Friday, July 29, 2005

Dancing with the bottom feeders

Yesterday, I sent my Indian passport off to the Consulate to be renewed. The preliminary groundwork that needed to be completed for this purpose was, to say the least, a trying experience. In fact, in general, any activity requiring interaction with my fellow citizens of this country has become a trying experience.

The first step in my endeavour involved getting 4 passport sized photos. The Indian Consulate, in it's infinite wisdom, has decided to stand apart from the rest of the world and maintain it's unique identity by specifying a photo size of 3.5 cm X 3.5 cm (the regular passport photo size is 2 inch X 2 inch). The minute I came to know about this, I knew it spelt trouble. And, my apprehensions were confirmed. In the photo shop, my conversation with the teenaged girl behind the counter went like this :

Me : Hi, I need a passport sized photo, 3.5 cm X 3.5 cm.
Girl : Umm... we only do US passport size. You will have to cut it out yourself.
Me : Ok then.

The girl then snapped my photo, got it printed and I asked her if I could measure it to see if it was big enough for me to cut off a 3.5 X 3.5 section from it. She brought a ruler scale.

Girl : Wait .. this is a millimeter scale. Let me see if we have one with centimeters on it.
Me : Wait, we can use this one.
Girl : No, see, it says millimeter on it. Let me get another one.
Me ("serenity now, serenity now") : No, wait, we can use this one, one centimeter is equal to 10 millimeters right?
Girl (confused) : What?
Me (trying to point out the millimeter bars using my fingernails) : See, this is ten millimeters, that is equal to one centimeter.....
Girl (warily) : Ookay....
Me : ...... so 3.5 centimeters would be equal to this. (I show her on the scale with my fingers).
Girl (still not convinced) : Umm.
Me (Brain ready to spontaneously combust) : One centimeter is equal to 10 millimeters, so if I measure 35 millimeters, that would equal 3.5 centimeters.
Girl (expression saying "Whatever. Just go already") : Ok.
Me (Fuck the metric system)

Ok, I know, thats the only system we learnt in India but goddamn its hard to communicate with Americans in the metric system.


My next stop was the bank, to get a money order. Have you noticed lately that the only qualification required for being a bank cashier seems to be the ability to hold a pen the right side up? I enter the Bank of America office.

Me : Hi, I need a certified check
Amy: We don't do those anymore.
Me : How about a money order?
Amy: Ok, Bill will take care of you.
Bill: Me?
Me : Hi Bill. I need a money order for 55 dollars.
Bill: Amy, how do I do a money order?
Amy (talking to a different customer)
Bill : Ok, let's see. (asks me a lot of information, most of it useless)
Bill (done with asking useless information) : Amy
Amy (still with a customer)
Bill (staring into space) : I need to ask her. Sorry about that. Please fill out this withdrawal form in the meantime.
Me : No problem. (yes problem)

I fill out the withdrawal form.

Amy arrives.
Amy : There's a bank charge for a money order.
Me (for some reason I'm still directing my questions at the clueless Bill) : How much?
Bill : Amy?
Amy : 4 to 5 dollars
Bill : So is it 4 dollars or 5 dollars?
Amy : Let me check.

Amy checks, shows Bill what to do next and leaves. I think to myself "Amy, sitcho ass down and help me out here".
Bill prints out the check, gives it to me.

Me : Er... this check does not have any amount written on it.
Bill : Well, you have to write it yourself.

Write it myself? Now, I'm no banking expert but isn't a money order basically a check written by the bank? WTF Bill? Do I need to tell you how to do your job?

Me : Are you sure?
Bill : Amy, he has to write the amount himself right?
Amy : No, we need to print it out, otherwise he could write any amount he wants to.

Uh-oh .. did I just miss becoming a millionaire? I now regret asking Bill about the amount.

Bill : Here you go. (no you don't, I ain't done with you yet)
Me (Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel) : Am I all set?
Bill : Amy is he all set?
Amy : Bill, you did not enter this (unidentified thing) on the check.

The light turns into a freight train.
Amy stands with her hands on her hips looking frustrated.

Bill (still clueless) : Can we enter it by hand?
Amy : I don't know I will check. (goes inside, presumably to kill a puppy)

After 10 minutes of waiting, Amy comes out and tells me I am all set to go.

Bill : Thank you and have a good day.
Me (Fuck you Bill and fuck your day)


Next stop, the post office. Here, thankfully it wasn't that bad. Apart from the fellow mistakenly attaching the Express mail sticker to the wrong side of the envelope, all went well. Praise the Lord.


Michael Higgins said...

Hi Gawker
This is hilarious - both stories.
I cannot believe there was someone who did not know that 10 millimeters equals a centimeter (well maybe I can believe it).

I am surprised that BofAm does not do cashier's checks, or is that what they are calling a money order.

gawker said...

You better believe it, I couldnt believe it myself. I don't know why the bank said they don't do it, maybe the woman misunderstood me, I clearly said "I need a certified bank check"

chappan said...

Funny story man. But I see a lawsuit coming. Good luck. On the brighter side , blogging from prison can be fun too !!! aybe you get to be someones wife :) J/K

gawker said...


Ok then, it wasnt BankAm, it was the Bank of Baroda.

raven said...

Dude, next time, try the post office for money orders. They're definitely more with it.

Sujatha said...

Please, please, tell us what happened at the consulate. Must have been way more fun. Have you noticed how even the natives (of the country in which the Indian consulate functions) have figured out how to get work done there? They don't stand in lines. They crowd around the counter the minute a human appears at the window. They all push their tokens at his face at the same time and ask questions in unison.

Sunil said...

And I thought my wife had a bad time in the bank!!

But I'm now a strong supporter of the Indian consulate here in the US. I had to have my passport renewed, and (though the paperwork was a pain, and the photographs an extra pain) I sent the forms in. I also called (since it was around Christmas and I was travelling), and told them that I would be away, so it would be nice if they called me to let me know when the passport would reach me.

Just 10 days later, a person from the consulate (SF) actually called me, and told me that they were going to send it to me by overnight mail, and asked if the address I had given them was ok.

Given the rough treatment we've all been through in passport offices in India...I felt I was in a different world.

gawker said...

raven : I wasnt aware that post offices could do that, but now that I know I sure will.

suj : I mailed my stuff in, I didnt have to visit the buggers.

Sunil : The moment I came out of the bank I thought of your experience (since I had already read your post). I hope the Consulate does as good a job as you say they do. My old passport expires in a month and a half.


Indian embassy at NY ---from outside an extremely impressive building but the moment you enter its like a waiting room in Sealdah station....I prefered to go visit them to get my passport renewed and so I didnt need a bank draft. And for the passport sized photos---I used some I had from India....lucky me !