So today I had my appointment at the US Embassy which is in London. I had to get there for 10am so it meant getting up early and catching the 8:15 train to London Paddington.
It’s about a twenty minute walk to the embassy from the station which takes you past marble arch and the corner of hyde park. It was a nice enough day and I had time so I wandered over.
I arrived with about ten minutes to spare and joined the first of many queues outside the embassy gates. The embassy doesn’t permit anything electronic to go in so no cell phones or laptops or mp3 players or car keyfobs. The last one bemuses me. I had left all my gadgets at home and brought only a book to keep me entertained.
The first queue confirmed I had an appointment by showing the form and having passed muster at the first gate keeper I moved to queue number 2 where they checked my passport. Next I joined queue 3 waiting to get into the xray and metal detector booth. Once through that I was actually into the Embassy proper and joined queue 4 for a ticket number and to have my forms checked again. After that I was into the main visa room.
What followed next was like being in a very security concious argos, one replete with bullet proof glass on the ticket booths and grim faced policemen with submachine guns patrolling. You watched the monitors for your number to come up and then went over to one of the booths to hand over your forms, passport, and get your fingerprints scanned. This I will call queue 5, once they had all the stuff they gave you yet another form to fill in and it was back to the waiting for the interview stage of the process which I will call queue 6.
They managed to confuse me by not having my number come up on the screen but calling it out with 4 or 5 others over the tanoy. My “Interview” if it could be called that was one bloke behind the bullet proof glass asking me “How are you today?” then checking my fingerprints I can only assume to see if I had been replaced in the mean time by a shape shifting alien robot. Presumably if I’d said the wrong thing at this stage it would have been visa denied and I would have been frogmarched from the building and perhaps given a sound thrashing. As it was he just told me to go to the courier desk to organise the return of my passport and wished me a nice day.
So it was off to queue 7 to fill out another form and pay yet another fee so they could at some point in the future return my passport with a visa inside.
All told it took about 2 hours I left at about 12pm and I couldn’t help but thing given all I had to do was move forms I’d filled in ahead of time from one place to another the only reason I needed to be there was to have my fingerprints scanned and given the sheer number of times I’ve been through US immigration (it’s gotten to the point they don’t even bother rescanning them they check the left 4 fingers and that’s enough) they must have them on file already. Still it’s another step done.
It was a very tedious and boring process sitting in that glass box of a room unable to really focus on my book as I need to check the screen for my number waiting with hundreds of other equally bored. You can recreate the experience yourself in the comfort of your own home thanks to this video
For maximum fidelity pause the video and stare at a wall for 45 minutes or so after each of the visits to the booth. Also imagine all the people in the room look grumpy.
The staff I have to say were more upbeat than I was expecting they were relatively friendly and nice. I always try and be polite and such in such official situations just because I don’t want to give someone the excuse to make my life harder but it’s less grating when the people you are talking to don’t act like mindless automatons.
So that done I escaped the security area and I wandered back at a leisurely pace and took a slight detour through Hyde park to appreciate the day. It was looking pretty nice a touch foggy but only enough that it makes the really far off buildings looming shapes in fog.
Anyway one more step done now I just have to wait for them to return my passport