Various Lies

Monday, May 17, 2010

Where did all the nice idiots go?


Sometimes you can amaze yourself at how bad you can totes haz teh FAIL

Back when the earth was young and I still had a ponytail and hope in the future I moved the US. I had to go through a veritable fucking suite (pronounced 'sweet', dear friends, not 'suit') of bullshit in order to successfully integrate. Finding a place in grad school was, in retrospect, the easy part. I had to take a battery of (very expensive) standardized tests called a GRE because apparently my degree in biology wasn't enough...I needed to somehow prove I could also read AND write AND do simple sums. Crazy...cos in the The Motherland one usually doesn't progress to university without first proving oneself in high school... Anyway, I studied for this asinine hurdle and got scores that were above average. Nothing grand, but I really didn't a fuck if the Dean of the College was worried about my ability to guestimate the square root of 6, or determine that colour is to tone as spectrum is to [fill in the blank]. Having been raised in a military family I have an innate terror and hatred of authority, so I was actually prepared to fail and throw it in their face, but I digress.

Once I got here I was thrown headlong into a turmoil I couldn't have prepared for. Ordering even a sandwich was a challenge..."two countries divided by a common language" is a cliche because it's true (which is also a cliche, but let's move on). I couldn't find a sandwich shop, but did stumble across a place called "Subway" that instead of being a gateway to a subterranean transport system was a sandwich shop. The gormless fuckwit behind the counter looked at me, I girded my loins and made my first purchase, my heart hammering in my chest.

"Hi Sir, welcome to Subway! What can I help you with today?" He asked, so cheerfully I used to think they must be medicated.

"I'd like a cheese sandwich please," I replied and experienced for the first time the look of utter incomprehension I would come to know and love over the next decade. Because once you go off script, They can't improvise.

"Hi Sir, welcome to Subway! What can I help you with today?" This time spoken through clenched teeth, sweat beginning to appear on the poor imbecile's forehead.

I spoke as if to a small, slow witted child, "I'd like, a cheese, sandwich. Please." And when this didn't elicit any response I too began to panic, because fear of social awkwardness is endemic to my people. Thankfully the poor boy figured out that it was I who was the fuckwit in this conversation, and he tried to take control.

"Well, sir, I can do you a sub with just cheese and veggies, would that be OK?"

It was my turn to start sweating...veggies? Are you fucking with me? Veggies are potatoes and carrots and so forth. Why the everliving fuck would I want a potato on my cheese sandwich? Thankfully he gestured at the salad bar in front of him and I just yelled "LETTUCE" at the top my lungs hoping he'd go away and I could flee.

"OK sir, cheese and lettuce. What kind of cheese? We have Jack, Provolone, Swiss, Cheddar, American..." like something out of Monty Python, the scene just kept unfolding. I finally got my cheese sandwich, the last hurdle being the pair of us working out he meant Alfalfa sprouts (which I know as "cress"), and not Brussels Sprouts.


Tideliar fixed the moron with his best "YOU FAIL" look during the "Great Sprouts Incident" of '98"

I discovered after a while that the blank look I got when I spoke was natural for a central Pennsylvanian when confronted by a white person with a non-American accent. I took to speaking, pausing and just repeating myself, giving my 'server' time to parse the information that I must be 'not American.

Things were no easier when I went to get my Social Security Card. This little piece of paper and the 9 digit number on it rule your entire life in the US. You almost literally cannot do anything without this number and must memorize it and be prepared to divulge it constantly. Curiously, its importance underlies a massive flaw in the "system" over here, because knowing someone's SSN (and maybe just a little trivial information, like their birth date) allows you clone that person's life. And yet one is forced to give it out over the phone when calling banks or credit card companies, universities use it as a form of student ID. It is the least secure and most important number in the life of any American, and needless-to-say identity theft is a major problem.

After I got my SSN I was able to get my driver's license (or indeed, licence), and that set another row of hurdles which I had to o'er leap, or else fall down. Americans find driving to be a fundamental right, much like owning guns or yelling at people (if you're a Republican) in the name of so called "free speech". I assume these things to be privileges which one earns, but Hey Ho, and indeed Nonny Nonny, I'm just old fashioned that way. Thankfully this assumed privilege of driving and the fact that one gets one's learner's permit while barely weaned from nanna's teet mean that the driving test is ludicrously fucking easy. It's designed that even a 14 year old can pass it and head out to cause mayhem and untold misery on the innocents around him. I had to parallel park in a space you could, to quote my dad, fit a fucking double-decker bus in. Then, having proven my chops, I was told to turn right out of the driver's license center, after 100 yards, turn right again, then again, and then again. Having successfully negotiated one small block of houses, I was told I had passed and presented with my new license.

This was many years ago and I still enjoy the semi-regular ritual of renewing my license. Because, as a foreigner, I am obviously not to be trusted with something so important without being forced to undergo a pointless rigmarole on a too-often basis. I can't remember how often I had to renew my license in Pennsylvania, but it was regular. When I moved to Tennessee I was surprised by a whole new suite of bureaucratic bullshit.

Tennesseans' get a regular looking license, one views it horizontally, the picture is on the top left, and again on the bottom right and there are all kinds of watermarks and hologram thingamajigs on there. But when I moved here us Dirty and untrustworthy foreign types were given, after much procrastination, a bright pink, vertically viewed "Permit to Drive" that said in bright red writing "NOT VALID FOR IDENTIFICATION", along the top. This, of course, meant that one had to carry one's passport with one to serve as ID. The bullshit inherent in this system is that I needed my passport and visa to get the fucking thing in the first place. So I was forced to carry two forms of ID on me, especially if i travelled. Although times have changed and I now have a regular looking licence, I am minded to relate that even after the 9/11 attacks I flew domestically (including through D.C., our mighty Capitol) without once showing my passport. Indeed, the only time a so called "official" of any rank refused to accept as ID a card saying in bright red letters "NOT VALID FOR IDENTIFICATION" was a kid selling beer at a festival a few years ago. My buddies wanted to kick his ass, I gave a $5 tip and had them buy my beer instead.

Anyway, the entire point of this TL;DR rant is that today I returned to the DMV to renew my license again. Now bare in mind in Tennessee things move slowly.

Very. Fucking. Slowly.

In my home town your average staffer or petty bureaucrat is a self-entitled douchemonkey of the first order. Everything is difficult and time consuming. The DVM takes this to the nth degree. Thankfully they are also usually badly trained and ignorant, because the people above them are lazy, self-entitled douchemonkeys too. Last time I needed to renew my license I was missing a vital piece of paperwork: the visa stamp in my passport had expired (it's only a travel permit, the actual visa approval or visa notice is another piece of paperwork). I was able to bullshit my way through this mishap with little trouble,

"This here visa has expired," He said, fixing me with a myopic squint I took to be his best effort at a steely glare.

"No, that's the travel permit. It means I can't re-enter the country if I travel abroad, but obviously I can be here legally to work. Look here's my work ID badge." I showed the badge, which does indeed have a picture of me on it and magnetic swipe on the back. I assume this was OK because only a couple of hours later I was in possession of newly re-issued drivers license. This time, however, I was not so fortunate. It turns out some complete fucker has taken it upon themselves to educate our pubic serpents public servants in how to do their job properly.

"This visa stamp has expired," She said. I noted the use of the word 'stamp' and began to get nervous. After all, I was 20th in line when I got to the DMV and it had taken me over an hour just to get this far.
"No, that's just the travel permit. My visa is fine, look here's my work ID."

"No. This is the visa stamp and your I-94 is here, so if you're legally working you should have an I-blah blah blah."


Tideliar protests at the DMV. But to avail. He doesn't have the right documents. Game Over dude.

She listed the immigration documents I should own, and probably do, somewhere, but my mind shut down at this point. I tried to argue my case, but she was unmoved. The utterly efficient and well trained harridan would not be swayed. So 78 minutes after arriving at the DMV I left, red-faced (see above for note about social awkwardness), and the victim of several dozen schadenfreude laden-smirks.

If looks could kill I would be the subject of a statewide mass murder manhunt right now.


chall said...

oh I know your pain. so sorry. Myself? I had an similar experience last week. Let's go with "it was good enough for the FEDERAL government to give me a green card". The response? "Well maaam, this is not the federal government, this is TN.... "

really? I'd never guessed *facepalm*

She even refused me to see her supervisor and after glancing at the cops in the corners I just left. Retake this week.... maybe.... ifonly they would've recognized the passport, green card, social security card etc... but alas, they need something very different. I think I have it.

I wish you the best trying. Maybe going to another one of the DMVs...

Genomic Repairman said...

As they say, only in America. The land of opportunity, and shit ton of fucking headaches thanks to our crippling and somewhat dimwitted bureaucracy.

Professor in Training said...

I feel your pain. It took 2 entire days to get my license in Southern State after waiting 4 weeks for a social security card (that's before things changed as after that time the local DMV insisted they could only process 10 foreign national license applications per day ... even though there was only one testing centre in the entire city that would take the filthy foreigners and there were at least a hundred of them lined up at the door).

Things improved when I moved to Current State, though ... I showed my drivers license from Southern State and they simply gave me a new Current State license ... and then asked me if I wanted to register to vote. Didn't have to show a passport and they didn't bat an eyelid at the accent.

tideliar said...

@Chall: I think after making such an ass out of myself I will be forced t try another DMV anyway...

@GR: I'm sure it's as bad in other countries, I just never noticed it because I was indoctrinated to the bullshit at home. I remember the first time I signed on for unemployment and housing benefits...holy fucking shit what a pallava...

@PiT: They asked if wanted to register to vote?! WTF! Do you have the nicest smile or something? Teach me your secrets Oh wise PiT!

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

Oh my, what a fine and splendid rant. I'm sorry you had such a frustrating time, but it made for excellent blog fodder!

Your story about the cheese sandwich reminded me of my trials and tribulations trying to order tea on my first day in Canada.

rpg said...

And this, boys and girls, is why we insist on having our *own* nuclear deterrent.

tideliar said...

@Cath: Cheers :) And I love your tea post. I gave up tea for years when I moved here because of the warm water issues. Now I own a kettle, and I have constant supply of PG Tips...

@RPG: And the rest of the world thanks you for it too mate!