This all started with the realization that I will soon have to apply for a new Canadian passport. One wouldn't think that this should cause too much anxiety, and it didn't, until fairly recently.
There was a time, when the Canadian Embassy was still on Hayarkon Street by the
Mediterranean Sea, that getting a new passport was quite a simple affair. There was a simple form to fill out and the photo could be taken almost anywhere. I remember walking into the embassy and informing the person at the desk that I had come to apply for a new passport. She phoned upstairs and soon a kind elderly lady appeared. We sat down on two comfortable chairs and she went over my application. She seemed surprised that everything was filled out so properly, as she said most people were always missing things. But she didn't realize that an OCD like me would have gone over the form countless times before submitting it, even then sneaking a few peeks at the completed form on the way to the Embassy.
So, I didn't expect any problems when I helped my son apply for his first Canadian passport many years later. After helping him fill out the form, I printed out the photo instructions, which had now become quite detailed and were only in English, and told him to go over them with the photographer at the photo studio in Beer Sheva. When he brought the photos to me, I checked them and everything looked alright. Armed with the completed form, guarantor signature and photos, I headed out for the long two and a half hour journey to Tel Aviv. By now the embassy had left its cosy location by the sea and was perched high above in a sterile, modern building close by the Nokia (Yad Eliyahu) Arena. Gone were the comfortable chairs and friendly lady, and instead I was ushered into a small, bare room where a rather stern and haggard individual stared at me from the other side of a heavy glass window. He motioned to a small turntable in front of me. I placed the form and photos there and he swung them over to his side. He barely glanced at the form, as he went directly for the photos. By this time I was pulling out the money for payment, still totally unaware as to what was to come.
"Not so fast," he said.
"What?" I asked, looking up, just a little perturbed by the ominous sound of his voice.
"These are no good," he said, shoving the photos back onto the turntable and swinging them back to me.
I had never suffered rejection before from a Canadian official (from Israeli, yes, many times), so my response was one of surprise and consternation.
"Why not?" I asked feebly, picking up the photo and scrutinizing it again. I knew the measurements were right. There were no shadows to be seen. Noam wasn't smiling. His profile was facing straight at the camera, totally in focus. The photo paper was right, and there was a clear white background. What was I missing?
"His mouth isn't closed," he said.
The man gestured to the photo. I looked back down at it.
"It looks closed to me," I said.
"His lips aren't together."
I looked at the photo again. There was the slightest gap between his upper and lower lip, just enough to let him breathe. I shook my head and looked up at him with a beseeching look, thinking back to the long journey there.
"You're rejecting it just because of that?" I asked, trying to keep my voice calm.
"Yes," he said, "It's my job to be sure that everything is in order. I know that they won't accept this, so there's no point in my accepting it."
My Israeli side urged me to stand up and scream, but I told myself that he was just doing his job, and being the good Canadian I was, I packed up my things and left. I stopped short of telling him I was sorry, though. My Israeli side just wouldn't allow me to become that Canadian again.
So my son went through the whole photo taking process again and brought me back the new photo. This time his lips were so closely pressed together that it looked as if they were stuck together with super glue. But the embassy accepted the new photo and that was all that was important.
Wondering if others had gone through a similar experience, or if they were just picking on me (did I mention paranoia in addition to my OCD?), I checked the forums where I discovered tales of faint ghostly shadows visible only to passport personnel, profiles slightly off centre, and philosophical discussions about what constituted a smile (Mona Lisa definitely would have never been awarded a Canadian passport). If I had thought this was solely an expat issue, I soon discovered that even people who had their passport photos taken by reputable photo studios in Canada, had had their photos rejected. There was even a well-known Canadian photo chain which promised to take your passport photos again for free if they were rejected by the passport office. Note that they didn't guarantee getting it right the first time.
So, a year later when it was time to apply for a new passport for myself, I was understandably on edge. I don't handle rejection well, and wasn't sure I could go through it again. So I decided to write my English Teachers network mailing list, asking if anyone knew of a photography studio in the south of
that could take a proper Canadian passport photo. I didn't get any suggestions at first, but I did receive a slew of passport horror stories. One man even had to have his passport photo taken five times in Beer Sheva until it was finally accepted at the Canadian embassy. And then finally someone told me about a small photo studio in Raanana that was recommended to her by a friend at the embassy. Raanana is close to a three hour drive from my home in the desert, and you may think me crazy to even consider driving all the way there for a passport photo, but I didn't have to be told twice. Israel
Why do they do this to us then? Why do Canadians, who are generally thought to be polite, apologetic and down to earth – adopt such bureaucracy? Getting an Israeli passport is a much simpler process, even though Israeli security concerns are much greater. Are the Mounties behind all this?
I guess I shouldn't underestimate parted lips and a smile. You never know where they will lead. And it could be much worse, as in the case of my grandniece, who had to get a passport when she wasn't even one month old. My nephew and his wife were taking her with them to his brother's wedding in
. And they had to get the passport process expedited in order to get to the wedding on time. Look at the advice given by a baby site, regarding the taking of the passport photo: Chicago
"Your baby can't sit up let alone keep her mouth closed and eyes open on demand. Passport
requires a full front view of your baby's head and shoulders but your hands or arms may not be seen. Try dressing your baby in a sweater so you can crouch below her out of frame and hold her up with your hand under her clothes. Another suggestion is to lay your baby on a large piece of white paper and have the photographer stand on a stool and take the picture from above." Canada
-- babycenter: http://www.babycenter.ca/baby/travel/passport/#6 --
Are you still with me, or have you turned to drink? There was mention, though, that Passport Canada might be somewhat lenient regarding the expression of a newborn. Whew! At least that. And just when we thought that it couldn't get any worse, they were informed that the expedition process would take an extra day. Why? Now put your glass back down and get ready for this… the passport office had to perform a security check on the less than one month old baby. (And we bad-mouth the Americans.)
Anyway, I had hoped that my talking about this would lessen the anxiety. But no, I can still sense it eating away, fueled by the image of a stern official studying my photo with disdain. Maybe I should just travel on my Israeli passport, eh?