I have just (or actually a few hours ago) had another run in with the wonderful American bureaucracy which has left me rather pissed so I'm going to start off by listing all the things I have found so far that works less well here than in more civilized countries :). Lets start with the event that left me rather breathless from the incompetence. As I keep complaining in all my emails I have not yet received my social security number. I was told that it was supposed to take up to 6 weeks, but I have been calling every week just to make sure. Especially now after I moved since I am not betting on the forwarding of my mail to work so I didn't actually think I would receive the card in the mail, but would at least have the number to go forward. Since I was really getting close to the 6 week deadline I was stepping up my call ins to bi-weekly, because it is really starting to be a hassle without one (More about that later). This time though the reply I got was different than before, since before they have simply said that wait the 6 weeks, nothing is wrong. This time they said something unspecified had gone wrong with my application and I had to contact my local Social Security office and was given a phone number.
I kept calling the phone number I got every 5 minutes for 2 hours without ever getting through so I decided, screw this I'm taking the afternoon off work and going down there. So I did, waited for a while, although the queue wasn't nearly as bad as the first time I was there. When I got to the counter I first got the standard reply I've gotten over the phone so many times before with a slight difference. No nothing is wrong, it has just not been processed by INS yet... IT CAN TAKE UP TO 3 MONTHS. A slight difference from the 6 weeks I had heard about before which I was as flabbergasted by when I heard it because I had heard it should be no more than 10 days.
I asked them how they thought I was supposed to live here for 3 months without being able to get a salary and they actually started to try to be helpful and figure out what was wrong. And after some digging they figured out the reason why my application wasn't proceeding through the system as it should because according to their checks I was already approved by INS. The reason was that my application had been lost. So as I stood there they had to resubmit my application into the system, so basically I am now back to square one where I was 6 weeks ago. There is some reason to hope for the better though. This time I was approved by INS which was the problem last time, so the time they said it should take now is the 10 days that I had initially heard about before I ever went there. Also I was able to refile it under my new address so that I will probably actually get my card. Still though, if I had heeded the advice of the first 5 people I talked to at the SSA regarding just waiting for the card to come I would probably never have gotten it. I thought we had bad bureaucracy in Sweden, but it has nothing on this crap. And this is not even something complicated, all I want is to be able to pay taxes. I can't wait to see what will happen if I actually need to get some kind of social benefit or such. Hopefully I will not need to find out how badly that works.
This brings me to some more problems of I have found out when you don't have a social security number. I have recently moved into my new apartment and have gotten a gas, electricity bill and off course cable TV and with them came some bills. Now in Sweden we pay bills through the internet or using "auto-giro". All in all it has never taken me more than a few minutes every month. Here you pay bills by sending in checks. Sometime you can pay by credit cards, but apparently not for my gas and electricity bill. Now the problem is, how am I supposed to pay something with a check if I don't have a bank accounts. And again to reiterate, I can't get that without a social security number. Usually it wouldn't be a problem since the bills doesn't become overdue until a month after they are sent out. But because I don't have a social security number I need to pay a deposit and that off course have to be paid straight away. I love the way they thought that little scheme up, I mean anyone who can actually pay the deposit shouldn't need to get it would they. Fortunately I have called them and managed to get a suspension on the payment so I don't have to pay until April 2nd.
Now I'm done with the SSN so now I am just going to do some random complaining, or pointing out stuff which doesn't work as well here as home. First of all, the way all roads here are littered with stop signs. I mean in Sweden when there is a stop sign you can be pretty sure that there is actually something to stop for, or at least a pretty tricky traffic intersection. Here they seem to put up a stop sign pretty much whenever they can't be bothered to put up traffic lights. Which is a problem, because you get the problem of the boy who cried wolf. Nobody actually stops at the stop signs here. They slow down a bit, but that is about it. Another traffic problem here is the logic behind the traffic signals. In Sweden they seem to have put quite a lot of thought behind how the traffic lights turn so that you usually get quite a good flow through them. And you very rarely have to stop at two signs in a row if you continue straight because traffic lights are controlled centrally and are synced together. Here they don't seem to have thought of that innovation and you can often need to stop at every single traffic light if you follow a straight road. It is definitely a noticeable difference, and both me and Stefan made note of it while he was here.
Next I'm going to go over to shopping. Here when you buy stuff you are not allowed to put stuff in your own shopping bags, there is instead a person who is supposed to handle this. Which I don't have anything in mind of except that they put no thought what so ever of how they pack your bags (Hard heavy stuff on the bottom etc). Also, the bags themselves are a joke, they break if you sneeze at them. Which leads to them packing about one item in each bag, which in turn sort of almost defeat the whole purpose of the bag. Going over to shopping a cell phone, which is something incredibly easy in Sweden. Here it is quite a problem though. I managed to break my phone during the weekend and needed a new one fast, since I am sort of isolated without one. I could off course not get the cellphone I already have since that is not available here yet (They seem to be around 6 months to a year behind Sweden in cellphone models), so I wanted the model I had before my current one. Then came the next problem of getting a phone that is not tied to a service provider so I can still use my Swedish SIM-card if I would travel outside the US. Walking into a phone store here and asking for a non locked phone and they don't even understand the question, the concept is simply not even known here. In the end I just gave up and got a phone locked to my current subscription and I'll have it unlocked the next time I go to Sweden instead.
Now I'm done complaining. I have had a pretty busy week. I think I had just gotten my new apartment last week and done some work on assembling the bed. During Tuesday I made the first attempt at cutting my hair here. A friend of a friend here had turned out to be a hairdresser so I gave her a shot at cutting my hair. She wasn't as good as my old one in Sweden, which those of you who have heard me talk about know I really like, but it didn't turn out too bad. She was actually between jobs right now so I had to cut my home over at her place (Since I didn't even have chairs at my place yet) which was down in San Clemente, so that pretty much took that entire evening with all the getting lost and all.
Wednesday I spent actually moving. All in all it took two trips in the car to move my stuff. The heaviest bag was the one with the stuff I had in my fridge. For some reason I had managed to get around 30 bottles of bear, a few bottles of liquor and some bottles of whine not to mention half a gallon (2l) of juice, a quarter of a gallon of milk and generally a whole lot of stuff to drink. I think the bag probably weight close to 30kg. I also had to try to find comforter and other linen to put on my bed to be able to sleep in it. After all of that I finished assembling the tables for the bed. In the end I didn't get finished until almost 12am in the morning. I also had a whole room filled with trash from all the cartoons from IKEA and such. I also got all the stuff I had ordered via mail this day, both TV, grill and skates. Although I didn't get a chance to try the skates until Friday.
Thursday I had to go up to LAX and change rental car since the time when Quest didn't want to pay for it anymore. Since I went up there anyway I stopped by at Magnus's place and had dinner and said hello to Erico (His wife) who had just had surgery the Monday before. Friday I finally got a chance to try my new skates and as always they take a few days to get used to (The phrase from Wayne's World by Garth regarding new underwear comes to mind: "At first they are strange and constricting, but after a while they become a part of you"), and I also realized that I am going to get in really good shape from living here since one of the other new toys I got was a training GPS I know that I started the trip with a 4 mile long downhill slope to the ocean followed by 3 mile long hill without downhill interruptions. I don't think I have ever been so exhausted from such a short trip in my life as the 8 mile trip.
Saturday started up really nice. I had made plans to go out and celebrate St Patric's day (I know a few days early, but who cares) in Santa Monica with Magnus and spent the day with getting showed some of the finer points of Santa Monica and Malibu. Once we started partying things didn't turn out too good, not having eaten enough during the day and starting straight away drinking shots the whole thing soon went overboard. To make a long story short this is where I broke my phone, it is also where I managed to loose one of my credit cards (Thank god for having a spare, otherwise I would really be in trouble). I see it as a short refresher course in why I should not drink shots... EVER! Which I usually don't either, and I'll stick to it even better after this I'm sure. This followed off course by not exactly much getting done the entire Sunday and it wasn't until well in the evening that I even dared to drive home.
At work we are really getting close to as the really like saying here "crunch time". Next Friday I have a deadline. And unlike most other deadlines (Douglas Adams said about deadlines: "I love deadlines, I like to sit and hear the swishing sound they make as they go by") this one is real in that if I miss it they wont have time to print up the CD:s which Quest is supposed to hand out at the conference in mid April. So the next two weeks it is going to be a lot of work. I have already started going on close to 10 hour days, and it is probably going to get worse for a few days. After next Friday I don't think there is going to be that much to do for me until the fair. I'm sure I find something to do though.
Otherwise this week is surprisingly uneventful except for work. I have nothing really planned so far, though next Friday I have a party with some kind of Swedish "Fröken Fredag" society, don't really know what it is, but I am hoping to be celebrating being able to keep the deadline then. Next Thursday my parents are coming for two weeks, and before they even leave I will leave for this conference in Orlando that I keep talking about. And what do you... It's summer. Although the concept seems kind of irrelevant here since it is pretty much always good weather here (One of the things I keep getting back to that is actually great with this place), although it isn't as bizarrely nice as last week. So all in all, I have to end with that I don't really have as much of a problem with this place as you might think when you read the beginning of this mail. I actually really like it here, although the SSN thing is really frustrating. Hopefully it will be resolved soon. Take care everyone.