Make no mistake, I’m not a fan of the bureaucracy. In any country. The lag time and the forms and all the nonsense that feels so conjured. So unnecessary. And then, just sometimes, it’s not so hard. The forms melt away. The friction you generally encounter and the sick feeling in your stomach when you have decide to dive in and speak to a bureaucrat just isn’t there when you expected it to be.
Upon re-entering the EU, we had to go through passport control. Just like everyone, including EU citizens, but in another queue. Now our experience with passport control on this trip has been one of very long lines – especially in the US. But also when we exited in France to get our stamp that says we left. And we waited in line yet again, to come home. We expect it and we just bake it into the time we will need to transit through an airport from one flight to another.
But then something amazing happened. We stood in our line, with the other non-EU passport holders waiting to be called up to the little booth with the guys in the uniform (it’s almost always guys). Our guy was a handsome young man who could easily have been in the movies rather sitting in a booth in Amsterdam checking foreign passports. And to top it all off, he was nice.
‘Why are you coming to Amsterdam?’ he asked politely.
‘We live in Valencia Spain.’ I told him. ‘We’re catching another flight and going home.’
He looked through our passports at the visa that the embassy in Los Angeles had affixed to one of the pages.
‘Your visa is expired.’ he said calmly.
What?! OMG! I thought. That’s not possible – and I told him so.
He didn’t flinch. ‘Can I see your residency cards?’ he asked
Of course we have those on us at all times and pulled them out for his inspection. He did so and handed them back with a smile.
‘Why are you in this line?’ He asked us.
‘We’re non-EU passport holders.’ I said, confused.
‘But you are residents. Next time you go through the EU passport line. You get to be EU citizens,’ he smiled ‘Sort of.’ Jeff was beaming.
Looking over at the EU line there was one guy in it. In our line the world had decided to squeeze themselves in the mile of snaking stanchions. Jeff was thrilled.
‘Well that was a pleasant surprise. And will change the flights we can book in the future. Yup, we’re locals now.’ He mused.
And today, more bureaucracy melted away too. When we checked our mail back home, our ballots for the midterms hadn’t come yet. Originally, we were planning on being back in the US in mid-October so this wouldn’t have been a problem. But we pushed it up a bit for other reasons. When they weren’t there, I kind of freaked out. What were we going to do?
Last night I had dinner with my friend, Ryan. He and his husband, Pete are ex-Seattlites too. And we, of course, were talking politics. Here, whenever you meet other Americans, it’s inevitable with every thing that’s going on back home. And he was interested in how we found the situation when we were there just last week. But what interested me most was that they had already voted. How was that possible?
I have never missed an election since I turned 18 and I wasn’t about to start now. So this morning I went out and looked up the overseas voting procedures on the website for the county where we are residents in the US. As US citizens, no matter that we reside overseas, are still entitled to vote in our home counties/cities at the same address as before. And apparently, you can do it all online. My concerns about how we were going to get our absentee ballots mailed to us in time, and then send them back to ensure they were received before the election deadline was all for not.
And I just followed all the instructions and sent my ballot in. It’s done. I feel so good. But there’s just one thing missing. It doesn’t spit out the little sticker they give you at the polling place that says ‘I Voted Today’. I remember the pride I felt getting that the first time at 18. But maybe I’ll make one up and pin it to my chest. Sure, the people here won’t care but it makes me feel proud that, even though we don’t live in the US anymore, I did my civic duty as a citizen. Which matters now, more than ever.