In the midst of our beautiful visit to Stockholm (recap coming, I promise), I had to make a pit stop at the US Embassy. You already KNOW this is going to be good, right? And by 'good', you know the experience scarred me for life.
If you have read my previous posts, you know we did a great deal of planning in preparing for a year of travel, including selling my condo. Despite arranging for the realtor to have signatory power of attorney at the closing, I was informed 7 days prior, that notarized signatures would be needed- not the easiest thing to arrange in a foreign country. FUN FACT! You can't use a foreign notary on closing documents. So, I looked up the website for the American Embassy in Stockholm and saw that notary is one of the 'services' they provide. I quote service facetiously, because the word conveys a certain amount of, well, serving that was definitely lacking during my visit.
In my mind, I thought a visit to a US Embassy (at least one in a western country) would be a dignified experience. I imagined elegant offices with sharply dressed diplomats and many foreign languages being spoken. Sure, there would be some security, but as an American, I expected a polite welcome or at least a knowing nod.
It was so far from that, I honestly thought I entered the Russian Embassy.
Look, I get it. The 'war on terror' is alive and well and globally, the USA is not the most popular country. I've lived as a foreigner, so I'm not ignorant of the fact, but this is Stockholm, not Baghdad. I haven't seen one yet, but imagine a 'Top Ten Best US Embassies' list would include Stockholm.
To my dismay, our visit to the US Embassy in Stockholm was on par with a visit to the DMV- if the DMV had airport-type security and soldiers wielding machine guns. Come to think of it, I've had more civilized experiences at the DMV.
There are two lines outside of the security building. One for Americans, one for non-Americans. I thought that would help expedite things, but no. They alternated lines (which is fair, I guess, but I had booked an appointment that apparently didn't matter) in which only one person at a time can come up to the window. Small children in tow? Too bad, stand back and wait your turn.
Once I was called forward, I put my passport up to the window and stated my business. 'I have an appointment for the notary service', I replied confidently, trying to make eye contact. The guard stared at my passport and then squinted as he eyed me suspiciously. 'Step back, turn around and lift your right foot to show me the bottom of your shoe', he barked. 'Now, the left.' I complied with the orders. After this, I was allowed into the security building where I put my purse on the belt of the scanning machine. When it passed through, another guard pulled out my iPhone. 'No phones', he said with such seriousness, I almost laughed, but instead nodded solemnly as he handed me a ticket with a number. He faced me and cleared his throat. 'Now, you must go up the path and into the next building. Follow the yellow line and don't stop.' I stammered as I tried to explain that I had someone with me (Perry), but he just pointed to the door and I did as I was told.
When I entered the next building, another soldier sternly looked at me. I held up my appointment paper meekly and said 'Notary appointment?' He pointed to the line of people I should join. No reply, just a point.
When I got to the back of the line, I looked around. I'll be damned, but it even looked like the DMV. There were several windows around the perimeter with a crabby looking person on the other side, and in the middle of the room, rows of stackable gray chairs. There was even a 'take a number' digital read out. It was run down and smelled of humanity- not the-land-of-the-free-and-home-of-the-brave kind, but of body odor and despair. The whole place felt anxious and on edge.
Perry silently joined me and we gave each other the 'What the eff is this!?' look. Our line was for US passport holders who needed renewal or notary. Everyone else was there trying to secure visas to visit the US. I don't think anyone succeeded in the hour we were there.
NEXT! We were up. I explained the seven notarized signatures I needed, and they handed me a bill for $350 (!) and pointed (more pointing) to the cashier window with instructions to pay, then come back and wait for my name to be called.
The cashier was the quintessential DMV-type employee. 'Um hmm', she mumbled, not looking up. I slid my bill and credit card over to her and smiled hoping she would look up after feeling this ray of sunshine. I wanted to ask her if she could recommend an overnight shipping service. But she didn't look up, so I cleared my throat and asked anyway. 'Uh uh', was her reply to the negative.
After waiting for a bit, my name was called with instructions to go to Door 5. Once there, I found the notary to be shockingly young, yet weary with an almost, but-not-quite friendly demeanor, as though her disposition was naturally sunny, but nearly extinguished after a few years of working in a shitty embassy. I signed, she stamped and it was over in less than 5 minutes. As I was collecting my paperwork, I decided to try again and asked her recommendation for overnight shipping. She paused. 'We use FedEx, so I guess they must have FedEx here somewhere'.
The window closed.
In desperate need of a drink, but only 11:00 am, I compromised with strong black coffee at Wayne's Coffee in the city centre. I searched for FedEx on my phone and found a number for an office at the airport. 'Hallo' the voice answered. 'Yes, do you have an office in the city centre or do I need to come to the airport to ship my documents', I inquired. 'Yes, you can find us at mailboxes', he replied. 'Do you mean the post office?' I questioned. 'No, the store Mailboxes', he laughed. 'Mailboxes, Etc.?!' I exclaimed loudly.
Sure enough, and it was only 2 blocks away.
We walked in the door, a bit gun shy (pun intended) after our morning excursion. Rock music was playing and two young men in jeans looked up, smiled and waved to us. I shyly asked if I could ship some documents to the US. The next 10 minutes was the complete antithesis to the Embassy experience- super friendly, the two guys joked with us while explaining the different methods to ship and costs.
Back at the apartment, I laid down for a well-deserved nap and reviewed the day in my head. With my penchant for living as a foreigner, I once wondered what a career in the State Department would be like. Exciting? Glamorous?
Maybe I'll try the DMV when I get back.