Victoria Jelinek


The Baby Diaries 16

I would like to take you seriously, but to do so would be an affront to your intelligence. George Bernard Shaw

American-flag copyMy son’s Danish passport came faster than a Gap order I placed on the very same day that we made the Danish application. The American passport application process is not straightforward. I can’t simply give them my US passport and birth certificate. I have to “prove” I’m an American. Which prompts the question how easy is it to get a passport or a birth certificate in the first place? And why aren’t they enough for me, then, to prove my citizenship and right to sponsor my son? Is it personal?  Some disapproving or disparaging remark I’d made at a party, which may have been overheard? Is it because I’ve been abroad too long? What I do know is that for better or for worse, I want my son to have a passport to my home. Makes me laugh. My British friends are astounded at how Yankee I sound after 15 years abroad.

How to “prove” that I’m American? Hmmm…I made a list, and then I ticked off everything that my mother – the woman on the ground for me stateside – and I collected for the dossier to submit to the US Embassy here:

  • My elementary school burned down years ago, so there are no records of my attendance. However, the local newspaper has a picture of me descending the steps of the old school, circa 1978, and my mother knew the principal there (now on his last legs) as well as my music teacher, and was able to get letters of support from them, testifying to my attendance.
  • My high school transcripts, a straightforward request, easily attained. I bolstered these with letters from the (then) vice-principal and the librarian there, who are in my mother’s book club.
  • My undergraduate transcripts as well as letters from previous professors.
  • My employment history in income tax forms, letters from employers, and friends, PLUS Frequent Flier statements that reflected my take-off and return, from the respective American cities I worked from, in order to confirm my living in a given US city at a given moment.
  • Dental and medical records from my childhood through secondary school. Thank goodness for small towns and my parents’ being ‘big fish’ there.
  • My son’s birth certificate from the US (as I’d already had his French birth certificate translated, and received his American birth certificate from abroad, as well as a social security number for him – how was I able to do this and yet not get him a passport?).

You might think I was being overly suspicious and O.C.D. organised, but I swear that each and every document was necessary.

Unlike the Danish embassy, where the official came down the many flights of stairs to help us with our pram (the lift was broken), the American Embassy had a Marine guard on the door and a security detector. My husband and my passports and mobile phones were taken from us for the duration of our visit, and our son’s nappy bag was scanned. I submitted the dossier to a very supercilious official, and we took a seat in a waiting room. It was a beautiful, old Tudor building, but there was no air conditioning. I was nervous in the errant-child way I get anytime there’s a policemen, security guard, priest or politician present. We waited hours and were the last to be interviewed by a Consular Official. He had a file created from my file, which was also three inches thick. Luckily, he was from Cobble Hill in Brooklyn, an area I lived in for several years many years ago (before it became fashionable and expensive), and we chatted about that. He okayed my son’s passport application, gave me his card in case there were any delays or problems, then ominously told me that when my boy’s passport expires in five years, to submit photographs of my son over the years to show how he changes, as continuing evidence that he is, indeed, still, recognizably our son.
My husband has given me nothing but grief about this. He says that he never wants to live in a country that treats its citizens like this. While I can see where he’s coming from, I don’t like anyone bashing my country  (certainly when they are not aware of all its merits, which I think only comes after living in a given place for at least a year). I simply told him that the only reason it was easy to get a Danish passport is because no one wants to live there.

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