Monday, November 21, 2005

Disappointing Dutch

How much can you tell about a country and it’s people by a trip to the Visa Section of the said nation’s Embassy? Quite a lot I like to think. I’ve had the (mis)fortune of having stood in line in a number of embassies and it’s always given me a rough idea of what to expect in the country I’m about to visit.

At the Italian Embassy one can hope to be greeted by some rather handsome, curly haired David-esque men. They will spend more time looking at you than at your documents, converse with you in a manner that can only be described as flirtatious and will largely ignore the man standing next to you, who you happen to you’re your husband. When we (my husband and I – David look-alike number 20,003 couldn’t make it) were actually in Rome I found that this was a trait quite rampant in the Italian gene pool. All men - from the stewards on the Alitalia flight to the Immigration officers to the cabbies and waiters – can spend a full half hour explaining how to get to the Via Sacra if you’re a woman. If you’re a man they’ll grunt and nod in roughly the opposite direction.

The French however are a completely different ball game. Until you dredge up long forgotten French phrases from the dark and dusty corners of your brain, the straight line that is a French Embassy employee’s mouth will not turn up in the corners in to what is French for smile. However, if you can answer ‘Parlez vouz Francaise?’ with a breathy ‘Un peu’ and not ‘You speak English?’ accompanied by a vapid look you have temporary access to the rather exclusive ‘People the French like’ club. Temporary because you must exhibit more knowledge of their beloved language – humming Edith Piaf song’s under your breath is recommended. Humming ‘frere jacques’ is not. Parisians are the same - as a rule they dislike foreigners – but if they think you aren’t making any effort to speak their beloved language – God help you. Or should I say ‘aide d'un dieu vous’?

And how can I leave out our very own country’s visa and passport office? Like India herself, our embassies are grossly overpopulated. There are people everywhere – most of them taking a tea break that started at 9:30am and that will end at 4:00pm. Ask anyone a question and they will scratch their head for a while and then hand you over to someone else. This will be repeated until you find yourself with the same man who set the ball rolling. Name dropping and conversing in a common tongue will get you far – but act too big and a lowly flunky will extract revenge by making you wait forever. They will be rude to the country’s subjects but fawningly attentive to those who not long ago lorded about us in crinoline skirts and tight breeches.

Today morning I found myself outside the Dutch Embassy shivering not only because of the cold but also with anticipation. Would there be seemingly innocent brownies on offer that left people with more than a chocolate high? Would the employees be sitting behind glass-fronted booths in their underwear? Would I get my first taste of a Dutch accent?

‘Morrrning!’ twanged the blonde as she took my papers. Not only was she disappointingly dressed in tweed but she also had – could it be – an American accent? I mumbled a ‘Good morning’ back and looked around her desk for brownies or at least some suspect looking powder in a plastic bag. But there were no recreational drugs to be found – NOTHING. I sighed in resignation and paid my fee – which I thought was steep considering that there were no drugs or dubious women.

So with no new Dutch insights I made my way back to the station. En route I treated myself to a brownie and paused at the lingerie display at M&S. Pretending the mannequin was called Gerta (sound’s Dutch doesn’t it?) and that my brownie induced euphoria was caused by something more interesting I convinced myself that I now knew what to look forward to in Amsterdam. So what if I was in the heart of Kensington.

20 comments:

Anjali said...

LOL ... lovely post.
I've recently been thru the wringer over a Russian visa and I know exactly what you mean about it being a precursor of things to come. Having been treated with extreme suspicion and been granted the elusive stamp with extreme reluctance, by the embassy, I found at Moscow airport that the battle was not yet over. Clearly, I looked too shady to be allowed into the country without another, very thorough investigation. I was relieved to note, though, that I hadn't been singled out - several randomly selected Russia-goers were recieving the same treatment. Iron curtain, indeed.

*sigh*

Premalatha said...

I used to "get the feel" of the country when I first check myself in in the accommodation type we have booked. but I thought youth hostels maintain some level of "their" standards, and from my Scottish experience, I liked preferred staying there (not to mention the cheap rate). Amsterdam youth hostel taught me a lesson. But, otherwise, we had wonderful time. very lovely city. kept remembering at every corner of their streets that these water-streets are below sea level. kept myself in that "amazed" moode that their water-streets are below sea level... (lol). Still can't beleive they have their water streets below sea level.. Balan kept "amazed" about their "water streets" and "boat-buses"!! "botel" is the thing we missed to try as we did not have an idea of such botels.. Next time!!

Have a nice time there.
(no we two innocent people did not enjoy night life. I know, what a waste!!)

Shyam said...

Arghh... dont mention visas and embassy employees - i have too many hair-raising stories which will take too long to tell here.

But yes, the Indian embassy in Birmingham (the only Indian one I've been to here - dunno what London is like) is overcrowded with underworking employees and people in general, there is utter confusion with non-English-speaking Brit Indians making a hash of filling in forms - and YES, there is the all-pervasive tang of urine and YES AGAIN, the toilets are unmentionable! Never say we indians dont make every place like home.

Premalatha said...

Renga posted a report on London Indian embassy. I was hoping birmingham would be slightly better. now I have lost all my hopes. I just have to change my name. (you know, the "surname" problem). I guess I will be better off going for a complete new passport, by throwing away the old one.

Akshay said...

I had a bad experience at the Dutch embassy, well actually not a bad experience but rather a negative one. I wanted a visa on short notice but they seemed to 2 week visa waiting policy - so all I did was go to Belgiun embassy , they were sweeter just like their chocolate.

Sridevi said...

I've been to the Indian embassy in Washington DC...it was so typical of Indian work culture- at 5:30 sharp, they closed the door from the inside to prevent people entering the visa section. Only people who were already inside would get a chance to hand in their applications. The lady in charge (I saw a total of 2 people in the office)- was a stern Parsi lady, who in school-teacher fashion, scolded all the people there, instructing them that the door was not to be opened to anybody, and if they wanted to go out, they had to use another door and would not be able to get back inside. Needless to say, every single person stayed glued to their seats!

Pixel8 said...

indian embassies & consulates r the same everywhere. here (dubai) they eat and drink in the open during the month of ramadan. and its always crowded! u need "vasta" to get everything done!

WA said...

Brownie induced euphoria?? What are you expecting to find in Amsterdam, I wonder? :)

the One said...

Hmm. No space-cakes, no glass-fronted booths, and apparently no windmills or wooden shoes either .. are you sure this was the Dutch embassy?

chappan said...

SF
I am eagerly anticipating the blog post on Amsterdam.
Spare nothing.
Sourin

TomCruiseChellum said...

Apropos (old fashioned word in the world of new fangled English you bloggers write, but favourite of every South Indian who writes Letters to the Editor of the Hindu), Shyam's comment, here is what Lallu P.Yadav told the Japs while on a visit to Japan.
Japanese Emperor toasted Lallu and told him "Your Excellency, if you let us come into Bihar in good numbers, we will make Bihar into Japan in 3 years"
In his reply Shri Yadav siad, "Your Majesty, if you let me take over Japan, I will make into Bihar in 3 months"
I used to think it was a joke. Apparently it is not

Bidi-K said...

Somehow the Indian consulate in NY is pretty okay. They are brisk, no doubt but they get the job done, fast. In comparison, the Italian consulate is a mess. I remember I had to get a new passport since mine had expired, and in parallel my Italian friend had to do the same. I got mine at the end of the day, and my friend had to go back and forth 3 times, and got it after 10 days!

Übermaniam said...

TomCrusie, what a joke! Just cruising buy. nice post.

S said...

Lovely Post SF,

It's funny you happen to think the Dutch woman spoke with an american accent. I had the fortune of knowing a group of Dutch students, all had excellent command over the English language and boy you'd never once think English was not their first language...but funnily all had that slightest tinge of "Narth American" accent.
Maybe they have a whole bunch of Americans teaching them English in their grammar schools....or do they not do them anymore??

MumbaiGirl said...

The one I hate the most is the German Embassy in London. They're unaware of their own visa rules.

... said...

Why do we Indians have that attitude? That is so true -what you said about Indians being nice to everyone but Indians. You see this everywhere. In the US, you have the previous generation (Indians) complaining about how "easy" it has become for "anyone" to come to the US now (in a derogatory way) - why should that be a problem to them, I do not know. For example (I am serious about this one), I remember one of these old Indian ladies complaining that "since there are so many Indian H1 B workers here now, there is now a shortage of water here too!" HOW LAME IS THAT?

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

thanks everyone! It's comforting to know that everyone has similar tales of woe :) and that India has ample company on the bad embassies list! You'd think these people would be happy that tourists wanted to come and stay at their over priced hotels, sample their ridiculously expensive cuisine and purchase lots of tacky magnets and cow bells to take back home.

TTG said...

Addition to your post, and shameless plug for my old blog...

http://tarunsblog.blogspot.com/2005/01/trip-to-america.html

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

ttg - I'm yet to experience the treat that is the American Embassy. I'm sure I can't escape it for long

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