On the very day that I flew back to Sweden from my recent trip home, an American document arrived in the mail that needed to have my signature notarized. This would be simple to do in the States but is a little trickier in a foreign country.
In the US, getting a signature notarized is a common thing. In effect, the notary is swearing before the law that you are who you say you are and that you are truly the person who signed the document. In Sweden, your signature can simply be witnessed by another person or person who then swears that you are you. It’s also interesting to note that in some countries, the title of “Notary” comes with a lot more power than it does in the US and this can be misunderstood.
But I digress.
I discovered that one can get documents notarized at the US Embassy in Stockholm so I made an appointment and took a bus across town a few days later.
I have never been to any embassy, never mind the American one in Stockholm. I visited the Swedish consulate back in San Francisco, which you can read about here. (Plus, I explained in that post the difference between an embassy and a consulate.) I realized that I had a vague picture in my head of what an embassy might be like from movies in which people take refuge in one for various reasons, movies like The Killing Fields, A Town Like Alice, and even White Nights.
I did some research and found that the U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Sweden, Mark Francis Brzezinski, is quite new to the position—he was confirmed by the United States Senate on October 18, 2011, exactly one month before I moved to Sweden.
The US Embassy is located in a quiet neighborhood. Located nearby are the embassies of Britain, Finland, and Hungary. If you just stumbled into the neighborhood and didn’t realize the buildings were embassies, you might not know it. There are few flags. There are few signs. But the US Embassy buildings would right away make you curious about what could be housed there. It’s bigger than anything else nearby. It’s a giant compound surrounded by high fences. Picture-taking is not allowed. The large guardhouse at the entrance faces a small side road, which makes it difficult to see what the compound is until you are right in front of it. There were 5 – 10 people standing in a line 25 feet away from the entrance behind a sign that said “non-immigrant visas.” According to the embassy’s website, “the Nonimmigrant Visa Unit handles applications for temporary visas, such as tourists, students, work visas and investors.”
I went up to the glass door and a guard asked me for my passport and why I was there. I told him and he asked me to wait. A few minutes later he came out, asked me to show him the bottom of my shoes, and then I was allowed in. The security was tighter than any I have ever seen in any airport. And I have recently been through some very strict airport security in both Frankfurt and London.
At the embassy, I had to surrender anything electronic that was in my backpack, including my cellphone and a USB drive I happened to have with me. I received a numbered card with which to reclaim everything on my way out. Then I went through all the things one usually goes through when going through airport security.
Once that was completed, I exited the guard building and walked a short distance to another building. I told a guard what I was there for and he directed to me to stand at Window B. There were approximately 20 people sitting on chairs and waiting for their names to be called. Most people seemed to be there for visa reasons, not notary services. The room felt a little like a US Post Office.
My turn at Window B came and I got my document notarized after paying a $50. fee. While I waited I read the posters on the wall. One poster urged Americans abroad to vote. It said “Over here, over there, don’t depair, vote!” It went on to give dates of this year’s primaries and general election. Another poster showed a hockey player but I couldn’t see what it said.
When I was done, I reclaimed my electronics from security and left. I felt breathless and unsettled.It felt strange that there needed to be so much security. It felt strange that there is a little piece of the United States right in the middle of Stockholm. I felt proud to be a US citizen. Things are easy in the United States because I was born there. This is contrasted with how I feel in my new Swedish life in which I never really fit in, never understand all the words, never know exactly what’s going on (yet). But I love my adopted country and I am glad that I live in Sweden. It feels good here.
I don’t know how to say what I want to say. I bet every ex-pat would agree that there’s always a jumble of emotions when it comes to living in a foreign country…