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 American Bureaucracy; Transatlantic Paperwork 

Submitted by Richard A. Bachmann on Fri, 10/29/2010 - 08:27

“American bureaucracy is not a dream; if anything, it is a nightmare.”

I think everyone who has ever tried to get a visa for the States can agree with this assessment by Umberto Eco. His statement, which concludes an essay called The American Myth in Three Anti-American Generations and is part of Eco´s essay collection On Literature, is thereby true and false at the same time.

For sure the application process to get an American J-1visa is a nightmare! Although you only have to fill in two forms (thanks Paperwork Reduction Act!), going through them takes a lot of time. Since both must be completed online don´t forget to save every 5 seconds! If your browser is to slow to load the subsequent page in time an hour´s work of tipping in odd information is lost (thanks cyber-security measures!). Providing the Department of Homeland Security and ICE with personal information en masse sometimes involves some additional time for doing research. Or can you remember on which day you started to attend secondary school? However, the worst part of it is that while answering strange questions that let you feel like a suspected criminal and getting confronted with visa application fees that total $310, you get the impression that the American mantra of “I Want You” has been changed to “I Want You to Stay Out!” by the officials in charge.

To treat this as a phenomenon of American bureaucracy only, however, would be just another anti-American oversimplification (which Mr. Eco does not have in mind, of course, since he is a devoted lover of American pop culture). Doing some research on the internet reveals that applying for a visa to study in Germany involves also quite an amount of time and will to personal transparency. According to one of the most informative pages, you need to “be prepared to fill in many forms, take them to different offices, have them stamped numerous times and spend a lot of time waiting in line.” Although the fact of getting stamped your documents numerous times is highly debatable, it is true that you actually have to go to a German embassy to hand in your documents (no online submission possible!). The identification documents you thereby are supposed to share with German officials are ranging from a translated copy of your birth certificate to your book of vaccination certificates, if you have one. It seems that the Auswärtiges Amt is more concerned with the threat that sick people could profit from the German healthcare system than finding out about potential terrorists (as their American colleagues so devotedly are). A fee is also due, of course (60€).

Therefore, Umberto Eco´s assessment needs some adjustments: Not only American bureaucracy is not a dream. When it comes to applying for a visa, the procedures on this side of the Atlantic and on the other side are similar annoying for the applicant; a time and nerves devouring nightmare that aims at total personal transparency.

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