Recently I was touring Anchorage, Alaska. I had just settled into my seat — great narration, great views, great learning experience — when my ears perked up. The guide had just pointed to a building on our left saying, “The American Embassy in Alaska.” Then I heard the couple behind me say something about how nice it was to know that “we” had an embassy right there in Anchorage.
Unfortunately, we drove by the building too fast for me to check for signs on it although one thing I knew for sure was that this was no embassy. Not for the United States, nor any other country. Here’s why. And here’s why it’s good to look at the consular institution in the context of embassies:
Embassies are established in a nation’s capital so, for the United States this means Washington, D.C. The head of an embassy is an ambassador, who is the personal representative of a foreign head of state to the U.S. president. This in itself leaves Alaska out of the realm of possibility for a U.S.embassy. Alaska was admitted to the Union in 1959 (as our guide correctly said at one point) so it’s not a foreign nation that would exchange ambassadors with the United States.
Moreover, Anchorage is not the capital of Alaska (the smaller Juneau is). So, the couple was wrong on two counts already.
But let’s not leave it at that. Maybe it was just a slip of the tongue by our guide and what he really meant to point out was a consulate. Still, this begs the question if the building was home to a U.S. consulate. Again, the answer is a loud “impossible.”
But why? For the same reason as with the embassy above: countries don’t have consulates in their own countries. Remember, a consulate is an arm of the government that creates it for purposes in another country. Therefore, we wouldn’t find a Spanish consulate in Madrid, for instance, or an Irish consulate in Dublin.
Funny enough, if you google “u.s. embassy anchorage” this links to a whole lot of hotel sites, and even some government agencies. But it’ll never lead to a legitimate U.S. embassy, although the closest in distance may be the one in Mexico City. Or maybe Ottawa. Both are places where our country has an embassy.
In a nutshell: there is no U.S. embassy or consulate on U.S. territory, and Alaska is one of the fifty U.S. states. But there are plenty of foreign embassies and consulates on our soil.