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A strong constitution

Wednesday November 1, 2006

David Smith

Moving and adapting was pretty easy in terms of government rules and regulations etc., probably because it's all in English and many people have done it before us. However, the most ridiculous thing I had to do was to take driving test. They wouldn't let me take it the first day we tried because it was raining (it was actually merely spitting). The next attempt was foiled because the instructor/tester was almost an hour late and it would have been dusk when we did the test ? that's not allowed either.

My third attempt was successful, but during the test the differences in language jumped up and bit me. The examiner asked me to pull over to the kerb (there wasn't a kerb as I know it) and to "imagine you are parking on a hill and you will be visiting a friend with whom you are staying overnight". South Carolina is like Lincolnshire ? not even a bump in the road, let alone a HILL! Furthermore, I didn't have any friends here at that stage and couldn't quite grasp the idea of staying overnight ? what did she mean??

She actually wanted me to park with the handbrake on and the wheels turned toward the kerb (which wasn't there) but it took us a few questions and odd looks to establish the actual requirement. I passed the test and since then I have found the South Carolina drivers (or maybe it's the visiting North Carolina drivers) to be the worst I've ever experienced. The local newspaper even publishes letters about bad driving on most days.

My son had done three years of basic French in school in Britain. On arrival here he was forced to "take a language", so he chose French. He did the same stuff he had done three years before. Next year, one grade up, he had to choose a language ? he chose French again. They repeated the same material because some kids had done Spanish the previous year and so needed to start anew with French. Next year, he goes to high school and has to ?do a language?. I asked the teachers if he could do either advanced French or maybe Spanish.

He couldn?t do Spanish because he hadn?t done any before (he would hold back the class!!), and he couldn?t do a more advanced French class because it conflicted in his schedule with maths classes. Eventually, the principle allowed him to skip a year of language so he can rejoin the French stream next year. He now does extra history so he can catch up on American history ? which seems to be mostly about driving out the Brits in the revolutionary war. No irony there as far as the Americans see it.

The one piece of advice I wish I had been given in advance . . . America, with its federal and state system of government, employs a huge number of people in it's "civil service". No two forms are alike.

If they want a photograph of you, they want a different size, or view or colour. If you take all your papers to one building for one purpose, you need a different set of papers and probably a different building for the next purpose ? even though the purpose is pretty similar, ie with drivers licences and taxation registration. You need unbelievable patience and a strong will to ignore the waste, ineptitude and sometimes plain rudeness of local and federal government officials. They have miniscule amounts of devolved power and WOW are they going to use it!

While these stories are true, they?re somewhat tongue-in-cheek. The USA really isn't bad at all once you have the basic stuff in place.

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