Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Courtesy that is the US Embassy in Gaborone

My daughter is hoping to travel to the United States next year to visit her aunt and cousins. A writing friend just recently went to Germany and nearly missed her flight because the visa was not ready. She ended up in a mad dash collecting the visa only minutes before the plane was to leave. I don't want that to happen so I thought I'd call the US Embassy in Gaborone to see what we need to do to get a visa and how much time we need to complete it all. Since I live 200 km away from Gaborone I thought phoning would be the best way to deal with the issue.

So I called the US Embassy. First, you get a robot who tells you a lot of things, none of which are applicable and insists that you must wait or press 0. I waited thinking the robot had a plan and would take me somewhere. Don't wait, you're not going anywhere. The robot lied. You don't actually have an option -you need to press 0. Perhaps robots didn't learn the definition of the word "option" in robot school. Or perhaps it's an in-house joke for bored Embassy staff, or a money raising exercise for Botswana Telecoms for as you wait in robot purgatory, the money is click-click clicking away on your phone bill. I did learn from the first robot that the US Embassy in Gaborone is a dandy place to work because you knock off at 1:30 on Fridays. Can't beat that, unless of course they cancelled Mondays too.

When you press 0 you get a human, but as soon as you mention visa you're sent straight back to robot land. There you will get an American voice (I struggled to decide if it was male or female) of a person who is slightly annoyed with you and all of your enquiries. S/he demands straight away that you must listen until the end of the tape. S/he also tells you that s/he is not going to entertain discussing visa appointments with you on the phone. Not now. Not ever. And "calling repeatedly will not change the situation". I don't believe that last bit. I'm sure there is a threshold at which if a person called the American Embassy the robot would give in. S/he would collapse under the pressure of the calls and have to discuss the issue with my visa appointment over the telephone. Like for example if I called every 30 minutes for eternity. I don't like blanket statements like that, made by humans or robots. If I had time I might just put that bossy robot to the test. But I don't.

Apparently they have "limited consular staff and can't attend to all enquiries", but they can knock off on a Friday at 1:30pm to beat the traffic and get out of the city for the weekend. Anyway, it's all about how you prioritise things.

The androgynous robot person then directed me to all sorts of websites, repeated very quickly so it was almost impossible for me to get the whole address, unless of course I was a robot too, which I'm not. I think s/he meant to do that. And then came the worst. In a very clipped and seriously "I'm done with you" tone the robot person said, "Thank you goodbye." One sentence. There wasn't even a comma. It was the kind of "thank you goodbye" that makes you feel like you should turn ass and run. S/he had no genuine gratefulness for my call, in fact s/he wished I hadn't phoned at all. The thank you reeked of insincerity. It was a sarcastic thank you. A Steve Martin kind of thank you. And the good bye could have been shut-up if words really expressed their intended meaning.

Needless to say I know nothing more about how to get a visa for my daughter and what's worse it seems there is no way to get the information. I looked around on websites and got lots of vague information about how strict it all was. All I wanted was a bit of human contact. I would have been happy with the normal belligerent Gaborone kind of help. Anything but that sexless robot person with an attitude.


Nadiya said...

Loved this. I've never applied for a US visa, but I thought of applying for a job at the embassy once. I am proud to inform you that although my experience was similar to your visa-experience, I managed to reach a human in the end. The only thing was, the human I reached, wasn't much of an improvement over the robot.

No, I didn't apply for the job in the end.

So it goes.

Lauri said...

I'd apply for a job at the US Embassy if they let me off on Friday afternoons and cancelled Mondays. I'd even offer to talk to all of the tiresome people with their eqaully tiresome queries. Then the robot with little patience could go on holiday.

My friend told me when you go their in person they rub you down three times to see if you have weapons. I'm going to go naked just to skip all that. :)

bonita said...

Much the same for getting/renewing passport here. Actually, now that I think about it, there are very few places that have live people anywhere in customer service. Ever since Silicone Sally and Androgynous Andy began reciting options, I've found that there is seldom an option covering my need. I choose an option only to be led into a round-about, or my call goes in a queue which for all intents and purposes is a dead end. Because I have a speaker phone, I can stay on the line and still work. The record for hold is Hewlett Packard 55 minutes and counting—I hung up because I had to pee! (Most companies automatically dump calls after 20 minutes.) So while I can't offer an embassy hints, I sure can empathize,

Elizabeth Bradley said...

Dealing with bureaucracy is enough to send anybody up a wall. But how will you obtain her visa? My husband gets them all the time, simple as pie. How frustrating for you and your daughter.

Elspeth Futcher said...

I hate, hate, hate those robots. I've decided I want into their union because they seem to be showing up on more and more phone calls. Every major company seems to want a robot. Every bank has one. All the utility companies have them. Bureaucracy and robots; isn't it a match made in heaven?

Good luck fighting your way in.


Gutsy Living said...

Why is it that I am not surprised?
In the U.S., we are used to hearing robots, even Spanish speaking robots for those in America who don't speak English, despite getting all the benefits that most citizens pay for.
I get angry with robots as they speak and give me so many options when all I want to do is speak to a human with a little good old-fashined kindness. Those days are sadly gone. Good luck with your daughter's visa. Perhaps you'll have to drive there on a Friday before 1:30 p.m.

Lauri said...

I think now I'll have to go there but I'm quite scared. My friend went there and parked in the wrong place and three guys with machine guns came out and surrounded her car. This visa siutation may prove to be more difficult than I had first thought.