You may remember me remarking on the coolest consular website ever, the Indian consulate in Buenos Aires, home of Cafe con Visa. On September 27, I wandered across Recoleta and other of the posh areas of Buenos Aires to that consulate as part of my long-running quest to get an Indian visa. To give a short version of the story: I had planned to get my visa when I was in Houston, but did not realize (as it's not well-explained on the website) that you can only make a walk-in visa request in the specific Indian Embassy assigned to your state of residence. Thus, if I wanted to get a visa in the U.S., I needed to be in Chicago.
On the other hand, embassies outside the U.S. could give me a six-month visa if I dropped by during my travels. I tried in Lima, but they pointed out that a six-month visa would expire before my arrival in India, and encouraged me to try Buenos Aires. Since I wanted to see Cafe con Visa anyway, this wasn't such a bad thing.
And let me say, it lived up to expectations. The waiting area for visa applications is on an upper floor of a gorgeous office tower in one of Buenos Aires's nicest locations. A brilliant sunny view pours in through wide windows, lighting an open space filled with a long table, bookshelves full of helpful information on Indian business and tourism, and best of all, wifi and free coffee. Embassy staff were ceaselessly helpful, and while there was the typical amount of sitting, waiting, and filling out forms one expects in government processes, the affair was actually quite pleasant. Other applicants around me were similarly cheerful and upbeat.
Bureaucracy has an unpleasant reputation, usually deservedly so. Anyone who has ever tried to get a passport in person in New York knows about waiting in multiple lines in cramped, dingy, dirty spaces, as functionaries behind glass security windows move with no particular urgency. Even when I dealt with Japanese bureaucracy--which is generally quite competent and efficient--the sense of the impersonal and uncaring was palpable. Cafe con Visa is unique in my experience: a government agency seemingly designed to make interactions with it pleasant, professional and respectful. Perhaps it is not the Lost City of Atlantis or the fabled Cities of Gold, but it is the most surprising discovery I have made on my travels thus far.