Friday, March 26, 2010

25 Random Things: # 4

4. People think I talk to much, and I should shut up at times. They're right, but I don't care. People who knew me when I was young know how painfully shy I was and how hard it was for me to interact with people. I would take F's in school, so I didn't have to get up in front class and read a paper. I know how I was then, and I know how I am now. Yeah, I irritate people at times, but I will not be silent. I will never be that way again. Deal with it. I have.

Yeah, I'm kind of verbose, and tend to talk a little bit too much at times. Life goes on. When I was a kid, you couldn't have gotten me to talk. I was as shy as it's possible to be, and didn't think it would ever get better. Like most people, I had my moments, and could have a lot of fun and act up. But mostly I never did. Even at kids parties, I was the wallflower and wouldn't go talk to people I didn't know.

It was really bad in school, because it affected my grades. For some stupid reason, you have to do projects where you get up in front of the class and read it, or present it. That was a big problem for me, and I didn't like it. I would refuse to get up, or tell the teacher I hadn't done it, and take the failing grade. Failing was better than standing up in front of everyone.

There are a lot of reasons why I was like this, but I won't go into them. Mostly, it was a fear of failure or being laughed at. I don't know if that's the common reason, but it was mine. Suffice it to say, it was a problem. I would do anything I could to avoid being in front of a crowd. About the only thing where I didn't'have a problem with it was in sports. But I wasn't a good athlete, so it wasn't like I played a lot.

Of course, this didn't help when it came to meeting women. It was always a big problem, because I wouldn't approach a woman to ask her out. Now don't think I was entirely lonely all that time. I wasn't. I guess some women liked the shy act, even though it wasn't. It would just take the woman approaching me and then it was fine. If she was going to come talk to me, then she must have been interested.

This finally came to a head when I was stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, during the time everything in Somalia kicked off. My job was going to require me to give presentations on the services we provided, and not just to soldiers. To the high-level commanders. And the spouses. If you've never had to brief a group of Army wives, you don't know what pressure is. You really don't.

I knew I had to get over it. To be clear, it wasn't fear of being up in front of a group of people. I had done that. It was being noticed by people I didn't know more than anything, and it wasn't fear, such as sweats and shaking and wanting to pass out. If I had to do it, I could. It just wasn't comfortable and I didn't like it. I always had the comfort level with people I knew, and think I was mostly okay socially in my own way. It was strangers I had a problem with. So now I was faced with a situation where I had to do it, and had no choice.

As luck would have it, I was fairly close to home, and would go back to Missouri on long weekends. I would stay with my good friend Layne, and we would hit every bar and party we could find. Layne is a performer (singer/actor/etc) and being the center of attention is his thing. Like Robin Williams, he is always performing. And I was the sidekick straight man.

So one night we went out, and Layne met up with a girl he was wanting to go out with, who was out with a friend of hers. We met up at the Legion dance (oh, the joys of small town living) and then went to Country Kitchen for breakfast. Layne, as usual, dominated the conversation and I kind of sat there. I figured these two pretty women weren't interested in anything I had to say, not while Layne was around. Eventually, one of them asked me something and I responded with a joke, or a one-liner or something, and they laughed.

Hey, good times. Further on through the evening, more questions to me, more funny lines, more laughter and all of a sudden I realized I could actually involve myself with people I didn't know, be funny, and the world didn't end. By the end of the night, I was carrying the conversation, the two girls were laughing and Layne was pissed because he wasn't the center of attention. He still hasn't gotten over it. That seems like a small breakthrough, but it was amazing. It showed me I could actually talk to people I didn't know and get up in front of people if I had to. I had a comfort level that I had never known before. It really was that simple.

So when it came time for the presentations, I aced them. I was funny, I was informative, I managed to deflect some tension from the subject and sent everyone home feeling better about what we could do for them. The Group Commander, who was in attendance, even sent me a hand-written note telling me how well I had done. Which was great, because it's not unusual to get a form letter with a signature, but this was an actual hand-written letter. I still have it.

Since then I've given countless presentations, attempted conversations in foreign languages, meet presidents and prime ministers, and have generally gotten over it. If I have to get up in front of a crowd now, it's no big deal. I'm still nervous about doing well, but not about being in front of people. I've actually helped write comedy shows for a friend, and have been asked to do stand-up routines by someone else. When it came to meetings, the people I worked for were confident enough to let me run the meetings with dignitaries. It's become easy.

However, on the flip side of things, now people think I tend to talk too much. Some people have told me that I never shut up, and I should back off a little more. They might be right. They probably are. It's hard to know where to draw the line between being involved or not involved. I don't think I have it figured out just yet. What I have figured out is that the way I am now is a lot more fun than the way I used to be. And I won't shut up, and I won't go back to the way it was. If people have a problem with that, they are more than free to tell me. They just have to realize I don't care.

Its not fun being that shy, and it isn't good for people to be that way. It can be lonely at times, and sometimes in a crowd of people. So people are going to have to deal with it. I've found my voice and I'm going to use it.

I refuse to be quiet any longer.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Is this discrimination?

One of the things I had to do to get my residency visa was to take a Life in the UK test. It is a 20-question test about the history, politics, religion, local living, etc, of living here in the country.

The reason for the test, straight form the website:
A pass in the test fulfils the requirements for "sufficient knowledge of life in the United Kingdom" which were introduced for naturalisation on 1 November 2005 [1] and which were introduced for settlement on 2 April 2007 [2]. It simultaneously fulfils the language requirement by demonstrating "a sufficient knowledge" of the English language.
So there are a lot of different questions, in the following categories:

1. The Making of the United Kingdom
2. A Changing Society
3. UK Today,: A Profile
4. How the United Kingdom is Governed
5. Everyday Needs
6. Employment
7. Knowing the Law
8. Sources of Help and Information
9. Building Better Communities

I got 24 or 25 right out of 25, so the test wasn't that hard. I did a lot of studying, read the study guide about a dozen times, and took about 30 practice tests. I guess it worked.

That's all well and good, but one of the things I wanted to bring up that I learned while studying the test:
The law also says that men and women who do the same job, or work of equal value, should receive equal pay. Almost all the laws protecting people at work apply equally to people doing part-time or full-time work.
Now, that's all well and good. No issues there at all. It's a good idea, and the way things should be. This is what got my notice, however:

In a country as obsessed with political correctness as the United Kingdom, I was surprised to see this. I mean, you can't look cross-eyed at someone here without a complaint being made, the government getting involved, celebrities marching against it, and overreactions that make a nuclear war look tame by comparison.
There are, however, a small number of jobs where discrimination laws do not apply. For example, discrimination is not against the law when the job involves working for someone in their own home.
Add in that fact that the UK is one of the most diversified countries in the world, and you wouldn't expect this kind of thing at all. Fortunately, they don't do the lawsuit thing here and sue everyone left and right, but they don't let it go. Its an amazing case of common sense in a world gone mad.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating discrimination. Not in the least. It's wrong, and shouldn't be allowed. But I think this makes sense. In your own home, you should be able to do what you want (within reason and law). And that includes who you let into your own home. If you don't want someone in your house, you shouldn't have to let them in.

From the opposite side, this makes sense also. Why would you want to work for someone who obviously doesn't like you because of 'whatever'. If they are that irrational that your difference makes them uncomfortable, you wouldn't be happy working there. Might as well not even start.

What's funny, is that this wouldn't be allowed in the United States.You couldn't even have this on the books. There is no way the ALCU would allow this. They would rather force a person to accept someone into their home, even if causes problems.

So, while discrimination is, and should be, illegal, there is a measure of common sense allowed. So what are the opinions of the people reading? For, against, or no opinion?

Monday, March 22, 2010

I'm finally legal

I'm finally legal here. My passport came back on Friday with my Permanent Residence visa in it. To clarify, I've always been legal since I've been here, but it was a convoluted way of doing things. I will try to explain.

I came here originally under 'Rights of Access to a Child'. Pretty self-explanatory. Except the UK (and probably most countries) don't really have a category for this. It happens, but they don't know how to slot it into the visa system, and it doesn't have it's own category. So if falls under a tourist visa. Which is also different, because Americans don't need tourist visits to come to the U.K., and are only good for six months.

So, naturally, mine was for a year. Yeah, it's confusing. Try getting the paperwork done. But, even though it was a temporary tourist visa, it did allow me to work, get National Health, and generally be allowed to stay for a year. Pretty much everything except being eligible for 'Public Funds. You know, job benefits, housing benefits, welfare. All that stuff that I've never taken from any country I've ever lived in.

I don't know if that's for a trial period to make sure I really want to stay, or just because they don't know how to slot it. But that's how they do things. At 11 months in, I then had to apply for a new visit for permanent residency. That's basically a Green Card for those who aren't familiar with this, even though I don't really have a card. The fact that it cost £850 probably has something to do with having to apply for a new one.

It's a simple form, there really isn't much too, and it's pretty much a gimme. Send it in, wait a couple of months, and they send back the passport with the visa. I, however, always tend to over think things, and screwed up. I called the Home Office (Immigration) to ask them about the application, and see if there was anything I needed to do. I figured they are the experts, and could tell me what I needed to do to ensure it was done properly. So I did it exactly as I was told to by the experts.

The main thing that came from the conversation was that I needed to do a cover letter. And in that cover letter, I was told to add a sentence that stated after issuance of the visa, I would then be eligible for public funds. He told me that since my original visa said differently, I needed to add that in so that I would be eligible for all of that, if needed. So I wrote the cover letter and added that in. Also, during the hour-long conversation, he never mentioned that I needed to take an English literacy test. I figured since I am a native English speaker it wasn't needed. Yeah.

I sent the application in mid-May, and at the end of August, got a package back from immigration, and thought it would be the visa. It was my passport, but instead of a visa, it was a letter denying my visa and telling me I had to leave the country in 30 days, unless I appealed it. Needless to say, it wasn't the best day of my life. I wasn't a happy camper.

Someone sitting in a office somewhere, who processed the application, decided he didn't think I should get to stay. He stated the fact that I hadn't taken the literacy test as a reason that I shouldn't stay. But the kicker was, he stated the reason he declined the visa was because I declared that I was only there to live off of the government and use public funds. Granted, there is a big problem with benefit thieves in the country, but this one blew my mind.

He said the sentence I used in the cover letter (which I had been told to put in specifically by someone in immigration) was proof that I was only there to get benefits. He then, later in the letter, stated that since I had been perfectly happy to fly over every 3 months to visit Neeve, that I could continue to do the same after leaving the country. That was one of the most ridiculous statements I've ever encountered in my life, but he had the power, so it was all above board. In other words, I was screwed.

Of course, I could appeal it. Unfortunately, I was lost on all this and feeling like there was no hope, and wasn't sure how to go about it. Fortunately, good friend of the blog Neil had a friend who works for immigration. Neal called him and asked him for advice, which was to get with an agency that specifically handles immigration appeals. For £1000, of course. But Neal got me the number, and I called up and made an appointment.

Neal drove me up to London (Hounslow actually) for the appointment, where I sat around for hours, paid them a bunch of money, and handed them a packet of paperwork about six inches thick. They started the appeals process and told me they would get everything done, and not to worry about it. Which I most definitely was doing. They set me up another appointment for mid-September to come back to review the packet and sign it. As luck would have it, that was the same day my father flew into country, so I only had to make one trip.

The paperwork was done, and sent off to the appeals court for a date. It was scheduled for the beginning of October originally, so I made all the arrangements for it. It was in Newport, Wales, for some reason. So that was a train trip and a hotel up there to get this taken care of. I decided it was too expensive to stay in a hotel, and I didn't really have the money for it. Instead, I was going to take the early train up, get it done, and get home the same day.

Luck was with me for a change, as the day before, after I should have been on the train, I got a call telling me the court hearing had been postponed until the end of the month. Nice of them to be so prompt with the decision. At least I didn't waste a train ticket. At the end of the month, I did the same thing, and decided to go up early instead of staying overnight. To be honest, if I had stayed in a hotel, I would have spent the night drinking in the nearest pub, so it was probably a good decision.

When I got up to the court the day of the hearing and meet my lawyer, I realized the appeals service thought it was an easy case and they weren't too worried about it. Because they gave me the youngest, most-inexperienced, incompetent lawyer they had, and she did her best to lose the case. The judge basically had to lead her through and prompt her on what to say and what not to say. The immigration lawyer, to give him credit, was embarrassed by the entire thing.

He couldn't say anything for the record, because of the transcript, but let the judge and me both know that the immigration service thought the original denial was wrong and there was no basis to it. I had since taken the literacy test, and that wasn't an issue, so it was only the statement about public funds that was in question. Since (he told me later, off the record) that shouldn't have been a factor regardless, the immigration service wasn't going to fight the appeal. So the decision was in my favor. Hooray, me!!!!

By law, however the ruling goes, the other party has a right to appeal the decisions within 5 days. After 5 days, they had not done so, and sent me a letter saying I would receive a letter telling me where to send my passport for the issuance of the visa. Two months later, I still hadn't received the letter. So I called the appeals service to ask what the problem was. They informed that my appeal was finished, I was no longer a client, and if I wanted them to do anything, I would have to pay another £1000. After a brief conversation with me, they changed their mind and called the immigration service.

I then received a letter telling me to send off my passport, and that I would have it back within 10 days. Nope, didn't happen. So I called the appeals service again, had the same conversations with them, and was finally informed that I would have my visa within 10 days. The 10th day would have been last Friday. Amazingly, my passport and visa arrived. I am now legal. I am an immigrant.

By the way, one of the reasons my application was originally denied was due to the fact that I hadn't taken the literacy test to prove that I can speak, read, and write English to an acceptable level. At the court hearing for the appeal, I was offered an interpreter in case I couldn't speak English at an adequate level.

Yeah, I wanted to be a smart ass. I was just too worried about the outcome to do it.