So we have been in Houston for about 2 weeks now and I must admit, I really like it. There are certainly cultural challenges but the the locals are so happy, and polite its hard not to bathe in the positive vibes.
This week has been a journey through the bureaucracy. The positive nature of Houstonians is still shining through even in a time when most of the people I have been dealing with are NOT being paid…
We have settled on a house to rent and, despite a few concerns with the 24 hour industrial workshop behind the back fence, we think we have a winner; Even more so today when our relocation assistant, the lovely European Nathalie, informed me that her friend, who lives opposite is in-charge of Friday night drinks for the expat community. YAY!
Speaking of Fridays, today, I glimpsed the Texan version of my dear friend Sharon. As I have been so good , yet again organizing the entire moving process ALONE, I decided I should reward myself with a nice glass of blush bubbles. So, I was standing in the refrigerated drinks section of the HEB supermarket, an enormous well-stocked version of Woolworths with a built-in Dan Murphys, trying to locate a Piccolo pink bubbles when I noticed this cute blonde pluck a four-pack of pink mini cans from the shelf in-front of me. She must have noticed my consternation because she turned to me with a big smile and said in that singsong Texas accent “Can I help you with something?” I explained that I was looking for pink bubbles in a small bottle and she said that she recommended this four pack of “Bollincini” -(could it be Little cans of pink Bolli?) and that she bought them all the time because they were so good and just the thing. She was so chirpy, I nearly asked her if I could join her and her friends to help them drink it. I thanked her and walked away with a four-pack, which is excellent I might add, and hoping that she lived in the same estate as us and that she might also be part of the Friday night group. Those of you who know me will understand the importance of Friday night drinks.
This dedication to Friday nights took me to the gym again today. I have joined a mixed gym for the first time in many decades. It’s strange being in a gym with men again. I have to remind my competitive self that it is not OK to look over and check out the pace of the treadmill beside you anymore. It is better to first determine if that person is a 6″+, 20 something male. It is not OK to quietly compete with the person on the treadmill next to you anymore. People watching at this gym is fun. There are literally all types. The young woman doing weight work with long long black hair, loose down her back and a baseball cap on backwards. Old guys sweating it out in long baggy t-shirts, young kids playing basketball in the court room, racket ball, swimming and LOTS of cardio equipment. Everyone watching everyone else but not making eye contact. It is huge; but again everyone is polite and friendly. I rarely have had to open a door for myself. Its a real old-fashioned politeness.
I have been organizing the utilities for our new house this week- rarely a fun task, but people are so helpful. So unlike our experience in New Caledonia 15 years ago. I spent about 40 minutes in the internet, cable phone provider today and the young salesman worked hard to deal with our issues; difficult while Rob, who has a social security number, called a social, is away and I don’t have mine yet. Everything requires a “social”. The other essential thing is a credit rating. We don’t have one of those yet either. One strange thing though is the obsession with cheques, or as the Americans like to spell them “checks”. Electronic transfers seem to be viewed as a bit too GMO to be trusted. I actually have to go to the water utility office tomorrow to present them with my form and either cash or a teller cheque to pay my application fee. I do find that rather backward.
I did go to the Social security office today. But first, I had to get a form called an I-94 from the customs office. Most people can access their I-94 online. However, there are apparently a few lucky ones, like me, whose information has been uploaded by customs incorrectly. The only way to deal with this is to go to the customs office near the George Bush airport (about 45 minutes drive- even at 65 mph). This office is only open for 2 hours a day. There was a public holiday on Monday so it was not open then. I had to go on Tuesday and take all of our documents to prove that my visa was valid. I was quite anxious about the queue and not wanting to miss out, I arrived about 40 minutes early. The foyer of the customs office is a sparse room with about a dozen chairs around the walls which are adorned with signs forbidding moving the chairs and importing of contraband fruit and vegetables. to one side was a wooden lectern with a paper sign saying that the line started here. The very helpful (of course) customs man told me I should go have some lunch and come back. As this seems to be the only building in all of Houston with no public restroom, I decide to retreat to the garages nearby, as every service station has somewhere to eat and a rest room (I love America). When I returned about 15 minutes later there were two people ahead of me on the seats.
At 1pm two customs mean came out and we began the process. We were called to register our names in the order we arrive. As Americans are so polite the even can work out at crossroad who should go first, this was nt a problem. we then sat down again and waited for our names to be called. the fellow nest to me was an immigration lawyer who seemed to spend a lot of time in this office. He gave me a skeptics view of what was really going on, laced with apologies that their government was so underfunded. I assured him that it was probably no better in Australia. It was quite brutal though. when you were called to make your case it was at the lectern in the middle of the room with your fellow aliens as an audience. those without the correct visa or who could not be helped by customs were advised that they had to leave the country. I thought it was quite ironic that they were advised to go to Mexico as it was the closest foreign border and then apply for reentry- they had better hurry or they might miss out. the whole endeavor, not including driving took about 2 hours: I spoke to the customs officers for about 2 minutes and the rest was waiting.
Anyway my experience of the social security was pretty streamlined by comparison. the room I was in while I waited held about 60 people. I went around the corner to get out and entered another room; there must have been 200 people waiting there. I was lucky I was only applying for a card.
the incredible thing is that the people manning both customs and social security are federal workers who are NOT being paid. Its remarkable that they can be so polite and helpful. Good training to still smile in the face of what’s going on in their government.