We do not wish to speak with you

Embassy website header

I have been known to rant about Portuguese bureaucracy to my family and friends (and maybe even in this blog), but the truth is that the US isn’t covering itself with glory over here, either. Dealing with the US Embassy in Lisboa is an exercise in frustration.

First of all, you can’t just pick up the phone and call. The public phone hours for Citizen Services are between 2 and 4 in the afternoon, Monday through Friday. This of course does not include US federal holidays…nor does it include Portuguese holidays. Add all of those up and you’ve knocked out one entire month of accessibility (22 workdays, to be exact).

So let’s assume you’re calling Citizen Services at 3:30 p.m. on a non-holiday. One of four things will happen:

1. You will get a busy signal.

2. The phone will ring — and ring, and ring. I once put the phone on speaker while getting other things done, but eventually gave up after ten solid minutes of unanswered ringing. Surely they could at least put me on hold and subject me to crappy music!

3. The call will be answered by a human being. (This has only happened to me one time, and I was so shocked I almost hung up.)

4. The call will go through, but only to an automated menu tree. Each option on this tree takes you to other recordings with specific information. There is no option for speaking to an actual human being for normal business. This automated system is clearly designed to run before and after public phone hours, but I have been stopped by it almost every time I’ve called. (One of the options on the menu tree will take you to another service, where you are informed that the public phone hours for that particular service are for one hour and a half, two days per week. I am not kidding.)

If you hit the menu tree, there is just one thing left to do. You can press 0 for an operator — but only if it’s an emergency. I tried it once, out of sheer frustration. My call was transferred to the main US Embassy switchboard, where the phone rang more than fifty times before I gave up. If there’s ever another revolution in Portugal, any US citizens trapped here can just forget about calling their embassy.

I did try email once, after failing several times to catch an actual working human during public phone hours. That was on November 5 of last year. I’m still waiting for an answer.


About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
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6 Responses to We do not wish to speak with you

  1. Scout says:

    I don’t know, impossible communication might just be US Embassy general policy. It’s not much better in their Canadian offices either. Last year I ended up driving 5hrs down to the passport office in Detroit because it was easier than walking 10min down the street to renew it at the US Consulate in Toronto!

  2. René says:

    I know people who live 500 metres from a police station. Two years ago someone tried to break into their house. They called the police while the person was prying open their back door. They’re still waiting for them to respond. Good old SA – where poor public service is something to brighten up the day.

  3. Kugai says:

    Thankfully it hasn’t got that bad down here in kiwiland, and I dread it ever getting that way. The sheer frightening stupidity of it is mindbogglingly incomprehensible.

  4. syrin says:

    Bureaucracy is universal, it really doesn’t matter where you live… :s

  5. Hugo says:

    you’re supposed to take a vacation day to visit embassies, police stations, universities and the like. why else do you think vacation time is so “generous”?

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