Thursday, March 19, 2009

I Pity The Poor Immigrant

I remember working as a bank teller, every time The Workers would come in to cash their checks, tellers would tense up a bit for the moment when they would have to attempt to explain something to these folks who spoke very little English. I’d usually break out my miserable Spanish, though any time they were attempting to ask for further details, I was unable to assist them, and frustrated. Myself and the other tellers would become impatient, glance at the growing line, then once again try to explain why their check was on hold, or what our policy on third-party checks is, and so on.

Well, cheers: I’m that Worker now. A couple weeks ago I made a visit to the bank, hoping for a quick balance check and a transfer. Mercy, me. It started off with my attempting to explain myself in French; the teller promptly put her hand up and asked me what language I spoke. Damnit. As there was only one English-speaking teller who was apparently involved in a lengthy transaction, I would have to wait. So I had to sit in this lone red chair, placed strangely towards the middle of the lobby. Several times, the next available teller would ask who was next; onlookers would point to myself, who would then shyly ask “Parlez vous anglais?” Oh well, no, of course not; and why should they? I was grateful that anyone could, so continued waiting, and daydreaming about when I’d someday be fluent in French. About thirty minutes passed before I was taken to the window, where the teller promptly reported that my balance was “sub-zero” and that my transfer would be “impossible.” Okaythanksbye.

The other night, I was at a discoteque, waiting in line to get in. When it came time to check my purse, the girl says “good evening” in French. I reply, in French, and she stops what she’s doing and sharply says “Hello, I said hello. Do you speak English?” Taken aback by her coldness, I quietly answered yes. Apparently my shyness led her to believe that I was drunk or high, because she then asked “Are you feeling okay? Have you been drinking this evening?” Hm, I’m not sure if two panaches counts as “been drinking,” so I told her “Sort of. I guess so? I had a drink…” That mean little bitch looks me in the face and says “Are you a fuckin’ American or not? Why don’t you answer me when I speak.” What is going on.

So she stops looking in my bag and demands for my ID, takes a moment and says “Are you on some drugs or something?” Okay, I know I can mumble, and I know I can be a weirdo, and maybe even a creep, but I truly have no idea why my standing there quiet and shivering in the night made her to believe I was in some way drugged up. I scrunched up my face and said “Wait, what? Why, what? No?” She hands me back my ID and says “Are you here to dance?” Hm, pretty sure that’s what discoteques are for; maybe I should let her know. “Yes.” You stupid ugly bitch, I hate you. I’m not a drug dealer, clearly. She finally said I could go in and I quietly asked for “One discoteque ticket, please.” The girl behind me says good evening in perfect French and is let in, no questions asked, no bags checked.

Yesterday I journeyed to Lyon, a diverse and exciting city along the Rhone. Unfortunately, before I made my way into the cathedrals and markets, I had to journey to the immigration office. Before they offer me their health services, they want to make sure I’m legit; conduct all these bogus tests and such. So I walked into the office, lined with chairs and immigrants, and immediately felt judged and uncomfortable. After staring down the obese baby eating green beans at my feet for a bit, a petit woman calls for “Madame Kicherer,” and I get to leave the uncomfortably ventilated room in exchange for a tiny, dim office where I was immediately instructed to take off my blouse. Hold the phone. You know, you’re speaking in rapid, irritated French, examining my chest, asking if I have AIDS, and suggesting I see a dentist, all within the first two minutes. I’m just an au pair trying to travel on a small income, and you treat me like I’m a convict escaping my lowly past, trying to raid your system for all its worth (part of which, is true). So she continues with the questions, eye exam, BMI calculation, even a chest x-ray (a rather dated method, in my opinion, for determining TB, but at least I got a fancy souvenir). The best part was when she abruptly opened the door and said nothing, which apparently meant that I was decently healthy and free to go. Accompanied by my life-size x-ray, I smiled and exited through a long hallway, lined with chairs of my fellow immigrants. Best of luck, comrades.

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