Fri 10 Dec 2010
Dealing with any government agency or office in the United States, at least in my experience, is an absolute nightmare. If you’re calling on the telephone, forget the naïve notion that you’ll actually get a human being on the other end; the truth is you’ll end up going through a series of automated communications designed to never, ever connect you with anything other than a taunting, recorded message. It’s like the digital equivalent of a garden maze, except there is no exit.
And don’t even get me started on the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles), where people go to slowly spiral into mental insanity from excruciating waiting periods and the miles of red tape it takes to do simple tasks like getting a driver’s license, renewing your vehicle registration or filing paperwork to sell your car. People who work at the DMV are a whole other species as well. Generally they are intentionally rude, pissed-off types who seem to take great pleasure in toying with their hapless victims customers.* If you have to accomplish anything at the DMV you need to block out the entire day because you’ll be there under those Vitamin D-draining fluorescent lights, listening to an automated voice calling out numbers (none of which will be yours) all…day..long.
Here in Ireland, it’s a completely different story (again, this is in my experience). I recently had to get a PPS number, which is the Irish equivalent of a social security number. I braced myself for the long waits and frustrations that would surely accompany such a task but was pleasantly surprised to get through the entire process in less than 30 minutes. When I rang the office to ask about its operating hours, someone (as in an actual, living breathing human!) answered the phone after two rings – TWO RINGS!! When I went to the office in Dundalk I was given a number and was called to the counter after waiting a whole 5 minutes. The woman who helped me was friendly (*gasp*), even telling me about her Japanese language classes after she realized I was born in Japan. By the end of the visit I was approved for my PPS number.
Whenever I email the Department of Justice, which is the agency that deals with immigration, I get a response within 48 hours. And it’s not an automated email, it’s one written by a real person with clear and helpful answers to my questions. Last week I was granted a renewal for my Specific Crafts Business Permission (basically a visa) and was told to go to my local garda (police) station to get the renewal stamp for my passport. I called for an appointment, got one for the following morning and was soon sitting having a nice chat with Dennis The Immigration Officer. I got my new ID card and stamp in about 10 minutes.
The only glitch was that when I was trying to leave the garda parking lot, my car got stuck in the snow. Dennis was happy to help. He wedged a wooden board under one of my tires, rolled up his sleeves and began to push my car as I put it into reverse. Suddenly he yelped out in pain and started hopping around in the snow, gripping his leg. I was absolutely horrified; had I run over his foot? Apparently the board had flown out from under my tire and struck him in the shin. He told me to sit tight and then hobbled back to the station to get more guys to help. Soon enough I was on my way, unstuck, embarrassed and feeling very guilty. I’m not sure how bad it is but I’m guessing Dennis is still limping a bit…he was hit pretty hard.
So today I am going to drop off some holiday treats (Apple Butter, Maple & Cinnamon Granola, and Potato Crisp Shortbread) to Dennis. To be honest I wish I could do the same for the nice folks at the PPS office in Dundalk and the Department of Justice Immigration Services in Dublin, because I am eternally grateful for all their help over the last year. Never in a million years did I think I would ever have a pleasurable experience working with a government agency, but here in Ireland all of my gov-related dealings have been positive. There’s been a lot of bad press on government agencies and officials here lately, but there are plenty of good ones out there as well. This holiday season I’d like to give them the recognition they deserve.
*Of course not all DMV employees are like this, just the ones I’ve had the pleasure of dealing with!
Maple & Cinnamon Granola
3 cups oats
¼ cup hazelnuts
¼ cup pecans
½ cup marcona almonds
¼ cup sunflower or pumpkin seeds
½ cup dried blueberries
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup light brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
½ cup honey
¾ cup real maple syrup
Preheat your oven to 170 C degrees. In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients and stir together, making sure the oats/nuts/fruit is well coated with the sugar, honey and syrup. Spread the mix onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for 40 minutes, removing from the oven half-way through baking to mix the granola. Cool and pack into jars. Perfect on top of yogurt or with some milk. Enjoy!
Potato Crisp Shortbread Cookies
8 oz unsalted butter at room temp
½ cup granulated sugar
1 ¾ cup flour
1 cup crushed salted potato crisps
1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 170 C degrees. In a bowl, combine the flour and the crushed potato chips, set aside. In another bowl, cream together the butter, sugar and vanilla. Incorporate the dry ingredients into the butter/sugar mixture until just combined. Using a teaspoon scoop out the dough and roll into a ball with your hands. Roll the balls into granulated sugar, then place on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Press each ball down lightly with your fingers. Bake for 12 minutes or until the edges are nice and golden. Store in airtight container.