Two weeks ago–give or take–I applied for a new passport at the US Embassy in Sofia.
Don’t worry nothing bad happened–my passport was neither lost nor stolen (thought this is one of my worst nightmares). Nope, the most boring and mundane thing possible happened–my passport was merely in the process of expiring.
So I printed out the application for a new passport, I got American sized passport photos (turns out Americans want a 5×5 square while Bulgarians want a 5x something rectangle–I learned that the hard way) and I rounded up a enough leva to pay for my new passport. Turns out they aren’t cheep at $110.
Then 10 days later I went back at the embassy to pick up my new passport. Old passport meet new passport.
For the most part things at the embassy were pretty uneventful. I guess this is really all you can ever hope for. It wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t painless or stupidly easy but it wasn’t horrible either.
The Bulgarian security staff asks you why you’re there a few times. Once your visit has been confirmed and approved then you go through security. The security measures seem a little bit much. They take your cell phone and other other technology. They ask you about liquids, sharp objects and make-up and perfume. Then you go through a metal detector and your things do too. Upon clearing security you then have to wait to be buzzed out of the security area in order to walk down a path alongside the embassy before you reach the consular services area of the embassy.
Then you check in again. As an American, I have it a little easier with a more private waiting room compared to the line that Bulgarians have to stand in. This said there’s nothing really private about talking to someone about whatever has brought you to the US Embassy through a glass window and a speaker system. Case and point, I’ve got to listen in on a lot of interesting problems and as such it seems to me based on my last few visits that the embassy deals a lot with paternity issues and citizenship–specifically American fathers and Bulgarian mothers. The take-away seems to be: get married before the baby is born and make sure the father’s name is listed on the birth certificate.
Anyhow, waiting at the embassy seems unavoidable. The last time I was there I waited long enough to grade a whole stack of quizzes. Lucky me! This most recent time it was much quicker but even though there was not physically in front of me in line I still had to wait.
The worst part of this whole thing is that I’ve never left the US Embassy in Sofia and not felt vaguely abused by the whole process.
Today for example, I was standing outside of the US Embassy after picking up my new passport and a guard came up to me and asked me if I was waiting for a taxi. I said, yes. Snarkey me wanted to say yes, why else would I be standing here on the sidewalk after exiting the embassy but I refrained. Then the guard told me that I needed to move to the other side of the garbage can to wait. Three to four steps later I was standing on the other side of the garbage can, the guard was happy, and I guess that the US Embassy in Sofia was now that much safer.
All of this said, I don’t want to complain too much because I really am grateful that I am American and that it’s relatively easy for me to travel internationally. I know that my Bulgarian friends don’t have it as easy as I do–as they still need visas to enter the US.