Welcome to the bizarre world of the US embassy in London. Where headphones are not allowed (and in my case ended up in the bin in Berkeley Square) and some enterprising chemist just down the road has set up a roaring business in storing phones and other embassy undesirables for the princely sum of 3 quid. Queuing for a 0930 appointment not knowing quite when it will be over and with no electronics, my iPhone and Blackberry addictions were replaced with a few hours of the Nanny Diaries, the Manhattan world we’ll certainly not be experiencing.
It feels a bit like some strange seventies sci fi film, with the constant drone of the disembodied American female voice telling the room that ticket number blah is now serving at window number so and so. The room is full of nervous, tense people, intent on getting their visa. Regional accents mingle with foreign languages. Business men in suits mix with families with surprisingly quiet small children – this is no place for them, cold, authoritative and unwelcoming. No one reads with any conviction, too worried that they miss their calling from the voice.
First call gets you through to level one of the investigation and yet another fee. Sent back to the masses to wait again for level two: the interview. Hidden behind what is probably bullet proof glass and bars the reach above that to the unnecessarily high ceilings, surprisingly pleasant but unnervingly interested US officials carry out endless probing interviews with the nervous masses extracted from rows of plastic chairs. A cacophony of voices surround you, snippets of interviews float around the room. The world weary voice of the sometime alcoholic confessing his history and accepting with resignation the inevitable rejection. The East European accented English: yes she did intend to leave after three weeks, but the voice behind the glass did not seem convinced. And the dejected but unfailingly polite candidate unceremoniously told conversation over: there was no debate. No visa. A sad,litany of those desperate to break into the US.
Granted our visas, we shuffle off to our final level and pay for the pleasure of the delivery company bringing our passports and their Willy Wonka style golden tickets back to us. We made it.