There are few things more daunting in the life of an adult than uprooting an entire life, and starting over in a new country.
Emigration carries so much more than just the risks of culture shock and the “delights” of re-establishing a social circle. Emigration means not having a job, not having a house, not having any of the millions of items you’ve collected over the years, and it normally means living off of savings until things rectify themselves. In short, it gives you a wonderful opportunity to experience homelessness and unemployment, with an exhilarating dash of dwindling funds to boot.
I’m being pessimistic. It’s intentional. You needn’t worry, the Yeti is not about to start dwelling on things melancholic, won’t be tearing his hair out, and won’t be losing any sleep over worry. It’s not like him, it never has been, and he’s not about to start any of that shit now.
The United Kingdom bears with it (For the English speaking emigrant) a weird attachment. It’s like arriving at your grandparents’ home for the first time. It’s not quite your family home, but you can see where you came from. (Part of you, anyway.) The mantlepiece is a different shape, and the wood isn’t quite the same wood that you carved a dinosaur into with a butter knife as a kid, but they have one… and if you look closely enough, one of your parents may have made their own impression. I’m grinding the metaphor home, I know. Apologies. But it’s how I feel about this place. Looking over a London skyline, you feel as though you have somehow returned to a place seen long before. (In my case, it was about a year back… but you get my drift.) The skyline, the sounds, the voices and faces of the people that pass you by… all familiar, all seen somewhere before. My wife likes to say that anyone brought up on a steady diet of Enid Blyton and Beatrix Potter will of course feel a kinship with the country. I never had such learned aspirations, but even the “Dick and Jane go to the seaside” books of my teenaged years ring true with the sights and sounds of what is, after all, the motherland.
The wife and I had secured employment for our first month in the country, with the wife taking the role of TEFL English teacher, and the Yeti adopting a managerial role as Director of Studies at a summer school. The employer was a company that I had worked for before, and wonderfully, we were able to sort it all out before arriving in the UK. We arrived on a Monday, and only had four nights with my folks before heading off to the thriving cultural hotspot of Essex and the month of residential employment that awaited us.
Those four nights are not going to go down as the best possible examples of the Yeti at his best. But ignoring the effects of jetlag and getting on with things in the way that I do… well, we contrived to have ourselves in at the bank, and became the proud owners of some actual genuine bank accounts on our first real day. We also went and got ourselves a few cellphone SIM cards. It is a weird feeling to walk into a bank and simply explain to the attendant clerk what it is that you want. It is a weirder feeling yet when that clerk understands exactly what it is that you want on your first attempt. It is wonderful to speak the language of the country, and even better when you realise that you actually have a better command of the language than most of the people that surround you. Of course, all of that bonhomie was lost when we went into the cellphone store.
What is it with cellphone stores the world around? It is an axiom of cellphone stores in English speaking countries that they are staffed entirely by Asians. (An aside: It is a strange fact that the home of English appears not to conform to racial and cultural labels that the rest of us use. Thus… an Asian in England is what the rest of us would refer to as an Indian, namely an Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi or Sri Lankan national. Chinese, Japanese or Taiwanese are referred to by nationality…. which leads to the interesting sight of watching English people trying desperately to figure out whether the person they are speaking to is Chinese or Japanese. Given that I can tell the difference with EASE between these people simply based on the language that they are speaking, but HAVE NO IDEA if they simply keep their mouths shut… well, I just wonder why it is that they seem to have not yet coined a polite term for Chinese, Japanese or Taiwanese. The term “Oriental” is considered rude. Racial epithets such as Chink or Jap are an obvious no no, and yet there remains no collective noun for the Sino-Japanese nations. Strange. ) But back to the cellphone store.
There is an old adage that claims that all airports are alike, that it is only the flight designation and gate numbers that differ from country to country. This holds true for cellphone stores too. They are all sleek, clean and vastly impressive looking. They all have super modern lines and super advanced colour schemes. They all have a young Asian guy behind the counter. This Asian guy (Pakistani, Indian blah blah to the rest of us.) has always got the same vaguely bored, I’m-too-cool-for-this-store look, and is dressed in the same oh so trendy golf shirt and slacks. The sunglasses pushed back on his head is a South African affectation, it appears… although the British variety appear to favour a bluetooth headset positioned rakishly on their ear. So, our cellclone clerk addresses us… and thanks to that curious Asian phenomenon of twisting any local dialect of English into their own Asian accented parlance… sounds exactly the same as the last three or four cellphone store clerks you have spoken to. Every cellphone store in the world is the same. Every cellphone product is the same. Every cellphone is basically the same. (This is heresy to you Apple fans, but honestly, only Android deserves adulation and you know it.)
Given that every cellphone store clerk in the world has apparently graduated from the same college of fast talking, jargonistic bull-shit slinging, you always land up taking a product that you think will be the one you’ll use forever, but ends up being a product that you land up changing within a day or two of use. So it was with the Yeti and his wife. I got my SIM card, got my number, and got onto the network. Wonderfully, the clerk had placed the wife and I on a system wherein we got a fantastic amount of free internet use, and no free calls or texts. This after I had mentioned to the chump that we didn’t use 3G or wireless on our phones, and needed a call package. Given that every cellphone company is the same, it took me a month to get my package changed. Fun fun fun.
So it was that during my jetlag period I managed to get myself online, on network and into the fiscal side of life in the UK.
Of course, no emigration to the UK is complete until you are the recipient of a National Insurance Number. This is the number that lets the government know who you are, how much to tax you, and what to give you as a pension when you one day stop working. It is the UK equivalent of the US Social Security number, the Taiwanese ARC number and the South African Identity Number. Without it, people will look at you askance, children will point and pensioners will spit behind your back. Not really. But without it, they do charge you extra tax, and you’re basically a non-entity. And of course, my wife was simply posted her application form, a form which my family prophesied would be a tome of obscurity, a full 50 pages of obfuscation and frustration. in the end, it was a simple 3 page document that we filled out and posted in ten minutes flat. The wife got her number within a month of arrival.
You’re shaking your head already. You know what is coming. And you’re right. My progress has not been anywhere near that smooth. I was selected to appear for an interview. This is called your “Evidence of Identity” interview. I don’t get to fill out my three pages until I have satisfied some clerk somewhere that I am indeed the Yeti. This isn’t going to be very difficult, given that I carried about a metric ton of documentation along with me when I left Taiwan. Of course, the difficulty comes in in actually GETTING into the face of a clerk. My first appointment was scheduled in the next town over, but unfortunately during the time that I would be away in Essex. I asked for a postponement and got it.
We did our month in Essex, and then I called again. My next appointment is in early September. Courtesy of some relatively thick computer operation by the person that I spoke to on the phone, I asked for an appointment in the neighbouring town, and was given instead an appointment in a neighbouring COUNTY. I only realised her error when I received my notification through the mail. When I phoned to change the appointment for something hopefully a little closer, I was told that the next available appointment for me was sometime in the next millennium, a date so far in advance that humans by then will have evolved a USB dock on their arms. Utterly unimpressed, I reluctantly agreed to the appointment I had, and tomorrow will be undertaking an epic journey of rail and taxi to prove to some uninterested pimple-faced-youth that I am indeed, myself.
<sigh> I hate red tape. There no more pernicious or unnecessary curse that plagues us. When at last our civilisation has crumbled, when at last humans have left the planet, when at last the earth spins slowly to a stop, when at last X-Factor reruns sputter to a death… red tape will still be there, and entire planet held forever in the last nano-seconds of death because someone has failed to fill in the correct forms. Gah. That we have struggled for eons across a continuum of threat and evolution, of extinction events and cataclysm to find ourselves worshipping at the foot of the red tape altar… well, it saddens me. <sigh>
Until such time as I am either recognised for my literary genius or employed in some other manner I am what the English like to refer to as a “jobseeker”. As I understand it, it is quite normal for a society to have no politically correct term for some of the oldest and most highly populated countries, but there are plenty of euphemisms for the unemployed. Of course, in a country that actually has a dole, and actually has some facility for taking care of citizens that don’t have work, perhaps it is an optimistic term, designed to ensure that you actually JOBseek, and don’t just sit back on the sofa and wait for a handout.
So… I made a CV. Actually, I made SEVERAL CVs… for the simple reason that I am not actually too picky about what kind of employment I get, and I am able to tweak the experience I have into a hopefully convincing argument for hiring me for everything from funeral home administration through to restaurant management and reception work. The next step of course, is to actually find work. This means manning a phone and applying for a million and one jobs. The major challenge is to actually keep all your job applications straight. I normally keep track of all of the jobs and their various details on my PC. But today… today I was out of the house and someone called. The connection was bad, and I was struggling to hear what the woman was saying. I did make out that she was calling about a sales position that I had applied for. Which one, I wasn’t sure. Just then, the connection cleared up. She asked what kind of sales work I would be interested in doing, and I opted for a safe, all-purpose answer that was designed to impress and get me through the iffy bit about “being suitable for the role”. Of course, I mentioned that while I “wasn’t averse to telephone work, I would prefer face to face work.” Just then, the signal kicked out and the connection dropped.
I got home to find an email waiting for me. It was the polite “Dear John” that passes for a rejection letter nowadays. I check the employer, and realised that it was the bunch that had called me earlier. And then I checked the job description. Telephone based sales. Not telesales, but ALL telephone based.
I have to wonder if this has happened to other people? And I have to defend myself a little. (Alright, a lot.)
Employers are slow in this country. It takes them sometimes a month to reply positively to your application. It is common to apply for something, and only to receive a response (positive or negative) about two weeks later. The nature of life meaning that a jobseeker is not likely to have that sort of patience, most people are likely to have a million and one applications out there. I do. And of course, I am applying for roughly similar jobs in roughly similar workplaces. So when someone phones back regarding a “sales position with a company in Berkshire”… it really COULD be anyone. And this means that the prospective employee needs to deliver a very general and at the same time utterly impressive line or three. I normally plump for high-level diction and fancy vernacular. Of course, when you deny any interest in the very thing that they would like you to do… well, all the heavy vocabulary in the world is not going to save you. <sigh>
One employer down. A bajillion potentials to go.
So there you have it. A Massive Missive – UK style. I’ll hopefully get around to doing more of these missives for you guys. In the meantime, it’s good to be back behind the keyboard. Missed me?