Stacey and I spent an hour today trying to obtain a tourist visa into Europe through Spain. What a ride. It appears to me that our experience highlights the cultural differences between the USA and Spain (or even Europe, in general) well.
When you go to the US embassy in Moscow, it’s like in a big airport: crowds of people, lengthy lines, tired and bored security guards, you have to take your shoes off and other things of the like.
If you go to, say, a DMV office around here, you would see people lined up, and employees doing their job routinely and somewhat professionally. You know exactly what to expect.
Now, when you enter the embassy of Spain in San Francisco, you see a lively employee, who is a one man show talking very expressively in Spanish; people hug and kiss each other everywhere as if it’s a party or at least a family reunion. The chaos rules this little world: nobody tells you what to do, Americans (students) don’t have any clue what’s going on because there are no instructions. There is no organized line.
When we are finally called to the window, the guy who is looking at our papers appears to be doing it for the first time in his life (which I doubt is true, of course). After a few minutes, he finally looks at the passport and exclaims “Where is your visa?”. We are surprised he did not see the paper from the USCIS (immigration department) which explains the change of status, and so we patiently explain that visa is only needed for entry, the real thing is status, which we have it valid, and here is the official document to confirm it. “But we need visa!” says the guy. After some argumentation we realized it leads nowhere; super frustrated, we left. “How unprofessional? They work in the embassy and don’t know how the documents of this country work…”
We left the embassy, walked a 50 yards to another building with the parking garage, spent a few minutes trying to find an exit. We started to drive, disappointed, and then out of the sudden the guy shows up, on the street corner, waiving at us “hey, pull to the curb!”. -What’s up? -We talked with the consul, and turns out we do accept this papers, but you would need to come later, withing 90 days of your trip. No need to make a new appointment, just show this paper (scrabbles something) and we will let you to the consul Alexandro right away… -Oh wow, thank you so much and see you soon!
So there you have it: Spanish, one could say, are less professional but so much more caring. In America, you always get this “I’m so sorry about this” with the looks that says “I don’t give a damn, like literally nothing” and then no real help. But you get the usual service rendered. With Spanish, you might need to spend some extra time to get them do the work, but they would care with all the heart: it really took this nice guy a lot of effort to get out onto the street and look for us (he did not even know which car we drove) — that’s what you do when you are sorry and want to help someone.
What’s the upshot of the story? As usual, it is nice to mix the two cultures and get the best out of it: the efficacy and professionalism of the Americans and the emotions, caring and human touch from the Spanish.