Friday, July 07, 2006


Even now, things about this city still amaze me almost daily. For instance, there are NO passport photo booths. No such thing. So having reached the point in my stay when I need to complete another batch of endless administrative paperwork in order to maintain my right to live the American Dream (?), I find myself forced to visit actual photographers for my 3 photos for this, 2 for that and 1 for the other.

Problem. Well several actually. Number one being my pathological hatred of having my photograph taken. Back in the UK it was trauma enough to have to shut myself in the photo booth at Waterloo Station for a whole afternoon, armed with a bucket of pound coins, but at least there was a small chance that I would emerge several hours later (and several tens of pounds poorer) with a photo vaguely resembling my self-image. And most importantly, nobody else had to undergo this painful process with me.

It is rather different here. I now have the required photos but it is 4pm Friday. I began my photo session at midday on Thursday.

The first photographers was a very hit and run affair.....errrrr, what, no mirror? I'm sorry, but with the number of times per day I'm asked for ID here, there is NO WAY I'm going to spend the next 2 years looking like an escaped convict who's recovering from a second-degree burns incident on a sunbed. It was just too embarrassing to join the queue again to re-do said photos so I went to another shop.

At the next place they had a problem with my head. The thing about living here (visa) is that your head has to be 1.25" from top to chin, but if you want to work (work permit), your head needs to be 2mm smaller - perhaps so as you don't get any big ideas.... especially as a foreigner. However, if you want to get into the country in the first place (passport) I believe your head has to be 10mm smaller. Or something. Which would be all very well if there wasn't the added problem of the measurement from your eye level to the bottom of the photograph.

I swear you have to have a PhD in maths and a logarithms book close by to be a passport photographer in this city, and the guy in shop 2 was having a great deal of trouble 'minimising' me. Ok, so on top of my photo phobia I now find out I'm facially a total freak, and the square of my hypotenuse doesn't equal the sum of the squares on my other two sides. So in the next batch of shots, which took forever, I am looking, (because I'm feeling), like the Elephant Man. I really couldn't put him or myself through all that again, so I pretended to be happy and went to shop 3.

The girl in shop 3 actually took some photos I was almost pleased with. But she wasn't. 'You're smiling' she said 'they probably won't accept them'. (Quite where that smile had come from after the day I'd had I've no idea. It can't possibly have been mine.) By this point I'd traversed the city several times and it was practically bedtime. Maybe if I slept on it (my face that is), I'd wake up with it miraculously the right size, colour, shape and expression.

This morning I cut my fringe, flattened my hair down with gel to lose a few millimetres and plastered make-up on before attempt 4. The first photos were apparently 'no good', as some hair had 'got away' and consequently both my ears weren't showing (?) And I was starting to think that I'd never be able to travel or work again purely on account of not being able to produce a valid photograph, when the photographer caught me off-guard and got the shot. I look nothing like myself, but that's okay as 'good likeness' doesn't appear to be on the list of requirements. The point is I look miserable, have 2 ears and am the right size.

So now we know why only 34% of Americans own passports.


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