...in the bottom drawer
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currently stashed in: Cheshire Street, London
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August 12, 2004 || 8:52 pm

The thing that was worst about the US embassy cattle-herding was that it discriminated against people like the woman who sat at the end of my row of seats, waiting patiently for several hours, whose story I overheard. She needed a visa, so she thought that the easiest way would be to go the embassy and ask for one. But of course, at the embassy there isn't an information desk. Anyone who doesn't have the internet, or who doesn't want to pay £1.30 a minute for their premium-rate phone information service (and you're then put on hold for 10 minutes) hasn't got a chance.

So, she had arrived at the embassy, seen a queue of people with signs saying 'Non-immigrant visas queue here' and joined it. At no point in that queue did anyone consider that there might be technologically-poor people there and make a simple statement to say 'Anyone who is here for a non-immigrant visa, you must have your forms ready and have paid £60 to our bank account.'

So this woman queued for 2 hours outside, had her bags checked at security, queued again, got a ticket number and paid £10 for the visa courier service, and sat down to wait her turn. Although you are meant to bring your appointment letter to be allowed in the building, no-one asked for it.

So after another hour of waiting, a gum-chewing girl comes round and tells the weary assembled crowd 'You must have all your forms ready before your number comes up, otherwise you'll hold it all up.' At which point the woman looks quizzical and asks the girl what forms.

The girl treated her like she was really stupid. She looked at her like you might look at a five year old. I mean, how could anyone possibly not know how to do these things, right? So after nearly four hours of waiting and spending £10 on a useless courier envelope, the woman had to leave and do it all over again.

Isn't it arrogant to consider that only stupid people don't phone ahead or use Google? Is it unreasonable to ask that an embassy might have a physically present person to give you the information you require, and take the time to understand your request?



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