Few things set me off as much as having to deal with official rules and regulations.
Faced with someone telling me, “it’s the rules,” “it’s protocol,” or, better yet, “it’s a matter of security,” I can’t hold my tongue. Airline protocols are just one example.
I was six months pregnant with my second child and flying back from a Caribbean vacation with my husband and three-year-old daughter. We’d just about made our connecting flight out of New York with Virgin Atlantic, my back was aching, and I was dying to go to the loo. Luckily, we were seated just next to a toilet, but as I got up and reached for the door handle, an airline stewardess stopped me.
“Excuse me, where are you sitting?” she asked.
“Right here,” I said, pointing to my seat.
“I’m sorry, but you cannot use this toilet, mam, you need to go to the one over there,” she said pointing to the very rear of the plane.
“Why? That’s at least thirty rows away, while this one is right here,” I protested.
“It’s a security matter, mam.”
A security matter? Exhausted, and with a bladder about to burst, I lost it.
“It’s not a fucking security matter! You don’t want me to use a toilet that is for business class passengers. Can’t you see I’m pregnant?”
She looked at my sizeable bump and said in a steely voice, “you should have brought a letter from your doctor confirming you’re pregnant.”
A letter to prove my pregnancy, when it was obvious. I couldn’t believe the stupidity of what I’d just been told and swore at her as I elbowed my way down the aisle to the toilet assigned for economy class passengers.
On returning to my seat, another stewardess came up to us and, looking past me, told my husband that unless his wife apologised to her colleague for swearing, they would report me to the police on arrival to London.
I have not travelled with Virgin Atlantic since.
More recently, I’ve had to deal with bureaucracy reminiscent of something out of a Kafka novel. As Britain hurtles towards the precipice of a no-deal Brexit, I decided to finally go and talk to an immigration lawyer about whether to apply for permanent residence now or wait and see what happens after Brexit. Although people keep telling me I’ve got nothing to worry about since I’m Swedish, scaremongering reports in the press was starting to make me feel a little anxious about my future in Britain.
What I learned from my meeting with the lawyer was this: my marriage to a British citizen is of little consequence for a successful application for permanent residence. Much more important than my British spouse, is the fact that I have private health insurance, meaning I wouldn’t be a burden on the NHS were I to become a permanent resident. Never mind the fact that I’ve been paying taxes in Britain for more than a decade, during which time I’ve availed myself of NHS care on numerous occasions.
(I also learned that by law, European citizens have a right to permanent residence after five years, yet the Home Office rejects 40% of all applications, often on a technicality, as part of its ‘hostile environment’ policy.)
Having just returned from my meeting with the lawyer, I received a message from the Swedish tax authorities. They wanted me to provide signed and stamped proof of my residence in Britain, or they would hold me liable to pay tax in Sweden. What’s ironic is that it’s the same tax authorities that years ago issued me a letter declaring that as far as they were concerned, I had emigrated from Sweden until further notice. I dug that letter out of my files, scanned it and emailed a copy back to the authorities that had issued me the letter in the first place. I’ve yet to hear back from them.
While I’m not saying rules and regulations aren’t necessary, it’s the blind faith in them that I object to, the unwillingness – and the lack of imagination that implies – to think for ourselves, to question, and to take responsibility for the choices we make.