The Algerian Embassy in Paris - I always venture there with mixed feelings: happy at the thought of applying for a visa to go back to Algeria... but fairly sure that something will go wrong before that visa is finally pasted into the pages of my passport.
This is the third Algerian visa I've applied for in the past few months, so I've become something of an old hand now at gathering all the required paper-work together (in multiples of at least three). And I'm pretty familiar with all the tricks of Algerian bureaucracy: you can only pay for the visa in hard cash, you have to write in block capitals in a black pen, you have to declare undying love for Algérie (and add for good measure what rotters the French were and the Americans are).
Anyway, I turned up at the embassy, just a short hop from the Arc de Triomphe here in Paris, armed with all the usual parephenalia. The visa office opens at nine-thirty in theory and ten thirty in practice. Having patiently waited my turn, I prefer to hand over a single document at a time, so I can triumph each of the clerk's triumphal looks - "Ah, but you don't have Form B52, Section A" - with my own triumphal: "Bah, si, si, Monsieur: le voilà!" This dance goes on for about ten minutes until the official asks for a document with my proof of residence on it.
It's at this point that I always say: "No, Monsieur, you are mistaken: I checked the documents on your web-site very carefully and nowhere does it say that one needs proof of residence".
"No proof of residence, no visa".
"Ce n'est pas possible! Why doesn't it say that on the web-site or in the information pack, then?
"Don't ask me. You're not French so you need proof of residence".
"I'm European, so I don't need one".
I then draw the proof of residence letter out of my pocket and give it to the official. He makes me wait ten minutes, says come back tomorrow at ten and collect your visa, I come back at ten to collect the visa, he says come back at ten tomorrow... and eventually I get it.
Except not this time. Because this time, unlike only a couple of months ago, the gatekeeper won't accept a letter from my bank as proof of where I live. "You could have a bank account at one address and live at another". "Uh, why would I do that then? I'm a law-abiding citizen", I say with a smile.
"Oh, comme on, you were happy with exactly the same document six weeks ago".
"That was a favour".
So what do I need? I need a letter from the French equivalent of British Telecom or British Gas. "But", I point out, "I am renting my flat, it's in my girlfriend's name, so I don't have anything like that".
His response? The owner of the flat has to write a letter, go to the town hall, get it stamped, then I have to bring it in to the embassy, he'll get it stamped... et voilà, I can start to apply for the visa all over again.
One small problem, I say: the owner of the flat lives in America. "Okay, he has to..." well, all of the above, but in addition he has to get the document translated into French first... yeah, right, in the middle of the American mid-west. I decided it would be easier to get the visa from the British Embassy in London.
When I told this story to an Algerian friend, she pointed out: it costs an Algerian living in Algeria three times as much money to get a visa to come to London; they have to queue for three times as long; and then the embassy never writes to them to tell them whether they've been successful or not... so they have to go through all the queuing a second or a third time to see whether they can come to sunny old England.