10 July 2012

Happy belated fourth

Eloi's American passport and "consular report of birth abroad" (his American birth certificate) came in the mail today. This is remarkable because we only applied for it one week ago. Two days after we filed the application I got an email saying it was ready. And we didn't have to pay any expediting fees.

This is why I love America. And this: 

The morning of our big excursion to Brussels to the embassy, I realized that the paperwork for birth certificate, passport, and social security number involved a little bit more than I had thought. I needed, among other things, a non-standard-size passport photo, proof that I had lived in the US for more than five years (transcripts, tax statements, etc.), a translation of the Belgian birth certificate, a list of everywhere I had ever lived in my whole life, an affadavit about Eloi's last name not matching the Belgian birth certificate (the Belgians had to follow the Spanish naming standard using both parents' last names but we want him to just have M's), and an envelope with a registered mail stamp. 

The proof of US residency was required because only one of the parents is a US citizen, so they need you to show that you haven't been living abroad your whole life. My mom had brought a bunch of documents with her but when I looked through them that morning it turned out only my college transcript would work as part of the proof, covering three years (not including junior year abroad). So at the last minute I emailed M. at work and had him print my (unofficial) grad school transcript. 

I google-translated the Belgian birth certificate and sent it to M. to print along with a list of (slightly fudged) residency dates (they wanted day and month I moved to every city I've ever lived in!) and the name affadavit, ran to the post office and bought exorbitantly priced envelopes and stamps and then promptly put the stamps on the wrong corner of the envelope, caught the train to Brussels, and rushed through the city to the one photo processing place listed on the embassy website that would make US-standard passport photos and that was in the neighborhood of the embassy. Our appointment was in a half hour.

The photo place was closed. As in, out of business, an empty storefront.

I already had made passport photos of Eloi, propping him up in a photo booth, at two weeks old (even caught his eyes open!) and now hoped they would work even though the instructions emphasized how Belgian photos would not be accepted. 

Thus sweaty, stressed, and leaking milk, with Eloi nestled in his wrap against my chest, I met M. at the embassy and we went through the security check. We had to leave all our bags behind. I was sure we would have to do this all again after they told us the photos and/or proof of residency and/or something else wasn't in order.

Yet, once our number was called, the lady behind the desk couldn't have been nicer. "Oh, I just love Mondays!" she gushed. Monday is the day they schedule the babies. She took our paperwork and barely glanced at it. Didn't bat an eyelash when I gave her the Belgian-sized photos. Told us that passports are usually ready in two weeks, probably less (we're traveling in mid-July so needed it asap!). 

We then waited for the formal interview, where the proof of residency would be examined. Once we entered the little room, the official started joking around and asking us all about our studies. He had my transcripts in front of him, and made comments about a bunch of the courses I had taken, and about M's training, and talked with us about European history and made a joke about Belgians. Completely jocund. Of course, this was an interview (probably a more effective one than a "formal" approach) but it didn't seem like one. He took our incorrectly-stamped envelope and said, "Oh, we'll figure something out!" (When it came today I saw that they had coaxed off the stamps and taped them to the right corner.) He held the passport photo, trimmed to specification, in his hand, and gave us the rest of them back. That was it! Everything was completely fine! No problem!

And that's why America is awesome. Even if the bureaucracy is complicated on paper, in person nine times out of ten people are friendly and can-do and help you out and want to make it happen. In some other countries that shall remain nameless, the instructions would look simple and then the official behind the desk would study the papers, looking for problems and finding them, never looking at you or starting a conversation, then deny your application and tell you to come back with additional, more complicated forms or papers. 

So. Happy belated fourth of July! There are many reasons I'm happy to be an American, and this is one of them. And now, so is little Eloi! I didn't get a passport until I was 19, so he's way ahead of me in cosmopolitanism. 


JCasas said...

Having had a baby in Spain and Japan, as well as having lived in Germany...

"And that's why America is awesome. Even if the bureaucracy is complicated on paper, in person nine times out of ten people are friendly and can-do and help you out and want to make it happen. "

This. A thousand times over.

Catanea said...

Congratulations Robin (and M)and welcome Eloi!,
I was reminded to check your blog by suspecting it was you in a Language Hat comment!

Robin said...

Thank you Amanda! Funny that you found me again via Language Hat!

John Cowan said...

Of course U.S. Customs and Immigration is another story. I'll never forget how at Dorval Airport they made me throw away my lovely Canadian-made sandwich that I was going to eat on the plane from Montreal to New York (where I live), telling me I could buy food (or "food") at a McDonald's past the security screening. Feh! I was nearly at the point of weeping, as I was very hungry indeed (and I'm a diabetic). And then he added insult to injury by saying "Welcome to America!"

I nearly went back to Canadian soil and applied for asylum.