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Garlic and Olive Oil

My goal is to paint a picture of life in Spain during the seventies and eighties, albeit from a foreigner's point of view. Excerpts are in no particular chronological order.

I may be an alien, but I'm not a foreign one! 1982, Tarragona
08 October 2013 @ 16:30

It's 1982 and we're living in Miami Playa, Tarragona. We're all set to go to the United States in a few days to visit my husband's parents.


"Oye, you've been out of the United States for more than two years, verdad?"  My Cuban friend sits in her apartment in Cambrils, looking concerned. She offers me coffee and a cigarette. 


"So?"  I manage to blurt out. I can never smoke and talk at the same time. Nor indeed have Iever  learned the technique of blowing smoke rings. In fact, come to think on it, I don't really enjoy smoking at all. 


"You're not supposed to be out of the United States for more than two years. Could be trouble."


Oops.  I didn't know that. Being a foreigner in both Spain and the United States at the same time means there is so much paperwork to figure out. I am  considered a foreign alien in the United States, and a tourist in Spain. Even although I lived in Spain for four years in the early seventies, I've always been considered a  tourist.  And even although I may indeed be foreign in both these countries,  I am certainly not an alien. Ha ha. Hmm, maybe it's not so bad being considered an alien. But a foreign alien, well that's a bit much!


Off I go to the American Consulate in Barcelona to get information about my status.


"Maam, you're a foreign alien and you've been out of the United States more than two years."


They take away my Green Card - the document that allows you to reside in the United States. I am indeed chastised and in deep trouble. Fortunately, the people at the Consulate are nice enough to issue me a tourist visa so that we can still go to Florida to visit my husband's parents. But, the only way to get another Green Card is to start the whole procedure all over again. If you think Spain is full of red tape, try dealing with United States Immigration.


In order to re-apply for the Green Card I have to go to an American Embassy. Guess where the nearest one is?  Madrid!  And we live in the Province of Tarragona. We drive to Madrid, not in the fabulously fascinating Alfa Romeo, I may add, and go straight to the bloody American Embassy.


They want a list of all the places I've lived, so that they can check up on my character and criminal record. Really and truly. They want an Xray of my chest, presumably to ensure that I don't have some dreadful disease. I have to get a medical exam and I have to provide them with all sorts of documents.




I never like being called maam. But, I muster up a smile.


"Everything is in order."


Thank goodness. Wouldn't want to have to make the trip again from Tarragona to Madrid. 


"Everything, except for one detail."


"Yes?"  I try not to sound too annoyed.


"One of your documents is a photocopy. We need the original."


"But other documents are photocopies!"  That's not really me becoming even more annoyed.


"Maam. We need the original." He smells of butter and mayonnaise and chews gum loudly.


"I have to go back to Tarragona? Then, come here again to Madrid?"


"Yes, maam."


I swear he almost salutes me.


Back to Tarragona we go. A few days later, I climb aboard a train to Madrid. Yes, I do indeed take the original document, all the while hoping that I get it back.


All the while thinking of red tape and how I could use just a little of it to wrap  round the chubby cheeked people with the crew cut hairstyle and the perfect teeth who are just too smug for their own good. 


"Maam. Everything looks in order."


"About bloody time." I mumble to myself as only a foreign alien can do.


"Excuse me, maam?  Did you say something?"  He stares at me intensely and even stops chewing his gum for a second or two.


"What's the time?  I mean, what time is it?"  Do I sound ridiculous, or what?


"A quarter of ten." He glances at this watch. "Are you in some kind of a hurry?"


"Yes. I am."  We foreign aliens can be quite determinedly obstinate.


"We'll expedite your Green Card as quickly as possibly. May take a while, though."


He disappears down a long corridor and I walk quickly out of the shadows of the American Embassy into the sun-drenched Madrid avenues. 

Like 1


mike_walsh said:
12 October 2013 @ 06:55

I can sure empathise with that story. Most frustratingly it seems that it is perhaps the only so-called service that makes the rules as it goes along. It never has to feel accountable to anyone. Nor does the uncivil service offer any route to suggestion, question or concern. It is not the Civil Service, it is the Rainy Day service; we are obliged to accept it as an when it comes as part of life.

manxmonkey said:
12 October 2013 @ 06:55

Reminds me of about 1984 when i flew in to the states having been out for about a year. In front of me a poor woman had her Green Card literally cut up in front of her as the absolute harridan of a woman officer tore into her too, "You have been out of this country for nearly a year and you are obviously too old and ill to work so I am not going to let you in on this Green Card". I left the queue, put my green card in an inside pocket and found one of the "Tourist Visa" forms instead but when I got back to the counter (I went in another line hoping for a friendlier person) they pulled me in for an interrogation. After 20 minutes I asked them why had they pulled me and they said "Because you left the line"! I just smiled and sdaid, "That's because I realised I'd left my landing card / visa on the plane so went to get another. They looked as if to say, "yep that makes sense" and let me go but I was very careful after that.

steve cummings said:
12 October 2013 @ 08:39

Maybe it is time we told the Americans to shove their "wonderful" country up their bottoms. What has the US got that Europe hasn't ? Nothing, that's what. That is why Europe is stuffed with gawking Americans telling us how "awesome" it is.

So here's a message to the US Immigration Service: "Shove it!"

bilbo.s said:
12 October 2013 @ 10:47

I just don't go there.

David H said:
12 October 2013 @ 17:24

Try visiting the Russian Federation; their visa application form demands your life story and practically steals your identity.
Then try entering the USA as a Russian national for an even more alarming set of questions.

gerryinalbany said:
12 October 2013 @ 18:15

As an American the comments are correct in thinking the US immigration service can be a pain. It's a bloated bureaucracy with boorish and petty "jobsworth's" who are lazy an unresponsive.
I am sure the UK has nothing like this or for that matter Spain which is known for its swift action and no nonsense streamlined approach to paperwork.
Obviously just an American trait!

earlieo said:
12 October 2013 @ 19:28

Do I detect a bit of sarcarm in your comment?!?
But I agree...bureaucracy (if you look the word up) abounds in every country. I have travelled to many countries ((US, UK, Europe, South Africa, the Middle East and Far East) and it is not much different. It is just a process and people who work in the "bureauracracy" business are just doing their job as efficiently as the process allows. And they are probably just as bored in dealing with unappreciative customers as we are in having to do it. So next time maybe cut them a bit of slack!
They don't make the rules!

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