OK, I take back everything I ever said about Belgian inefficiency. When it comes to gold medals for inaction, the Indian Embassy in Brussels wins hands down. Which I admit is the worst aspects of Belgium and India combined.
I turned up - admittedly a little on the late side - to submit my visa application today. The office is open for two hours in the mornings and little sheltered old me, who's used to moving between European Countries without even presenting a passport, was not ready for the sheer LENGTH of the visa process. I have great sympathy with the Palestinian girl who was waiting with me this morning - and will probably still be camped out there now.
I arrived thinking I'll just give the forms to someone and take off. In fact, this IS the procedure - nothing more complicated - it's just that it requires standing in some very long queues until your number is called. 3 hours into my fast (I hadn't had breakfast, let alone a cup of coffee, but was unable to leave on pain of non re-admission when the door was firmly shut on applicants at 11.30) I entered the inner sanctum.
Here 9 embassy workers are engaged in drinking tea and nattering. One lady, in a fetching pink sari, is dealing with all the applicants in no particular order. One Indian national bangs on the window to complain about his long wait to the guy behind the 'Indian Passports Only' desk. The guy doesn't respond, only lowers the blind and continues to eat his sandwich and consult a newspaper. The plaintiff sits down again resignedly. This is clearly a cultural norm.
When I get to the desk I pre-empt disaster by telling the lady that I called the embassy in advance and brought all the documents they demanded. She looks through the (very large) bundle I provided her with and says 'You'll have to come back with your Belgian resident permit". At which point I had to tell her that it hadn't yet been processed (apparently it takes Belgian bureaucracy several months to make you legal) and these documents were attestations of my employment and residence here, as requested by the Indian embassy officials themselves.
This didn't go down well and the dossier was sent to the boss of bosses for approval. What I didn't know was that the boss of bosses was off for a long lunch in some undisclosed location. Several eons later I was called back to the desk. Permission, it seems, had been granted, but due to my unorthodox documentation there was a 'referral fee' for him casting his eye over it of an extra 32 euros. However I finally exited with the promise of a visa by next week. The whole episode was quite magnificently surreal.