27 September, 2011

How to make an American

Okay, so as with our first child, we decided to get both US and UK citizenship for our daughter. I feel that this gives our kids as many options as possible for the future, plus it means a lot less hassle when we travel to the US or to the UK as they each have a legal right to live in either country without needing a visa.

Here's how it went this time, and this is copied from an e-mail I sent to a friend of mine about it:

We went into London to get Heidi's US passport and citizenship. We bought an all day pass for the underground so that when we were done at the Embassy we could on and do other things.
So our appointment at the US Embassy was for 8:30 a.m. (!) which meant that we had to get up around 5:00 so that Dad Noble could take us to the train station and we took a train into London. I asked Clare why we were doing it this way, she said that just driving into London you have to pay a 10 pound "congestion charge" and then you'd still never find a place to park. Fancy that! Just to drive into London will cost you $15-16! Anyway, I agreed to ride in on the train, even though train tickets cost $21. Each. So...can't drive to London because it will cost us $15 to do so, (plus fuel and parking--bringing the total up to maybe $30), so we'll take a train, which will cost us $42. On the other hand, we did have all day passes for the Underground, so we could concievably have travelled all over London until midnight, or at least until the trains stopped for the day. So ultimately it probably was a good deal.

Anyway, back to the Embassy--we got there in time for our appointment, but naturally we had trouble at the guard shack--before we left the house, I purposely removed any pocket knives that I was carrying, (it's an MK thing to carry multiple pocket knives--they are just so useful!). However, I left my Swiss Tool on my belt and there was another little Swiss Army knife (a little one--only half-a-dozen tools in it--the "Tinker" model for those who know about such things), in the ruler pocket on my carpenter's jeans that I forgot about. No big deal, I've been to US Embassies in other countries before, you always have to leave stuff like that at the guard shack, no problem.

Except this time it was a problem. I went through the usual rigamarole, emptied my pockets, took of my belt, dumped my biker wallet and chain, my camera and my small LED torch, (another thing I always carry), a handful of UK coins (and a few of the big old PNG Kina coins that I usually keep in my pocket to give to interested people) and my Swiss Tool and Swiss Army Knife--both 100% UK and USA legal to carry in your pocket--into the tray. I was perfectly happy to leave any or all of this stuff with the guards in the guard shack, subject to their discretion.

Suddenly there was a problem. The guards--all of whom were armed with real weapons as I recall--picked up my little Swiss Army knife and inspected it carefully. Finally one of them held it up and said to me:
"Sir, you'll have to dispose of this outside before we can let you in."
"Excuse me?"
"You can't bring a knife into the embassy."
"I don't want to bring it into the embassy, I want to leave it here with my camera and stuff."
"Sorry sir, can't do that. Nothing with a blade." (Also bear in mind that these guys had already decided that my Swiss Tool was perfectly okay, even though it technically has locking blades, which are a big no-no in the UK, though on a Swiss Tool they are completely legal, I know because I've looked into it, and Swiss Tools identical to mine are available for legal sale to the public within the UK at most camping equipment stores.)
"You've GOT to be kidding me."
"No."
I picked up the Swiss Tool and held it side by side with the little Tinker--"Explain to me why this Swiss Tool is okay, but the little tiny Tinker isn't."
The guard looked at the Swiss Tool. "Oh. Can't bring that in either."
"Ummm..." So now I'm wondering what I'm supposed to do--am I supposed to go outside and dump these things in the trash? Was I supposed to go away and come back some other day when I wasn't carrying anything in my pockets? What exactly were they expecting from me at this point? I had no clue, other than that they were apparently expecting me to go all Matrix on them with a 3 inch long Swiss Army knife blade.
"Ummmm..." I'm looking around helplessly. Suddenly, after what felt to me like several decades, one of the guards remembered to help me:
"Sir, there's a chemist's up the road a little ways where you can pay to store these items."
"Huh? Where is it?"
So they gave me directions, and I couldn't see the place from where we were, which gave me a Bad Feeling. But I was out of options, so off I went to try to find it. Clare went on to the appointment without me, (I was really wondering how THAT was going to work--I had visions of her sitting in an office with my passport trying to prove that yes, her husband really was an American. Or at least, he claimed to be an American and had a US passport, though yes, he had actually spent almost 1/2 of his life to date outside the USA.) So she went on ahead, (she had already passed through the metal detector anyway), and I hoofed it for the chemist's.

Thankfully I managed to find the place with no trouble, though if I hadn't been looking for it, I never would have seen it. As I walked in, I passed an Indian fella sitting at a little desk. I started to pass another one, but he stopped me and asked what I needed.

"I'm going into the US Embassy and I need to store some items before I go in there."
"Yes sir, I can help you." A soft spoken man, with what I think of as a typical Indian accent.
"Okay, umm..." (I've never done this before, why does everybody simply expect me to know what's next today?)
"Will your items fit into this bag, sir?" he holds up a small grey poly bag.
"Yep. No problem." I held up a Swiss Tool in its sheath and a small Swiss Army knife.
He puts the knives in the bag, then asks me what they are so that he can write it on the label.
"2 Swiss Army knives."
Hesitation. He'd gotten as far as writing "2 x " Surely he's heard of a Swiss Army knife? He pulls the Swiss Tool out of its sheath, sees "SWISS TOOL" engraved on it.
"There you go!" I said, "1 Swiss Tool and 1 Swiss army knife." no problem, right?
More hesitation. Finally he writes "Swish" So now the label says "2 x Swish" his pen is still hovering over the label. It seems clear to me that he is unwilling to write "army" or "knife".
"Okay, how about '2 x Swish tools'?" I prompt.
Finally he finishes the label, now it says (sic) "2 x Swish Tolls".
"That will be 3 pounds, sir, sign here and pay at the counter."
I look up and suddenly realise that the place is full of Americans all dumping stuff before going into the US Embassy. People storing cameras, laptops, etc., etc. There's a list of prohibited items going around and another Indian guy advising people as to what is and what isn't allowed in the US Embassy. I hear American accents all around me and I realise that this place is doing a land office business storing things for Americans for a few hours each. I don't see anybody else dropping off Swish Tolls, though. Honestly, I was in a bit of a hurry, so somebody could have been dropping off a bazooka or a Sherman tank and I might not have noticed it.
So I paid at the counter, got a claim ticket and fast walked back to the Embassy. This time I made it through the guard shack without incident, and casually mentioned to the guards that the chemist's shop seemed to be doing a big business in storing stuff for Americans, "Yes, sir, they do, sir."

I followed the arrows to "Citizen services" hoping to eventually bump into Clare and Heidi. The arrows directed me halfway around the main building on the outside, then finally into a huge set of doors. I should mention at this point that the US Embassy in London must have been a very modern and imposing building back in the 1960's. There is lots of metal that isn't quite brass or copper coloured, and for some reason it feels to me like it should be in an Asimov book. Anyway, it looks rather dated and shabby now. I let myself in and found myself standing in front of a huge desk and once again I was unsure where to go next. A lady at the desk asked,
"Can I help you. sir?" (I think she was an American, can't remember for sure right now.)
"Well, I'm looking for my wife and small baby...." I would have said more, but there was no need.
"They're waiting for you up those stairs, sir."
"Thanks."

I followed the stairs up to a large waiting room and found Clare sitting in the middle of the room. Apparently they tell everybody that their appointment is at 8:30, so though it was around 9:00 now, she still hadn't been called, though she had, apparently, been assigned a case number. I mentioned to her that the lady at the desk had told me where to find her, she told me that she had told the lady at the desk to be looking for "a Large American who might come in looking for his wife and small baby" and had asked her to tell me where they were.

Okay, so eventually our number was called, we went to one of the several windows where they were serving people and completed Step One of getting Heidi's US citizenship, then were told to go back and take a seat.

After a while we got called to another window, talked to another person, who directed us to another window, where I had to pay $100, then go back and take a seat. Guess that was Step 2.

After a while we got called to another window, talked to yet another person, who quizzed me on what I had written on my sworn affidavit concerning all the places I had lived both in the US and abroad, names of elementary schools I went to, states I lived in, etc., all stuff that I did when Levi was born and foolishly forgot to re-study before going in this time. At any rate, my answers to the pop quiz about my life were good enough, she decided that I was an American after all, so she sent me to another window, where I had to pay another $100, and then had to take another seat.

After a while, we got called up again, were warmly congratulated for succeeding in getting Heidi her US citizenship and passport approval, and were finally told that we could leave.

I admit that I was, perhaps foolishly, surprised that I had to go through all the same rigamarole for Heidi as I did for Levi in Australia--I guess I really thought that once I had proven my citizenship and succeeded in passing that on to one child, that I should be able to do the same again with no hassle for a second child, but no. I suppose it is possible that I could end up succeeding in proving that I am a citizen for some of my kids but not for others.

So after that we hopped back on the Underground, (after first going to the Chemist's to pick up my 100% UK legal 2 x Swish Tolls), and headed off to Greenwich. Yes, the same Greenwich that is the home of Greenwich Mean Time. We wanted to see the Cutty Sark, the last of the Tea Clippers, but it was closed for renovation, (they even had the masts off of her!), so instead we went to the National Maritime Museum, which at least was free. It wasn't spectacularly interesting, though it did have a lot of interesting old personal artifacts. They had the uniform that Admiral Nelson was wearing when he died on display there, (he was a little guy!) and they had an old record breaking speedboat there, the Miss Britain III, which set a 111 mph world speed record in 1935 that stood for 50 years or something. It was a cool looking boat, all polished alumin(i)um. I got some good photos of it:


Before we went there, we had lunch at a nice pub, "The Spanish Galleon" named after a Spanish galleon that was captured in the early 1600's and brought back to Greenwich--(it was one of the few pubs we've been to on this trip), wandered around Greenwich a bit more, then headed back to Clare's folks' place.

So that's what we've been up to!

1 comment:

Jon said...

Don't get my started on Embassies! I have had nightmare trips on behalf of Clare and Sarah!

Cutty Sark was nearly destroyed by a fire so we're lucky to have anything left.

Anyway, sounds like it was a nice, cheap day out ;-)