Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Australian passport

It was fun getting my passport renewed. It all worked so smoothly that I'm tempted to believe that the efficient services of the Australian embassy in Paris were designed with one purpose in mind: to make it easy for William to get his passport renewed. Everything was handled by Internet, telephone [friendly French-speaking hostess] and the splendid French Chronopost service. Then the new passport got delivered to me yesterday at Gamone by a guy in a van who was thrilled to inform me that he remembered the path up to my place from the time he delivered my broadband Internet box. I'm amused by the tiny logo at the bottom, which signifies (I suppose) that there's an electronic chip inside the passport.

My passport photo is ideally sinister. The authorities don't want you to smile. You have to look as if you've just been caught in the act of setting up a roadside bomb in Kalgoorlie, say, and you're about to answer trivia questions from the police designed to see if you might not be un-Australian. I think I look like all that.

I've just browsed through a paper document that came with my new passport, entitled Hints for Australian travellers, signed by a certain Alexander Downer. Living in France, where I can phone free-of-charge to Australia, I find that the department of Foreign Affairs and Trade puts an unnecessary accent on the reverse-charge telephone procedure [even to the point of printing Telstra publicity on the back of the slightly-undersized plastic passport jacket]... but I imagine that this service might be interesting for an Aussie lost in Iraq or Indonesia.

I consulted a government website, mentioned in the literature, called smartraveller.gov.au. And I was amused by the following advice:

Make sure your passport has at least six months validity and carry additional copies of your passport photo with you in case you need a replacement passport while overseas.

The idea of carrying spare copies of your passport photo is bizarre. Does this imply that, beyond Australia, there are backward zones of the planet in which photography hasn't yet appeared? Maybe... That reminds me of an anecdote at the unique restaurant in Choranche, back in the days before portable phones. From time to time, motorists would stop there for a drink and ask politely: "Is it possible to make a phone call?" And the proprietor, my old friend Georges, would take pleasure in replying cynically: "Just a moment while I find out whether the telephone exists at Choranche."

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