A few weeks ago, I was suddenly faced with Important American Business and didn’t know how I was going to resolve the situation on my own from France. A quick gander at the official site for the US embassy in Paris didn’t answer my question and the appointment-scheduling program wasn’t working, leaving me with no real options. It occurred to me that the embassy is technically sovereign American soil and that maybe American rules applied there, so I headed across town to test my hypothesis.
The first security checkpoint was manned by a guy who was very nice but didn’t want to let me pass without a scheduled appointment. I explained my situation to him and he told me that the department I needed was closing for lunch in five minutes but that if I hurried, I might make it.
The main security area was filled with very nice men who cracked jokes at how bundled up I was and, when I told them why I was there, quickly ushered me through and gave me very precise directions on where to go to call the person I needed to talk to.
Inside, the mood was subdued with lots of people looking like they were waiting for visas (or perhaps hoping to get picked by Jason Bourne to be his girl Friday) but I made a beeline to the service phone and dialed the appropriate extension which was clearly marked so that there was no mistaking how to do it. A friendly voice answered and listened to my very reasonable plea. Then she said the magic words, the words I’d been hoping to hear since this issue came up, a combination of sounds I hadn’t heard in years: “Since you’re already here…”
And I rejoiced. “Since you’re already here” is a great innovation in American getting-shit-done-ism. If you’re already at the place and ready to go, the American way is to let you finish. You’ve done the leg work and a true American won’t want to be the reason you can’t accomplish your goal. But I’ve spent so many years around people who will just not help you on principle (Spaniards) or because they don’t think you’ve worked hard enough to earn what you’re trying to get (French) that being treated with a modicum of respect instantly made this the most memorable encounter I’d had in ages.
All told, from my initial encounter outside the building, I spent less than 15 minutes at the embassy. You may not think this is remarkable, but I can assure you that nothing even mildly official takes so little time in Europe. Just buying water, which I do a lot, requires a wait of several minutes for the cashier to show up from wherever it is they hide and I got quality American service in a fraction of the time. It was glorious and had me fist-pumping (in my head) all the way up the Champs-Elysées for a good forty minutes afterwards because America is the land of taking care of business*.
* Though it’s sadly not the land of bands who write really good anthems for America like Bachman-Turner Overdrive (Canadian) whose “Takin’ Care of Business” should replace the Star Spangled Banner. U-S-A! U-S-A!
There are eight awesome American moments in the story above. Can you find them all?