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.

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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.