Passport photos and the disappearance of my principles...

>> Tuesday, 18 March 2014

I need to renew my passport.  What could be simpler, I hear those of you who live in the UK ask.  Well, many things.  Many, many, many things.  Like...  pushing a camel through the eye of a needle.  Finding your way through the Moscow metro system first time as a new arrival.  Getting your kids to proactively pack their school bags in the morning.  You know the sort of stuff I mean.

But renewing your passport as a British citizen from within Russia?  Not simple at. All.

And it's not about the forms, the supporting documentation, the references, or the amount of time the system takes. (Although...  No.  I'm not going there.  Not yet, anyway).  No, the main roadblock to getting a British passport renewed whilst you're living in Russia?  The ruddy photographs, to the point that when I next get back to the UK I will just get a whole load taken and put them away until needed.

Husband assured me it would be no big deal.  He would take me to a friendly photo shop he knew, he said.  Somewhere he always goes for his visa photos etc, he said.  Somewhere they are really helpful, he said.

This is why, on the way to said photo shop, he stopped the car, pointed at a random building at the side of the road, and said "Actually this one's closer.  Let's go here."

Me:  "OK.  Ummm - have you been here before?"

Husband;  "No.  But I'm sure it will be fine."

We walk in.  There is a small unwashed-looking gentleman lounging behind an office desk, surrounded by photographic equipment.  We look at him.  He looks at us.  We all look at each other.


Husband (blinking first and losing face in the process):  "We would like some passport photos, please."

Unwashed gentleman.  "What?"

Husband  "Passport photos.  Of my wife.  Can you help us?"

Unwashed gentleman (yet to crack a smile or welcome us into his store), to me:  "Take off your coat, sit there."

I took off my coat, sat there.  He looked at me, critically.

"Tell her to turn to look to the side*."

Me:  "We don't have to do that for British passports.  We just look straight ahead."

"Tell her to push her hair back."

I push my hair back.


I push it back more.

"No, more!  Behind her ears!  We need to show her ears!"

Me:  "We don't need to show ears in Britain.  We just - oh, for pete's sake." I push my hair back behind my ears.

"Tell her to push her fringe off her forehead."

Me to Husband.  "We don't have to do that in - Can you just tell him to take the frigging photograph?"

Husband laughs.  "Don't get stressed.  Why are you stressed?"

Me:  "Because he's being so rude!  Why is that necessary?  I just want a passport fringe is fine..."  I give up and push my fringe to the side.

He takes the photo.  One photo.  I suppose it would be a waste to press that finger on the button twice.  He looks at the photo on the camera and sighs heavily.  I am clearly not Russia's Next Top Model.  Glumly, he downloads it to the computer.

He then starts messing about with the cursor.

Me:  "What are you doing?"  No answer.  "Husband, what is he doing?"

Husband, barely holding in the mirth.  "Photoshopping your hair, darling.  Apparently it needs work..."

Me:  "He's what?"

Husband, smirking:  "Calm down.  We're in Russia. It's what they do."

Me:  "Well, it's not what they do in England.  We just use the photos of us, as we are.  And if he starts to mess about with my face I'll never get the passport."

Silence, whilst unwashed gentleman - who has ignored me throughout - begins to adjust the photos to the correct size.  I consider my options, then turn to Husband.  "But, since we are in Russia, maybe you could ask him to tighten my jawline whilst he's at it?"**

*Many countries require a slight turn to the head so that they can see half profiles in passports.

**OK.  I didn't ask him to do that.  But god, the temptation...


Harriet 18 March 2014 at 13:29  

I had my passport stolen in St Petersburg, complete with exit visa.

No passport, no train back to Moscow, no trip to embassy, no new passport.

You see the dilemma?

Fortunately the consulate in St Petersburg managed to sort out the train bit (can't remember how) and I found myself, with passport pictures (there used to be a place underneath Moscow State University, should you need one again), at the embassy to fill in the forms.

"Has it been countersigned? You need someone who's known you for at least two years..."

None of them in Moscow, or Russia, as it happens. Turns out that requirement's not strictly enforced. A nice man waiting in the queue did it. Never seen him before, never seen him again. Hey ho.

Am sure you'll look lovely, and at least you've now been there for more than 2 years...

nappy valley girl 18 March 2014 at 15:16  

We had this problem in America - hardly anywhere took the right size photos for a British passport, so we had to make a special trip to Manhattan for them, paying a vast fee. I really do wish countries would align their passport photo requirements...surely it wouldn't be that difficult?

Expat mum 18 March 2014 at 20:45  

Hmmm. I renewed three GB passports last year in the USA and just did the photos myself on the computer. OK, I confess it took a while to get the sizes right but it saved a lot of expense and hassle all the same.

Knackered Mother 18 March 2014 at 21:04  

Suitably complicated, then. I did have to do the emergency passport run to Peterborough once, visited the cathedral. Felt sick. Found out I was pregnant. Will always be kind of special!

MsCaroline 18 March 2014 at 22:14  

I'm like ExpatMum - we take them against a white wall at home and print them out on the computer. I have yet to have a passport photo taken that isn't hideous - I'm fairly sure that, if I did take a good one, they wouldn't believe it was me. Sigh.

Melissa 19 March 2014 at 05:42  

I hate promoting this company because they screwed me out of money when I did some work for them once, but lets you take your own photo on a digital camera, upload, they check it is correct for passports, print and send to you.

But frankly, if getting photoshopped comes as standard in Russia, I would probably choose that option given I look like a convict in most passport pics

Iota 19 March 2014 at 13:39  

I have such traumatic memories of having to get photos done for US visa applications and renewals, that I won't even start talking about them. Aaaaaarghhhhhhh

The story involves me successfully uploadine them - eventually - to the US Embassy electronically (taken at home a la Expat Mum and Ms Caroline), and then them rejecting it when I got there in person to finalise the application. "But I uploaded it." "That doesn't mean it's accepted." I sat on a bench in Grosvenor Square and cried.

Aaaarghhhh - I said I wasn't going to get started.

MoscowMom 19 March 2014 at 18:05  

Oh, how I've been there! They INSISTED on doing such photo shop to my daughters' and my photos that I feared ever being recognized at the border! Luckily on visa photos it's not as vital as on passports...

I really understand... I was initially so insulted! How dare they just assume I would be THRILLED to have our "imperfections" erased? Then... Well... Could you cover that bit of grey...?? :-)

Clare Taylor 19 March 2014 at 18:38  

Harriet - Lovely? Hmmm... And that sounds like quite an experience! (Nowadays you need an appointment to get into the British consulate - heaven only knows what you do if your passport is stolen!)

NVG, you would think that, wouldn't you?

EPM, we have tried the computer route - a couple of years ago - without success. Maybe the software had moved on now though.

KM, and when you have to replace that passport you won't want to!

MsC, I think hideous just goes with the territory of passport photos, doesn't it?

Melissa, I always comfort myself with the fact that no-one ever sees my passport photo. Or I did - until I started to live somewhere where we have to carry it every time we leave the house...

Iota, I'm waiting for the email now to tell me that I have to start the process all over again. I mean, I *think* it's all fine, but...

Moscow Mum - it's certainly cheaper to get the grey photo shopped out than it is to go to some of the hairdressers here!

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