CHAOSTOCOSMOS

Friday, 18 April 2008

Passport to insanity

245333_3375 Amongst the various things that are driving me absolutely round the bend at the moment, I've also recently had to renew my passport. Well, the application should be in Madrid, though I'm still waiting, with breath baited and crossed everything, for it to arrive.

Geez, I know you can't go round giving British passports away to just anybody (though I would counter that those who want one for nefarious reasons will know their way around this ridiculous obstacle course that us honest folk have to negotiate), but the process is getting seriously stupid and it's becoming less about security and more about money extraction.

Passport renewal by jab in the bum would be preferable (it was cheaper!)

Now, first off there is the cost, an astonishing €185 (£148) (plus postage, which is extra to the Canaries, of course.) This, "... includes a special fee charged by consulates in case the holder becomes a distressed British subject."

Since you have to pay them back anyway if you ever need help, this effectively means they get paid twice and earn interest on the "advance fee scam."

Trying to renew a bloody passport creates distressed British subjects!

First, to take full advantage of the services I'm about to pay so dearly for (since I can't not have a passport, this money had already been put aside), I rang the British Consulate in Santa Cruz to ask them to tell me where to find a suitable or approved photographer in Tenerife, so that I could get a photo done to the new excessively pedantic standards (PDF) and, hopefully, not have mine refused and sent back (at even more additional cost) as happened to a friend recently. The consulate could only list two photographers on the entire island; one in Playa de Las Americas and the other in Tenerife's capital that they know are up to the task. I decided to visit the latter, Foto Yumar in the C/ La Rosa, 21, in Santa Cruz (near the old Corte Ingles store by the Plaza de Principe).

Other photographers, in other towns, advertising that they do passport photos are either telling porkies, referring to OLD British passport photo requirements, or to passports for countries that are less fussy than the UK (that's most of them.) The only other country in the world, this pedantic, is Canada, I was told. To give them their due, the consulate here is very helpful and the nice lady did also explain to me what bus number I need and where to get off (the bus).

The journey to Santa Cruz is a 2 1/2 - 3 hour bus ride, each way, with 3 bus changes, already. And it was raining when I got to Santa Cruz, so there was no alternative but to get a taxi for the last leg, or be drowned. The whole "day trip", with photo, taxi, food, etc., ended up costing me 35 euros, plus the cost of the buses that were covered by my Bono ticket, on top of the passport fees. Since this was not some casual drop in situation, I thought I'd give Foto Yumar a call (922 289 466) first to check and get their opening times.

These already have the details of how to do British Passport photos, according to the Consulate and I certainly hoped that was right. Hoped merely, because, after explaining that I wanted a photo for a British passport, my heart sank when the girl asked me to "take the sizes" of the photo I need.

So I took along a copy of the 3 page leaflet (it takes 3 pages of instructions for one photo!?) in Spanish (PDF).

Hopefully the resulting ugly mug shot will meet with their approval, even if it didn't meet with mine. Typical passport photo, but the bloody non-smiling thing they demand now made me look as old as the hills and as ugly as sin!

After that fiasco, one has to find someone, of the right standing, to countersign the back of one of the (pig ugly) photos and the passport application. And, the problem here is that, after 16 years in a foreign country and, having made a concerted effort to stay away from "certain elements" of the expat community here, one does not tend to know any British persons of the right "calibre". Whilst I could drum up the odd Spanish medic or member of clergy amongst my acquaintance, none speak English to understand what's needed (other than from what I could tell them, which is no use), read the form they're signing, etc.

So again, I asked the consulate for advice and they told me to go to my bank and get them to countersign it and plonk their official stamp on it. That, I'll bet works absolutely fine in the branches of banks on the south of the island, where they have a lot of English speaking customers and probably some English speaking staff. In the little branch in Buenavista del Norte, they give (usually) wonderful, friendly, old fashioned service ... but they know squat English.

Actually, it's possible that I might be their only English customer out here.

They certainly hadn't come across a British passport application ever before! And I got a new guy, who argued that the bank "never" does this and, not that he believed me, but I had to really insist that the consulate had told me that they certainly do. Then he said, basically, if it's a British passport, then the British consulate has to do this for me (no they don't).

And, isn't that who I just said sent me here?

If they did do this, don't you think ...

So I asked him to speak to the British consulate direct. I'd taken a printed compliment slip of theirs, with their number on, specifically to give to the bank clerk, so he could do so, but because the consulate is always engaged, he gave up after two tries. So then he phones his head office and since he couldn't properly understand the form (I think he could read some English) and, obviously didn't trust a word I was saying, he couldn't explain to them what it was he was being asked to do. Not surprisingly, therefore, the office said that he had to send the forms to them to get their approval for the branch to sign it.

Well, I couldn't wait for that, for one thing, I certainly didn't want the forms, photos, etc., going missing in the system and, I knew it was a "perfectly normal" thing, on the other. So, I decided I would have to get pushy.

It took a long time, because they are always engaged, but eventually, I got the consulate on my mobile phone, I told them the problem and asked them to speak to the man in the bank, then quickly handed him my phone before he could get the chance to get out of it. It was either that or no passport. What's a girl to do?

To cut an even longer saga a bit shorter, he did sign it in the end; still whining that it "didn't make sense", that the consulate should do this for me, that the bank's stamp is meaningless, the Spanish system is better, more logical ... I just smiled and agreed, but said that it didn't matter, as long as it was good enough for the silly British ... My head was absolutely done in by then!

Then I had to get it copied and send the whole kaboodle to Madrid, all of which had to be done on separate days, because of the waiting and timings of buses, etc. And never mind that my health makes even one trip painful and tiring.

Yeah, I know, whine, whine, whine ... but whatever you do here is the same. Your heart sinks when contemplating even the simplest tasks!

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