As I alluded to a little while ago, my passport needs renewing before I next use it at Christmas. The process for this turns out to be sending my old passport, an application form and a payment form by courier to London.
I got a letter a few days later, a form letter they send to anyone with whose application there is some problem. Mine had the box ticked that said "your payment was declined".
I knew there was plenty of money but I dutifully called my bank. They said they couldn't even see that any attempt had been made to take the payment, and couldn't offer me any further help.
I didn't know if the problem was that I'd written a number down wrong -- I'd checked it carefully, but you never know -- or something else had gone wrong or been misunderstood. I'm so used to paying for things over the phone or online, where problems or mistakes are instantly flagged up and usually can be dealt with then and there. To have something so important as my passport hinging on something as fallible as a handwritten paper form drove me crazy.
I figured it was time to do as that form letter said and "contact this office" to tell them there shouldn't be any problem with the payment details I'd given them, and verify or correct them if need be.
But you know what? I can't find
any way to "contact this office."
If you're doing a straightforward passport renewal, the U.S. Embassy in London give you no other way to interact with them than by courier. This made sense when they were taking my precious passport, and the only proof I have of my right to live in the UK, away and bringing it back along with a new passport I can actually use at Christmas. But I'm not paying another £15, and again facing the potential of waiting in all day (£15 only gets you the "between 8am and 6pm" delivery slot; for £30-some you can have "before noon" or for £50-some you can have "before 10am"; I know I complain about how arbitrarily expensive and inconvenient the UK government is to interact with but don't think that any other one is any better!), just for the same problem to potentially happen again because I have no idea what the problem was in the first place!
After a lot
of messing around on the website, I finally found the switchboard number for the U.S. Embassy. I've just been through its automated list of choices twice, and haven't been able to find anything even vaguely relevant to me, or anything that gets me a human to talk to.
I've already had anxiety attacks about this and have put off dealing with it because of the damage it's causing to my health. But of course putting it off only makes it worse, and I've also made myself sick just by remembering at random, unhelpful times that this exists and needs to be dealt with.I wrote as soon as my passport was taken away
how essential it is to me, and that was when the system was working as it should! By rights I should have it back within a couple of weeks now, but the process won't have even started yet because I can't get the payment thing sorted out, no matter how desperately I want to, no matter how many tears of frustration and fear I have shed.
It's absolutely unacceptable to build such a fortress of uncontactability around citizens' own embassy for routine, necessary interactions with it. I am furious that I've been told to contact them, given no idea how to do that, and fumbling through menus and options both on their website and on the telephone switchboard has just made me more panicky without getting any closer to solving the problem.
They have the worst contact form I have ever
seen. Even if you click on "Still have a question?" at the bottom, all you get is a message that apparently is supposed to shunt people to the right form based on where in the UK they live, but it looked to me on my first several readings like it was for people who were applying in person
at London, Edinburgh or Belfast -- since the rest of the messaging makes much out of who is required to apply in person and who is required not
to and must only deal with the private, outsourced we-can't-guarantee-anything courier and I'm emphatically in the second
group, it was not clear in my heightened state of aggravation and misery that this wording did
include me because my passport
will be going to London even if I cannot.
So anyway I've used their contact form now and since I didn't think to copy what I'd said before I sent it I have no record of so doing now. They ask for your e-mail address but don't even send one of those "thanks for using our shitty online contact form!" e-mails to you so you have some record that you've done it and, if you're lucky, an idea of how long you have to wait for a response. But I'm writing this partly so I know when
I did it.
And mostly just to whine and elicit sympathy: I fucking hate this, I hate the bureaucracy and the expense and time and energy and stress of it all. I hate how high the stakes are and how much more stress and anxiety that leads to. I hate how I never get to stop feeling unsettled. I hate all of it so much.Edit:
I did get an e-mail back about an hour ago, which along with some unhelpful stuff -- "The Embassy has not yet been able to complete processing of your passport application"; yeah no kidding! -- did also give me the fucking address to send it to
and requested that it be sent Special Delivery. Which costs almost half as much as I paid for the fucking courier, but never mind; at least I could go to the post office at a time convenient to me rather than waiting in on some unspecified day until some unspecified time.
Fingers crossed nothing else goes wrong. I've been such a stresshead lately anyway, and even now that I've done what I can to get this sorted, I'm not feeling much better. I've got a sinus infection too, which probably isn't helping. Bah.