Apr 2, 2009

The customer is always right... in the US Embassy

Today I had to go to the US Embassy in Tel Aviv. After numerous delays, it was finally a good time to give in the applications for a social security card for my 16 month old daughter.

Social Security services do not require an appointment, so it should have been easy. I checked the website to confirm the times I could walk in and give in the form. I confirmed the paperwork I needed to bring along, and considering the stars were properly aligned and I had everything in order it looked like today would finally be "the day".

I clear my pockets in advance, taking nothing with me but the papers I needed for the Embassy and some money for taxis (and some just in case there was a fee I did not expect).

I walk in, breezing through the line like never before. they swab my hands to look for dangerous chemicals or gunpowder or whatever they look for, and suddenly I am in the room. The lady at the entrance to the room asks what I am there for and directs me to the social security services window.

I am sitting there waiting, with a few people before me in line, and suddenly she comes over and apologizes. It turns out that they recently changed the times for walk in to social security, and Thursday is no longer a walk in day. Thursday is now only for telephone inquiries (for social security). So she apologizes and tells us we should all leave and come back a different day.

We all get noticeably upset - people took off work, traveled from various parts of the country, wasted time and money, and it is all because they did not update the website or the phone message with the new schedule (NOTE: the new schedule is already ten days old, so they have had plenty of time to update their information).

She says she will see what she can do, but the lady for social security is running a little late so we have to wait until she gets there before we can find out what will be.

We wait something like 20 minutes until she shows up. There is some discussion in the back and she agrees to see us. We process all the papers and go on the way. I thank her for being so amenable.

U.S. Bureaucracy is just as bad as Israeli bureaucracy... the only thing better about it is the attitude that the customer is always right. That means they found us a solution, despite the bureaucracy. And they are courteous rather than gruff.

One more embassy tip I can offer is to bring photocopies of everything. And I mean everything! I brought all the papers - originals and copies- the website told me I need to bring, and she still made me go photocopy some documents that I had not photocopied because the website did not say I needed to.. so photocopy everything in advance.

And in case you do not photocopy everything in advance, they have a photocopy machine on site that you can use. The machine charges 50ag. for every photocopy and does not give change. Of course, I brought no small change along, and nobody else did either. All I had was a 10 shekel coin form the change from my taxi. So I spent 10 shekel on two photocopies that should have cost me 1 shekel...and the guy after me will get a few free photocopies. So, bring small change along with you as well, just in case.


  1. You'll be happy to note that the website is now updated:


    Social Security and Federal Benefits: People seeking service from the Federal Benefits Unit do not require appointments. This includes general inquiries, applications for Social Security Numbers, and applying for benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Railroad Retirement Board, and the Office of Personnel Management. Their hours are 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday; they are closed on Mondays and Thursdays. For more information, go to: http://israel.usembassy.gov/consular/acs/benefits.aspx.
    The American Citizen Services Unit is closed the last Friday of each month.

  2. U.S. Bureaucracy is just as bad as Israeli bureaucracy... the only thing better about it is the attitude that the customer is always right.

    That, and it's all in English so if your Hebrew isn't so great it's slightly less frustrating.

  3. I guess... but I don't notice that because my hebrew is fine... it even feels a bit odd doing official business in English...

  4. I went about six weeks ago on a Tuesday and I was asked if I had an appointment. I said, “No, you don’t need an appointment to request a SSN”. The guard told me, “No SSNs today.” “What? Tuesday is one of the three days you can request SSNs.” “Yes, but not today.” Then I got this gem when I asked why, “Yesh lahem aizeh mashehu hayom.”

    That was a waste of an hour of work time and 60 NIS in cab fare. The customer lost that day.

  5. she actually used that as an example of how sometimes things come up and we should always find out before we come to make sure they are open... I forgot what exactly happened but she said about 5 or 6 weeks ago there was an emergency one day and they had to cancel the service for the day..

    we told her we did check in advance - the website and the phones and they both indicated today would be ok which is why she let us in... but still, she said sometimes things come up


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