Friday, October 3, 2008

Bureaucratic Insanity (May 16, 2007)

Pray for me, Ladies, I am in need of it.
The American government is trying to drive me insane, I am certain of it!!!
Saturday in two weeks, my husband and I leave for Europe for three weeks, a last holiday before the baby comes, and a chance to see my family. I should say... "we hope to leave" What is the problem? The American government bureaucracy.
Being both responsable and bureaucratic experienced citizens of two different countries, my beloved husband and I looked into passport renewal very early and found out there was what they called an 'unusual volume in applications' for American passports, which might make each application take up to eight weeks. So.. we both applied directly in the beginning of march, I for my Belgian passport, my husband for a renewal of his American one. I, who had to go to the Belgian consulate in Atlanta, where they had to send my application to Belgium, got my passport within less than 3 weeks. My husband however is still waiting for his, and it is now eleven days before departure.Now why didn't we inquire about this earlier? We did of course! Through the website and the phone, can not call the agency untill you are within 2 weeks of departure, probably because that might reduce stress levels for potential passport aplicants to below the dangerous zone. So from saturday on we tried calling.
That does not sound too bad, you know? I presumed we would call, get a nice person on the line who would be embarrassed about the delay, very understanding and would reassure us that the passport would be send out immediately and be with us the next business day. After all, this was the emergency procedure for people who were about to get on a plane within the next two weeks, right?
Wrong.You first have to navigate through a menu that lasts about 15 minutes (I am not kidding) and in which they tell you that they are having an unusual high volume of passport applications (we knew that, that was why we applied early!) and that they willd o their best to make sure that no one misses a trip. They will do their best... that is comforting, isn;t it? Not: if you applied within the specified timelimit, we will guarantee you will not miss your trip. Not: if we are responsible for you having to delay your trip we will make sure you are refunded. No: 'we will do our best"
Tthen, after having swarmed to the menu that refers you to the website for all information, a discouragement for all calls that are not related to people who have to leave within two weeks, you get the "we will connect you with the next possible representative". Right, we made it this far! Now you may expect that we are then either get that representative or are put in call waiting where we spend the next 30 minutes waiting for someone to become available, but it is WORSE than that. You get: your call is important to us, please stay on the line, and then a recorded message that says" due to an unusual high calling volume all our representatives are currently helping other customers. Please call back later. And then they HANG UP, forcing you to start all over again. Of course it could always be a spike, you know, around 6 pm when everyone comes home from work or something, but no... that was the message we got on saturday morning, saturday afternoon, monday, and tuesday evening between 9.30 pm and 11.30 pm. Luckily, after this spectacle of going through the twenty minute phonecall again and again had been repeating for two days, I noticed that if you got back to the main menu before they disconnected and then had remembered the quick choices that you had to make (dial 1 for this, 2 for this) you could avoid the entire experience and get back to the "we will connect you with the next possible representative' in only one minute.
After an hour and a half of doing this loop over and over again (again, I am not exagerating) my husband finally got an agent at the line who said "ok, we will put a rush on it and have it express mailed' Now that sounds good, right? Except that is what they had also said when we got through on saturday!!! When my husband asked if he could guarantee that it would arrive in time, the man could not. So what are we to do then? Well, if it hasn't arrived in three business days before departure we can go to a passport distribution center. Okay... except that the closest to us is in Washington DC... while we live in Columbia South Carolina, which means a 9 hour drive. Or another costly plane ticket.
Our plane tickets to Europe are non refundable (they cost an arm and a leg as it is!). IF we have to make the trip to Washington, my husband will miss a spiritual retreat here in South Carolina, that he has been looking forward to attending for nearly half a year, and which also might be non refundable.... not to mention gas for 18 straight hours of driving, extra meals in Washington plus a motel room. How hard can it be to renew a passport in under 3 months for someone without a criminal record? Seriously? How hard can it be?????

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