Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Il fait chaud.

I am inside the nightmare that is the French Consulate Visa Section. It's what you get when you mix French culture, American students, a handful of foreign nationals, and the New York population size. That is, a shitshow. The employees, for their part, were much more hospitable than I expected them to be. Everyone I spoke to was pleasant; though perhaps that was because I was one of the few people in there with my shit together.

Even so, my appointment was for 9:30. Not wanting to need to make another by arriving past 9:29, I arrived nearly 20 minutes early. I was promptly turned away.

--What time is your appointment miss? [puzzled look]
---9:30, sir.
--And what time is it now? [staring, condescendingly]
I bring out my phone. It shows 9:13.
---I have to come back then?
--Yes, miss.

There are a couple of things wrong with this. The first being that the visa section of the French consulate is at 10 74th St., between Madison and Fifth Ave. There is nothing within a five block radius of the place that is not another consulate, a private residence, or a doctor's office. The second problem, on my end, were the heels I was wearing. Not a good choice. Someone told me that I should dress up, it would make a good impression, just in case something was not perfect with my application. The problem with that logic was that wearing a suit dress and heels on the hottest day of the summer with 15 minutes to kill on the Upper East Side is basically the equivalent of torture. The closest place to sit (and calm my nerves) would be a coffee shop. The closest one of those would be on Lex., at 71st or 77th, a full 5 blocks away. With nothing else to do and dying for some air conditioning, I started walking. I had been walking about 7 minutes when I spotted the coffee cart on 76th and Lex. I made do with that and started walking back, not wanting to now be too late for my appointment.

It's funny how perspective can change so suddenly. As I was heading back, with the red glove blinking at me across Madison Avenue at 74th Street, I came upon a bench. Just a random bench on the northeast corner of 74th and Mad. And this morning, that bench was a piece of heaven for the 30 seconds I waited for the light to change in my favor. And waiting for the light put me in the perfect position to arrive just as the guard was opening the door for the 10 or so other people with similar appointment times. As I was the last one in, and we had to be checked in a 3x3 foot square before heading through the metal detector, there was no wall space left for me to squeeze into as I walked into the door, meaning I had to stand in the middle of the box of doom, also meaning that I got to walk through the metal detector first, meaning that once we were allowed to pass I was free to walk up the stairs and get in line first. That piece of ridiculous timing probably saved me a good half hour.

Once in line, I proceeded to wait. And wait. And wait...as one by one people were received for application check, photo, and fingerprinting. The waiting area was a bit scattered. There was the line for those to be received, but also room for those whose applications had been received to wait for another person to call them to receive the rest of their documents. That's where things really seemed to go south. No one had every document they asked for. Or they couldn't believe that they had to wait 2 weeks to come back for the stamp, or they couldn't quite speak English or French well enough. So after finally being scanned and fingerprinted and strip-searched (j/k about that one) and charged $70 for the privilege, I was told to go wait in the waiting area to be called for the remainder of my documents. I miraculously found a seat and prepared for another eon of waiting.

To my surprise, I was called up just five minutes later. Obviously noticing that the line was getting longer as more people filed in for their 10:30 appointments behind some of the 9:30's that still hadn't been helped, people were beginning to be called up three at a time. I got lumped in with a girl that I had previously seen waiting for at least a half hour, yet who didn't seem to notice when her name was finally called and never showed at the window, as well as with an Algerian girl who clearly didn't speak English, but did not seem too excited to speak French, either. She mostly stared in disbelief as the woman asked her for various documents that she did not have. My own process went rather smoothly--I had all of the required documents, and copies of them, and was handed a receipt that told me to come back in 10 days to finalize the process. I will most definitely be showing up at 8:59 in comfortable shoes and a breathable dress. Insanity.

Two hours later, the poor Algerian girl is probably still there.

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