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Sunday, July 01, 2012

"Minor Tribulations"

I was up early; my appointment was at 7.45. The car was picking me up at 7.00 for the short drive to the U.S. Embassy. I had thought of taking the bus -- only a short walk away-- but decided I would have more peace of mind being taken there. When I arrived 15 minutes later, the line was already forming, but the queue was still relatively short. By the time I was weeded out from those applying for visas I was third in line. So far so good.

Fortunately, I had received an e-mail from the Embassy reminding me of my appointment. The e-mail also provided me with some additional information I had not seen on the website and that was that no cell phones, i-pads, PDA's or i-pods were allowed into the embassy. Good thing I knew that because I had made plans to use my GPS to navigate my way there!

There were two young girls behind me also for passports. One, a student, just needed to add more pages to hers, but the other had been in London for a week and on her first day at the school had had her bag stolen with her passport and all credit cards, as well as her computer, and phone and so on. So her entire week had been marred by this very big upset and she was quite worried about what would happen. She was planning to return to the States the following day to sort everything out. Poor girl! I felt so sorry for her, but tried to re-assure her by saying that the embassy would be very sympathetic and that they were always having to deal with this sort of situation and that everything would be fine. The other girl it turned out had had this same experience -- only in Rome a few years ago. From other stories I've heard it is terrible how these thieves really target the young and inexperienced and how much havoc they cause for them.

OK! I was called into the security area and told to put my handbag through the x-ray. As I was getting ready to put my  other bag through the guard put my bag on top of the machine and said, "You have a camera".

"No," I said.

"There is one in the bag," she said.

Suddenly, I realized! I'd forgotten my small digital Canon! I'd carefully removed my cell phone, but completely forgotten the camera! I  took it out. The guard explained to me that I would have to store it and that that would mean I would have to leave the place and walk up the street a block and a half to a drug store and they would store it for me! When I became totally exasperated and told her to "Just throw it away" she calmly explained that as there were no bins either there or on the embassy grounds I would have to do as she suggested.

I must confess I was on the verge of again turning into a little old lady, but at the same time I realized it would do me no good and I was just going to have to give in to the inevitable. I walked to the drug store, paid 3 pounds and returned to the front of the queue, where they were looking me and let me straight in.

And so in went my bags. I walked through the 'magic' X-ray door and back to the other side of the X-ray. The guard asked to see my keys! I had three sets of keys. The first set he handed back to me. The second and third set, however, had little battery flash lights on the key rings!!!!

"You cannot go into the Embassy with these", he said embarrassed that the keys had not been seen the first time the bag went through!"

I was beginning to think that I was never ever going to get into the building and I would never ever be able to get a new passport! However, much as I wanted to again turn into a simpering little old age pensioner lady -- I didn't. The guard and I discussed the importance of these little flash lights and it was suggested that I could go across the street into the park and dump them into the bin at the gate. This I did.

Again I entered the security room! I placed my bags to go through the machine... Again I went successfully through the X-ray door. And now time I held my breath. And the guards, who were now becoming my mates, were holding their breaths, too! YES! I PASSED. I was allowed onto the grounds and into the building and up to the passport office! And then everything was a piece of cake. I had been slightly delayed -- if I'd gone in the first time, my number would have been '3' now it was '13' -- so not to bad.

And the moral of the story is -- Don't ever go to the U.S. Embassy unless you have absolutely and positively no other choice! By the way, when I went to get my camera two hours had elapsed and you would not believe how many items they had 'stored' for people. I'd just been the first of the day...

42 comments:

  1. Yea, I've tried the helpless little old man trick, but some places you just know it will not work!

    cranky

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    1. Yeah, they know all our tricks!

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  2. What an ordeal ! I was invited to a reception at the Embassy in 1985, for returning Fulbright exchange teachers. For some reason I couldn't go....I have always regretted that, but now, I'm not sure, although I suspect pre 9/11 procedures were a little different. Anyway, now it is over...and you can get yurself over to France at last. J.

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    1. Oh, that is so true. Pre 9/11 was a doddle compared to now...

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  3. Goodness me, what an experience. Thanks goodness I should never have a reason to go to the American embassy. So pleased you got everything sorted and that hopefully you will soon be on your way. Keep well Diane

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    1. Well, if nothing else, it's given me something to blog about, Diane!

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  4. Good grief !! This exercise is not for the faint-hearted. Storing stuff for people at £3 a pop seems like a good little earner for doing next to nothing !!
    I'm so glad you have got over that hurdle and are one step nearer your trip to France !!

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    1. Yes, I agree -- a good little earner. And there are a few places I passed offering the service. One of the young girls I was talking to said it cost her 5 pounds -- so I got off cheap, I guess!

      Tomorrow I'll see what air fares are going for now. So late in the season and nearing the time the schools are off, I suspect they will not be low...

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  5. Well, at least it's done now but really, how crazy making an experience. I'm glad you got through it all with dignity in tact.

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    1. Thank you, Rubye! It wasn't easy, but I kept myself more or less together. Whew!

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  6. Now my head is telling me we should allow anyone who wants to to cross into the U.S. ...just keep stopping them and make them return stuff that's not allowed.

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    1. :-)The thought of it boggles the mind...

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  7. They're really tough if the little old lady ruse fails. Guess I won't be going there. Enjoy the house in France.

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    1. At least these guys were kind and helpful. Also when the keys were found on the second run the guard was really embarrassed and they were on the lookout for my return both times. But at the time it was really difficult for me to appreciate them!

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  8. Good grief, Broad. You've really earned that trip to France. Roll on British citizenship and an alternative passport. :-)

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    1. You said it, Girl!!! I read in The Times today that Teresa May is planning to change the immigration test. Now they are going to insist the candidates know the first verse of God Save the Queen. In addition they will be required to learn profiles of Blake, Turner, Holst, Dickens, etc. This instead of how to use the welfare system! I wonder if I'll be required now to take the test!! Better get my application in before this becomes law ;-)

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  9. I couldn't get any sense out of the US embassy about the media visa, which appears to tie my husband into some kind of strange status that could stop him travelling to other countries. Or perhaps not. But anyway I can't find out. They don't answer phones, direct you to answering machines at a very high premium rate which don't answer and don't let you leave a message.

    Ho hum, hope they're better with people who have had their bags stolen. Did you find out what had happened with the girl?

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    1. You will just have to make an appointment and deal with them in person, I'm afraid. It is just about impossible to do anything over the phone. Surprisingly, as an American citizen I was able to arrange for my Social Security over the phone -- but that required sending e-mails and then I had to make an appointment for them to call me! It was quite a bizarre rigmarole!

      Yes, about the girl: As she was leaving I asked her how it went and she said "very well"! She was also lucky that she had left her driving license in her suitcase and so it was not stolen.

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  10. Dear Broad, after I graduated from college in May 1958, a college friend sent me a June letter before I entered the convent. She said, "Isn't it wonderful to know that now that we've graduated from a Catholic college we know all we'll ever need to know." And the thing is, I agreed!!!!!!

    And yet since then I've never failed to live a day in which I didn't learn something--either from the newspaper headlines or TV or books or people.

    And that's one of the wonderful things about blogging--I keep learning new things. And what you shared in this posting today is all new to me. I've never been in an embassy. I've never really flown since 9/11 when all the security began in the airports, so you've taught me a lot today. Thank you and peace.

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    1. I can't get over your first paragraph! Amazing to think of considering the kind of person you have become!

      What has changed so much since 9/11 for so many of us is the feeling we constantly have of being 'challenged' as to who we are and having to prove that we are not some how dangerous. We have to prove that we are not the enemy -- it is not a nice feeling...

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  11. I just joined up to follow you, Broad, after the comment you left on my post. I came over here to see what I've been missing, and there were several of my friends hanging out with you already! I had to do a fair bit of traveling when I was working, and I'm so glad it's not something I have to do these days. Travel is no longer much fun, and any time I need to go across the border into Canada it's a piece of cake, but getting back over here... not so much. I suspect the US Embassy is the same worldwide. Anyway, I enjoyed your little adventure. :-)

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    1. I'm so happy to see you here DJan! It is a terrible legacy left to us by 9/11 that travel is now such a burden and trust is in such short supply. I agree with you that the U.S. Embassy is the same world-wide. But it is sad that it is much more like a fortress instead of a beacon of light... I've enjoyed my adventure, too -- in the retelling only!!

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  12. Sorry to hear of you mis-adventures with the embassy. Hope you can stay away from it in the future.

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    1. Me, too, Rob-bear! Happy Canada Day!

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  13. Not an experience to want to repeat!

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  14. oh my gosh...my 18 yr old son just landed in Mexico tonight. I have been saying prayers all day long.

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    1. I'm sure everything will be just fine.

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  15. I know they need to be careful but this all seems a bit excessive.

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    1. One of the flash lights had dead batteries, too!

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  16. Isn't it a shame that we live in a time that gives us no other option than to impose severe security measures. I get irritated at the invasion of privacy every time I go to the airport, but what choice do I have? It's no wonder we are becoming more insular, we gravitate to the safe and familiar.

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    1. One thing at least, is that you find a lot of friendly people going through the frustration with you and the camaraderie helps get you through it...

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  17. G'day Broad. Well done for hanging in there and getting it all done. Take care. Liz...

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  18. Now, now, I can top that!
    When I was trying to get to the US, it took me three years to get a student visa!
    Three years of traveling by train for four hours each way, sometimes staying overnight because we had missed the connections, spending lots of money we didn't have to make these trips, and never getting the complete list of things we needed to do, or acquire or prepare.

    And that was before 9/11~

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    1. That sounds so soul destroying! I'm amazed you kept on trying -- you are a woman of steel determination!

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  19. Oy. I'm so glad I have never had to deal with anything of that sort. I am blessed, I suppose. Glad to hear everything worked out, finally, but what a miserable sort of experience!

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    1. I should have added that in any event I got to have to most wonderful visit with my niece and her family and to spend time with my youngest son. So aside from the bureaucracy one must endure from time to time -- I had a rather splendid time!

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  20. Should I ever be in similar circumstances, I will heed your advice. Something like this happened to me at the airport a few years ago--I was late, so I had to throw it all away. Zeitgeist. Sigh.

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    1. Ryanair, by any chance? (Boo and Hiss!)

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