Embassy runaround

Leave it to the U.S. government.

I need to get a document notarized, which means a trip to the U.S. Embassy—for the second time. (Pro tip for living overseas: don’t get involved in property transactions back in your home country. Everything that is already cumbersome enough on your home soil is made harder when you’re half a world away.)

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The 1/4 size Statue of Liberty near the Pont de Grenelle on the Île aux Cygnes (Island of the Swans), a narrow man-made island in the Seine with a lovely walkway running the length of it. Unless you have to go the embassy, go here instead.

So, I need to sign up for an appointment, which means using their online appointment registration website. Which is full of advisories and caveats and warnings in microscopic legalese. But I’ve done it before. So I cruise through the links, get to the right page and start inputing my personal information with the check boxes and dropdown menus. I think I was putting in my email address when the form autofilled (because my computer remembers my email) and I hit return. But it didn’t just complete the field, it submitted the form, even though I hadn’t finished filling it out.

Now, in any rational world, the system would kick me back and make me put in the missing information. But this isn’t the rational world, this is the government. It takes me to the final page, the “you’re done” page. But I knew I wasn’t, so I click the back button on the form (which is tiny, of course), and am taken to where I left off.

I enter the final information, hit submit, and got this message:

We’re sorry, but we are unable to book your appointment online. It appears that you already have an appointment scheduled. If so, you will need to cancel that appointment before attempting to book another one. 

To cancel your previously scheduled appointment, please enter the Appointment Password generated for this appointment in the space provided below, then click the Cancel Appointment button.

Guess what? I had’t been given an appointment password. Is my appointment booked or not? I hadn’t received a confirmation email (which came right away the last time I did this).

Okay, let’s try something else. I attempt to book a new appointment at a different time. No dice—I get the same response. I try booking on a different day. Nope.

There’s an email address listed for queries regarding appointments. I shoot one off describing my predicament. I hear nothing the rest of the day. There are only two days of appointments available that will work for me and by refreshing the appointment page I can see the appointment slots disappearing throughout the day. In the evening, I send another email to the same address (including some details in ALL CAPS) reiterating my conundrum.

The next morning, I figure out how to call the embassy. Navigate the menus to get to notarial services. Endure a recording of a woman speaking very slowly as she tells me everything I already know that’s of no help: that notarial appointments are to be made online at—enunciating exceedingly meticulously now—france.usembassy.gov and then U.S. Citizen services, blah, blah, blah. I punch zero and get connected to the switchboard. A real person! I explain my problem—I had a half-made appointment, but no confirmation, and no password. Could I speak to someone in notarial services? Okay, she says. And transfers me to the same recording that starts repeating the same useless information.

Argh!

I manage to zero out again to go back to the switchboard—and am immediately transferred back to the same notarial services recording without even getting to talk to the operator!

I hang up.

What to do? I wanted to put it all out of my head (and pull out my hair) and get on to what I’d rather be doing—writing, not monkeying with the byzantine embassy run-around.

But then, the clouds part, the sun breaks through, and lo and behold, a moment later my initial email is answered—what amazing timing! They need me to complete two missing pieces: my country of birth and country of citizenship. Easy: USA and USA.

I email back the information and ask if there was anything else they needed—my passport number, perhaps?

They reply a minute later saying no.

So: appointment made and confirmed, password in hand. Hurray! Now I just have to endure visiting the embassy again.

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