A Tale of Two Worlds

Today I went to the American embassy in Sofia to get my paperwork processed in order to be legally able to marry in Bulgaria. When we drove up across the building and I saw the state seal, and the American flag flying, I got strangely excited. Peace Corps has been invited to several embassy events, but me trailing the usual antisocial baggage that I do, I did not attend. I did not expect to get such a little thrill from seeing the carefully enclosed ground that is, for all intents and purposes, an extension of my “homeland.” It rippled through me, strait down to my belly. We parked, walked along the icy street and arrived at the door only 2 minutes late. I was antsy. My strong need to be on time, which kicks in when I am 1) doing official, legal, state business or 2) hanging out with Americans, kicked into overdrive as I was about to do official business among Americans. But, by the time we checked in, and had to wait for another five minutes outside of the security room, I had settled.
We went in. We were asked to remove our jackets and all things metal, and to leave any electronics at the front desk. After passing through a metal detector we were ushered by a security guard towards the citizen services building. At the front desk we were again asked our names and looked up on the computer. We were then sent to the cashier to pay the fee. I think I got some sort of discount for being in Peace Corps because the marriage form was supposed to be 75 dollars. I was going to pay in lev until I saw the exchange rate and the kind gentleman helping us suggested that we pay with an American credit card, which I had luckily brought with me. We then went to another desk where a man appeared to know what we needed and who we were and was very helpful answering questions about emigration and marriage. There was another five minutes of waiting while he prepared our document and then I met with a very nice, enthusiastic vice-consular to sign my document and get it stamped. In less than an hour I was back at the front desk, picking up my electronics and smiling from all of the warm congratulations.
After the American embassy we had to stop by the Bulgarian ministry of the exterior to get the document legalized for Bulgaria. Now, I realize that I should not compare the two, and that offices within the United States are not as nearly warm and efficient as what I experienced here. However, the difference between the two places was just too hilarious to not mention. We arrived at the ministry and we were greeted by a guard outside. When we explained what we were there for he began to explain our options for collection of our documents and told us that we would have to go to a post office to pay for the service and then return. However, he noticed a group of older women inside and instead ushered us inside. There he asked if any of the women (who I assume must have been notaries) had extra stamps that they could sell us. One did, and so we bought 20 lev worth of stamps to attach to our documents. We filled out a form and took it to the cashier but were told we would need more stamps to do a rush service on our document. We returned to the older women who provided us with more stamps and showed us how to properly attach them, and then looked over our forms to make sure we had checked the correct boxes. We then gave the form back, were given a receipt and told to return tomorrow.
Both places were exceptionally warm today. I think that doing paperwork for marriage is somehow more heartwarming than any other type of paperwork. However, the warmth at the two different places was somehow very different, and it is hard for me to touch why. It was something to do with formality but not necessarily about professionalism. Perhaps it was something to do with the modernism found in the American embassy contrasted with paying through stamps at the Bulgarian ministry.
Well, two countries down and now only one more country to get our status as legally married recognizable. Life is interesting these days. 

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