Wednesday 28 April 2010

In which we fulfill an obligation

We took another small step forwards in our preparations for our RTW, which we hope to start in the US in May 2011. We applied for Antonia's American passport, since that's what you needs to get into the country for six months if your father is a US citizen. We already spent a good bit of last week on the phone, figuring out how to do this without going to London or Paris, then trying to get the various papers together. Mike had to prove his presence in the US using his high school report cards, which is comical, but who keeps their payslips for 20 years? And he couldn't find his college transcript, and I had to translate our wedding certificate into English, and so on.

The day of our passport quest started off pretty rough, because we slept very badly last night with lots of interruptions due to different bedtimes, hayfever discomfort, computers and telephones. Uuugh! Finally I made Mike a coffee so strong that I couldn't drink it myself, then drove the hour and a half to Lyon in our tiny blue beetle of a Peugeot 107. We used our GPS to find the APP (American Presence Post) which is hidden very discreetly in an apartment building facing the river. A discreet, but not dingy, apartment building, rather large and smart in fact, in an older French urban style with wood floors and white panelled walls and plaster decorations. It's kind of strange to see such a French place dressed up with Americana inside, but as it turns out, they do the same with the staff as well. We were greeted by a French security guard who told us in excellent American that he needed to take a long list of objects off us and keep them at the door. He had been trained to say 'Sir' and 'Ma'am' to people at the end of every sentence. I had been bemoaning to Mike the fact that I was going to have to get used to being called 'Ma'am', and here I was, getting my chance to practice. More uuugh! The lady who explains to people that they're going to have to fill their forms out again because of a minor crossing out or trivial error also speaks excellent American with a slightly French accent.

Now for the waiting room: it contained a bunch of sofas and chairs and other furniture in that peculiar American style that seems to be associated over there with 'tone' and over here with 'something your granny would have had'. All over-soft leather upholstery with big brass studs everywhere. Then there were the American lampstands that you just can't get here plugged in via adaptors. They were almost identical to the ones Mike hauled over and they had the actual identical lampshades that we have. These ones were not quite as dirty as ours, but they were heading that way. The problem is that you can only clean them so much, and you can't replace them over here because European lampshades don't fit American lampfittings. I wonder why they bother importing lights? They must be standard issue or something, like the little arrangement of the US flag, the consular flag and the photos in the middle of Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Hilary Clinton. A consular flag, by the way, looks a tiny bit like a European flag from a distance, except that it has 13 silver stars and the letter C in the middle. I looked on the Internet this evening and discovered there's actually a rule about putting it in the waiting room of a consulate where we can see it, so it's a bit odd that the consul seemed so phased when we asked him what it was.

The lighter touch to the room was provided by a lifesize cardboard pop-up of an American footballer and some cheaply framed posters of places like Maine and Seattle. As you can probably guess, they went with the old-fashioned furniture like marshmallows with lobster bisque. Then, in case you happened to be an American looking for something to do in Lyon, there were a very small number of leaflets, two of which were of a disturbingly religious character. Disturbing to a European, that is. Probably just what you expect if you're American.

There's probably another procedural rule that says the consul has to watch you sign things as a formality, because he seemed not quite with us in spirit when he came in. Probably we were distracting him from preparing his next speech on 'The American Way Carefully Explained to Europeans'. Really, truly, I looked him up on the Internet also, making speeches along those lines seems to be how he spends his time! Anyway, Mike tried to come over all American with him and ask him questions about flags and becoming a consul. This usually works on his compatriots, but not with this fellow. The only sign of life he gave was to ask us why it had taken us so long to register our daughter's birth and apply for her passport. We neglected to tell him that we had spent some eight years trying to figure out whether it was a privilege or an obligation, and had only now come to realise that it was an obligation which we are supposed to act privileged to perform. Personally, I am just hoping that it will a) be worth it, and b) not something we come to regret, because the cost of all these 'privileges' starts to add up. By my calculations, the cost of maintaining passports in 3 nationalities for Antonia will be well over 100 dollars a year, averaged out. And my visa will cost as much as her passport, but I'm saving that adventure for sometime after July.


Oh yes, I forgot, there are also lots of signs in the APP waiting room reminding Americans abroad to vote. I shouldn't forget this because it's something Mike has a bee in his bonnet about as well. And voting is a very good plan of course.

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