Friday, October 12, 2007

The Continuing Adventures Of English As The Best Bureaucracy A Second Language Can Buy

This is a combination of two of our favorite features at Americans Amuck, English As A Second Language and The Best Bureaucracy Money Can Buy:

Last week I had to report to the Job Centre in Camden Town. Long story short: In order to file my taxes properly as a self-employed individual, I need a National Insurance number (equivalent of Social Security number in the United States). For many of the same reasons as Social Security must be vigilant against fraud, so too must National Insurance. So I had to go through an "interview" at which I presented documentation indicating that I was running a bona fide business. I show up for my 14:30 interview at about 14:25 to a somewhat squat office building a few blocks from where the goths and punks of Camden Town tend to congregate to buy Doc Martens, piercings and black apparel. It was, and this won't surprise you, a somewhat shabby building: Too many coats of paint trying to disguise age, decaying dropped ceilings, broken lift, modular furniture in my waiting area that would have looked more comfortable on the set of Laugh-In.

I was eventually called to my interview with Barbara. The "interview" consisted of me presenting passport and visa, along with documents demonstrating the existence of my business, and her filling in the forms and asking for more documents that I wasn't actually asked to bring in the letter that confirmed my appointment. There were long silences between the questions as she filled out my application or as she disappeared to make photocopies of my documents. I entertained myself by listening to an interview with a Romanian man whose friend was translating for him:

"Ask him if he has a wife."
"Something in Romanian."
"Something in Romanian."
"Yes."
"Ask him if she's with him."
"Something in Romanian."
"Something in Romanian."
"Yes."
"Ask him for how long."
"Something in Romanian."
"Something in Romanian."
"For about six months."

Barbara asked me if we banked in the United Kingdom and, of course, we do, at Vogon Galactic. Of course, I didn't bring a checkbook with me, but would have had I known that they would be asking my account number, so then she asked which branch. I shrugged and said, "It's some branch downtown."

At this, Barbara smiled. "I liked how you said that: Downtown."
I sheepishly said, "Oh yeah, of course I mean, the City."

(Dang it, I don't care if "downtown" is an Americanism, Petula Clark belongs to Britain, not America.)

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4 Comments:

Blogger oldest kid said...

So, did you get your number, or do you have to go back with your bank account number? How did the story turn out? You keep leaving us hanging!

1:21 AM  
Blogger Ms. Detterick said...

I am sure they were also queueing up to buy mushrooms of all varieties!

3:49 PM  
Blogger Smitty Werbenmanjensen said...

Oh, well, OK, I don't know how it ends. I'm told I'll be contacted if they need more info, that I should have an NI number in four to eight weeks and that if it doesn't arrive within eight I have to call. Typically British.

5:36 PM  
Anonymous TheaLogie said...

Barbara asked me if we banked in the United Kingdom and, of course, we do, at Vogon Galactic. Of course, I didn't bring a checkbook with me, but would have had I known that they would be asking my account number, so then she asked which branch. I shrugged and said, "It's some branch downtown."

Eh, the perils of being an expatriate. Trust me, it's at least as annoying in the other direction.

4:25 PM  

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