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Unlike the French, the Brits do it with a smile

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Remember my less than ideal experience with the French Embassy recently? Well, we applied for a British visa, took an appointment via their website, arrived at the prescribed time in the Bahrain Financial Harbour, did the required security checks and took the lift to the 23rd floor. There we were greeted by security guards with those metal detection wands, waved them at us and off we entered a well lit and airy office with an electronic queuing system.

We sat in their waiting area and immediately noticed the complete absence of bullet proof glass and that everyone there was smartly dressed in professional looking uniforms.

Our number came up, Frances took the pre-filled documents to the assigned desk where the lady looked through 5 sets of 26-paged visa application forms, got Frances to fill a few extra required details, handed in our passports which were checked and passed along to another queue after we paid the visa fees of BD820. You have to budget for visas now as part of your holiday finances! Once that was done, we were called in turn to get the finger prints scanned and pictures taken, and off we went on our way (we had breakfast at a newly opened bagel shop on the 2nd floor, simply scrumptious! The choices they have are mouth-watering and mind-boggling too!)

We were called approximately 24 hours later via a text message informing us that the passports were ready for collection. We all got 5-year visas without any bother whatsoever!

And you know what? They didn’t require 6 months bank statements, no stamped and approved hotel booking confirmation, no issued return air tickets. All they wanted were approximate dates on which we intend to travel!

The whole experience was civil and professional.

There was no one shouting and no Napoleon-wannabe patrolling the decks shouting and denigrating everyone in sight, and no frustrated and frazzled women who have seen better days and climes residing behind bullet-proof glass pretending to be Gallic protectors of the French and larger European Nation from the hordes of Bahraini terrorists and who think that without them personally – together with their diminutive mini-Napoleon-wannabe – that the whole of Europe would crumble.

The Brits can certainly teach the French some professionalism as well as give them lessons on how to treat people in a civil manner. However, I won’t hold my breath for the French Embassy or its masters in Paris to seek those direly needed lessons in better customer-care, though.

Off to the UK, sometime soon and with pleasure!


The Arrogance of the French Embassy

I was supposed to travel to Greece later this month to attend a Middle East Conference at the invitation of the Greek Foreign Ministry. Unfortunately for us poor souls from this area of the world who intend to go to Greece, we have to go through the hallowed and completely arrogant portals of the French Embassy first.

With my documents almost completely in order apart from a stamped letter from the hotel I am supposed to stay at, a requirement that I thought would be dismissed especially that it was specifically mentioned in the invitation letter that it is the organisers who will pay for both the tickets and hotel charges, was not a sufficient excuse for the gatekeepers at the embassy. But when it was explained to the lady behind the bullet-proof glass, she brought out another fillip in that I have to provide a company letter and commercial registration. Apparently the explanation that I was the owner and detailed six months of the company’s bank statements weren’t enough as proof of sources of funds – if that is indeed what they require – or proof of ownership, as I doubt very much that a company would hand such sensitive details to an employee.

Add to all of this that I sat in a sterile room – which contained notices in English which seem to have been translated from Arabic or French by an 8 year old with an attitude – for more than 10 minutes without knowing when I would be called even though my appointment was supposed to be 10AM, a time which I respected but seems to mean nothing to the French Embassy. Nor does time appear to be of much importance to the French Consul, M. Philippe Touieain whatever who scoffed rather abrasively and arrogantly at my complaint of having to wait for that “just ten minutes, pfah!” and demanded rather loudly to give him a valid excuse of why I withdrew my papers and expressed a wish to no longer wanting to go to Europe!

“It is the arrogant attitude of the lady behind the glass. She could have been a bit more customer friendly at least in explaining the missing pieces of information”

“Ah, it is the attituuuuude then! pfah!”

This is when yet another defender of the European Nation jumped up from behind another plate of glass vouching for her colleague in that I had the attitude problem and that I had that right form the moment I stepped into the Visa section because I had the temerity as to enquire why when my appointment was at 10AM was I not called at the prescribed time and why I had enquired – rather politely I might add – as to what the procedure was?

I suppose I should have felt rather privileged to be in their hallowed offices and that I should just sit, shut up and dream up rather beautiful French thoughts and images while whiling away the time taken from running my business or pleasure, for theirs.

I can now completely understand how the French ambassador rejected allegations made by our very own Ministry of Foreign Affairs “over the ill-treatment of Bahrainis applying for Schengen visas to Europe” but only with the proviso that the respected officials at the embassy must still be wearing rather dark and completely opaque glasses as to restrict their vision and have that abject belief that it just cannot be that their staff are actually in error! Oh mon Dieu!

What shock and horror that the peasant Bahrainis complain of ill treatment and the arrogance of particularly M. Philippe Touieain who I am sure looks at himself as the gallant Asterix who, together with his chosen cabal, protect Europe from the invading Bahraini hordes!

What is it that the lovely lady behind the second plate of glass said in parting? Oh yes: “if we had to deal with just three customers like you in a day we would be shut down.”

Well, don’t let me stop you. Shut down. I don’t think a self-respecting person is going to miss you.

You can keep your precious Europe – at least the part that you have put your hands on for some reason – to yourselves. And thanks to the French Embassy, I shall miss participating in the forthcoming conference in Athens.