Life Starts All Over Again When It Gets Crisp in the Fall

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Even the little alleys look quaint here.

It’s that time of year again, and this year, I can hear and see it all from my window. It’s October! Unfortunately, that means that I can also hear the proselytizing, preaching prat across the street yelling into his bullhorn about how we’re all going to hell. Well, at least the colours will be prettier.

 

Today, the streets are busier than I’ve ever seen it, and this year I’ve been more of a tourist than a blogger about it. The view from my apartment really makes me wish this building had balconies (the ones you can actually sit on, not those phony “Juliet” balconies – although we don’t even have those), but all I’ve got to do is step out the door to my elevator and walk outside.

People are already out in their costumes (probably hoping to avoid the maelstrom next weekend’s going to bring). Earlier this month there was, of course, the Zombie Walk (much more organized than last year, and I was a zombie King Henry V – yes, really). Last weekend I saw a couple of Zombie Tellytubbies, and so far today I’ve already seen Marge Simpson, Captain America, Catwoman and a cute little baby Iron Man.

(an odd effect in panoramic mode when switching from light to dark areas; kinda cool)

The Old Burying Point Cemetery (above) has been packed during the day. Tourists are generally pretty respectful of the site, even if they do leave empty Dunkin’ Donuts cups (some of which probably contained coffee or tea) all over the place. Even the weeks have been pretty busy; let’s see what next weekend brings.

 

Meme-ifying my job

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Because I’ve been forced to leave my windows open for most of the day, as it’s been a (thankfully) mild winter, it not only made me a little homesick, but also forced me to consider that Spring is indeed upon us, and it’s that mandatory period for taking stock in your life.

Looking at my job was the easiest start. I was working today while my permanent-jobbed colleagues enjoyed a paid day off in the sun, so a meme is the laziest way to express any ennui therein:

Tipping in America

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A couple of years ago, here in Salem, I called a local taxi company to go from a friend’s house (where I was temporarily staying) to take a few bags of items to a storage space I was renting. The husband and I had moved out of our old place, and the move-in to the new place was delayed by about a month, due to the bathroom ceiling caving in (which would happen every 2 months of our stay there).

I got a surly, abusive cabbie who looked like the bastard child of a pickled-leather-faced Tommy Chong and that slimy clump of hair that you just can’t get out of the bottom of the shower trap. He took one look at my meager collection of bags and declared in a Homer Simpson bitch-voice, “weeiy’re neuuot a moooving cummpany”, despite the fact that my things both weighed and constituted far less than a typical grocery shopping trip. I told him he didn’t have to help but he did anyway, wrestling things out of my hands and explaining that he’d be here “all day” otherwise and he simply didn’t have all day, because his time was as precious as his pretty face.

The whole journey this berk would just NOT shut the fuck up. He continued to complain about the number of bags I had (about 5 and a small Christmas tree in its box), and how, technically, he could charge 50 cents per bag, even if it were groceries, but he was doing me a favour by not raping my wallet. There wasn’t a second of silence without this miserable cunt complaining; I have truly never heard this much bitching and moaning and whinging in my life. And I write a BLOG that is solely based on all the complaints I have about everything.

After he carefully unloaded my things by flinging them on the floor, I ignored what sounded like a smashing noise in one of the bags and fished out the exact cost of the fare. The driver, clearly feeling cheated, snorted out his best indignated, old-fart snort (most likely coupled with a shart) and said, “Nice tip”.

Even now, years later, I am speechless.

He seriously  thought that after all that, after all the abusive unpleasantness that he put me through, he expected to be rewarded  in the form of a fucking tip?!

I was not rude to him; I held my tongue and kept apologising, though I’ve no idea for what. This arsehole, who probably complains that us “young people” feel that we’re so entitled to everything, is actually worse than the standard service industry mentality of “I’ll do my job to the bare minimum, and expect massive, humungous tips for doing so”. He was rude, unfriendly, manhandled my packages (shut up), did not shut the fuck up, and was thoroughly unpleasant in any way. It left me hoping that the cab would suddenly burst into flames so I wouldn’t have to hear this piece of shit talk anymore. And yet he still expected a tip on top of that.

And therein lies the problem with tipping. It’s now become expected of apparently big rich fat cats like myself (on a temp’s crappy wages) to just fork out AT LEAST a quarter of the total fare/food bill/haircut/bar bill/colonic irrigation to these poor, underprivileged plebians who make more money than I do. Never mind the polarized view that many nobodies like myself are also trying to get by. I have no idea what cab drivers make, whether or not they’re self-employed, what fees/bills they have to take care of to do their job. I don’t give a shit!

I have to pay to get to work (train plus sometimes the subway),  I pay for my work clothes and every other work-related expense with zero reimbursement or expectation for my business partners to cough up some spare change – even if I do a great job on a project that’s seen by tens of thousands of employees. I accept the fact that I’m a poor schlub on very low pay, but I derive some job satisfaction from doing my best work and seeing it pay off. Just not with money.

Everywhere I go, I feel as though I am being ordered to tip; otherwise you are a greedy, selfish bastard. Many times I’ve felt like going to my local to grab a beer, but I don’t want to be made to feel like I’m one of the fucking 1% if I can’t afford the cost of a pint and a half to include the apparently minimum-accepted 25%.

From the server’s side, the argument is that they often make less than $2 per hour and getting tips is their way of compensating for such a meagre wage. So instead of pitting the servers and the customers against each other, why not recognise the quite clear point that it is the employers themselves to whom everyone should direct their ire? Instead of feeling forced to pay up the discrepancy between the actual wage and a fair, decent wage, how about making an organised go at tackling what appears to be fair trade violations in the developed world?

Countries like Japan and most Western countries aren’t accustomed to tipping. You might think they’re cheap bastards, but people in the service industry in these countries, and definitely the UK, make at least minimum wage per hour anyway. Without tips. I’ve read arguments online saying that servers need tip money to feed their families and pay their bills. What I don’t understand is why this burden should lie with the customer, and if the customer can’t meet it, or chooses not to, then the server “remembers” the bad tipper and will probably rub their arse hairs in their food.

I tip mostly out of being polite, because it’s a small city, and everyone knows me, so they can’t really be a jerk to me. But with boorish thugs like the cab driver, I don’t feel obliged to tip – I feel bullied into doing so. I have no issue with tipping, but I can’t understand why people have accepted it to be the norm over here as opposed to a gratuity to be left in cases of exceptional service. Not every single time. If the original concept of tipping were being adhered to, that would indicate a high level of customer satisfaction, because everyone would be really, really happy with their doughnut or their cocktail or their bucket of chicken. But the US isn’t even in the top 20 in the Satisfaction with Life Index (yes, this exists).

I have been in the service industry. Not as a waitress or a bartender, but as a lowly retail worker. I never got a tip; I never even got a bonus. I then worked in a call centre (same deal), then moved onto working in the civil service (tips? hahahahaha) and then finally a temp office job with most likely no future and definitely no bonuses/tips etc. I know what it’s like to be on the other side of a conversation in which it doesn’t matter how wrong or right the customer is, and even if you agree with them and let them get their way, they will forget about it ten minutes later and you will spend the rest of your day resentful and disgruntled.

So to consider the idea of tipping as a social obligation is disappointing, because the only incentive to do your job to the bare minimum standards is to get an “reward” for it on top of a paycheque that is criminally low, but just socially-accepted as a form of punishment for the worker, the consumer, but not the proprietor/owner/politician. Way to go, Capitalism.

 

When did this entitlement-due-to-embarrassingly-low-server-pay become such the norm? When did it become mandatory to tip not for a job well done, but for parts of a job done near-adequately that didn’t result in car crashes or food poisoning? Why isn’t anyone doing anything about the fact that the wage is so low to begin with, instead of just expecting that gap between their pay and minimum wage to be filled by the customers? Why not challenge/examine the very foundations of this massive con (where all are concerned)?

Look at the unions for TFL in the UK – if they can get 43 days’ holiday, triple pay on Bank Holidays and almost £45,000 a year for just sitting and pushing and pulling a lever, why can’t the unions marshal that quintessential American violent anger and put it to good use where the rights of service industry workers are concerned?

As a foreigner from a country where tipping really IS tipping, it remains both baffling and infuriating to me. Luckily, there are some helpful hints in the odd coffeeshop here and there. The first time I found myself in a tipping situation was when I was in a hotel in Hollywood and a nice man brought up some room service. Despite the fact that this was before I met my husband, this isn’t what you think it is.

This was where I was staying at the time. I ordered some food for room service, and decided to pay in cash. Because I’m very, very awkward in situations with people, I thought that the sooner I tipped this strangely quiet man, the quicker he would leave and I could just sit with my food and watch TV in a place where I didn’t quite understand the language. The bill came to $17, and I gave what I thought was a $5, but as I was handing it over I slowly realised that it was a $20. Yes, I had paid $37 for a $17 meal.

The quiet hotel man couldn’t stop his eyes from bulging (seriously, it’s not that kind of story) out of his head and stammered, “do you want me to get you something else? some vodka, maybe?” I’m not sure why he offered me vodka. Had I mentioned it previously in some sort of jokey conversation-starter? Would he bring it from the hotel bar or from some private stash he’d nicked from all the mini-bars? Somehow I found myself saying “no” to an strong drink of unspecified origin with a strange man and retreated to the cold, limp (…..) congealed wheat-nest that was my vegetarian pasta, which probably could have used a pint of vod to give it some taste anyway.

At that point in time I could afford to accidentally tip like an overprivileged moron. But now that I’m out of uni and no longer mooching off a brilliant GBP to USD exchange rate, I now have to get in line with my useless dollar-paycheque and start living life in a sensible, non-student fashion. And part of learning how to spend is basically taking the price of anything – absolutely anything – and tacking on 25% so you don’t feel like a cheap bitch. Much different from the UK, where tipping is actually…tipping.

 

The Office Cinderella

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A few months after I started my job, I was sent an Outlook calendar invite (along with the entire North American contingent of employees) to a big important all-day meeting. I checked with my manager and he said I can go, that it would be good for me to go, so I could get involved in corporate schmoozing and all that. It looked like loads of fun. Breakfast, brunch, lunch, and a lovely cocktail reception after office hours. Basically – no work all day, tons of speeches, tons of party games and team-building exercises.

The day before this extravaganza-thon, my manager disinvited me, saying that temps aren’t really allowed to attend these kinds of meetings, because otherwise they’d essentially demand to be treated as regular employees, which causes all kinds of legal problems. Except he put it a bit nicer than that.

Today, we were packing up our own boxes in preparation for the office move, as the movers were coming over today. The company apparently didn’t want to pay to rent the floor out when the whole floor wasn’t being used, despite the fact that they themselves own the building (and every other building in the vicinity).

My managers, though, felt that they had more important things to do (like get beef soup and make personal calls to their babysitters), so they had me pack stuff. In front of them. On the floor.

Fucking…thanks! Because this is totally in my fucking job description to be the Office Lackey. Oh, wait, no it’s not, because they get paid more. A LOT more.

Rather humiliating that I was just sat on the floor packing stuff. One of my managers had a drawer full of work (i.e. expensive crocodile leather) shoes that she kept to change into. After hinting a couple of times and hesitating, she “spared” me the task of having to pick up her sweaty, creased-up loafers and actually reached over and put the damn things in her box herself. Everything else was left to me, the newbie waif with a permanently-damaged elbow (whereas everyone else was able-bodied).

Also totally did not seem to matter that I had a bunch of projects due for my actual, new manager, and they had been constantly rail-roaded and side-tracked by their on-site, ad-hoc demands. When did this job become The Nanny Diaries? WTF.

We are apparently moving to a rat-infested (rumour has it) cave-like portion of another building, which adds 20 minutes onto our morning commute (18 minutes of which is from the building entrance to the mould-infested basement we’ll be working in).

A co-worker whose name I will never remember (like either of us gives a fuck, because we will never see each other again after this move), tried to console me by saying that 7-Eleven and Dunkin’ Donuts would be right nearby, but this just made it worse.

The new office is right on the water. In the basement. So at least I’ll be able to see the sharks coming.

An Open Letter To The Crabby Bitch Who Sits Next To Me At Work

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Dear Perma-Crab-Faced Wench,

I would like it to be known that I am tired of knowing exactly when you bluster into the office. Would you like to know how I can tell, despite your relatively slim frame and the five and one-half-feet cubicle walls surrounding me, that you’ve graced us with your sour presence?

You are angrily huffing and puffing as you clomp and stomp your ill-fitting clodhoppers like a bitchy Transformer all the way to your poor desk, who did nothing to deserve having its meek little drawers flung open so violently, or its timid surface slammed on by your fashionably humungous handbag (which seems to contain a pile of rocks). To your credit, you fill in any pleasant gaps of noise with more huffing and puffing and sighing, as if you were some sort of ghetto dubstep record (which is all of them).

During my first week here, everyone else was pleasant and either introduced themselves to me, or, as is usually the case in corporate settings, said hello and made small talk as if they knew me already (without knowing that they had no idea who I was). You on the other hand, acted as if I had farted in your coffee while trash-talking your grandmother – you have a permanent scowl on your face, in your voice and generally in the way you carry yourself.

I wanted to give you the benefit of the doubt, that perhaps you were suffering from a breathing difficulty like asthma, or that maybe it was a one-off-huff-puff and that you were just having a shit day.  But no, you huff and puff and sigh angrily and bam and smash things all day, every day, like a self-loathing, everyone-loathing, corporate yeti.

You seem to eat the same thing every day (cold oatmeal-covered steroids?), because I hear the same angry scrape-scrape-scrape of your spoon against whatever it is you’re threatening down your own throat. I hear the same flinging open of the drawers, the same tossing of the mug (why is it never in pieces??) against the desk, and the same villanous slam-dunk of the wretched remains of it into the bin cowering under your desk. This is an office, not fucking Gladiators. Calm the fuck down. Maybe if you ate some chocolate once in a while you might perk up. Actually, the next time I hear you scraping I am going to toss in half a Chomp bar when you’re not looking. Hopefully you’ll also think it’s poo, because that’s what I think of your attitude. Bitter (like chocolate). Also: poo.

chocolate keybard by Michael Sholk

Because you never eked out more than a grunted sigh in response to seeing me, I’m not sure what the hell I’ve done to provoke this kind of response, since I’ve seen you attempt a smiling conversation with other people in the office, even though the grimace you attempt seems to test the very limits of your naturally bitchy face. So I know you’re not shy. But any encounter we have ever had in the hallway makes me paranoid and uncomfortable, like you’re suddenly going to stun me with your death-laser eyes and I’ll wake up two days later in a bath full of ice with one of my kidneys missing.

The other week, when I was microwaving my peasant cup of (vegan, all-natural) noodles in the break room, you stomped in with your huffing, dressed in what I can only assume was the result of you going to Nordstrom and thinking “this is uncomfortable, revealing, tight, and shows off my man-shoulders and my inability to co-ordinate my hips in a feminine manner”, and clomping your “trying not to walk like a riled-up pigeon” heels. You slammed down your Weight Watchers (why??) twelve-cheese-beefaroni next to the coffee maker with such a thuggish thud that it nearly dislodged the k-cup handle, put your hand angrily on your hip and tap-tap-tapped your foot while staring at me.

Your powers of staring were nothing compared to mine. While you could reduce me to an awkward, sweating, neurotic, lip-chewing mess, my feeble stares at the microwave did nothing to speed up the passage of time. It took me back to the longest three minutes of my life, in June 1999, when the last bit of silence in Biology A-Level exam was punctuated by the humiliatingly loud sounds of my stomach rumbling. I had only had a single hot dog to eat all day, and my abnormally-loud acid churning let out the unholiest sounds for three. long. minutes. Staring at the clock did nothing. Holding in my stomach muscles did nothing. Pushing out the stomach muscles made it worse. Water made it worse, sort of giving the gut something to conduct the damn sound through. Once I left, I had vowed never to let myself go that hungry again. Which brought me to this awkward break room moment.

In the end, I pretended that the food was done/overcooked and made some facetious apology about having your food smell like my food. I mumbled timidly, “have a good one” and then scampered off to eat my pauper’s lukewarm, crunchy, undercooked noodles to avoid having to look at your grimacing mug for the 2 minutes it would have taken to safely cook my food.

I don’t understand why you constantly walk around with a permanent lemon-sucking-face. You went to an Ivy League school, keep fit and active with sports and seem to be in generally good health. You also have a lot of friends, given the sheer amount of personal calls you make on an hourly basis. I notice that you got a big, layerful, 80s-style hairdo makeover with tons of blond highlights/extensions which more than likely cost about three weeks of my pay (but an hour of yours). You’re a permanent employee with a job whose low-visibility (not a bad thing) duties are shared among other people in your business unit, whereas I am doing the work of four people without a safety net, thick and fast deadlines, extremely high-visibility (i.e. high panic) work and way less than a third of your salary.

You are always late into the office and you always leave at least fifteen minutes early. You are constantly on vacation. The Cuntess of Bad Manners, you are always rude and curt to people in your phone meetings and act as if you have somewhere better to be. Why? Did you read this article?

You huff and puff and slam and sigh and fling and throw things so much that, as a human being on the other side of that tiny, non-soundproofed cubicle wall, I have to just assume that I am doing something to piss you off, maybe the sound of my eating, which made me so damn paranoid I now open a bag of crisps with a pair of fucking SCISSORS to minimise the noise of fueling myself. Never mind eating a motherfucking APPLE. Even WATERMELON is too damn loud!

This led me to explore other avenues of loud. My sneezes are loud (but yours have a sort of throat-singing quality to them, too); my stomach-rumblings are loud. I have perfected the art of sneeze repression (hold your breath ’til the tickle passes, then sniff to redistribute the nostril-tickling agents), but to remedy stomach-rumblings, I need to eat food (and like you and everyone else, it will be at my desk). So STFU.

Why can’t you be more like the adorably-sweet, constantly-smiling, Julie Benz-like lady who sits behind you? Your demeanour is that of a “fed up bitch” as opposed to a “maudlin, help-needing, depressed soul”. I know because I’ve been both. It’s a shame, because the more I see you, the more I feel compelled to avoid you, and I would have liked to have chatted with you like I do with everyone else in the building, even the cleaners who only speak Latin-American Spanish, and I do not speak any Spanish (I made the foolish decision of taking German in school instead). It’s now an instinct to avoid you. Sometimes I pretend to schedule meetings with you via your Outlook ID so I can see when you’re out of office so that I can RELAX.

So please…stop being such a miserable cow. Or, if you must be a miserable cow, at least have the decency to inject some misanthropic humour into your slumpy-shouldered, platform-heel-stomping, happiness-vacuuming dirge with which you insist on festooning this place.

Sincerely,

The lowly temp You Never Speak To

P.S. I am going to gargle pop rocks with Sprite every day with an open mouth until we all move into our new cubicles next week.

When Resentment Sets In

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Being an immigrant here (or anywhere) means you are, for all intents and purposes, new.  A nicely new, freshly-minted, naively-optimistic imbecile. Like a baby, but the birth canal is USCIS.

When you’re new, you’re generally given a grace period for making mistakes, looking stupid and general ignorance. It’s a bit comforting, sort of like having a mummy or a nice teacher that you accidentally call “Mummy”. Once that grace period expires though, you are swiftly relegated to lower than low in the pecking order of general human existence.

It’s a bit of a culture shock. Imagine trying to get anything immigration-related organized before you leave your country of origin. Here’s how this might go:

You: Hi there, I am am an impending immigrant currently in the UK. I’d like to rent one of your flats you listed online. I can even send you the security deposit upfront via Western Union to prove I’m legit. Email me back as I don’t have a US number, US address or any financial/personal references in the US. Bye!

Real Estate Agent: ….

You might think you sound legit by avoiding any spelling errors or reference to any titles you might hold (even this), but you might as well say you are a seeking a beneficiary for the Royal Family of Nigeria or hiring a mystery shopper to only work at Western Union.

The same thing happens with jobs. You will not be able to secure one on your own, because no-one can check your foreign references/work history. Instead, you will be a temp but have that dangling carrot of a permanent job with benefits to lead you foolishly into more and more work. Increased workload, zero rewards. The good news today was the fact that my temp contract was extended (rather than me being made permanent, so I can get said apartment). What would be BAD news, then? Getting fired? Good fucking luck, because I do the job of (as of this month), FOUR people. Yet I get paid a third of one of those people’s salaries. Again: low on the pecking order.

This morning, I was stuck in this permanently freezing cold house (where I can see my breath and my feet and hands go numb if not covered in 2-3 layers…in the DAY) for 3 hours longer than usual. This was due to work-related tech issues, and I had to sit there on standby so I could complete my morning distribution. 3 extra hours in that miserably chilly, damp, motivation-killing igloo. This happened two days earlier, too.

I have to file some fairly important immigration paperwork next week. Because I’m a temp, I didn’t get paid for the January 2nd holiday, and I didn’t get paid for the two weeks I was off, either. Meaning I go two whole weeks of working without getting paid, but I still have rent (albeit minimal) and transport costs to meet. Because my paycheck will be smaller than usual, I have to use almost all of it to pay the costs of said paperwork, leaving me with maybe $20-30 for the whole week. Fun!

On top of that, I still have to save first/last/security for this apartment I may end up taking out of desperation, and that involves almost 8 straight weeks of not buying any food, and just spending money on rent and transport. As unrealistic as that is, it’s more likely going to be 12 weeks rather than 8. Which sort of puts the ki-bosh on my hopes to fly home for a few days around Easter.

And once I can afford the move-in costs for said place, rent would end up being over 40% of my income. Before tax. And before utilities. It’s supposed to be 25%.

My roommate didn’t quite sympathise, and politely advised me to stop being negative, remarking somewhat facetiously that “life is hard”.

Well, it is! I guess not from where she’s standing, though.

Time for a table:

Her

Me

Owns her own property (possibly with parental assistance) Saving up to rent (a fallacy in itself) (over three times that of a mortgage payment) without parental help
Owns a car Has to walk in rainstorms/dry heat/snow/etc
Like most people, isn’t tied to living in a particular area (also due to having a car) Must live within a 15-min walk from the train, because my morning work process is on a tight schedule, micromanaged to the minute by existing processes/deadlines (6-8am), and I have to catch the express train to be at my desk by 9am. So I need to be able to make that train and that train alone from wherever I live in that tiny window of time. On FOOT!
Works as a teacher (gets to tell impressionable minds what to do/is always right) Lowest of the low on the food chain at work; gets tons of work with deadlines set by others; is not in charge of anything in any way whatsoever
Went to an Ivy League university (tuition costs met by parents) Went to a bog-standard but high-ranking local university
Is a US citizen Is currently undergoing the US immigration process, which is not exactly simple, short or cheap, and is damn fucking stressful
Sets rules (work/home etc) Follows rules (work/home etc)

The thing is, her life is more or less content, but mine is in a state of chaos and constant flux, having, you know…emigrated to another country and all. I am simply trying to achieve her level of content, or something close to it. It’s not about wanting and taking, but rather trying to get the same things that everyone else has, or at least everyone who works/lives in your area – a secure job where you’re relatively valued, a home of your own, and maybe even some furniture. Too much to ask?

But because I don’t have the resources available to me that she does/did (either as a citizen or because of her upbringing), it’s considerably more difficult, and the tangible aspects of these issues just can’t be happy-thought-ed away.

But in all of these regards, she has had the comfort, care and financial support by her parents/family even after she had moved out. For my family, it’s difficult for them. UK salaries, even for doctors, don’t really stretch that far out here. If I had been born and brought up in the US, things would have been different. Neither upbringing is more right than the other; it’s just different. But having that comforting shelter throughout your adulthood makes it difficult to comprehend anyone going through some genuinely stressful, complicated, unstable and convoluted life events.

It brings me back to that experiment I did. I can pretend that everything is happy and that there are clowns and puppy dogs and fireworks and candy and clowns everywhere, but none of that is going to change the actual facts, cause and effect of the negative FACTS in my life.

If I had a job that commanded a sense of power and/or fulfilled me in that way, I might feel differently about life. If I didn’t have to pay extortionate paperwork and legal fees, and wasn’t exempt from state and employment benefits and wasn’t completely on my own, family and friends-wise, then perhaps I’d feel differently about life.

But the fact of the matter is, it’s not, and I don’t. I’ve accepted that, but I’ve also accepted that it’s perfectly natural to react to and experience the stress caused by that. It’s there. I know I’m English, but you can’t just sweep it under a rug.

I feel the same lingering sense of resentment when I see a millionaire musician or successful clown/entertainer telling people to “follow their dreams” and “nothing can stop you doing what you want if you try hard enough”, leaving tens of thousands of failed musicians getting the noose tight enough on the third or fourth attempt (because they weren’t trying hard enough).

That sort of well-meaning but clearly hindsight-rooted “advice” is naive, but in a more…insulting, blinkered way, completely oblivious to the struggles that other, less fortunate, less privileged people face. It’s the rich/poor dichotomy, the polarized social mess that makes happy, butterfly-flitting volunteers of the one set and boxed-in, resentful misanthropes of the rest.

And that’s what it’s like to be an immigrant at this stage in the process. “Thinking positively” is ultimately a foolish ignorance of issues that need to be solved and/or simply slogged through. A waiting game. Soon.

To reiterate: when you emigrate to the US, you are a helpless, feckless, useless little baby. Except your mummy isn’t there to help you. No-one is.

Except the clowns.

Why Being an Immigrant in America Means Being Ripped Off by Everybody

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When you emigrate, your life inevitably changes. If you’ve been spoiled with certain human rights, government programs and relatively small levels of corruption, you’ll notice the change of quality in your life if you venture outside of that comfort zone. And I’m not talking about a few family members who took a year out to work and travel around parts of South Asia, or to volunteer in some fairly dangerous parts of Africa. I really just mean America.

I speak only from the point of view of an English-accented immigrant with an ethnicity that is not terribly obvious to the average Yank. Both of these combined suggest that I must clearly be some exotic oil baron’s child bride with money to burn, but it’s almost wholly about the accent. Southern English accents mean you get invited to Sunday high tea at Buckingham Palace and therefore mean you are rich. The con men don’t see you coming; they hear you coming.

Renting:

I am currently renting a furnished “apartment” with the following problems:

  • There is no kitchen. There is a bathroom, and a living room with a couch, and a dining table with a kettle and a microwave. If you use both at the same time, a fuse blows. The miniature refrigerator does not freeze anything and often doesn’t even close.
  • There is only one heat source – an old-fashioned furnace that only reaches half of the living room. My bedroom is on the other side of the “apartment”, meaning it has NO HEAT. At the time of writing, it gets as low as -1C at night.
  • I previously shared the “apartment” with a cat who would piss everywhere. Every day, on the couch (in the only warm room in the house), there would be a few huge piles of poo or half the cushion would be soaked in cat wee-wee. This was my landlady’s cat, and she had no problem running her hand over the urine-patch (to see if it was urine) and then hand me back my change from the rent I gave her.
  • My landlady only accepts cash, and refuses to let my name be on the mailbox, or even have mail delivered without having “c/o [her name]” preceding it.
  • The basement was completely submerged after a rainstorm a few weeks ago, and three days later, after all the neighbours had cleared out their basements, she still hadn’t done it (as a homeowner, she should have had a sump pump). Now, there is some weird-looking white stuff all over the basement. It’s a little strange that I got sick soon after with flu-like symptoms, and only, only when it rained. Mould allergies can develop after exposure to mould, which happens after something like, I don’t know…flooding. And those allergies become hellish each time it rains. It also doesn’t help if there’s no fucking HEAT in most of the “apartment”.
  • This “apartment” (sorry) is actually a converted attic. The bathroom has a powerful vent but no windows. The light sources are few and far between and most of the closet space is taken up by her own things.
  •  I share this whole place with another person. Including the tiny, dorm-sized fridge.
  • I pay a “reduced” rent of $800 per month.

Now, she’s a nice lady (when she feels like it), but she knows she is overcharging me. She sees me as a meek, waifish foreign Brit and therefore I must be completely oblivious to when I’m being overcharged for something. Little does she know that paying well over £500 per month to SHARE with someone is rare, even outside of London, and even if it’s furnished. I could live in Cardiff in a modern, furnished flat with a washing machine (and heat) for less than that. Even the above stats show that $800 is ridiculous for a room-share, even in a full apartment.

Searching for a roommate situation on Craigslist will turn up results in the range of $400-$600 per month, and for that you at least get an actual kitchen and privacy. There are also an unsettling aspect about living here that I’d rather not go into, but suffice it to say that if I hadn’t been a desperate immigrant with nowhere else to live, I would have hotfooted it out of there a while ago with a landlord-face-shaped mark on a baseball bat.

And the reason I had nowhere else to go? Because no-one will rent to you without:

  • a glowing reference check (UK references don’t count)
  • a glowing credit report (they can’t check a UK credit report)
  • income verification that your rent will not exceed 1/3 of your income (no job yet? jog on)
  • personal references (don’t know anyone in the US? Then you’re obviously a serial killer)

This is for an estate agent, meaning you are left to the wolves of the “apartments by owner” section on Craigslist. Trawl through scams, negotiate with slumlords and know for a fact that the bathroom ceiling that is “being renovated” will keep caving in every 2-3 months of your lease there. It is Cowboy Country. And it goes without saying – definitely don’t try to fix up something beforehand while you’re overseas. Either they’re a scam and will steal your money (even if they live locally), or they’ll think you’re a scam.

Employment

When you are an immigrant, it’s likely you won’t have a job when you get here. Even my father, a doctor, was told by the AMAthat he would have to arrive in the US and THEN get a job, whereas the GMC advised they would work with him to secure work (or at least a lead) before he arrived in the UK. So, he chose the UK (where, a few years later, I was born).

The best bet for fast work is recruitment agencies, but when you’re looking them up on Google, use the term “staffing agencies”. They are not like any agency in the UK. who are generally honest, take a relatively small commission from your salary and will see an end in sight for your temp assignment, in that you are either likely to go permanent after 3 months, or it was just a short-term role anyway.

Here? They post false job adverts “representative” of their job postings, interview you for the roles for which you’re not qualified, and when they finally do get you a job, they will take almost 3/4 of your income. And you will stay in that rich-poor middle ground for a very long time, listening to your c0-workers making jet-setting plans for the weekend and telling you you should go see a doctor when you’re sick, even though, as a temp, you do not have the free flu shots, cheap health insurance with great coverage and obscenely high pay that they do. But at least you can console yourself with the fact, because you do more work than they do, there is a certain comfort in being that stereotype for cheap, overworked foreign labour.

"That's preposterous! Zutroy here is as American as apple pie!"

Healthcare

I will never get tired of bitching about this one. Let’s say that you’re unwell, and you have a general idea of what’s wrong with you. In the UK, that often helps with accelerating a diagnosis, but it’s not the be-all, end-all of things. Here, you are put on an assembly line the moment you step in, and if you are dressed nicely enough, it’s clear that you are not just there to falsely obtain prescription drugs and they will place you in the “fast-track” process. It probably costs more, but either way you are still going to get that much-needed 20 seconds with a junior doctor/trainee vocational nurse. Do not be frightened if the hospital tries to sell you drugs, anyway – it’s just in their nature. Be flattered if they are trying to force the expensive ones on you because it means they think you are rich enough to afford it.

Just walking into a shop

Only in Salem could you walk into a barely-painted back room and be forced to contemplate the reality of fun but cheaply-printed hoodies being sold for $40, or a Christmas decoration that’s close to $30. They’re nice items, don’t get me wrong, but everything – everything – is so terribly, terribly expensive. I’d love to go local and buy a bath rug that looks no different than the $6 one in Target, but being forced to pay $35 for one is just taking the piss. Why? Because if you sound English, and dress English (even something like clearance New Look), you look like a tourist, and you are their slimy bread and butter.

And it doesn’t get any better when you go to the mall (the haven of mediocrity) – if you ask someone at say, Lush, for a good gift idea for a landlady you’ve only known for a few months, you will be directed to the $30-$40 gift boxes as opposed to the generic, safe-sounding, one-size-fits-all offerings. Why? Because you have an English accent.

Note that the accent does come in handy when popping into expensive department stores to use the bathroom, so make sure to posh it up somewhat extra. They won’t care that you have no intention of buying their overpriced Burberry imports and will be thankful that you graced the commodes with your Royal tinkles.

People Are Strange, When You’re Sick

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Today in the break room at work (which is so small that just two occupants have to shimmy like awkward pensioners on a first date just to make some coffee),  a co-worker who had previously been nice to me noticed I was still sick. He said, pretty sternly, “you shouldn’t be here.” I laughed it off and agreed, noting that I worked from home last weekend. He then said he was going to write a complaint to my manager.

WTF?!

And if THAT wasn’t ridiculous enough, he informed another person squishing into the room, “Watch out, she’s sick” and pointed at me. He then inched out of the room against the wall, narrating that he was trying to keep as far away from me as possible. Once he left, I attempted to make small talk with my fellow room sardine, but nothing was going to disguise my leperous shivering and bright red Ebola nose. The damage had been done.

I thought the other guy had been joking, which was why I was laughing it off (Brits = used to deadpan humor), but then I realized that this is the Land of the Charlie Sheen Was Somehow on The World’s Shittiest Sitcom for 7 years, so I quickly got to be simultaneously ashamed, embarrassed, upset and angry. So this is why this entire post will be littered with pictures of cute sick animals.

You see, being sick is considered a sign of being an undesirable, an untouchable. Whether it’s the an old adorable witch lady implying that my husband was of a weak mind to get a persistent cold (i.e. man flu), or toothless health insurance rejects in acid wash denim on the bus, sniffling, sneezing and coughing are an indication that you are simply just a lower quality human being.

In England, I had worked as a temp and had also had permanent (i.e. yearly contract retail) jobs. The only thing that really differentiated temp from perm is that you could be let go without any notice (and leave without giving notice), and the pay was weekly instead of monthly. Sick days and holidays (including bank holidays) were paid in full,  but for a temp job, if your second day is a bank holiday, you probably won’t get paid for it. Rule of thumb was that for every month you worked somewhere, you earned 1.5 days each of bank holiday and regular holiday.

The last time I called in sick, it was to do with a pretty bad  virus. I was off for about 3 weeks, but I received sick pay. I was still living with my parents, and I was able to trot off to see my GP who prescribed some antibiotics for £7.

Here? As a temp, you do not get paid for any time off. Yes, the office is closed next Thursday for that land-stealing-murdering celebration day, so I am not allowed to come into the office to work. So I don’t get paid. My agency even makes a point of stating in their literature “we do not compensate for bereavement time”. Wow. So of course they don’t pay for time off sick, referring to it as “time off”.

Everyone at work who insisted that I go home was a permanent employee. They had got their free flu jabs a few weeks earlier, and no-one appreciated the South Asian British monkey from Outbreak walking around infecting everyone the week before Thanksgiving. I didn’t want to admit that the difference between someone like them and someone like me is that if I go home to “recover” for a few days, those few days take a big fat chunk out of my pay packet and I wouldn’t be able to pay rent or buy food to starve a fever. And not only would I be out of pocket for the lost earnings, but I’d have to pay several hundred dollars for a two-minute doctor consultation, pointless blood tests and eventually, eventually, a $300-odd packet of the wrong type of antibiotic.

Meaning I’m basically out two weeks’ pay for being sick and staying home to “recover”.

So what other choice do I have? I have to turn up and face these looks of scorn from people who never have and never will be a temp. Healthcare here is a fucking privilege, apparently.

My manager and I were chatting about what it’s like in the UK. He was shocked that I didn’t have health insurance and considered it a huge gamble on my health. I did explain that I never had any health problems – not even allergies – and that, even now, in my 30s, I still don’t need to be on any kind of medication for anything.  I regaled him with legends of standardized 7-quid prescription charges, free doctor visits and the time my poor little brother had to undergo major surgery within days of diagnosis, all paid for by the NHS, by we the taxpayers.

I’m glad he understood that it’s just one of the major culture shocks for me, but I shouldn’t have to feel like a fucking leper every time I fill a bin to overflow with tissues. I lied to a few people and said “oh, it’s probably just allergies, they say you can get them at any time, especially when you emigrate”, but I doubt anyone was buying it. I looked like boiled shit.

It’s unfair that such a social divide exists based just on what is, in other countries, a basic human need and a basic human right. How can a labor department allow employment legislation that encourages sick people to come into work and spread their germs through an air-conditioned, air-recycled office, because they literally cannot AFFORD to be sick? The best I’ve heard is that you don’t have to worry about losing your job or falling behind on work, but, basically, if you got sick, it’s your OWN fault. Not a system that discourages people from looking after their health.

My agency, while very sympathetic, advised me that if I was worried about being off work for long periods of time, I could go on unemployment (something I never even did in the UK). I wanted to email back to let her know that, as an immigrant, I cannot be a public charge (i.e. go on welfare program) like that, much in the same way that I can’t just go on a low-cost state-funded health insurance program (as a colleague had suggested). So what the fuck are my options supposed to be?

I can hibernate under a blanket all I want, but it is not going to change the fact that I signed up for a much lower quality of life when I emigrated to America. I am so used to my own government looking after me that I’m now considering going to medical school when I win the lottery, just so that I can stay informed on and maintain my own health. Because if you’re an immigrant who can’t afford health insurance, not only are you going to be heavily fined by the government (it’s mandatory in MA to have health insurance), but you also can’t take advantage of the “low-cost” health insurance options. Bafflingly, there is no inbetween – either you can afford to pay $600 per month or you get welfare handouts. If you can’t do either, then you’re fucked.

This is why you read so many stories about ghetto bodegas selling antibiotics without prescriptions, so some random twat with a cold can waltz in thinking that Trimethroprim will make their nose stop running. And when they finally get a UTI or kidney infection, it’ll be a puzzling dilemma when those specifically-targeting antibiotics will be completely fucking useless. Add sites like Yahoo! Answers and Web MD, and everyone’s an qualified doctor.

So because I can’t afford to ask my doctor about [insert most recent drug advertised on TV], I get to be a living exhibit of how sick people are useless, draining anomalies and should just be left to die. Same goes for disabled people – if you are an amputee or have a functioning larynx in a customer service call center, or have ever, ever, ever had any history of depression (which is the same type of  workforce liability as paedophilia or serial killing), you had better jog on. And if you can’t because you’ve got no legs, then fuck you, you should probably just hurry up and die, because you’re so useless to society.

On my way to work this morning, I looked out of the window of my shuttle bus and saw a middle-aged woman in a wheelchair struggling to push herself up the steep pathway. She had to use her walking stick to give herself leverage and use her clearly painful legs to manoeuvre. No-one bothered helping her at all,and this was a shuttle bus stop that not only served my company’s shuttle, but one to a very big hospital. They just watched her. Fucking assholes.

It’s a difficult decision for me to stay home tomorrow, but I’m really only doing it out of shame and embarrassment doled out by the permanent employees whose cringed faces I have to see every time I come near them. I will never get over this culture shock of being forced to have complete disregard for my own health like this. When you’re sick, you really and truly are alone over here. No-one has any clue what they’re talking about and there are absolutely no resources available to help you. Luckily to get myself well soon, I have lots of English tea, Pot Noodles, Toffee Crisps and a picture of some cute cats:

Failing that, I could just wait until I get home for Christmas and just go see my GP, from whom I have every right to receive free care. And I didn’t even have to be the British-born British citizen I am to benefit from it.

You Have The Job, But First: Pee In A Cup

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Here’s how my interview for this job went:

Interviewer: Hello.

Me: Hello.

Interviewer: What can you tell me about this job?

Me: Well, I understand it’s a very visible role – lots of conference planning, meeting and greeting international visitors, high-profile executives, liaising with the catering and planning departments, booking rooms etc, which all sounds pretty exciting [even though I secretly hate this type of job]

Interviewer: Well, I’m glad you said that, because that’s not what this job is about at all.

Me: ________

At that moment, my brain advised me it was OK for it to shut down and for me to just be myself, just so I could get through the interview and chalk it down to some fantastically-wasted time.

I referenced Harry Potter (and as a joke), made about as much eye contact as an escaped mental patient, and silently chastised my poor choice of interview attire (ruffly polka dot shirt with a red ribbon).

Then he asked me if I had any questions.

Brain: I’ve got one!

Gut: Don’t say it.

Brain: But it’s brilliant!

Gut: Too risky…

Brain: Naaaaaah. It’s fine! Going to formulate it in the mouth now.

Gut: No! Don’t do it!!

Brain: Try and stop me!

Gut: I can make a big fart!

(This happened in the space of a few micro-seconds. Guts and brains have a whole other timeframe for conversing).

Thankfully, my gut did not make a big fart. Instead I said,

“Actually, I do have a bit of a cheeky question (yes, I said cheeky) – what do you think prevents me from being the top candidate for the job? Is there anything I could improve?”

Well, this stumped the interviewer somewhat. He kept saying I could do the job, and the second interviewer (who was the on-site manager) actually went through my entire CV and listed my skills/parts of my duties from past jobs that would apply to the job. Wasn’t that something I was supposed to do?

I saw a more presentable, more expensively-dressed, suitably less-nervous (and taller) candidate in the other interview room. He was obviously going to get the job.

A few hours later, I got the call telling me I got the job.

Woohoo!

I asked about a start date, but was told I would have to pass a background check and drug test.

Me: What does that entail?

Agency: You have to pee in a cup.

Me: I don’t know…

Brain: You berk! She’s going to think you’re a drug addict, not a germophobe who continuously fails to predict the physics of the female urinary stream into a small container!

Me (quickly adding): …how to do that. It’s because I’m from a foreign country, haha. Ha.

Agency (laughing; understanding the perfectly normal and non-criminal implications of previous statement): Well, everyone has their own technique. You might have to hold it a different way – whatever feels comfortable.

Me (thinking that this is going to turn into an episode of Sin Cities): OK. Bye!

2 weeks later:

I finally get an email advising me I’d passed the initial background check (after having nightmares of failing it due to my “poor choice in television programs“.

I immediately make an appointment at the nearest Wee-in-a-Cup Center and hotfooted it to the bus station within an hour of waking up and getting ready.

The problem was I hadn’t eaten or drank anything, and all my morning ablutions had been done an hour ago.

My morning ablutions (it helps if you play this  in the background):

  • Wake up
  • ——PEE——
  • Shower
  • Get dressed
  • Brush teeth
  • Put on eyeliner
  • Leave without tripping over things
  • Go back to turn off lights
  • Trip over things and leave.

Guess what happens when you wee 1 hour before taking a drug test on a very, very, VERY hot day?

After almost getting run over thanks to the idiotic placement of this center (right next to a highway like everything else), I quickly asked directions to a building which I was already in front of, and strutted on in.

Having been warned by my landlady not to eat any poppy seed bagels, I went the extra mile to make a good impression and dressed like a smart, old Southern lady (think soft, silk-collared, pearl-embellished blouse and a long, just-over-the-knee sack skirt), so that no-one would get the impression I was some sort of ketamine-addled miscreant  trying to piss like a racehorse all over the toilet seat.

The room was tiny. It was like a doctor’s waiting room but with no doctor. Just two toilets, which, to my horror, were NOT gender-assigned.

Despite the fact that I had an afternoon appointment, no-one else was there. I could wee in privacy! The nice lady took my info and told me the following:

  • Take this cup (more like miniature bucket – seriously, it was like half the size of a shopping basket)
  • Wee in the cup
  • Don’t flush or run the water (i.e. —DO NOT WASH YOUR HANDS AFTER WEEING—)
  • Come back and fill out stuff
  • Go wash your hands after handling all your possessions and even a strip of paper that she gives back to you that is now CONTAMINATED WITH NEAR-URINE.

I looked very hesitant at the “no washing your hands” bit. But she probably thought I was hesitant at the “having to go for a drug test because I’m a filthy drug mule” bit.

As a child, I once stood with my hands hovering over the bathroom sink at my local cinema as my mother went to advise a staff member that they were completely out of soap (in all 6 dispensers), and that I refused to leave or touch anything until my hands were sufficiently clean.

But, regardless, I went in there. Couldn’t go. What a surprise!

I trudged out of there in defeat. There were now a few more people in the waiting room, watching me exit, knowing the procedure, and making their assumptions. The lady directed me to the water cooler, and assured me this happened a lot.

Cursing my inferior Loop of Henle, I sat to the left of the reception window so I could be out of the way (and in a corner), but this literally put even more light on me as there was a huge glaring ceiling light that was so intensely bright it was difficult not to squint. It was also freezing thanks to the air-conditioning (which seemed to affect no-one else). I also successfully dodged a tiny spider (dangling on its single string of cobweb from the ceiling light) by leaning in a few different directions, and then eventually moving seats.

"That spider is really moreish"

To onlookers, I was a shivering, pale, squinting, twitching, musical chairs fan who was unable to pee and thought that there was some sort of magical fucking spider in the air that only I was special enough to see. Aces!

Luckily they didn’t grade my test on behaviour alone. After 8 cups of freezing cold water  I was finally able to dispense, wash my hands, make a joke about the needless humiliation of such an invasive practice  and then leave.

Unfortunately, it was now 1 hour before the Weeing Center closed, so everyone who forgot to turn up 2 hours ago were now waiting their turn.

Suddenly, everything in the room looked different – the walls, once puce-coloured, took on a bluer hue. I couldn’t tell whether my chills were from the aggressive air conditioning or the very, very urgent need to go, and the huge painting of a 16th-Century sailboat in a stormy, foamy, sea with flooded decks and gushing waters and gale-force winds was somehow the focal point of the whole room.

After I was finally able to give mercy to my bladder, it turned out that the shopping mall was right opposite.

Well, if I got the job, I would need new clothes.

Afterword: Guess what happens when you drink 8 cups of very cold water and only pee once, thinking it’s all gone?