Fun Times at the US Embassy in London

29 Jan
Remember how I said I expected it to be a long battle to get compensated from Megabus? Well, it actually went pretty smoothly. In fact, my money is so close I can taste it. I was given a final settlement offer from the claims company and it was an adequate amount — “just sign the release in the presence of a notary and we’ll get your check in the mail” they said. …And that’s when things stopped going so smoothly.
Do you know how easy it is to get something notarized in the US? You just go to your local bank. My own brother is a notary public. The last time I needed something notarized I think my high school math teacher did it. Do you know how easy it is to get something notarized in the UK? Not very. Like almost everything else in London, it’s expensive and time-consuming. I immediately started googling notary publics in London. I made an appointment with the US Embassy notary, but the earliest they had was Feb. 5. I found a guy who was a licensed lawyer and notary in both the US and UK, but he wanted £80 ($132) to witness my signature on a one-page document. So I started calling around, asking for price quotes — I heard everything from £75 ($125) to £95 ($157) — for yes, a signature and stamp. Three minutes of time. For what you could get at your local bank for free or a fiver in the US.

I called one notary who was willing to bargain.

“I charge £75, but if you find a better rate I’ll match it,” he said.

“The US embassy charges $50, which is £30,” I told him.

He paused. “You should just go there,” he said.

I managed to secure an emergency notary appointment with the embassy for today, because I could tell the claims people were getting antsy to get this thing settled (as am I). I’m not sure a Megabus fire settlement release constitutes an “emergency,” but I’ll take it.

My appointment was at 9:15 a.m,. so naturally I arrived at 8:30 a.m. because I managed to catch the early bus and there was little traffic. But I needed a little extra time because getting into the US embassy is tougher than getting on a flight. They do not allow any electronics — no iPhones or Kindles — or even car or apartment key fobs. They will not even store them for you, they worked out a sweet deal with Gould Pharmacy up the street where you can securely store your belongings for £3. That little place has got to be making a killing on iPhone storage. So I put my phone, headphones, FitBit and keys in a bag and walked back to the embassy. There was a huge queue out front for visas, but I got to go to the other side for American Citizen Services. They let me in even though I was early and I managed to get the first number for notary services. I sat in the waiting room reading an article about panda breeding in an outdated “New Yorker” and browsed through the official “American in Britain” magazine, which is what you have to do when they take your Kindle app away from you.

I’ve never been in an American embassy before, but I expected it to feel more… American. It is American soil after all, right? There were US flags everywhere and portraits of past presidents, but there were also signs that said “toilet downstairs” and “please use the bins provided” (“bins” as in trash cans). The receptionists all had British accents. Randy Marsh came to mind:

Eventually I was called to the window, presented my document, then was told to pay first. At least I was able to use my US credit card and pay in dollars. Then I had to wait again to sign my document. The consul notary was very nice and asked me what part of Ohio I was born in after looking at my passport. Then he said he was from Cincinnati. Of course I would go all the way to London to get a notary from Cincinnati. We swapped Megabus stories before getting down to business. I then had to awkwardly ask a random guy in the waiting room to sign the release as my witness. He obliged, I got the official embassy seal and signature, and I was on my way. “Hope you get your money from Megabus!” the notary said.

I had to wake up early, travel to my country’s embassy in the rain, and pay $50, but I got my notary signature. Megabus monies, come to me!

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