I had a spring in my step even before coffee this morning, because today was Visa Day. We had received word that our visas were ready to pick up at the Dutch Consulate in New York, and all we had to do was show up with ID between the hours of 9 and 12:30.
Sound too simple? Yeah.
When we arrived at the office (which is in Rockefeller Center), the receptionist promptly gave us some forms and told us to go two blocks over and get our photos taken (highway robbery–$30 for the tiny little visa pics!). So we trooped over to the photo center, filled out the forms, came back, and got a number to wait for one of two windows where employees were processing visa and passport requests. We quickly ascertained that this was about the slowest process going, even before the girl sitting next to me mentioned that in the past hour they’d gotten through four numbers. So we settled in for a long summer’s nap, but it was hard not to be 1. impatient and 2. apprehensive. Every person who actually made it up to the window seemed to be told they were missing something: The poor girl next to us was told the form she’d printed online was out of date. Try again. One woman needed proof of employment—specifically, a paystub. (Cleverly, she offered to show her online bank statement on her iPhone, but they didn’t take it.) Another woman needed proof of her address—did she have a utility bill with her? No. No, she did not, because who carries around a utility bill?
On and on these conversations went, in Dutch and English. All of these people who thought they were well prepared, carrying files of paperwork, caught off guard by one sneaky thing they didn’t know they needed. The only way to find out if you were missing some vital piece of paper was to wait two hours for your turn to get rejected… or so it seemed to me.
I had a lot of time to consider how an American passport is a good thing. Several of the (non-US citizen) people in the room with us were applying for visas just so they could visit Amsterdam as tourists for two or three days! They had to produce incredible amounts of paperwork showing insurance, residency, their travel arrangements… I was truly surprised. I wondered if I would travel so frequently if every time I wanted to go to another country I had to fight the Battle of the Consulate. It would be a strong deterrent. All these past years at Harvard we’ve listened to our international friends lament their visa woes, when they can and can’t leave the country, what the process was back home… I have a whole new respect for them.
Finally, we were called to the window with fear and trembling. I was so nervous, wondering if we’d wasted the morning sitting there, wondering if they were going to say our visas wouldn’t be ready for another month, or if we were rejected entirely because our utility bills come to the nonexistent person “Timothy Plosser.”
None of this happened. Things went rather smoothly, and our visas are indeed close to ready… and now that we’ve been there in person and dropped off the little photos and the remaining form, they’ll be mailed to us within a week (GROAN). But I believe the nice Dutch lady who helped us, and so in my mind, it’s on: we leave in two weeks!
Which reminds me: some of you (you know who you are) have been asking on my Facebook if I am still in America. I would like to address this by saying: yes.