Archive for February, 2011
So, I said I wouldn’t start by boring you with visa application stories and I kept my word. I gave you three whole posts before I couldn’t contain myself anymore (positively restrained!).
The truth is, before now, I was too scared to talk about the hell that is the family visa application, because I was scared that somehow, somewhere, some Brit-official-type would find out I was gabbing about it and my family would be blacklisted (I’m fine, they were silly enough to give me a passport some years ago).
Well, ha ha! I’m letting it all hang out now, because as of last week, we have visas. Settlement visas, no less! I’m still in disbelief that another country wants us, to be honest. Like, for life. And it took them under two weeks to decide this when they could have taken twelve. Every single other family I’ve spoken to about visas has told me it took exactly twelve weeks before they heard anything about theirs. Ours went to Canberra, then to New Zealand (where they’re processed) and were okayed with two weeks. There’s something very fishy about this, but I’m choosing not to think about it too hard. The visas are there, fancy silver stamps shining brightly in my husband and kids’ passports and the Brit-official-types seem to have overlooked the fact that my daughter wrote her and her brother’s name (back to front for some reason) in one passport and that they’re effectively signing up their country to educate what could be a costly dyslexic kid.
The whole application process started months back, as the first step was to get our oldest child a new passport and our youngest his first passport. Here’s the thing – kids smile for photos. It’s innate. For years, everyone has hassled them to smile when their picture is taken and now it’s automatic. Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to smile in your passport photo. You’re also required to sit up straight and look directly forward, in order that you don’t cast a shadow.
Let’s just say that the morning we set out to get the photos done, we knew it wasn’t going to be a Kodak moment.
We knew our youngest would be fine. He’s quite the serious little man, was born going on 75-years-old and rarely cracks a smile unless someone in his immediate vicinity sustains a critical injury. Friends and family will actually make a point of sending photos on to us if they catch him smiling even the tiniest smile. So, he was fine. One set of photos and he was all done. It was our daughter who was the problem. By the 267th photo and 267th gap-toothed grin, we were getting desperate. My husband started to grasp at straws. ‘You know those doughnuts I bought for after lunch?’ he told her, ‘I just ate them’. It was mean, but it worked. For a split second her expression was perfect. And then she started crying. We had to go back the next day. And promise a second round of doughnuts.
The visa application questions were even more fun than the passport photos. On my daughter’s visa form, I was asked when I (her sponsor) had first met her. I decided upon answering, ‘at birth’ as I couldn’t fit the words ‘as her head painfully exited my vagina and some annoying person in scrubs introduced us in a mirror’ in the short space allocated. The next question was where did we meet. ‘Birth suite 1’, actually. And were we in the same country at the time? Unfortunately, yes, though I would have loved to add a little note saying that when someone at the British embassy comes up with a way in which I can give birth to a child in Australia while I’m on holiday in Paris, I’d appreciate them sending a memo around.
I’m sure others would appreciate a heads-up on that one, so just let me know if you’d like me to add your name to that note…
So I’m starting to fret about the language thing.
You’d think the language thing would be easy, considering both Australia and England share the same mother tongue, but I’ve had experience in this area in the past with work and the differences are astounding. The thing is, being low in number, Australians are forced to understand other English-speaking cultures and to negotiate the differences in speech and manner. This gesture is rarely reciprocated. Ask an American where the nearest toilet is and they’ll either recoil in horror at your foul language, or stare at you nonplussed as if they’ve never heard of such a thing.
The other problem I know we’ll encounter is that we will instantly become more Australian as soon as the wheels on our plane retract. It happens to me every time I go overseas. In Australia, people often ask me if I’m English (or South African, horror of horrors), because my Australian accent isn’t particularly strong. And, in the interest of full disclosure, I’m half English. But I know from attending meetings with publishers and agents in both the UK and the US, that as soon as I open my mouth on foreign soil I will suddenly be truly Awstraylian. Mate. Cobber. Etc.
I decide to call a girlfriend who’s spent ten years living in London and now has a real Londoner’s accent, though this is probably about to turn all mid-Atlantic now that she’s living in New York. When I get onto her, I relate my 11.30pm wig out and end with, ‘How can I make myself better understood so I don’t end up in Manchester?’ (in my head, Manchester is very scary indeed).
She ignores the Manchester bit and doesn’t waste any time getting down to business (see? She’s gone all New York already). ‘It’s all about shortening your vowels and tidying everything up. Think clear and crisp. To keep it simple, mainly watch your “os”, your “as” and your “rs”,’ she rattles off quickly, making me think she’s given this advice a number of times before, or at least thought about it a lot. ‘When you say your “os”, make sure your mouth is actually forming an “o” and shorten your “as” – Aussies are all about the long “as”. Your “rs” shouldn’t be as strong. It’s more like an “uh”.
I grab a pen and paper and start taking notes. ‘Okay, so give me some sentences as examples,’ I say when I’ve written this all down.
‘Right,’ she takes a moment to think about it. ‘How about this – you are the daughter of a shopper. Repeat.’
I repeat the sentence.
‘Now say it using “uh” instead of “er”.’
‘You are the daughtuh of a shoppuh.’ Huh, I think, as the sounds come out of my mouth. Listen to that. It does sound quite like an English accent. Not to mention that it’s true. I am the daughter of a shopper!
‘Now try this one – in Cairns, all the sharks are in the water.’
Again, I repeat the sentence, though this time, I actually wince at how painfully Australian I sound. ‘What now? Do I need to shorten the “as”?’ I start, then realise I’ve just stated the obvious. ‘Wait, don’t answer that.’ I try again, shorting my ‘as’ and softening my ‘rs’.
‘See? You’ve got it already. But, look, I wouldn’t fret too much. They’ll be able to understand you most of the time. It’s really only an issue the further North you go. We once pulled the car over next to a farmer on the side of the road in Scotland to ask for directions and I’m sure he gave us brilliant directions, because he went on and on for some time and there was a whole lot of gesturing. But his directions were useless seeing as we couldn’t understand a bloody word he said.’
I suddenly have visions of myself blathering on for days about some topic or another, with no-one being able to figure out a word that’s passed my lips. ‘Thanks. I feel so much better now. Any last tips before I finally try to get some sleep?’
‘Sure. When in doubt as to what someone’s talking about, just bring up the topic of fireplaces. They can go on about them forever. They’re obsessed.’