It seemed only appropriate that it was cold and raining the entire time we were there, making everything just that much more difficult and depressing. A simple procedure that should've taken only about 15 mins or so, ended up taking an hour and a half, and gave poor DH a LOT of grief!
The building is quite fancy on the outside, and is in a posh locale on the Upper East Side (UES) if Manhattan. But you enter and your entire being recoils in disbelief because it looks like you're back in some shitty government office in Pakistan, but your brain rebels, telling you "this can't be!". There is a little room on the side where all passport/visa/ID card supplicants (not applicants, because we are at their mercy) are herded together. There are signs on the door that say "take a ticket and come to the counter when you are called". However, the ticket dispensing machine is empty, and looks like it's been that way for ages. There's a photo booth for passport photos that doesn't work. And two photocopy machines; one that doesn't work and another that you have to pay 25 cents per copy for. Plus, the people in line are constantly scheming about how they can cut out the person in front of them so that they can get ahead faster.
Should you be so lucky as to actually know someone at the consulate, well then all you have to do is yell "Suniye, Mr. So-and-So hain? Jee main unka so-and-so hoon" ... and lo and behold! It's like the doors to heaven open up for you, and your application is taken care of tout de suite (at once)! And it shames me to say this, but some pakistani women take unfair advantage of their sex and try to ignore the line completely. Usually if the poor sap is a man, he'd let her get away with it too. Shame on you both!
I had the pleasure of encountering once such auntie at the Consulate myself this time. There we were, DH and I, already frustrated enough. We finally get to the front of the line, and are waiting for the guy behind the counter to acknowledge us, when Mrs. Auntie-in-a-hurry appears at our side and shoves her application in front of ours! First I give her "the look", which she completely ignores. Then with DH's encouragement I do speak up and say "Excuse me, but we were here first", to which she replies "oh, I was here earlier, but I had to go get blahblahblah, and now I'm back" ... to which I could only laugh and tell her "we had the same thing, but we stood in line like the rest of the people here, so you should too". All I got in response was this look of fake innocence and the words "Oh I didn't know we had to stand in line again!". I ask you my friends, do you think this auntie would've done tried this same tactic if she were anywhere else other than the Pakistan Consulate?
We are guilty of forgetting, I think. She may have been guilty of forgetting her manners the minute she walked in to a pakistani environment, but perhaps I too am guilty. Guilty of expecting our people to behave as they would anywhere else in the US - with respect for rules and your fellow man/woman!
My other beef is this: who doesn't accept credit card payments these days?! I thought that was a rhetorical question, but apparently the Pakistan Consulate still works on something called "money orders". Not accepting cash is somewhat understandable (ahem ahem), but what's the harm with accepting good 'ol credit?! So when DH asks, "where can I get a money order now", they point you to some place "down the stairs". Let me tell you something: these steep, slippery and narrow stairs were outside the main doors, taking you below pavement level to this dank, cramped corridor where a bored desi auntie sits by herself, chewing on paan. Uh, that's the lady who's going to get me my money order?! Look, as far as the work goes, our good people at the Consulate do it fine. They do it fairly quickly, and they MAY even help a brother/sister out should they be in a good mood. BUT, there's something to say for presentation too y'know! If someone out there knows the Consul General who sits in that office, can you please tell him to spruce up the place? And make the people working there look a tad (ok a LOT) more presentable? And more organized while you're at it? No more taking our applications and shoving them into an unseen drawer, yes?! Dude ... come ON .. this is your JOB!
Ok. That felt good. Getting that off my chest. If you have had any such "pleasant" experiences at the Pakistan Consulate (or the Indian Consulate for that matter, I hear it's no different!), do share your pain. As my favorite TV psychologist, Fraser Crane, used to say "I'm listening".
And for those of you who have avoided ever visiting either the Pakistan or Indian Consulate, what're you waiting for? It's an adventure! Go now! What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger!
To make myself feel better, I walked around the neighborhood afterwards, gawking at all the wonderful designer goodies. Drooled over some Valentino and Jimmy Choo, roamed around Hermes to see if there was anything there that I actually could afford (alas, no), and felt much better looking at the cheerful window art at Barney's. Apparently it's the 50th anniversary of the peace sign, and Barney's is going all out on their hippie, peace & love theme. Fun.
I was definitely able to salvage the day by window shopping and having lunch at a wonderful spot in the UES, which I promise to review in detail in my next post.