07 June 2005

a tale of two embassies

Yesterday I went to the American embassy here to drop off an application, thinking I could just walk in the door and they'd welcome me back into the fold. Not so.

The embassy is in a residential section about a 10 minute walk from here, and unlike many of the embassies, which are unobtrusively tucked among houses and other offices, the US embassy has commandeered half of the street in front of it. What was a normal 2-lane street a few months ago is now one lane, and a holding area in front of the building blocked off by traffic barriers. As I approached the door, the squat Icelandic security guard materialized from beside the door to block my progress, saying that I coudn't enter without an appointment.

In my broadly American English, I said all I wanted to do was drop off an application, and I had it all ready in an addressed envelope. He said he'd have to consult on that, so he disappeared into the glass foyer where I could see a full metal detector and x-ray for bags set up. He spoke to the guard presiding over that area, also Icelandic, who then went through the next level of security to talk to a third guy, barely visible behind his own safety partition.

After much deliberation, they must have determined that an envelope was innocuous enough, so door guard took it to metal detector guard who gave it to partition guard.

This experience is in total contrast to a similar visit I made to the Canadian Embassy, located about 5 minutes down the street from where I live. There, the embassy is tucked away with the Nordic Film office and a number of other agencies, their presence only indicated by the flying flag out front. I walked into that embassy without a single security-guard obstruction, and was welcomed all the way into the innermost sanctum of the place, behind the two locked doors. The Canadian website invites you to come visit and check the place out, and they really meant it. There were brochures available to pick up in two languages, comfy seats, and friendly staff.

I know that the US embassies in other countries have been the target of various attacks in recent years, but we are in a place where the most dangerous thing you will encounter on a regular basis is empty beer bottles being flung from cars as people cruise down Laugavegur. Women leave their babies in the prams outside while they go in to the shops and 10 year old kids go to the pool by themselves. It's hardly the kind of place to require such incredibly tight security measures, and I'd imagine that the embassy is not endearing itself to the neighbors when they take over half the street like that.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

'I'd imagine that the embassy is not endearing itself to the neighbors when they take over half the street like that.'

Yes. It sends a message all right. Worst is I don't think they realise it.

Fantastic writing. Have to go now but will be back and read each and every single post. This is true soul food. Thank you so very much.