As I told you last week, I was at the American consulate at the time my post went online (I always write those on Monday night). It was quite the adventure. The whole thing was to consist of an interview, and my appointment was scheduled at 1.30. As the consulate is located at a very nice location in Amsterdam, I wondered about the sunny square for an hour. At 1.15, I thought it would be a convenient time to check in at the consulate. Arriving a few minutes early is always better than a few minutes late and I’d probably need to find my way around the building anyway.
I wasn’t the first. In fact, the building opens at 1.30, so a line of people more punctual than me (or rather just trying hard; arriving more than 15 minutes early isn’t punctual, but reversed late and just as sloppy) was crowding the front door. Dutch lines aren’t as strict as American queues. The concept is simple: you arrive at any place where there’s waiting involved, you casually look around to see who was there before you and then you find somewhere to hang out and spot others do the same. They would have none of those Dutch shenanigans; an American consulate should have an American line. A security guard came outside and started yelling at everybody that they’d have to form a neat line, one after the other, around the building. I ended up just around the corner, only to hear the man give instructions to the people in the front of the line. Of course, my new location, where the man just put me, disabled me to hear the instructions, so with one foot in the line and my head peeking around the corner, I tried to understand what the man was angrily yelling. I couldn’t really hear what he was saying, but I dit get that anyone with a 1.30 appointment and no electronic appointment could come forward. As my appointment was on paper (I actually had to bring a sheet of paper to prove I had an appointment), I rushed to the front of the line. ‘Do you have an appointment at 1.30?’ I showed him the sheet of paper. ‘Do you have any electronic equipment with you, like a phone, laptop or anything else?’ -‘I do have a phone.’ He frowned. ‘Get to the end of the line. No electronic equipment allowed. We’ll call you in when everyone else has had their appointment. Will probably take about three hours.’
Because of the delay in opening the building, my place in the queue and the hassle with the security man, it was 1.35 already. I was already five minutes late for an appointment that could change the course of my life, and worst of all, it was my own fault. I had been absolutely anal through the whole process of applying; I triple checked every stupid form, I had seperate envelopes for seperate stages in the upcoming interview with even additional information and I had passport pictures retaken because the lady at the photo place couldn’t convince me they were America-approved. I had heard rumors of not being allowed to bring your phone inside, but there was nothing about it in the instructions they sent me (and it was almost at the level where they explain how to tie your shoe laces), so I figured they had abandoned the stupid rule. If I had only double checked, I wouldn’t have put my future in doubt. Maybe I had to make a new appointment and miss my own wedding…
After hardly a minute of worst-case scenarios that unfolded in my head, my determination came back. Surely, there must be somewhere to put my phone. If all else would fail, I’d take out the SIM card and throw the phone away (it’s a Samsung Galaxy Y, sort of a ‘my first Sony cellphone’). I wasn’t the only sucker that missed the stupid rule; heck, I wasn’t even the only one today. Around me, three or four others had gathered that missed some of the strict regulations (and one of them his passport, not so strict). I knew I wasn’t going to be one of them, surely not with the self pity they started to display amongst each other, telling how ‘It’s a stupid rule anyway, maybe I don’t even want to move to the States anymore.’ or ‘How was I to know to bring a sheet of paper that is marked ‘bring this very important sheet of paper with you?’. Or course, the dude that forgot his passport was silent.
I ran to a cafe at the corner and explained the situation. I was halfway through my explanation and the barista started to laugh. ‘Sure, that happens all the time. Just write down your name and you can pick up your stuff after you’re done.’ I walked back to the line, was allowed inside and walked through the screening process. Then, I was ordered to move up to window number five, where I arrived at 1.45. Nobody was sitting there. Sure enough, people were bored out of their mind at windows six and seven, but I was just looking at an empty chair. Finally, a nice girl came out and started asking for my documents, which I had organized in order in one envelope, she went on circling answers on papers and stapling other things together. She stamped a few things as a final act and told me to wait until my name was called for the final interview. I sat down and went through the imagined interview in my head. Two men were sitting behind a table and making sure I wasn’t a terrorist, Mexican immigrant or secretly out to marry a dude (it was well before DOMA was repealed).
Actually, the interview took place at window number six. It felt like a comedy bit, as bureaucratic situations often do. He looked for my file, while sitting within three feet of the girl who just wrapped it up, opened it with a serious look, and said, ‘Raise your hand and swear that you are Bas Boshuizen and everything in here is the truth.’ I still don’t know whether he was joking or not. I was scanning his face for a smile, but his facial expressions perfectly reflected the joy of sitting behind window number six all day. A few silent seconds went by and still unsure whether to laugh it off or not, I slowly raised my right hand and promised the good man I wasn’t a crook. Halfway through, he lost interest in my pledge and flipped through the pages of my file. ‘So you’re about to marry miss Missouri?’ His pronounciation was off. I agreed with his statement and corrected him, but made a mistake myself. Then I corrected myself again. This was going swell, not knowing how to say my fiancee’s name and all. He didn’t care, but asked how we met. As I told him, he kept fipping through the pages. ‘What’s your wedding date?’ I told him our date. ‘Well, thank you very much, you can expect your passport and visa in the mail somewhere this week.’ Within ten minutes, I was outside, heading for my celebratory beer in the cafe that had supported me through my tough trials.