September 23, 2011

We're not living in America

Britain, you let me down today.

All over the place I've been enchanted and impressed with the way London does things. Amongst their scones and men with crazy fluffy black hats, they manage beautiful parks, maintain a great public transportation system, and provide a plethora of free museums for academics.

From the day my business with the university has started, however, I have arrived at a state of disillusionment with their ability to process the atypical. Sure, people bounce about in Doc Martens, plaid shorts, and print tights and no one bats an eye, but as soon as you're disrupting one of their systems with an absurd question or an offside request they bring out this jarring blank stare that has me waving my American flag in desperate armistice.

Today, for instance, I had six things to do: print two documents that were emailed to me which I am supposed to fill out for records, return the can of dried skimmed milk I bought (which I purchased under the impression I'd have a self-catered dorm -- also misinformation), see a bank about opening an account, register with a doctor, see the student union about a visa problem (another European system issue), and sign up for my remaining classes with my European Studies adviser. The last three hours went as such:

At the dorm:
Me, to receptionist downstairs: Good morning! I heard there is a lab somewhere to print things from...?
Him: A printer?
Me: Yes, to print the forms I was emailed?
Him: Oh, yes -- there is a lab over there (points). We know nothing about that printer, so you follow the instructions. Don't ask us.

I generally pride myself pretty highly on my tenacity for following instructions. I saw no instructions. I spent about 5 minutes with that printer and in that five minutes I did manage to load my paper, find my document, and process the printing job. I did not manage to get anything printed beyond exclamation points and error messages.

At the European Studies office, after snaking through the labyrinthine Humanities department corridors:  
Me, to another receptionist: Hi --
Receptionist: Just a moment, please (picks up phone).
I wait.
A woman from a nearby office: What do you need?
(I need to stop feeling stupid.)
Me: Yes, hello, I'm an affiliate student studying for fall; I'm trying to find the European Studies office to register for my additional classes.
Woman: Yes, you need to speak to Katherine. Through that door (points).
Me: Thank you.

Katherine: That department does not exist anymore. But you need to go online and there you will see the classes.
Me, patiently: Yes, I've seen those. The English department gave us a timetable. Do we need to fill something like that out here as well?
Katherine: You are an English student?
Me, repeating myself: Yes. Joint affiliate.
Katherine: You need to go downstairs and see NM (points).
Me: K.

NM, through door which I have just knocked on: Yes?
Me, awkwardly: Um, hello! I'm an affiliate student. I'm here for registration...?
NM, opening door, looks at me as if I'm a bible seller who's interrupted her TV dinner.
NM: What can I do for you?
Me: Hi, I am a joint affiliate student. English and European Studies, and --
NM: That department no longer exists.
Me, as politely as possible: Yes, I am aware of that. I was told I was to come to my second department this week and register with them as well, though (large, desperate smile).
NM, unsmilingly: Did you fill out the online pre-enrolment questionare indicating your preferences?
Me, proudly: Yes, I did!
NM, disinterestedly: Then you will be emailed next week with your classes. 
Me: Oh, ok. I just wanted to check!
NM begins to shut the door.
Me: Thank you!
NM shuts door.
I move on.

At the student union office:
Me, to a third receptionist: Hi there, I heard this is where we're to go if we're sorting out visa issues.
Third receptionist: You need the office in the building next door. Third floor.

The line wrapped around the building. I decided to return later.

With my medical form:
Me, to a fourth receptionist: I'm looking for 20 Gower Street. Gower Practice.
Him: Gower Professional.
Me: Hmm?
Him: Gower Professional. That way.
Me: Um, okay, thanks, but the form says Gower Practice.
Him: I do not know where Gower Practice. Gower Professional that building there. Three.
Me, unthankfully: Thanks.

With my medical form in a line of students with similar medical forms:
Woman who's exited building, shouting to line of students: If you are waiting to register with a doctor, the wait is two hours right now. I would suggest you come back to register next week, unless you want to wait.
Me: ....

At the bank:
A sign in the bank: To deposit checks, visit the window. To speak to a representative about business transactions: wait in this queue. To take cash out quickly, please use cash-withdrawal machines to left of checks. For all other questions, use this telephone.

Me, seeing there is no "To ask whether or not its worth it to open up a bank account that you may or may not be allowed to open with a visa that may or may not have the proper stamp from customs": (exits building)

Outside the entrance to the grocery:
You know what? I can probably just use that powdered milk in my tea.

2 comments:

  1. Wow, yes this is funny...or it will be for you in a few months when you look back. It's a European thing, don't take it personally:) And the feeling stupid thing, it took me probably 2 to 3 years after I left Europe to get over it, so you should be fine!
    Cute Polyvore-like British Fall fashion BTW.
    Lorelai

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