Monday, 15 October 2007


It could be to do with my advancing years (I'll be 50 on the 20th of this month if anyone wants to congratulate, commiserate or just pop round for a caña*), or maybe I've just got used to it after more than ten years in the Middle East, but pointless bureaucracy doesn't drive me nuts like it used to. However, I had an experience a few weeks ago that left me wanting to strangle somebody. And it wasn't them greasy wops either, it was the Brits.

Shortly after we arrived in Madrid, BetterArf had the misfortune to have her bag stolen. A bit like Hermione Granger's bag in the Deathly Hallows, it contained everything a sensible lady could ever want or need; money, camera, toyboy, memory stick, mobile phone, British Passport. Because BetterArf is at work during the pitifully small number of hours that the British Consulate deigns to open its doors to the public, I was delegated to submit the application for a new passport.

Now, I don't know if other countries do this, but Britain requires that you submit 2 photographs, one of which is countersigned on the back by someone who has known you for at least two years. And not just anyone - it cannot be a relative, and it has to be a 'professional' person (not to be confused with a 'professional person') - something like a lawyer or a bank manager or a Justice of the Peace. And it must have a valid UK passport.

Well, we know very few people in Spain, and certainly nobody here has known us for more than a couple of months. So BetterArf got the Director of the language school where she works to countersign, and wrote a note on the form explaining the circumstances.

Earlie one morning, I show up at the Consulate, which is on the fourth floor of a very dismal office block. There is a straggly queue almost bursting out of the door. I stand in this for a bit, and then an armed security guard with a list starts going down the line, checking people off the list. It seems they all have appointments. Bugger! She got to me, and of course she spikka no Ingless. After a while she calls her colleague over. He speaks a little English, realises I'm not trying to claim political asylum in the UK and sends me through the X-ray machine and lets me in.

When I get to the counter I present the sheaf of documents that BetterArf has given me. The youth peruses them, and spots that the counter-signatory says she has only known BetterArf for a couple of months. He says this is no good, we will have to get it signed by someone in Dubai or the UK. I protest - this will take ages to do and she needs a passport so she can get paid and pay tax and be legal etc. Foolishly, I suggest that we'll complete another form, and lie about the length of time the countersignatory has known BetterArf.

'We do check, you know.' He says. 'We don't give British passports to just anybody.'
I'm kind of offended by this; they don't 'give' passports to anybody at all - we pay twice what anyone else in Europe has to pay, and in my experience no countersignatory has ever been contacted.

'Hmm', says the counter person, 'does your wife have a bank account in Spain?'
'Yes, she does.'
'Then get the Bank Manager to sign it.' I can't help it. I snigger.
'You're laughing? Why are you laughing, I'm trying to help you and you're laughing.' Get a grip Keefie.
'I'm sorry, it's what I do. But I am amused by the idea that you will trust the word of a bank manager who I guarantee has never set eyes upon my wife.' I don't add that the bank manager will certainly not be a British passport holder, and decide not to embark on an exposition of the general untrustworthiness of banks (in my cynical head).

'I'll go and check.' He says. He goes. He comes back. He checks on the computer. BetterArf is there; all the details from her previous passport application in Dubai.

'Right. That'll probably be ok. Give me your credit card.'
'Don't have one, got cash.'
'We prefer credit cards.'
'Yes, but I don't have one, I've got actual cash money.'
'Hmmm. Ok. Come back in a fortnight.

*small beer


Alexander said...

'ello son.

Nice to see yer back online.

British Embassy. Love 'em. Try watching your Arab colleagues trying to get visas to yomp over to Blighty on their hols.

Or as one said after two weeks of messing about: "Kuss ucht l'el Inglez"

Which was pithy...

Jin said...

Hubs' British passport is full & we're off to Muscat next month, so he decided to apply for a new one, even tho the current one is valid for another year or so. He filled out the form, got his 2 pics & trundled off the the Embassy here in Abu Dhabi. 7 days later, he has his new passport!! Is this a record methinks?? No hassles/problem/aggro etc etc. I think he was actually depressed cos he didn't have to put up a fight or get snotty with anyone!

Anonymous said...

Heheh.. that's funny. The British embassy sounds no different than the Sudanese embassy -- which should be very very very very scary. The Brits ruled Sudan till '56.

Although, admittedly, since we don't have credit cards in Sudan yet, cash is the only means of payment for anything.

Too funny though :)

BuJ said...

what bastards! they refused CASH? what idiots.. sorry man.. but at least it's refreshing to see that they are bastards to Brits as well as Arabs.. i just don't like the system.. any system.. although i have to admit whenever i made any application to the british embassy in dubai they always treated me with the utmost respect.. and i was never armed.

wait.. did u develop an arabic accent while in dubai? maybe that slowed down your application.

i*maginate said...

"I've got actual cash money"


I should use this term where I am now.

It works in the betrol stashuns.

Cairogal said...

My father and aunt came to visit me when I lived in Madrid (actually, I lived in Aranjuez-nice day trip if you haven't gone already) and were robbed w/in hours at Plaza de Espana. My aunt,the one who had lived in Barcelona, as well as various Northern European countries, lost, cash, travelers cheques, receipts for said cheques, camera, credit cards, PASSPORT...Anyway, the best part of the experience was the American embassy. My father just had to sign something that said he knew this woman had previously owned a passport, "We're so sorry this has happened to you", have a nice day. That said, it was pre 9/11.