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Oh say can you see

Yesterday I had to go to the US Consulate, something I’ve managed to avoid in all the years I’ve been in and out of Mexico. I needed a document notarized for the US and they offer the service – for a fee of course. Not cheap, it was $50us for one seal and signature.

It’s not an attractive building, more like a 1950′s nuclear safe house. You can’t just drop by either, you have to have an appointment which you make on line. We showed up with our US passports, our printed copy of a confirmed appointment along with the appointment password.

There were quite a few people waiting out in front, they appeared to be trying to get a visa to visit the US. At our appointed time we were let in the first of the secured doors. Inside it was a TSA set up with xrays and walk through booths and armed guards. They gave us wooden file holders for our cell phones (not allowed), gum (where are we, Singapore?) and anything else forbidden. Mimi hadn’t planned on coming and she had her pack with all sorts of stuff in it, it took quite a while for them to go through it all. The woman behind us said that Mexican nationals were not allowed to bring anything into the building, not even keys. We felt suitably honored that they were willing to root through our junk, I guess that is one of the privileges of being a citizen.

Then you walk through another bunker like room, get your appointment letter checked again, and are allowed into the …waiting room! Yes, all that to get to a big room full of plastic chairs and numbers for who is being served like at the DMV. Then you sit and you wait. After about 15 minutes I was really ticked off that they took my nicorette gum. I started walking around and reading all the signs posted on the walls. Most of them were price lists, they charge for everything, even answering the phone, and sometimes they get 3 or 4 hundred dollars an hour for it. I think I made them nervous but I was not feeling the love.

After an hour, we spoke to the first native english speaker we’d seen and she took our credit card, and moved us to another line at the next booth. In all of our time there, the only native English speakers I saw were behind bullet proof glass. The visa interview process was quick for some, longer for others. They wanted to see everyone going on the trip, so there were whole families sitting around waiting for a young kid who looked like a mormon missionary to talk to them through bullet proof glass. Charming. The only personal touch I saw were a line of rubber ducks sitting on a desk behind the glass at the notary window. I wish I’d been waited on by that person, I tried to comment on them to the women waiting on me and she scowled and wouldn’t answer. I guess I should stop bitching about the place, I have to go back next year to renew my passport. I don’t want to be on the ‘do not fly’ list.

11 comments to Oh say can you see

  • I have encountered plenty of bureaucratic nonsense in several foreign countries, but my experience with American consulates and embassies makes me wonder why anyone allows that type of dehumanizing face to represent a country I happen to love. On the other hand, I have also been subjected to the vagaries of the British civil service. Given the choice, I will wait in line for the American variety.

  • Agree with Steve’s experience. You would think these people would have a more pleasant work experience by operating cheerfully throughout their day – but NO! They collectively seem to be a bunch of sourpusses. How very sad for them.

  • kathy

    yeah, but they can get stuff done there. When my mom was in the ICU, within 4 hours I had my passport. We left here, drove over there, were at the embassy at 7ish, they gave us exact directions to get photos at Walmart, headed back with photos and within an hour I had a passport and was able to fly to the US to see my mom (who recovered excellently). So they can do that much. :) We’re currently in the process of getting all the kids’ passports renewed – did you know we had to provide a picture of each kid for every year since they got their passports? yikes!

  • Sure am glad you’re back. I was really worried about you.

  • Vallarta was nothing like that but that was three years ago I renewed my passport. No appointments, small office in shopping center and friendly.

    Things do change but I hope not much here.

  • Jan Baines

    It is soooo good to “hear” your caustic wit again.

  • Kathe

    “Well, sweetheart. You have been missed. You’ve been missed dearly.”

    ― Suzanne Young, A Want So Wicked

  • I too was struck by the bunker mentality at the consulate. I remember visiting the Mexican consulate in Denver when I got my first FM3. The doors were open, the guard (1) was pleasantly giving people directions to the correct room, everyone was friendly and outgoing. And many of the people there spoke English. Here, you need to know Spanish to get past the first guard. What about tourists, are they expected to know Spanish? How does a tourist with an emergency get an appointment? Or even know to get an appointment. I strongly believe that they put on a bad face for the US.

  • bj

    I’m much in agreement with Steve Cotton.

    In 2010 while in the Xalapa area, I had to go to the US embassy in Mexico City, which was the nearest, to replace my lost US passport.

    An American expat friend who applied for her “replacement” passport there, urged me to ignore the “appointment” requirement and take my chances, and just show up at the Reforma location before 8:30 AM on a weeday with the “filled out” online lost passport form, copies of identifying documents, and the required cash.

    Since I wanted to spend a few days there anyway, I decided to try her suggestion before scheduling an appointment.

    Sure enough, she was “right.” It was easy and painless, but that may have been sheer luck.

    I got to the embassy gate about 8:15AM and left two hours later, with a paid receipt for delivery of my new passport to Xalapa. This even included getting the required passport photos within the embassy building.

    When I arrived curbside, I got in a short line outside the main gate, and was asked by an embassy employee, if I had an appointment. I told him, “No” and in Spanish told him the purpose of my visit and quickly showed him my ID and folder of documents. Then he simply “checked” my camera and directed me to the nearby security check point. Following that, I had one short “seated” wait in order of arrival, to see a “screener” who directed me to the proper office.

    Once in that office, I had a short wait before being called to turn over my documents to someone, who reviewed them quickly, then told me that I would be called soon, and sure enough, I was. Most of the others present in the waiting area seemed to be continually filling out forms and had longer waits.

    Even though my expericence may be the exception to the rule, I felt that my business was handled quickly and efficiently by agreeable people. Having all of the anticipated supporting documents already “filled out” and copied may have helped.

    This may not be the case now. Perhaps all of the embassy employees are directed to enforce the “seen by appointment only” rule.

    Regardless, the lesson that I learned was to take better care of my passport and that sometimes bureaucracies may surprise us.

  • Elvira

    On July 31st we visited the US Consulate office w/o an appointment, my husband’s backpack was stolen with his laptop & passport in it. The guard was persistent that we can not go in w/o an appt but we were not turning away since we had to come back the next day! So they let my husband in-not me, he was sent to the Walmart for pics & was told to return @4pm, he return at @3pm and temporary passport was ready for $135, was told to apply for a permanent at no cost? We’ll see. Everything said about the place is correct. I rather deal with “coldness” than tge plain ineptitude we got from the Ministerio Publico-took almost 4hrs to extend a declaration of the theft report.

  • Mary Burrell

    Oh Joy,, you are back, I have been so worried and kept thinking that surely someone would inform us, possibly Henry, if something was terribly wrong. I emailed Mimi ages ago and when she didn’t reply I knew things must be worse than I could have imagined, of course I tend to go right to the worst scenerio. So I kept checking your blog and thankfully you are alive and seem to be doing well. The last time I saw you was when we had the 6 hr lunch at Bruno’s and that was about the last time you blogged. Love you Jonna and when we return another long lunch is in store. Love Mary and John Burrell