Land of the Free

April 10th, 2009

This week, I went to the American Embassy for a new visa.

The only way to book an appointment is to call a premium rate number – £1.10 per minute. For some reason, they kept me holding on. When the information pack arrived, the letter didn’t include directions so I spent a further fifteen quid on the phone finding out which tube station to head for.

The visa photo had to be 2 mm wider than a standard passport photo and was only available through their own recommended photographers – another £10.

I paid £60 in advance for the application and had to present my receipt to get into the building.

Every day, 650 people go through this process. Upon arrival, I was told to expect a 4 hour wait.

I was kept in an airless room. My mobile phone had to be switched off and the laptop I had brought along to pass the time was taken from me at one of the security points.

Once inside, I handed my forms in, took a ticket – number 376 – and was told to expect a four hour wait. Seconds later, they called number 104. I took a seat. To add a little excitement to the procedure, they don’t call the numbers in strict numerical order. Consequently, I didn’t even dare read a book for fear of missing my turn.

I don’t know what they did with my paperwork but, when ‘376’ was finally called, the only question they offered was, ‘What’s your favourite joke?’ I said, ‘Ask me an easier question.’

After my ‘interview’ I joined another line for the courier service – another £9.50 + 30 minute wait – to have my passport and visa returned to me on a motorbike.

I left the building and took out my wallet to pay the ‘exit fee.’ There wasn’t one. Someone’s missing a trick.