Monday, March 13, 2006

The movies are wrong...

What is a U.S. Consulate for? Well, one would think that their prime reason for being is to serve U.S. citizens. I should have known...this happened to us before, in Lima. The U.S. Embassy there is a fortress, and they wouldn't let us in either. But this is Brazil, and the building is downtown, no real security, just lines of Brazilians waiting to get rejected for their tourist visas and weepy tourists who've had their passports stolen.

We arrive at the front of the line at 10:18 on a Monday morning. According to the signs, they have been open since 8:30 am. Passports in hand, we show them to an physically daunting female guard, standing a good six foot and then some, who gives us a bored once-over, and says, in Portuguese, "Do you have an appointment?" An appointment? To get pages put in my passport? To apply for a passport for an American citizen (little Anna)? No, we don't have appointments. They've never been required before. I'm a bit snippy; after all, I'm an American, trying to get into the American consulate. Aren't there countries where people go there just to read English newspapers? I thought I had a free pass in...that's what all the movies show us: Run to front door, announce nationality while waving passport, doors open and you're served coffe and biscuits in the air conditioning...

But not in Rio. And I'm spicy today.
"You mean that we have to make an appointment to enter our own consulate? They have a three-week old baby with them, can't you make an exception?"
"Well, fine. Can you make us an appointment?"
" do we make one?"
"You have to call."
"What's the number?" She gives us the number and we call the consulate, while standing in the hot sun in front of the consulate. The ensuing conversation is immensely amusing: Rich, on my cellphone, in Portuguese: Hi, I want to make an appointment to apply for a passport for an American citizen. Hi, I want to...(she's not getting it)...American citizen...passport...(still getting nowhere). Today, I want an appointment for today. (Switching to English) Look, I am standing outside the building. The guards won't let me in unless I have an appointment. For a passport application. Yes. Thanks." The guard is fuming as we turn to her: "Appointment for 10:30. Oh, that's now." She was furious but scrupulously polite with us...after all, it is her job.

We might have had an appointment for 10:30, but what that meant was we filled out our paperwork and they waited until to noon to tell us that we'd have to come back, because the consulate, as in the person, needed to talk to Rich and Rebecca personally. And by the time that we waited for all the Brazilians to go up to the little window and get rejected, he'd already sneaked out for his lunch.

I wouldn't be upset if they were just doing their jobs. But they're not. For starters, the consulate is only open from 8:30 am to 3:00 pm. Two hours, officially, for lunch, but as we noted today, he left earlier, which means probably two and a half. That leaves a grand total of about 4 hours in their working day. And they take all American AND Brazilian holidays...which means they could theoretically take about fifty vacation days plus the required one month paid vacation under Brazilian law. That's almost four months NOT working. And to top it off, they don't give preference to Americans, which in any other situation I would understand...but it's the AMERICAN CONSULATE!!! Their main job is to help US! And to add insult to injury, there wasn't any toilet paper in the women's bathroom.

I don't feel sorry for the guards anymore. I hope they enjoy standing in the sun with their polyester suits. Grr.

1 comment:

pamela said...

I wish that I could say that this was abnormal for a consulate, but I know it is not. In Jordan, we had an easy time--but my dad worked within the embassy compound, and it was pre-9/11. I remember just walking down to the office to get paperwork. But, since then, my family had a horrible experience in the Dominician Republic--even though my dad is still a USA diplomat. Yeah, he didn't get special treatment, or even appropriate help. I think he ended up calling his union rep. All that to is not just you!