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Culture Shock: Want a foreign visa? Be prepared for ulcers 2

After queuing for hours to buy tickets for the musical Cats in London's Soho last May, I was only a bit upset after I made it to the window and found that they were sold out. This queue was nothing compared to the ordeal I had to endure to get to London in the first place - a humiliating journey through the British embassy for my visa.
Standing in the long line outside of the British Embassy in Bratislava weeks before, I had pretended to read the day's newspapers while listening to the people around me. Among young and old, handsome boys and adolescent girls, I felt terribly like a number in the lottery.
Though I did nothing wrong, I couldn't help but feel guilty of some sort of crime. Sitting in the waiting room watching the young girls desperate to go to Britain to work as baby-sitters, I wondered what it was I felt ashamed of. Was it my Slavic accent, the rising unemployment in my country, some quirk of Slavic behaviour the British find disturbing?

After queuing for hours to buy tickets for the musical Cats in London's Soho last May, I was only a bit upset after I made it to the window and found that they were sold out. This queue was nothing compared to the ordeal I had to endure to get to London in the first place - a humiliating journey through the British embassy for my visa.

Standing in the long line outside of the British Embassy in Bratislava weeks before, I had pretended to read the day's newspapers while listening to the people around me. Among young and old, handsome boys and adolescent girls, I felt terribly like a number in the lottery.

Though I did nothing wrong, I couldn't help but feel guilty of some sort of crime. Sitting in the waiting room watching the young girls desperate to go to Britain to work as baby-sitters, I wondered what it was I felt ashamed of. Was it my Slavic accent, the rising unemployment in my country, some quirk of Slavic behaviour the British find disturbing?

Once inside the interview room, I realised how lucky I was. I could answer the questions in English: I can't imagine having to discuss my annual salary or parent's relationship through a translator. I spoke to the interviewer through a wall of glass and microphones. If there had been a telephone, I would have felt like I was in an American prison movie.

I started to explain why I wanted to visit Great Britain. But what should I have said?

That I want to see my cousin's new house in Richmond, that I was desperate to have a coffee at a trendy King's Road café, that I was dreaming of standing for hours in front of pictures in the Tate Gallery? Instead, I said : "Mr. and Mrs. XX (my cousin) invited me".

For me, the interview official finished with a positive answer. I was lucky, selected, advanced or "whatever" and sent to pay about two thousand crowns ($50) for the privilege.

Of the young girls who wanted to be au pairs, all of them were rejected. Their parents were unemployed, they were too poor, there were many reasons. Six years ago, I had been in their shoes, owning nothing, and I had been permitted to go. In Britain, I learned how to respect a strange culture and talk with people from different backgrounds. These girls won't have the same chance. Why? Did too many young women years ago fall in love in Britain and stay?

After years of queuing during communism for bananas at Christmas, during post-communism I find myself queuing at embassies in Vienna, Prague, and Budapest for visas. This was not the point of becoming free. Will the next step be a visa to enter the European Union?

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