27 July 2009

Embassy odyssey

I had lost my wallet awhile ago, and looking at the PennDOT website, the only way to get a replacement driver’s license was to fill out a specific form which could be mailed in or brought in, in person. But the hitch- regardless, the signature has to be notarized.

Website searches and talks with ex-pat American lawyers revealed that the typical American notary public doesn’t really exist here. Apparently the French aren’t impressed with signatures that have seals next to them- maybe too royalist? There is something called a Notaire, but that is really something more like a Master- a lay judge who has a completely different set of functions.

However, acknowledging the American fascination with notarization, there is some obscure federal law which requires all US Embassies around the world to offer notarization services.

To get this service, you need to make an appointment. But of course when I tried to do that the web link was dead. An email to the embassy in Paris got a response- Washington runs that server, and they’re working on it. A few days later I was able to really make an appointment, for about a week later. An appointment letter, a US passport, and $30 were all I needed. Note that the website also says something to the effect of: Yes, we love all Americans. But please don’t come and bother us if you can possibly avoid it.

We had gone to the French Embassy in Washington, DC to get the long stay visas. But the American Embassy in Paris- wow, those French guys were amateurs.

I took the Metro to Concorde, about a block from the Embassy (although you have to walk about 3 blocks underground to get to the exit.) When you get to the Embassy there’s the expected police presence (French) and bicycle barriers, and you had to cross the street, walk a half block down, and then walk through a maze of barriers back across the street again to get to the first check point at the Consulate.

The first guys (who were still French police) looked at your letter, your passport, checked it against a pre-printed list, and let you go about 5 feet to the next waiting spot. Then you waited in line to be allowed into the building where you went through airport security. There was a huge trash bin full of water bottles (what- this isn’t really an airport??) The website had warned you not to bring *any* electronic devices. I left my cell phone in my office at work, I didn’t bring my iPod on the Metro, but rather some work to do. When I was finally in that building, the next French policeman searched my purse. They didn’t like my chapstick, my tiny bottle of Advil, but finally put those back in. But they really really didn’t like the security device on my keychain (a PIN randomizer to get into the VPN at work). It had never occurred to me that this was a suspect electronic device- it doesn’t send/receive anything, can’t take pictures… but was suspicious enough that it got checked into a plastic bag which would await me, in exchange for the ticket on a neckchain that I got instead. After the manual search, I went through a metal detector, and the purse now went through the x-ray machine. I waited on the other side, and the police man kept wondering why I wouldn’t leave. Uh, mon sac… (my purse). Finally he gave it to me. So now I get to walk out of this building, and over to the real building.

At the entrance here, you got your number, like at the bakery. They were in different series; D was the notary line. (I was D07). Then you got to go into the waiting room. It was standing room only, with about 100 seats, and 20 different windows. Most people were there for other services, like getting visas for visitation. My appointment was at 1:30, I had originally arrived at 1 pm, and it was about 1:20 when I got into this room. The windows dedicated to notary services were all shuttered. Finally after 1:30 the first opened, and called D01. After no one went to the window, they called D02. After about 5 minutes they called D03, who actually went to the window. It wasn’t like there was anywhere you could go- you certainly didn’t have the opportunity to sightsee in the Embassy. Finally around 2 pm my number came up, but when I walked to the window there was a woman already there with a huge stack of papers. The clerk told me “you’ll have to wait- she had an earlier number”. Ok, I have to wait because she couldn’t figure out when her number was called earlier? After about 10 minutes the late woman got sent to the cashier, and I finally got my turn. I explained to the clerk that all I needed was my signature notarized on this already completed form. She took my passport, looked at the form, and complained that there wasn’t enough room for the notary stamps. She stamped a generic “US Embassy, Paris” print below the notary block, but sadly, she was not the real notary, just completing step one. She then gave me an invoice form filled out for $0. Apparently since this request was for a government agency, you didn’t have to pay. But you did have to go to the cashier and not pay. The cashier’s booth (window 20) had been empty the whole time I was waiting for my number to be called, but now there were 4 people in line, the first of whom was the woman with the big stack of papers. I'm stuck behind this lady twice?! The couple in front of me asked me questions in French about filling their application out. They were apparently Vietnamese, with US green cards, but the guy had lost his. He worked in France for a number of years, and did not speak English. Ok, whatever. His question was the difference between a commuting and non-commuting resident. In my halting French I tried to explain the work in one country and live in another concept, none of which was really related to his working and living in a 3rd country- not his native land, not his adopted land, but a different one yet. We all decided he was non-commuting, and he got his turn to pay. They didn’t take too long, I got up to the window, gave my slip to the guy who said thanks, you’re done, wait and they’ll call you again.

Now I had to go sit down again, to wait for the real notary to appear. After another 20 minutes, I got called up to the third window, where the notary quizzed me about what was going on, gave me my passport back, had me sign, then signed and did her sealing thing. All of which took about 30 seconds, about as long as this whole episode should have taken.

So, I’m not sure what PennDOT will make of an application notarized at the US Embassy in Paris, but as long as I can now get a new driver’s license, it’s ok.

1 comment:

  1. Yips, just made an appointment with the notary service. Thanks for the warning. Will come armed with "patience of Job" ... maybe cognac for lunch will do the trick.