08 October 2008
I live in China! Wait, I mean England
Six days in and I’m already half-way through my traditional start-of-semester nervous breakdown, which usually includes a few frantic nights, one all-out crying fit and a major break-out that takes me right back to the 7th grade. School is, as expected, overwhelming. My top-choice course isn’t be offered, which has left me wandering aimlessly from optional to optional, trying to find something that at least partly touches on my interest area (fortunately, I think I found it today in “Critical Issues of Media, Communication & Development). Tack on an education system entirely different than ours in the US (read: fragmented, discombobulated and slightly illogical)and you’ve got a pretty good picture of my mental state.
Naturally, nothing has gone quite as planned and that’s usually at no fault to me. Since my last name begins with T and ends with aylor, it might seem fitting. At the same time, I thought that moving to England would be a whole lot easier than moving to China. How wrong I was. Here in the UK, bureaucracy and “the system” reign supreme. If the computer doesn’t say it, it can’t be done. If you don’t have this certain, specific form that is exactly like this other certain specific form except for the color of the stamp and the weight of the paper, then it can’t be done. And finally, if the system doesn’t support “interactivity,” then you simply cannot log on. EVER. I’d like to quickly highlight three anecdotes where I was almost certain that I was either in China or on a hidden camera show.
The first came just after my Mom and I had arrived in London after a short stint with the Belgian host fam. We had reserved a car with Sixt and I had “started” the reservation at 1pm, though I imagined we could pick the car up at any time. Wrong. Because of the Chunnel fire, my Mom and I arrived to London 3 hours early. Rather than lolli-gaggle, we went straight to the rental place. I handed over my information and the woman handed it right back to me. “This reservation is starting at 1pm. You are too early.” I explained the situation. Nothing she could do. I asked if the car was there. “Yes, but doesn’t matter. Your reservation is starting at 1pm. The computer won’t let me give to you the car until 1pm.” By now my head is spinning. The car is there, no one else wants it and we’re ready to go. I end up on the phone with “Customer Service” (and I use that term lightly), who says the only way to get the car is to the cancel the current reservation and make a new one. I would, however, have to pay the full price of the original reservation as well as for the new one. Um, no. 30 minutes have passed and there is officially NOTHING that can be done because the “computer says no.” So what do we do? We sit in the lobby for 3 hours and wait. Promptly at 1pm I go back to the counter and the woman acts as if she has never seen me before. Brilliant. We then proceeded to get lost in London for two hours, thanks to a lack of street signs and a local population that apparently doesn’t know how to get around either.
The second incident occurred when trying to open a bank account. Now on my sixth attempt, I brought what I was told I needed. There is, of course, no reception, so you have to wait 40 minutes to see someone before you can be told that you’ve got the wrong forms. This time, I have the wrong “stamp” on the right form. Apparently this is also the ONLY PLACE in England that I can open an account as an LSE student, even though I am not getting the benefits of a student account. Why? Because “that’s the way the system processes the input sets.” So I head off to get the right stamp, but first I have to print another copy of the form.
This leads into the third incident. I head to the library to use one of the 10 million computers. I enter my login info and receive this error message: “This system does not support interactivity.” A few more tries and the same thing, so I go to the IT help desk and explain my situation. “Wow, we’ve never heard of that one before. Sorry mate.” I decide to try the Student “Services” Center to see if they can just print then stamp the form. Once again no reception, so I have to wait twenty minutes to find out they can’t help me. “Sorry, the system doesn’t allow us to print student information.”
So there it is. One week and one very powerful, ethereal, all-knowing, creepy “system.” The tiers of bureaucracy reach the same level as those in China, only here they’re inside a computer, which makes them even less “real.” Back for round 37 tomorrow…