Monday, June 30, 2014
A Cultural Exchange? Applying for a Brazilian Visa
My family and I recently returned from attending the World Cup in Salvador, Brazil, an incredible experience! As U.S. citizens, we needed travel visas to enter Brazil. Regarding travel visas, Brazil acts on the practice of reciprocity, meaning; if a country requires a visa of a Brazilian citizen to enter its borders, then Brazil requests the same of a citizen of that country to enter Brazil. I liken applying for a Brazilian visa to applying to college. It's not difficult, just time consuming and many documents are involved.
For my family and I, anytime we have to go to an embassy we find it to be an angst ridden exercise. We always want to make sure we have the proper documentation and that documentation properly completed because we don't want to waste the Consular (Embassy) staff's time, our time, and invoke the ire of the Consular staff and have them tell us to return with the proper forms.
Prior to visiting the Brazilian Embassy, I had been in contact with a woman at the embassy named L. who was very helpful and assisted me with the application process. I arrived at the embassy on a Thursday morning and it was packed! Granted the embassy was not that big, it was on an upper floor of an office building, so it really didn't take too many people to pack it. Upon arriving at the embassy, I took a number and asked a woman behind a plate glass window if L. was working because she and I had corresponded previously and I just wanted to make sure that she knew that I was here because she had suggested I arrive around this time. The woman told me to take a seat and wait, and wait I did. I read, spoke with others around me, and wrote a little. I used my timely wisely as I waited as I tend to do. At one point during my wait, I asked for a form to complete because I was not able to complete a particular form online and I wanted to have it completed when it was my turn to be processed. Again, I was told to take a seat and wait.
I was finally called to Window 3. As I made my way down the short corridor to Window 3, I had a feeling that the woman behind the plate glass at Window 3 was L. Upon seeing her, I sat down, introduced myself, and we exchanged pleasantries. She asked me to complete the online form that I was unable to complete at home at one of the computers situated in the corridor. I completed the form and then I proceeded to provide L. with the numerous documents that are required to apply for a Brazilian visa. L. and I established a little rhythm with the processing of all the required documents, the process was pleasant throughout, and it went more quickly than I had anticipated.
Fortunately, I had and completed all of the necessary documents (Always make copies of everything, when applying for anything at an embassy. This came in handy.) and L. said that the embassy would be able to process all of our visa applications. She also said, "Typically, it takes 5-7 days to process visa applications, but since there is a holiday next week and the embassy will be closed, we will process your applications prior to the holiday. Can you come in three days (Tuesday), your visas will be ready, and you can pick them up at that time." I was impressed! Also, a typical Brazilian visa costs close to $175 (It is good for 10 years). Since we were applying for World Cup visas she informed me that the visas would be free. I was ecstatic at this news. As I was leaving, I was very complimentary and thankful. L. then looked at me and said, "The next time you return to the embassy, can you please wait in the queue? If you just wait in the queue, everything will be ok. You're American, you're culture is all about lining up/queing up. You should be familiar with this." J.'s comments left me perplexed! I immediately started going through my mind to all of my actions upon entering the embassy. I took a number, I waited, I read, I chatted with others, I had all of my documents and completed! And, L. and I exchanged pleasantries as she processed all of my documents. I had no idea what she was talking about. I looked at her and said rather flatly, "Thanks for all your assistance, see you Tuesday."
Couldn't make it to the embassy on Tuesday, busy with work, I informed L. I arrived at the embassy during the time frame in which she said 2:30-4:00 o n Wednesday.
When I entered the building to take the elevator up to the floor on which the embassy was located, a security guard looked at me and said, "You're going to the Brazilian Embassy? I replied, "Yes." The security guard smiled and pointed me in the direction I needed to go. At this exchange three thoughts went through my head:
1. Do I stick out that much?
2. Am I that recognizable?
3. Did L. alert security to inform them I was about to arrive?
I entered the embassy and there were no other patrons. I quietly took a seat and did not say a word. I was again summoned by the woman behind the plate glass window. I did not want to speak with her because I learned that she was the woman last week who informed L. that she felt that I was impatient and did not wait in the queue. She asked me why I was there and I informed her that I was there to collect my passports with the Brazilian visas. She replied, "Have a seat." I thought to myself, "That's exactly what I was doing!"
I began reading a newspaper and the semi-sonambulent security guard who obviously believed in economy of motion, motioned for me to go to Window 3, L's window, then he fell back asleep. I was the only person in the embassy.
As I approached, L. had her side to the window and she began speaking Portuguese when I appeared. When she fully turned her body to the window and saw me, she smiled, laughed, and commented, "I thought you were Brazilian, you look Brazilian. I replied, "I have the everyman look." She then began to chastise me for cutting the queue. I looked at her incredulously and replied, "There's no one here! I'm the only person in the embassy! She interjected, "No, I meant last week." Apparently I had created quite a stir in the embassy last week by trying to be efficient. At this point, I started getting a little frustrated and I said to L."Last week, I was just trying to be efficient and efficiency is valued in my culture. When I arrived at the embassy, I didn't want to waste anyone's time, yours especially. Since we had previously corresponded I wanted to let you know that I was at the embassy. While I was waiting, I wanted to have all the documents in order so that when I was called, everything could be done and the process could go quickly and smoothly. This is why I asked for blank documents while I was waiting. I wasn't trying to cut any queues, just trying to help the process along." L. heard what I had to say, nodded like she understood, and replied with her mantra, "The next time you come back, just wait in the queue and everything will be ok." I just looked at her, smiled, and in a resigned voice said, "Ok."
I still hadn't received my passports and I didn't want to do anything to jeopardize this because last week as L. was chastising me I noticed a sign above my head that read and I summarize, "No profanity, disrespectful nature, threatening behavior, shall be directed at an embassy employee. Distribution of visas is done so at their discretion." This sign stayed with me during all my interactions with L. and it caused me to temper my interactions with her.
I finally received my passports with the visas and as I was reviewing them I noticed a mistake with Evan's visa. L. corrected the mistake, I thanked her and I began to leave. As I was leaving L. said, you remind me of a guy I know. I looked at her quizzically, side-eyed, not knowing what she was going to say next. I replied, "Is this a compliment?" She paused, thought for a moment and replied, "Not really." Then she added, "You are very friendly though." She got me again.