasi-mechanics/astronaut jumpsuit, bristling with communication devices and badges, acting all bouncer-y, workin' the velvet security rope. I was third in line. I stood there for twenty minutes while the two folks ahead of me got searched and patted down before being let through.

I, being in a good mood on a sunny yet brisk day, quipped, "There better be DAMN good drinks and music in there for me to wait this long behind your velvet ropes."

He smiled as much as an Embassy guard is allowed, which isn't much, and after another 10 minutes, waved me thru. I got searched, patted (woo!) and generally felt up by another guard. I will admit these guys were cute for jarheads. Maybe they do that on purpose. I ahve never seen an ugly guard at the Embassy.

After that, I got to wait in yet another line, this time on the other side of the bob-wired, fenced and security camera'ed building. You have to wait outside until they let you in, in one of two lines. One is for non-Americans seeking Visas, the other for Americans. I felt rather VIP in this line, as the Americans get let in first, but the 10 or so non-Americans in the other line stood and glowered at me the whole time. Ah well, screw them, my taxes paid for this neo-Nazi bullshit anyhow, so they can bite me if they don't like it.

(Though I did feel sorry for them after I saw the requirements for a visa, including, but not limited to: interview, background check, proof of financial viabilty, proof of income, proof of employment, detailed travel plans, any police or criminal records, a number of annoying forms and a few copies of pictures, birth certificates, etc. A two month wait for approval, and you too can go to Disneyland. If you meet anyone who is a tourist in the US, be REAL nice to them, for they have been thru hell to get to our fair land.)

Another 10 minutes there and I got into the building. Yet another bag search, more thorough this time, plus a swab for explosives, then I had to check my bag. Finally I was in the queue for the notary public services.

The tension in the room was palpable. No one was happy. Before me was a mother trying to get a renewed passport for her young son. She was obviously getting annoyed, and the woman behind the thick glass partition had that smug bureaucratic look about her, that said that she was going to follow the rules no matter what, like it or lump it. The mother started yelling. Loud.

Apparently she had been given an old form with outdated price and information for passport renewals. When she showed up with the money the form told her to bring, turns out it was wrong. The Embassy does not take credit cards or bank cards, and she did not have enough cash with her. This meant she would have to start all over. Through security again, more paperwork, the whole shebang. I felt for her. I really did. This was not her fault.

The woman behind the glass would not budge. She insisted on the extra $12. for the fees. Told the woman to go get more money! The irate mom started screaming that she was not leaving, that they could come drag her out, but it was their damned fault and they should waive the extra fees, as they did not know their asses from a hole in the ground. I was thinking "You go girl! But could you go in another line so I can get my crap done?"

Finally the people in line behind me told her they would lend her the extra money, and she could pay them back after. I would have done it myself, but I had only enough cash for my needs. She was mollified and lucky for me I got a different bureaucrat to work with.

She was pretty nice, though there was a scare about the name on the papers being a bit different from the name on my passport. I was getting worried there for a minute. I really was. I was not in the mood to go postal, though I guess I could have summoned up some rage fairly quickly by just breathing deeply in that rancid, angry room. Luckily I had photo proof to match both names, (I also offered blood and my first born, and actually got a smile!) and it got worked out.

They sent me to the cashiers window to pay, then back to the window to prove I'd paid and get the signature, then something else official, and then just a pin prick, no it really won't hurt, and then they brainwashed me and dragooned me into the military and now I am in Iraq, just kidding.

I have to admit, I pretty much laughed my way through the whole thing. How could I not? Absurdity hits my giggle button like nothing else, and folks, the US has become absurd. The irate lady had already let them know exactly how the rest of us felt, we all knew how ridiculous this experience was, and so I was able to just smirk my way through it. I smirk really well.

I hope, though, that it is the last time I have to go there. It's just too awful. I wonder what the Norwegian Embassy is like in the US?

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