Yield to Miss Lucie

Grizzled EuroSavant veterans might recall the entry of earlier this year describing the dismay in Poland over the tight US regime for obtaining visas to visit the States, which included a first-person account – “Ally Out in the Cold” – of one Pole’s ordeal in visiting the US embassy in Warsaw to try to obtain his own visa.

That experience, as the article’s title suggests, featured quite a bit of excruciating waiting outside the embassy in the Polish January cold. For a change-of-pace – but, it turns out, of the most minor sort – we now have Miroslav Zajíicek’s account of what he had to go through for his visa in July’s summer heat at the American embassy in Prague (The Americans Give Lucie Priority), in the latest issue of the Czech opinion weekly Respekt.

This article is in the subscription-only section of the on-line version, unfortunately – and I find it hard to imagine a regular EuroSavant reader who would also subscribe on-line to Respekt. (But if you are out there, then report in to get your big shout-out!) Nonetheless, as was the case with January’s weblog entry, we’re pleased here at EuroSavant to provide interested readers with some idea of how the functioning at American embassies looks and feels to natives forced to experience it.


Admittedly, Zajícek’s account, while not glowing with praise, is not as bad as you might expect, and definitely not as bad as that wintertime experience in Warsaw (although it wasn’t too pleasant to have to stand in line outside the embassy in Prague’s morning July heat, either). What I found to be the best part of the article was the nostalgia, when Zajícek mentions early-on what was required for Czechs to get a visa as recently as 1998. (He probably means more-or-less before September of 2001, but 1998 is likely the last time he had to go get one himself.) Back then-in-the-day all you had to do was go to the embassy – no appointment necessary – fill out a form, and return in the afternoon to pick up your visa.

Now things are rather different, to say the least. Now what you do as a Czech citizen is first fax a form to the embassy and then, on the day after, call them using a special “900” number – “900” in the Czech Republic meaning that it is a special paid telephone line with an elevated rate charged, namely Kc38/minute (= $1.50 or €1.21 per minute). That’s when someone will arrange your specific appointment at the embassy, where you need to show up with all sorts of information. If you’re a businessman, then your bank records for the last three months and a tax declaration; if you’re a student, then your transcript. Oh, and if you’re male and between 16 and 45 years of age, don’t forget the extra form (“DS-157”) that asks you questions such as “Have you ever received training in making explosives?”

(This has to remind me of what an Army buddy told me long ago about mandatory forms that anyone buying a gun in the state of Texas had to fill out at the time of purchase – who knows? maybe one still does – with questions such as “Are you insane?”, which, if answered in the affirmative, were legal grounds for aborting the transaction. Such paperwork surely had a notable effect towards preventing firearms from getting into the hands of those in the Lone Star State who were not mentally equipped to handle them.)

Oh, and finally, when you show up for your appointment at the embassy, don’t forget to bring your own envelope, which embassy staff will use to have your passport+visa delivered to you if your application is successful – you pay not only for the envelope, but for the delivery service. (American consular services seem to be rather starved of cash these days, no matter how much they charge for those mandatory telephone calls.)


So Zajícek got all his papers and forms in order and showed up outside the embassy at the appointed day, well before his designated time of 9:00 AM. But it soon became apparent that this very same appointment time had been assigned to at least fifty other people that morning as well. (But we saw this before with the embassy in Warsaw.) Ah, but the Czech and American officials on duty there did treat at least one applicant right when the embassy opened for business at 9:00, and that was Lucie Bílá, a moderately famous singing-star. (But in the Czech Republic only. Her name translates to “Lucy White,” by the way. That official website of hers that I link to is only in Czech, but even if you don’t read the language you can at least see what she looks like and listen to an audio file of one of her songs play on her homepage.) She was in-and-out of there in a flash, and everybody was all smiles.

It was rather different for everyone else, of course – “hurry up and wait” – but at least at the American embassy in Prague you can leave your mobile telephone safely at the entrance, rather than have to take it across the street to pay for a “sitter” as we saw was the case in Warsaw. As Zajícek notes, savvy applicants know better than to admit that they know very much English; doing that only will likely gain you a much more-intensive and probing interview. As it is, during the interview (Zajícek doesn’t say what language it was in) the American official suddenly asked “Back in May your bank account fell to Kc5,000 [= $197, €158]. Why?” All Zajícek could think of to say in his astonishment was No a? Vám to vadí?, if he said it in Czech, and “And so? You’ve got a problem with that?” if he said it in English. (I’m not quite sure if that’s as rude in Czech as it is in English – someone help me out here! Me vadí!) In any case, the official just proceeded with the interview and Zajícek did get his visa.

“Fortress America,” indeed.

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