Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Visa Officer

Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.

My day did not start well. I got a letter (in German) from the visa officer, asking me to collect my new residence permit on a particular date of the month. Only, I would not be in the country that day, and would not be able to re-enter Germany without the new residence permit. The permit exactly looks like an EAD card or a driver's license. 

Let me back up a little bit. My old permit had expired two days ago, and I needed a new one to travel outside the EU zone. When I had told my visa officer last month, she had taken note of my travel dates and assured me that she will give me a permit before I leave. For safety, she had written down something in German on an official piece of paper and stamped it. I could show that paper at the airport, and they would let me in. Just that I would feel more comfortable showing them a proper plastic laminated permit, and not something scribbled on a paper in a language I do not understand that could be accidentally chewed on by a cow. Unlike in the US, my visa is not stamped in my passport, and my permit is the only evidence that I live legally and should be allowed to re-enter Germany. Also, unlike in the US, you are assigned to a specific visa officer who handles your documents and keeps track of your whereabouts. 

I had to take help of my department head's secretary to understand the letter. After that, she had to call their office, asking for a new appointment date before I left Germany end of next week. It was a long conversation in German, that included spelling my full name at least twice. Another instance when I silently ask dad what was he thinking when he named me, and wish my name was something super short, like Tan Sen instead. Although the secretary could not get hold of the visa officer, someone else told her that they would see what they could do. It was utter chaos. My discomfort continued.

True to the German reputation for speed and efficiency, I got an email an hour later. Just one line, written in German. "Visa interview Monday, at 11 am." The ways of the Germans amuse me. Fast, efficient, but utterly German. They know I do not speak the language, yet they email me just one line, in German. Sometimes, I email them in English and they reply back in German. Anyway, I was hugely relieved that I would have my interview in 3 days. As usual, the secretary wrote down on my appointment letter using a pencil what all documents I need to bring for Monday. 

I leave work early, and go to the grocery store. Tomorrow is a public holiday, and everything would be closed. Armed with bags full of chicken, vegetables, and fruits, I wait for the bus back home. I look at someone standing in front of me at the bus stop and she looks back. We frown, and then, both of us burst out laughing. It is my visa officer waiting for the same bus.

My officer, although German, is not White. She is not Turkish either, and I have wondered for a year what she is (I still don't know). To me, she looks hardcore Malayali, although given her name and last name, it is not possible. We are so amused to see one another, especially since morning, I have been making frantic phone calls and she has been emailing me. We board the bus together and find a seat. We still cannot stop laughing. She asks me about my upcoming international trips, and when I would be back in the country. It is just like making small talk with the random Sharma uncle or Sen mashima in the bus. I take out my appointment letter from my bag and ask her once more what documents I need to bring. She simplifies things and asks me to bring just my passport and old residence permit. We wish each other a happy weekend. She tells me, "See you Monday". I get off the bus and walk home, armed with my grocery, a wide grin on my face. What are the odds, I wonder, that in a city with a population of a quarter million people, I bump into my visa officer out of the blue?


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