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


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.



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


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.


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.


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!"


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.

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


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.


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?