Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Get in Line

Yesterday we went to the American Embassy in London to renew M's passport. Despite a seemingly organized process which requires you to book an appointment in advance, we spent over an hour standing in the pouring rain, waiting to get through security.

I'd like to think that this was some indication of how top-notch secure the building was, but I'm pretty sure that inefficiency was to blame. They were only letting one family (or person) in at a time, and there was no one explaining what they wanted us to do (take out all our electronics, put them in plastic bags and check them all in, to be picked up on leaving.) So you end up fumbling around in the base of your purse for that USB key you forgot you had while 25 people standing out in the rain glare at you.

They should make it like airport security, because at this stage we all know what to expect. Shoes off. Coat off. Bulky sweater off. Laptop out. Belt, earrings, necklace, and watch off. Liquids in bags on top. Frankly, by the time I'm anywhere near the scanners, I'm half naked and waving my passport and boarding pass at anyone who glances my way. Even O and M know the drill. Last time we were traveling, M got really mad because they weren't making her take her shoes off. Like "What is the deal with these people? Don't they know it's AIRPORT SECURITY? These Crocs need to be SCANNED!"

As you wait outside, miserable and freezing cold (it's the English "summer", so about 62 degrees and raining. Come visit!) you end up watching all the newcomers try to go directly in through security. See, everyone there has an "appointment" for a certain "time" so we all arrive thinking that the huge line we are seeing could not possibly be meant for us. How could it? We are Americans with Appointments! I need to be inside at 8:30! Those other suckers should have read the website.

So you glance around, looking at your dripping Appointment paper and head straight for the security team or the wet dude with hunched shoulders and folder in a plastic bag information desk and explain that you need to go inside to renew your passport or whatever.

American: I'm an American. I have an Appointment
Wet Official: You're going to need to stand in that line there.
A: But I have an Appointment. For 8:30.
WO: Yeah. You need to get in line.
A: But it says 8:30 right here. Do you see that smudge?
WO: Mmhmm. Still, you'll have to wait.
A: Are you sure? Because I have an APPOINTMENT.
WO: Yes, you need to wait.
A: Shoulders slump. Heads for line.

Sometimes, people will go through this song and dance two or three times. They keep leaving the line to check on their Appointments while the rest of us stand there and glare angrily at the couple in security who brought their stroller loaded with enough stuff to camp out for a week. (I was being smug because we left O home with a babysitter. Had he been with us, it would have been me leaving the line. "Seriously, you better let me through for my Appointment or else I'm leaving this wet and screaming two-year-old at security with you.")

I think it's that, generally speaking, Americans don't like to assume that the line is for them, and we will verify that we really do have to wait before grudgingly and complainingly joining it. (As compared to the the Brits, who will cheerfully stand in any queue they see. Look, a queue! Jolly good. Pity about the rain but mustn't grumble! After all, I think I see a bit of blue up there! (pointing at a storm cloud.) It's charming.)

All in all, we were outside for a little over an hour. It wasn't so, so terrible, because we amused ourselves with the Expat Umbrella Game while we waited. No joke, pretty much every single person in line was holding an umbrella with a company or school logo on it. Like "Welcome to your new job in England. Here is your umbrella. You're going to need it." And they were right.

Now we are waiting on M's new passport, and I'm only going to have to go through this fun process a couple more times this year when I renew my own passport and get my residency visa. Next time, I'll be sure to head straight for the line.

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