Monday 26 January 2009

"Mistakes? We don't make mistakes."

Due to what I'm hoping is merely a Tuttle v. Buttle situation, my application for a credit card was rejected! The letter "regretfully informing" me, however, had my last name misspelled, with a T instead of a G. Life imitates Brazil. So I'm trying fretfully to word a letter to the bank in hopes it's all a silly clerical error, so we may buy a flat someday, over the rainbow.... I hope it's not just a sign of how bad things have gotten, where no one can get any kind of mortgage at all. True, my understanding of the world of finance is little more sophisticated than Beatrix Potter's explanation of credit in The Tale of Ginger and Pickles: "The customers come again and again, and buy quantities, in spite of being afraid of Ginger and Pickles." All of us "credit crunched" can, I think, relate.

Ah, well, so maybe things are a little panickier than I've wanted to admit (a friend has an excellent article in the Huffington Post observing current mood differences between London and New York). Still, life goes on. Here's a fun fact: After two years of living here with a "temporary leave to remain" visa as the spouse of a Briton, I must, by May, apply for "permanent residence." In addition to paying a princely sum for this whole process, I must sit a "Life in Britain" citizenship test, even though I'm not (yet, anyway) applying for citizenship. Well and good, but this thing is ridiculously difficult. The BBC website had an article about the test a few years ago: "Could You Pass a Citizenship Test?", with a sample so that the average Brit can test his/her "local knowledge." Apparently, this test thing is a recent move; perhaps a gesture from the government that they are attempting to stem the tides of The Dreaded Immigrant?

The problem is, the multiple-choice questions seem to deal mostly with statistical data, which terrifies me—plus, as my Scottish husband points out, they are totally Anglocentric! Sample question (from the study guide I downloaded): "What percentage of English people regularly attend church?" Are they kidding? This is necessary information for assimilating and contributing to the nation? "What is the population of the U.K.? 61 million, 62 million, 59 million, or 60 million?" Whatever happened to that famous British sense fair play? That's just not cricket! My husband has printed out parts of the test to show his family, all of whom commiserate with me about having to memorize all this data, and they assure me they'd fail miserably themselves.

But the punchline: Stated prominently on the U.K. Border Agency's website and on the study guide is that the test must be taken in the English language, unless one lives in Wales, where one has the option of sitting the test in Welsh. HA HA HA HA HA HA!!! If you are more fluent in Welsh than English, it's because you were BORN IN WALES, SO WHY WOULD YOU BE TAKING A CITIZENSHIP TEST?!?!?!?!! I don't know, maybe this is some really sick form of racism toward the Welsh, who knows. I'm still learning!

Ah, bureaucracy. "It's been confusion from the word go," as Kurtzmann says in the movie.

Thursday 22 January 2009

Let's talk about that hat

And now for a little light relief—Ms Franklin's hat (my current fave is Jon Stewart's). I just thought I'd add my observation that the wearing of a Serious Hat to a Serious Occasion is a thing from another generation, to Americans anyway. British women, on the other hand, still do hats. Not just to weddings and funerals, not just the old ladies, but young things too. I'm not so young, but when we got invitations to the Queen's annual summer garden party in Edinburgh last year, I was all aflutter when I realized I'd have to wear a hat. "Tiaras will be worn," as they used to say; one just doesn't attend these sorts of things bareheaded. It was intimidating, the prospect of a hat, but man was I excited to see the Queen (my mother-in-law is involved in our local community council, and when colleagues of hers eschewed the event, we snagged the tickets). I feel mixed things about the royal family, of course, being American and all that; I can empathize with my Scottish fellow travellers, some of whom are vehemently opposed to English rule with all its history. But, holy cow, the Queen! So off I went to shop for a hat. Enclosed is a picture of me on the train to Edinburgh on the day, wearing a bespoke "fascinator" from V.V. Rouleaux ("bespoke" means "I was robbed"). It's barely visible, sorry. I shied away from the Serious Hats—didn't think I could pull one off—but on the other hand I worried whether a fascinator would be "enough" and "appropriate" to the occasion. The salesgirl assured me it was the same as a hat, for all intents and purposes. And having one made expressly for me felt validating. Still I felt really dumb in it. When we arrived at the party, though, wow—you should have seen all the gorgeous hats! Every lady there was worrrrrrkingggg itttttt. I shoulda gone for it. Next time. I've been schooled, now, in The Hat.
Anyway, last night I had some serious fun with Ms Franklin's hat, Photoshopping my friends, my husband, my dog. Hats are cool! In that so-uncool-it's-kinda-cool way, which, trust me, I should know about.

Wednesday 21 January 2009

No longer a Bush Exile

No, not moving back, I'm just sayin'! Actually I'm a little hungover from all the emotion—yes, and the bottle of bubbly. A measure of my Americanness (Americousity? Americanicity? hmm) is that I still can't drink during the day without getting a headache. Anyway, my husband and I watched the coverage on the BBC for hours and hours, and both of us crying like babies. When Biden was sworn in it started to dawn on me that it was all really happening.

Later, much later, we took the dog for a walk by the river and Glasgow was so quiet, it felt like the whole thing was our little secret. The Inauguration feels like an omen of good things to come. I won't argue about how hope isn't enough, that a lot of work lies before us all, personally and politically, but everything feels finally possible. Perhaps it always has been, it just takes a different viewpoint.

Thursday 15 January 2009

My credit crunch

The thing about being a transplant is, the most mundane, trivial things can add up to make life feel totally surreal (and I won't even get into the language barrier—oh yes there is one). Today I'm going to Barclays bank to apply for a high-interest credit card, for without one, I cannot get a mortgage. Isn't that a kick in the head? I worked and scrambled and paid my rent for 20 years in Manhattan, but now that I'm in the U.K., I have no credit history here and must build one from scratch. So the advice is, get one of those terrible 34.9 percent interest cards (the "normal" ones with low rates reject me because I haven't lived here long enough), charge the groceries once a month, and voilĂ , a credit history.

It works the same for immigrants in the U.S., so I'm not complaining, it's just a little humbling. It sort of makes you feel like a nothing—which is ridiculous. One isn't one's bank account. Or lack thereof (you can apply only for the most basic student-type savings account here too). If only I still had my 18-year-old figure to go with my slimline accounts.

In other news...I have a lot of news. Various updates, stories, and new links coming shortly as I am determined to get this blog thing off the ground this year. Trouble is I kind of hate blogs; I was envisioning more of a website full of resources, but the longest journey starts with a blog.