Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Proud to Be British?

I had to laugh during my visit to the British Embassy today.

A big poster advertises its mission to provide the 'highest standard of service', even though they summarily closed the passport office last week and relocated it to Paris to cut costs. Of the 'service' that remains in the consular section, this is what the highest standard looks like:

As I had predicted, security was tight outside the embassy with lots of menacing looking anti-tank bollards blocking the pavement. I had to hurdle over one of them to get to the consular section.

Once there, the punters are left outside in the cold until they are called, one by one, into a room where they are x-rayed, frisked, and have their phones confiscated. Woe betide those who visit the place on a rainy day.

Once negotiating the security staff you go up the stairs and wait in what seems like an interminable queue while the two staff members on duty bumble about. You reach the cash desk where there is a big poster explaining which impossibly high fee goes with which basic administrative task.

Three attested copies of my passport were to set me back 36 euros which I thought was rather steep. We're talking about some good old fashioned ink and stamps here.

However that was nothing compared to the cost of registering your marriage, at nearly 100 euros, or giving up your citizenship (which I might otherwise have been tempted to do today, given that being British can sometimes seem a lot more trouble than it's worth).

I brought the question of these 'fees' up with the woman at the desk who told me, rather apologetically, that they were set by the government to cover the costs of the embassy staff.

I said I thought that was what taxes were for. But apparently the government is too busy spending our hard-earned on illegal wars to spend any on a foreign service British nationals might actually need.

Having swallowed the fees news, I took out my card to pay. Things were looking good until the machine broke down. Apparently it had been doing that all morning. A problem connected to the telephone line. Well, fair enough, but perhaps they would accept payment in cash. Pounds to be precise?

Of course not. I would have to go to the bank, get euros (of which I had five on my person), and wait in the stupid queue again, all in order to come back the next day to get the attested copies because this apparently simple procedure was to take them a full day to complete...

This contrasts markedly with my experience at the Irish Embassy, where I went for the same purpose with my Irish passport. I walked straight in - no queues, no checks - rang the bell, took a seat, and seconds later some pleasant old soul took my passport and attested the copies I'd brought on the spot - FOR FREE!

Rule Britannia, eh?

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