A while back I whinged about the UK passport service. Today, thanks to my daughter, I experienced the American version. It seems that rubbish passport services are not a uniquely British phenomenon. Months ago my American wife made an “appointment” for 2.15pm for us to go to the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square to sort out a US passport for our new daughter. She already has a British one delivered relatively painlessly through the mail, although with the drawback that you have to send of your documents off for some weeks.
The so-called appointment turned out to be three hours of queuing and waiting around in their Soviet-style waiting room. Finished in 1960 the embassy really does have that 1950s state architecture look. We arrived half an hour early and queued to get through security and then we queued to get a number so that we could wait around. Only it transpired that our photo was a British passport photo and therefore too small for an American passport application. They need a 2″ x 2″ photo. The lady did helpfully point out that there was a handy chemist shop in North Audley Street that would sort things out. So, whilst my wife queued to pay $150, I ran out to the chemists. This was the best part of the experience.
Two very friendly and polite South Asian guys got out a baby chair and white cloth to make a makeshift photo booth. They had an expensive looking digital camera and conferred over a couple of shots before they pronounced themselves happy. For the excellent price of £7.50 I got a quick, efficient and friendly service. These guys should be running the embassy.
Back at the embassy, the queues had all melted away. It seems they don’t really run an appointment system it is either AM or PM. Everyone comes in a rush at the start of the session and that is the batch of work for the morning or afternoon. It boggles my mind that they make whole families go through this rigmarole. The waiting room was full of unhappy families, some with crying toddlers, others with tiny babies who had obviously been conned by the talk of an appointment. You wouldn’t choose to make a newborn baby wait around for 3 hours. For us it was two wasted half days out of work plus a £100 bill (as well as everything else you need to pay £16 to use their courier service). The only blessing was that the baby didn’t melt down on us.