Garlic Moments: Lost in Translation

Posted on June 8th, 2011 by admin

Rosie Reay of Jesús (Tortosa) shares her hilariously surreal British passport renewal experience.

Don’t you just love it every time you need to renew your documents in Spain? This saga has been running (should I say dawdling) along two channels. Since December we have been endeavouring to renew my mother’s passport. Under the EU you need to renew your passport at an issuing consulate in the country of residence. So all documents were sent to our nearest British consulate and returned and returned and returned. Her photos were not acceptable as they weren’t straight on and right angle. The poor lass is 85 years old and has a severely deformed, hunched back and neck. After a comment that she needs to sit up straight I got a certified note from the medics here that that is her shape. Eventually they mentioned that all documents were now being forwarded to England as she was born before 1929! It  will be 12 weeks and counting now 16 weeks plus.

There is more…

The British consulate in Spain eventually accepted my own photos third time lucky but do now insist on no glasses being worn, something to do with eye recognition. Now I look like something out of Sputnik as you can see that my eyes (blind as a bat) aren’t focusing.

But the most amusing thing was the final phone call I got from Consulate by an English Brit. Wait for it…drum roll…

“Could you please tell us what your father was doing at the time of your birth?”

I was stunned. “Is this a wind-up?”

“No: we need to ask these questions as you haven’t been sent this other form to fill in as you were born in a British Colony at the time of your arrival.”

That made me sound like an Intercity train arriving late in Leeds!

Okay, I’ll play ball.

“I guess he was probably pacing the corridor outside the labour ward! I mean how the hell do I know?” In those days dads weren’t allowed in that first caterwauling event… I ask you.

“No need to take that tone,” she replied.

“Well you’d asked the daft question. What did you mean to ask?”

Then her true accent, just north of the penguins, like where I hail from, came to the surface. Oh my gosh: she did sound like Ouma van der Merwe and her pseudo British accent disappeared!

“What work was he doing?”

“I don’t know. I had other things on my mind like…oh well we won’t go into that.”

I waited in anticipation for the next bright question. Bearing in mind she was paying for the call and I had the nurse at home in Jesús helping me with my two ‘charges’.

The next one was a corker! She must have consulted her line manager.

“Can you please go and ask him?”

“Who: my father?”


“Bit difficult, love. He won’t hear me from here. He’s been dead 31 years.” Doesn’t she read the forms I’ve completed with d.o.d supplied of padre!

She didn’t give up. “Can you ask him anyway?”

“Hellooooo. Is there anybody there? I need a ouija board.”

By now I was convinced someone was having a joke at my expense. So I played along.

“Okay. Can you ask your mother then?”

This gets better. She has dementia… lol

“Mom, what was dad doing at the time I was born?”

Her reply was bang on cue. “How the bloody hell should I know? I don’t know where he is, do you?”

This consulate was getting irate.

“Mom, I think she means what work was he doing.”

“Oh all sorts! Looking after your brothers, cooking, cleaning, feeding the hens, pigs and going to work.” Long term memory kicking in. “Can I eat my breakfast now in peace?”

“Mom, I think she means to ask, which firm was he working for?”

“Anglo American Cor-por-ration,” she said in a very grand Lady of the Manor voice.” God love her!

This info I relayed to the consulate lady.

Take a deep breath now.

“No he wasn’t! He was in the RAF.”

Well if she knew better than us why ask. But that wasn’t correct as he had been demobbed before they got married and I was number 4 child on the block.

I thought I was never going to get my passport.

“Can we have your ‘naturalist’ certificate number please?”

Now I was getting cheesed off.

“I´m not a naturalist and didn’t know they issued certificates. I mean where would they pin it or do they have it tattooed on their derriere?”

“You are not being very helpful, Madam.”

“Well don’t ask stupid questions. Things are getting lost in translation here. Shall we choose a different language?”

Silence. Oh good, she’s gone for a coffee break.

“I mean where were you ‘naturalized’?”

“I wasn’t! South Africa was a British Colony and I was registered at the British Consulate in Johannesburg. I have been British since birth as both my parents are British, never held SA citizenship, never held a SA passport!”

This lady, not the brightest button in the box, just did not give up.

“If you were born in SA why does it say you were born in FLORIDA?”

Thoroughly cheesed off now. Besides the nurse was calling me.

“Lady, go buy a map or google Florida South Africa! I’m out of here. Email me!”

Well I guess she doesn’t have IT skills either. My passport arrived promptly 3 days later delivered by DHL courier to Hospital Santa Cruz in Jesús. Even the poor driver thinks I live there! (But for once I had no one in there as patients.)

Passport reads: Place of Birth says FLORIDA – country omitted.


Aside:- Have I the strength to ring the consulate again and track the whereabouts of my mother’s passport so we can renew her residency permit? Oh well, maybe next week.

Rosie is the English voice of the Ebro Valley in Catalonia, Spain and author of the fun Chimona Chronicles books for kids.

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3 Responses to “Garlic Moments: Lost in Translation”

  1. Theresa Says:

    Brilliant, Rosie. Beyond surreal. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Peter Harvey Says:

    Can I draw your attention to this new post on my blog:

  3. Valerie Says:

    Thanks for this, Peter. It certainly is a scandal. I don’t think I’ll bother to renew mine after all.

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