Recently we had an interesting experience at the US Embassy in London. We had to get some financial papers notarized and it had to be done at the embassy since we live abroad. Shouldn’t the embassy be used for emergencies? But my financial company was adamant and I followed their rules.
After waiting in line outside for roughly forty-five minutes it was our time to be screened to gain admittance inside the building. In my bag I had camera batteries and a water bottle among other things. But these were the only things that caused alarm. First they noticed the water bottle and asked me to take a drink of my water. I did, but no one watched me. Why ask me to take a sip of the water and then not watch to see if I actually did? Second they noticed I had batteries. In fact, someone shouted, “She has batteries!” I felt like a criminal. I had to take them out and put them in a plastic bag. Then they were screened separately. After my batteries proved to be batteries we had to put my camera and all electronics, including one phone and one iPOD into a plastic bag. You are not allowed to bring any electronics into the building. For cell phone addicts, you have been warned. They give you a clip with a number on it and when you are done you turn it in to get your stuff back. I’m not used to leaving my stuff with strangers. However there were two gentlemen outside with large guns so I didn’t think a robbery would happen anytime soon. And I try not to argue with people who have guns—big guns.
Once inside the building we were given a number. While waiting I looked around and was surprised by the amount of people. And most of them had children. The place was a zoo. Kids running around, exhausted adults, and the employees didn’t seem overjoyed to be there. It was only ten in the morning.
After another hour or so our number was called. They took our paperwork, and then asked us to go to the cashier to pay. Then we had to wait some more for the notary. While waiting a gentleman needed two witnesses for his signature so we added our John Hancock’s to his paperwork. I don’t know what I was signing but if I was in a pinch I would hope two strangers would help me out.
Finally we got out of there after several hours. Even though it took some time, the system went smoothly. I admire people who work in places like that and have to deal with so many different problems and people every day. It would drive me batty. And I hope I don’t have to go back for many months … maybe even years. Never sounds even better.
Since they took my camera away I don’t have any pictures of my experience. I knew I wouldn’t be able to take photos inside, however I didn’t know I wouldn’t be able to bring it in at all. And after all of the hoopla about the batteries I felt uncomfortable snapping a photo while I was outside. I wanted to get out of Dodge before they started shouting, “She has batteries!” again. I’m not brave when around armed people.
The armed guards outside were intimidating, but nothing like this scene we encountered in Antigua, Guatemala. We hightailed it out of that neighborhood fast.