Stupid Expat Stories

The admission

I don't know how to drive. I realize coming from an American that sounds just about as wrong as saying 'I rather liked Chairman Mao, thanks,' but it's also true. See, my hometown Portland is the city of more hippies per capita than any other city in the whole big politically correct world, San Francisco included. In Stumptown you can't walk down the street without seeing some god damned seasonal traveller and their dog wandering around or being accosted by a 'save gay babies with AIDs born to Brazilian/North Korean exotic dancers' charity. To say Portland is socially aware is akin to saying 'George Lucas can't write for shit.' The main and virtually only benefit of that kind of heavy awareness is a functioning public transport is pretty much a definite.

The reasons
I was used to a veritable utopia of light rail and buses until I left it behind in 2001 when I moved to England. I soon discovered the British have an entirely different idea of what public transport is. They lean less towards the environmentally friendly and socially responsible basis for keeping it running. Their reasons are more for the fact that the government relies heavily on the wages they get from a mere 80% of the population. You see, they had to come up with something to get them to work whilst still being able to tax the living Bejesus out of gasoline overall. Unfortunately much of the system was designed and built in the 19th century. To top it off, the original builders were a bit myopic and pieced it together with little bits of glue and horseshit. Rather surprisingly it's now falling apart and the private company in charge of the rail system has to repair it all sometime in the next hundred or so years. And whilst that is going on the service is expensive, useless and annoying.

I'll give you an example of the pure shoddiness of the Greater Manchester system in specific. I work roughly 25 miles away from where I live which isn't in my Portland grown mind an unreasonable distance. However, this is England and in a pure fuck off to the very foundations of logical urban planning, it takes me 3 connections with two different types of service to get to my place of work. I'm not employed in the middle of an industrial estate or a farm. I'm employed in a large business park with companies like Sage and IBM nearby. Big companies that you would think someone would have catered for. They don't. And for all of my delays, no shows and stupid time tables it costs me 111 pounds a month. That's way more than I spend on food.

I dealt with it for a few years and thought perhaps the promise of transport reform wasn't just a dirty lie told to appease Labour Manchester. A part of me knew that it just wasn't going to happen but I still hoped and hoped and hoped and hoped. The eventuality of my hope and frustration was realizing one day whilst waiting for a tram that was approximately 24 minutes late because a car had been given to a more heavily populated line that I had two options. The first was to take a 12 gage to the Labour government and that fucking bastard Transport Minister. The second was booking lessons for learning how to drive.

Not wanting to be deported, I took option 2.

Senile driving instructors
I have spent the last two years taking instruction from the AA Driving School. My first driving instructor was a 60 year old man who is shorter than I am. He openly spoke about the Jewish conspiracy then forgot and had recently been hospitalized for lung problems. He still smoked roll-ups after every lesson. All went well until our mega breakup after I got upset about him not teaching me when that's what I was paying 20 pounds an hour for. That personality conflict ended with a slammed car door and frequent drunken abuse at his house. After much upset and a few frantic calls to the AA, I settled on a young guy who likes to drive, has a bike and speeds when I'm not in the car. Otherwise known as someone I could relate to.

The lessons went well enough, I discovered that I had wasted a year with my first senile driving instructor but coped ok. I struggled with some of the going backwards bits and pieces, the not bursting into tears the day before the test bits and not hanging my head out the window to tell transit vans I thought they were motherfuckingcanceroussonsofParvodogs. But I felt like I was ready before the test anyway.

The minute my examiner introduced herself I shook, felt my bladder fill and amazed myself by keeping my driving held together. I kept saying things out loud like 'WHERE'S THE DANGER?' and 'ALREADY COMMITTED,' which the examiner didn't really seem to mind. However, despite all of the preparation, the practise, the desire to leave the train system behind I still managed to fail. The reasons were not for faulty mirror checks, slamming the gears, slamming on the breaks or stalling the car (I didn't do any of the above) but instead by, get this, driving on the right side of the road.

The right way and the wrong way
In case you haven't been to England, allow me to demonstrate:

This is what stupid isolated little countries would like me to do. Otherwise known as the 'wrong way to go about driving according to the rest of the civilized world. They've only been allowed to do this for so long because no one really comes here anymore and they hate everyone who drives on the right side of the road. That's a little unfortunate for the English because right side driving is the majority excepting Japan, Australia. So they consort with former fascists and former outlaws.

This is what I did, which is known as the correct way to go about driving except, as alluded to above, in countries so stuffed up their own history that they stubbornly hang on to left side of the road (wrong side.) They will forever refuse to change to the right because they're sulking about losing India.

I couldn't help but laugh in the end really. I've never done it before and I'll probably never do it again. Alas though, I failed my test and will have another adventure probably next month. Hopefully I won't kill anyone.


I am a tech, not your PA

I'm 5'8", average weight, blonde hair, blue eyes and quite fair. I work in an office, dress in business casual clothes and am not a receptionist, sales person, teacher, secretary or PA. I'm a tech.

Yesterday a visiting instructor asked me to book a cab for him. Would he have done that if I was a male tech? Probably not. A few weeks ago my coworkers started making period jokes about our SQL server on the main company e-mail list. The implication was all women, once a month, cease to function. Was I a little offended? Yes. I also told them so without moaning to my boss.

I'll print things out for people, show them the photocopier and give them a hand with the many USB flash drives that cross my desk. I'll install Service Packs, drivers, configure their networks and draw them little diagrams. I open ports, drop images, give them IP addresses and copies of software. I'll consult with our clients to see if onsites are a minor possibility or will raise holy hell. Yet I'm still expected to answer the phones in a polite voice. I won't make as much money if I don't wear make-up and my breasts are a topic of staring when I replace a light bulb.

I know there are others like me. I know that my friends face the same issues, the same problems and the same difficulties that I do. Day after day I watch a few sour faced young women attend courses and be surrounded by men who show little mercy. They get asked if they're an assistant or an office manager as well. They get asked to sort out biscuits, hotels and taxis too.

There's a certain feeling of comraderie amongst women in technology. The Systers e-mail list is full of CTOs, CIOs, System Engineers, MIS Techs, Developers, Math geeks and designers who all feel the pressure. We know each other is out there and we know each other's stories all too well. So, some enterprising young ladies have put together resources to get us communicating. That's the idea I like.

What I've found though, is a lot of these girl power forums tend to charge. Some women actually believe that their seminars on 'getting ahead' or dealing with workplace discrimination are worth a tidy fee. Webgrrls charges 55 USD for membership. That includes access to:

# Local meetings, classes and events
# Search the Webgrrls JobBank for job listings;post your resume for potential employers to reach you for free.
# Local community listservs and websites for information exchange
# Discounts on local and international industry trade shows and events
# International listservs and newsletters
# Subscribe to other Webgrrls chapter lists using the Chapter Locator
# Join an international community of women who share your interests!

I'm sure I don't need to point out the inherent silliness of that. I've never paid to find a job, or join an e-mail list, or even find people who share my interests. Are there really people desperate enough to hand over that fee? It appears as though at least some are. What does that say about the state of women today? Do men pay money to meet other men and share job advice? Would someone even consider their gender to be a charge-able asset? Probably not. It all smacks of exploitation to me.

I've mentioned her before Farrah Ashline ran a similar site without the technological bent for women in Washington DC. For a slightly higher fee, women could be notified about upcoming events. The cover charge didn't actually get anyone in anywhere for free, it just told them were things were happening. As silly and mid 90s as it sounds, she had a few members. She had a few who believed in it as being a viable business. Making money out of women desperate to meet other women.

I'd venture to say that as long as we feel isolated enough, sites like Farrah Ashline's and the Cybergrrl.com network will keep thriving. As much as these sites have a feminist bent, I'd also venture to say that they're just as much part of the problem as my period crack making coworkers are. By implying that it's necessary to shell out money to locate women in technology, you're further setting us aside as a group of workers. Women working in hard science or computer related fields should be integrated and not tucked away in an exclusive environment.

We shouldn't have to pay to make friends.

Non gender specific, the agile manifesto