I got a letter recently that made me angry. It was from the U.S. State Department. It was writing me with regard to my recent passport renewal application.
It said, in part:
There is a discrepancy between the data written on your current passport application and the data shown on your previous passport.
To which I responded, in my mind, “No S%$#, State Department.”
Let me explain. In 2000, before studying abroad for a summer, I sent in a passport renewal application. I filled out the required form, and wrote down my birth date: April 6. When my shiny new passport came, it contained a birth date that was almost, but not quite, my own: it had the same year and month, but read “16” instead of “6.” I thought at the time, “This is unfortunate. But my trip is coming up too quickly for me to do anything about it now. Hopefully it won’t cause any problems.” And it didn’t. At least, not then.
Two years later, in 2002, I was teaching English at a secondary school in Prague, Czech Republic. In order to have this job, I needed a visa provided by the Czech government. I waited a very long time for my Czech visa. I wasn’t too worried about it, though, because other foreign English teachers at the same school were waiting a long time for theirs too. But when December rolled around, and I had already been teaching at the school for four months, I got the bad news: my visa application was rejected. The Czech government never told me why my visa application was rejected, but my guess is that the birth date on my visa application and on my passport were different. The State Department peon who mistyped my birth date had, most likely, now cost me a job.
Now that I realized this birth date discrepancy could cause me problems, I went immediately to the U.S. Embassy in Prague. There, I was able to talk to the appropriate people and produce the appropriate paperwork, and an official stamp was added to my passport. It said, in effect, “The birth date of the bearer of this passport has been corrected to read April 6.” There the matter has rested for seven years.
Fast forward to July 2009. I have applied for a renewal of my passport, and what has reared its ugly head again? What has returned from the dead like a monster in a B-movie!?! This mistyped birth date!!!
The frustrating thing about dealing with bureaucracies as large as the U.S. State Department is that there is no way I can find the person who originally mistyped my birth date. He or she may no longer work in the State Department. I can’t sit down and have a heart-to-heart in which I share, perhaps with tears, how much trouble this mistake has caused, and urge him or her to be more careful next time.
However, there is good news (I think). Despite my misgivings about navigating such a huge bureaucracy, I called the State Department, talked to a couple of different people, and referred the second one to my corrected birth date. She said that I would be contacted again if there were any further problems. Otherwise they would just continue to process my application. That was a week ago, and no news has been good news. So perhaps bureaucracies can work efficiently at times, after all.