Thursday, May 19, 2005

I Fought the Law

Actually I fought with the American Consulate yesterday and the Consulate won. I waited around for over 90 minutes to get pages added to my passport. That 90 minutes does not include the time it took to stand on the first two lines.

Guichet 1: Stand on line to determine which American services you need, make sure you have the correct paper work and then put the information in to a colored packet. Guichet 2: Stand on the cashier line even if what you are getting done doesn't cost any money. Cashier guy then gives your colored packet to Guichet 4 or 5.

For the Guichet 4 or 5 (G4 or G5) step you don't stand on line. You wait in the big waiting room with about 200 other people, most of whom want a visa to the US, until your name is called. (The visa people are waiting for Guichets 6 - 11) It was so packed with people yesterday, most of the time there wasn't a seat while waiting until G4 or G5 got to your file.

After about 60 minutes I'm getting anxious. I only have a certain amount of time before I have to pick up my children at school (because it was a half day). So when Guichet 4 clears, I walk up to the counter and say...

Me: May I ask...
G4: she starts announcing the next person to come to her counter when I'm mid-sentence
Me: I was asking you something
G4: Yes, what was your quick question.
Me: I have to pick up my children and I was just wondering how long it might take.....
G4: Well it will take longer the longer you keep talking to me
Me: !!! I stomp off in disbelief
G4: Says to the next person who comes to the counter.. "Some people are just having a bad day."
Me: I am not having a bad day! (I really wasn't until she was so rude)

I wait around for another 30 minutes. I'm getting really anxious because I don't think I can get to school on time. I go up to the Guichet 5 woman (when she is free of people for a moment) and tell her I didn't realize it was going to take this long and that I wanted my passport back so that I could leave. She's surprised but gives me my passport.

I was so mad at Guichet 4 and the fact that I'd just wasted 2 hours that I wasn't paying attention when I opened the heavy door at the consulate. I guess I didn't open it far enough and ended up pushing my glasses against the corner of my eye. It's a real shiner.

Let me just say that I wasn't bothered that getting pages added to a passport took a certain amount of time. I was bothered because no way along the process did anyone say how long it might take or that I could just leave the passport and paperwork with a paid envelope for the Embassy to send to me back at a later time. Once I was waiting for G4 or G5 there was no one to provide answers to questions. It was so frustrating. A little information would have gone a long way yesterday.

-- said Auntie M in Paris
11:46 PM



ooo, ouch! Can I make a suggestion? Have you thought of writing them a letter re your experience? A print out of your blog would possibly go a long way ... especially if you point out early on that you are mainly annoyed with the lack of information / assistance etc ...

I have had great success when i politely point out to people / institutions that I've had a problem - and some have made changes - not necessarily due to my complaint/information but perhaps because i was the magic final straw, or letter No 100 etc ... anyway, hope the eye feels better than it looks!

# posted by Miss Lisa : 3:20 AM  

I second that ow. I hope it isn't nearly as painful as it looks.

Honestly, I don't think writing a letter would do much difference in this case. That's like writing a letter to the DMV asking them to hire more polite employees...

# posted by kim : 7:08 AM  

I could feel the tension rising just reading about this incident ... and then seeing your eye ... oh my gosh! And to think you did not even have to be there but could have sent the passport in ...maybe ... maybe ... someday it will be funny ... a long time from now.

# posted by Becca : 7:08 AM  

I was going to say the same thing Kim said, but she beat me to it.

This is the United States Government we're talking about... they really don't care what your experience was like at their consolate. It's bureaucracy. You get things done when they feel like helping you. ;-)

I remember similar experiences myself at the American embassy in Kingston back when we were living in Jamaica. What a nightmare. They were always nicer on the "American citizen" side than the side where the Jamaicans and other foreigners went. It's like once you crossed those golden doors, you got treated better.

I was so surprised I got my own passport in four weeks; for the State Department that was incredibly speedy.

I always used to wonder what they did when you ran out of room in your passport. But it's interesting to note that the State Department, if you request it, gives out 48 page passports for those that attatch a separate form with their app (amazingly it's no additional charge) That's good to know for the happy day when I start traveling extensively.

Yeah, you can do this all by mail as well. Here we have to mail it to Charleston. I guess as expats you always go through the nearest consulate (makes sense!)

And nurse that eye!

# posted by Joe : 7:16 AM  

Hi Auntie !

Wow -- you are courageous.

Renewals can be done by mail. Info is at: http://www.amb-usa.fr/consul/oas_pptamd.htm.

It says that adding pages must be done by mail, unless there are special circumstances.

Adding visa pages to passports - This procedure must be done by mail if you live or are traveling through the Paris or Strasbourg Consular Districts. Please make sure that your passport is in good condition before having pages added to it and follow the instructions below. There is no fee for this service. If you are traveling immediately and you have a travel ticket as proof of imminent departure, your application may be processed in person at the consular section of the embassy.

We've renewed by mail here and it works like a charm, fast (72h) and hassle free, via Chronopost. Truthfully, though, we haven't added pages and so cannot comment on whether the by-mail experience is as painless and efficient.

Why go to the US Consulate when you don't have to ? We learned this years and years ago (> 30), when the gates were always wide open. One could walk right in. Cars were parked in the courtyard between the planter boxes. Even then it was a hassle, however -- and undergoing the lines and suffering the overworked bureaucratic personnel was no fun, either.

Take care of your œil au beurre noire ("black-buttered eye", i.e., a black eye).


# posted by L'Amerloque : 8:45 AM  

Please take care of your eye. I hope it's much better today.

# posted by Oz : 10:07 AM  

Your eye looks incredibly sore. I am sure that the lovely shade of purple it is currently will turn to an even lovelier shade of yellow! You poor thing...

# posted by Melody : 2:10 PM  

Ouch!!! Hope your eye feels better. There is so much anxiety when you think you are going to be late to pick up your kids! Hang in there.

# posted by Anonymous : 5:05 PM  

Boy I hope you the right shade of eyeshadow for the other eye... I would have had a major fit... it sounds like the consulate people have been in France too long... that doesn't sound like the America I know (and love?) well you know what I mean... How annoying.

# posted by Magillicuddy : 6:18 PM  

Sorry, Auntie M. for your misadventure. This brings back to my mind a personal experience that happened well over thirty years ago, something to do with my passport and, forgive me, after so long I have forgotten what it was. We were at the time living in Bretagne, a long drive to Paris. Arriving at the US Embassy, the guard told us the offices were closed because it was Columbus Day. You are not going to believe what happened next. The guard telephoned one of the embassy consular officials. Within an hour that person arrived, apologized for the wait (!) & took care of my passport problem. Since that day, there has always been a soft spot in my heart for US Embassy personnel in Paris.

Frania W.

P.S. Something about your eye could start a new trend in eye make-up.

# posted by Frania W. : 7:18 PM  

Wow-looks nasty! I hope it feels better soon.

# posted by Louise : 8:20 AM  

Next time you are in Marseille you should take advantage of the consulate there. I really have never had such an awful/long experience when dealing with them.
I guess it might have something to do with there being fewer Americans here in the south..they have less to do, shorter lines.

# posted by Sammy : 11:45 AM  

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