Consulate Comparisons- Culture

Take a look at that desk in the distance

This is the last of a 4-part series comparing the US and Spanish Consulates in Paris. In February 2011, when STORSH was 5 weeks old, El Argentino (half Spanish), S and I went to both consulates to apply for his two citizenship / passports. It was an eventful day. 

The American lady who made us swear to “the whole truth & nothing but the truth” (El Argentino guffawed at that – you guys are so Law and Order, he said) that our three applications were truthful was very nice & chatty. She was probably 50, but had one of those 5-year old Marilyn Monroe voices. When I asked her who, besides Senator Chuck Schumer, I should complain to about non-resident citizens having trouble investing money or opening bank accounts at home she started in with a whole slew of her own stories about such difficulties and how we’re really persecuted for living abroad if we don’t keep up our credit history, etc. (yes, she worked for the State Dept)… She suggested I get official mail sent to my mother’s and set up a checking account that has Mum’s address, because otherwise I’ll just be wiped clean from the system by living abroad. It only took a few years to really just disappear. She said plenty of Americans who end up living abroad for 20 or 30 years just give up their nationality, because it becomes so nettlesome. She was sunny with all of this advice on how to get around the American Government persecution, but I didn’t think if I pointed out the irony of our little chat she would have thought it amusing. Or gotten it.  When pressed for my original request, she finally thought of someone at the Consulate I can write before starting a letter-writing campaign to my senator. Then she gave STORSH his first American flag with a bright smile!

From the messy desks that were piled with papers and stacks of civil code books, you’d think the Spanish bureaucrats had been there all their lives. My favourite, the gruff, smoke-filled oldie, let me video tape (I wanted to test whether they knew I had my phone – they did and they just didn’t care) him speaking roughly to one of his prisoners (some poor schmuck who barely spoke Spanish, needing a visa). Oddly enough the Spanish passport only allows two first names, though requires my last name after our family surname. Even if the first name is hyphenated that counts as two, not one. This perplexed both me and El Argentino, as we know plenty of Jose-Marias and the lot. Our own official, who sat next to Senior Grumpy, looked like the Wicked Witch of the West, tall skinny and evil, with a nervous laugh. She wasn’t going to let us choose Sebastian’s middle name (we wanted to skip the American Thaddeus for the Spanish Ruy in that passport), so when we raised a ruckus she deferred to Senior Grumpy for his opinion. He looked at me (familiar with my iPhone video camera, as he’d looked straight into it) and said in that unsmiling, Machine-Gun Spanish, “What the mother wants, the mother gets.” My heart melted, of course.

One more comparison for the road, before concluding this series:


5 for US (NOT including that much-resented 22 euro envelope!) vs €16 for the Spanish to make their passports (which they generously sent to us for FREE)… 

citizen of the world on his metro ride home

Before returning to writing about the Louvre, and covering various THATLous, next week we’re going to have a brief foray into Iron and Glass in 19th Century Paris (a loose tribute to Walter Benjamin). 

That said, you’re more than welcomed to sign up for the 3 June Treasure Hunt at the Louvre by clicking on the logo to the right. It will run from 14h30 – 17h. Drink included, it’s the price of a movie and drink.