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Friday, July 09, 2004

Adventures at the 'Horror Consulate'

I’ve been dreading today. We’d already put ‘it’ off once (on the flimsiest of excuses)… but finally the day had arrived when we had to face the music.

Today was the day that we had to visit the American Consulate in East Jerusalem to register Yonah’s birth, and apply for his social security card and American passport (he already has an Israeli passport).

Since moving here, we have been warned by numoreous people about what an unpleasant experience a trip to the U.S. consulate can be.

For those of you who are not ex-pats in their child-bearing years, let me clue you into a little secret: Having children abroad entails a lot more paperwork than having them back in the states. Provided, of course, that you want your kid to have U.S. citizenship, you must register the birth with the American consulate or embassy.

To do this you need to have copies of both the parent’s birth certificates (certified by a State Department Apostille stamp), the parent’s marriage certificate (also Apostille certified), both of the parent’s American passports, a small mound of forms listing everybody’s particulars (but worded slightly differently on each form), and of course the baby’s birth certificate (preferably with a translation, or else you will be asked to fill out still more forms attesting to the particulars of the unintelligible document).

Also, just so you really appreciate the whole experience, the petitioners are obliged to pay a couple of hundred bucks in fees.

Although we were among the first on line in front of the consulate (yes, the line begins to form about an hour before the consulate opens for business), two things immediately put me on edge.

First, since the consulate sits in an entirely Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem known for periodic attacks agains Jews (right near the Damascas gate of the old city), I kept instinctively touching the place where the reassuring bulk of my pistol usually resides. I say ‘usually’ because guns are not allowed at the consulate. Entering the U.S. consulate makes airline security look like a couple of frat boys checking hand stamps at a keg party. So, despite having to go to one of the more dangerous parts of town… I had to leave my gun at home in the safe.

Second, as we arrived, I saw that there were two lines in front of the door, with security personnel shepherding people into one or the other. I’m way too young to have any first hand experience with the concept of ‘Selectzia’ (a selection process performed by the Nazis during the holocaust), but perhaps I’ve read enough that I instinctively blanched at the idea of a guard looking at my papers and herding me into a line… all based on my nationality.

I guess all the stories about the ‘horror consulate’ had made me hypersensitive, because it turns out that the two lines were actually two parts of the same line… the first being the line to state your business and get your forms / number, and the second to actually wait for the guards to invite you into the building. It was all quite sensible and orderly, and I observed that the two-line system also allowed a well-dispersed crowd of security personnel ample opportunity to look people over.

Once inside, there are two separate security checks, complete with X-ray baggage screening, and another extended opportunity for security personnel to ask you a few questions… but surprisingly, everyone was very polite and helpful.

Next, we waited in a waiting room for all of about five minutes before our number was called. A cheery young woman from Texas took all our forms and documents (complimenting us for having everything all filled out) and quickly took care of everything. There was a tense moment when she asked if we had a photocopy of one of our documents (we didn't). Silence seemed to fall suddenly over the waiting room...and the wall clock seemed to tick loudly among the turned faces... but the tension quickly passed when she offered to make the copy for us! OK, maybe I'm making up the part about the silence and the stares. :-)

In less than an hour from start to finish, we were out on the sidewalk, blinking in the bright Jerusalem morning sunshine!

I guess the lesson to be learned here is to NEVER listen to people’s horror stories about bureaucracy. Almost without exception, every time we have had to deal with any kind of bureaucracy here, it has gone far smoother than people originally led us to expect. I’m sure part of it is that we always go out of our way to be polite and not try to outsmart the system. We also are usually very prepared, paperwork-wise (the photocopy incident not withstanding). But on some level, I imagine it is a lot more fun from the point-of-view of the bureaucrat, to give people what they came for and send them away happy.

The Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles could stand to take a lesson from the ‘horror consulate’.

Anyway, I have chicken to grill, and a promised game of catch with the big kids...so Shabbat Shalom!

Posted by David Bogner on July 9, 2004 | Permalink

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Nice bait and switch with the headline there! I'm actually glad to hear that our representation overseas is right in at least *one* place. :)

The California DMV is ages behind the consolate as well.

Posted by: Jim | Jul 9, 2004 6:44:08 PM

You always hear the nightmare stories and never about when things go ahead as planned. Even Misrad Hapnim isn't as bad as it use to be....
Gilly

Posted by: gil | Jul 10, 2004 10:26:49 PM

The trip to Tel Aviv isn't much fun either, though it has gotten better over the years. When we went to get our kids passports renewed before our big trip to Disneyworld, the civil servant (sic!) even cracked a smile at our sons' pointy locks.

Posted by: jennifer | Jul 10, 2004 11:41:06 PM

we went to tel-aviv - the consulate is across the street from the beach! we've gone enough times to know that in case we were sent back for missing one form or another at least we could get some wave-jumping in, so it is not a total loss.

side note - our daughter was born in "west jerusalem" therefore not officially controversial, but the state department refuses to type in "Israel" for the country of birth on either the US passport or the "Birth of US Citizen in a Foreign Land" document. how nice - so it is just blank.

Posted by: yonah | Jul 11, 2004 12:42:43 AM

Jeniffer:

Poiny locks? Forgive me for asking, but what does that mean? Dread locks, side locks, a mohawk perhaps??? Now I'm really curious.

Jim:

Yes, I'm shameless about using whatever means necessary to trick you into reading my drivel...and yes, these are your tax dollars hard at work... :-)

Gili:

I'm not ready to start patting the Misrad HaPnim on the back just yet. They still manage to keep that air of the old Israeli socialist days alive. You still need to bring a book to the waiting room...Just maybe not 'War & Peace'. If that's what you mean by improvement, then OK.

Yonah:

Oh man... I am so gonna sue somebody if our documents don't say 'Israel' on them! I thought they had stopped that stupidity.

I shouldn't be shocked... I mean, no matter how pro-Israel the U.S. administration may be, the state department is always going to be pro-arab. Always has been...always will be.

Oh well, I'm not going to get upset about this until the documents arrive.

Posted by: David | Jul 11, 2004 1:05:48 AM

Pointy, as in spikey hair, courtesy of massive amounts of hair gel/wax, etc. Our youngest still sports this hairstyle, while, for obvious reasons, our sailor can't quite get the height on those spikes as he used to. :->

Posted by: jennifer | Jul 11, 2004 11:23:19 AM

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