“Liberté”, “Fraternité”, Egalité” – France shares high hopes with other nations through these three noble words. Indeed, certain embassies offer you the Freedom to not visit their country if you find it too onerous to wait 2-3 hours to make a visa request; the Liberty to come and go as you please while you wait and Equality with all of the other overheating petitioners in what is often a corridor masquerading as a waiting room…
The visa company couriers shake hands with each other. They roll their eyes acceptingly and list the other embassies they expect to be unable to visit that day as they are squandering their time in this one. They divvy up their collective work among themselves in a spirit of cross-company cooperation. One of their manoeuvres is to arrive early and take turns guarding their place at the door as others go for coffee. Thus they are always seen to first.
Around 9.45 the first petitioners are welcomed, i.e., the couriers who have remained and amalgamated their colleagues’ visa requests. They are numerous and take a long time to be processed. Joe Public is really starting to lose it. Then the mystery petitioners start to arrive. Not obliged to take a ticket like the rest of us poor suckers, they are greeted like friends by the staff – they could well be just that, but they slow the waiting process even further and deep, heavy sighing fills the room. Also, teeth-sucking.
All the while the room heats up and the frantic fanning of documents begins. The whirring harmonises with the sighing and teeth-sucking creating a nauseating drone which only exacerbates the bubbling sense of infernal torment. Some people leave to fetch snacks, resigned as they are to their fate. There’s a McDonalds nearby. Dare you imagine how the stench of a soggy cheeseburger melds with the treacle-like atmosphere previously described? Could you imagine how trapped in that hellish corridor it has never smelled more tempting? As the shared frustration mounts and the complaining becomes more vocal? As people begin conversations about the urgency and awfulness of their situation? As the requests for clemency are shared mutually in the hope that a place might be given up or gained? But no quarter is given. None.
A member of the embassy staff emerges. He is met with a litany of requests, of explanations, of stories detailing the urgency of each individual case purportedly more legitimately deserving of exceptional treatment than the last.
“I have to be at the airport in an hour”, they say.
“We have been here since 9 o clock this morning”, they complain.
“The gentleman told me all I had to do was drop off my file and I’ve been waiting since I arrived to see someone”, they explain.
“Why is everything taking so long?”, they utter in hope.
“I can’t wait here all day – I have things to do”, they berate.
The embassy staff member stops mid-corridor. He takes a breath. He bows his head in resignation then shakes it disconsolately before uttering
“You will all have to wait your turn. Why can’t you see you are just like everybody else?”
Suitably chastised and resigned to the utter, desperate, hopelessness of their words, thoughts and feelings and reduced to the status of mere individual, the impatient waiting resumes.The heat and tension rise another notch and everybody simply waits… and waits and waits until the day is done and they have what they came for, stunned into bitter silence by the spectacular inefficiency, the institutional ill-will and the general nonchalance with which they have been enslaved.