Sandy speaks on matters of life and mirth.
Monkeys are seldom present.

Friday, June 09, 2006

The Least Productive Five Hours of My Life

So today I went and got my Visa for going to America.

That sentence makes it all sound easy. Well, actually in fairness, it was pretty easy - in the sense that there was very little effort involved. Which, to put it simply, was the problem.

Let me explain. In order to stay in Ameriqua for longer than thirty days, you must have a visa. Simple enough, right? Except that, as far as I can tell, there seem to be about seventy six different kinds of visa. And those are just the ones I could be bothered to count. They seem to have every eventuality covered, so if you're a 19 year old Jamaican gardener, who's looking to increase his collection of porcelain dolls, they probably have a visa tailored just for you.

I could whinge about the huge numbers of forms you have to fill in, and the ridiculous questions they ask you, (for interest's sake, and to avoid inconvenient rumours, I answered 'No' to the question 'Were you involved with the genocide in Nazi Germany') as well as the bizarre decisions on which forms you have to fill out, (there is a special form that all men, and women from 'Axis of Evil' countries have to fill out, just to check you're not a terrorist. Clearly European women are biologically prevented from being terrorists.) but I'm not going to dwell on those. Instead I'm going to focus on something much more important. How mind-numbingly boring the whole thing is.

So I arrived at the embassy in London at One o' clock. PM. In the afternoon. I was greeted by the same happy security guard who's greeted me every time I've been. (Admittedly only three times, but spread over three years, and all on different days.) He's a stereotypical cheery Londoner, who's quite large, and loves taking the mick out of people's passport photos. I know this, because he does it to everybody. He softens the blow for girls, though, by adding 'you look lovely now' afterwards. I'm sure this would be nice...if you hadn't just heard it said to the eight people ahead of you. Last time I saw him, he was wearing a big puffy jacket that made him look like the Michelin man. I think I'll call him Larry. Next time I see him, I'll ask for his autograph. He probably has photos to sign. I'll tell him he looks lovely now.

Once you get into the embassy, through the requisite security checks, (which always manage to make me feel guilty...even if I've done nothing wrong) you get into the main hall, and are given a number. This number is to be treasured, because it becomes your identity for the next few hours. And by few, I mean many. After about ten minutes, you get called up to a window, where you hand over some forms, tell the nice man what kind of Visa you want, and then go and sit down.

Where you stay....for the next four hours.

The kicker is this, though. You have no idea how long it's going to take to process your application. A computer calls out the numbers, but it seems to be in a totally random order. Everyone's applying for a different kind of visa, as well, so some people take a lot longer to process than others. This means you have to be constantly on the lookout (hearout?) for your number being called. This isn't helped by the computer system displaying what looks like a queue of whose number is going to be called next, but is, in fact absolutely nothing to do with anything. The number 017 stayed at third in the queue for two hours. I know, because I counted.

So anyway, you have these breathless expectation thing going on. So there I was, trying to read my newly-purchased copy of V for Vendetta, (yet another comic I'm going to have to figure out how to pack - curse you Alan Moore!) but every time a number was called starting with 'four hundred and...' I would look up, suddenly hopeful, only to have my hopes dashed. The real depressing point is when they start calling the numbers sixty places after you before yours. That's just soul-destroying.

After about four hours of frantic nothing, you finally get called to your 'interview', which consists of a consular agent making mindless chit-chat while he stamps your forms. This takes about thirty seconds. And that's it. Thirty seconds. I was almost begging him to pull out the difficult questions, the real mind-benders, the ones that would make me die inside. But I didn't. Because I'm not stupid.

So after all that, (and a long wait to sort out delivery of my documents, during which I enjoyed hearing the woman at the desk complain for ten minutes about how she needed a cigarette. Well, I say enjoyed...) I got out of the embassy at half past six in the evening. Which was actually a pretty short visit.

Wow, that was a long post. Well, I'll finish off by saying that not only did I visit the American Embassy, I also ate lunch at Subway, and dinner at McDonalds. I could only be more American if I had a bagel for breakfast.

Actually, I think we might have some around here somewhere...