Time for a quick quiz. Based on the following, how old do you think I am?
- I am wearing braces on my teeth.
- I tried and failed to open a bank account.
- I don’t have the references required to rent an apartment.
- I have had two recent conversations with the police who corrected my “unacceptable” behaviour.
- I have been informed by the school that I need to spend forty volunteer hours there this year doing extra projects.
- I was asked for ID going to a concert, where alcohol was being served – and almost did not get admitted, as I don’t have a California driving license.
- I need to sit my driving test.
No, I’m not a teenager or a student. I’m forty six, and all the above happened to me in the first few months of moving to San Francisco. Here’s why:
Don’t we all dream of having the California smile? Not really, but I was convinced by the dentist I should give braces a try to “Open up my teeth.” Or was it to, “Open up my mouth?” I have vivid memories of my mother asking the dentist back in Dublin, “Are you sure she doesn’t need braces?” And the dentist replying, “No she has lovely teeth” and indeed I have. Lovely, but oh so crooked.
I have no financial history in America, so no credit rating and no bank account without jumping through some bureaucratic hoops. It’s irrelevant that I had a perfectly respectable financial history outside of America. Well, maybe not totally respectable but it could have been worse. That doesn’t mean so much here.
References are required to rent an apartment in San Francisco. You may even be interviewed to ensure suitability, and having children definitely doesn’t give you an extra tick in any boxes. A dog, maybe. San Franciscans do love their dogs. Someone said there are more dogs than kids here or maybe that’s an urban legend. My husband and I considered hiding the fact we had kids but anyone who knows our girls knows they would be impossible to hide for long given they are, as someone diplomatically once said after watching them for a few hours, “Live wires”.
As to the encounters with the police, apparently you can’t just roll over the Stop sign; you have to actually stop, even if there are no other cars at the intersection. After two conversations with the cops (I know the word “cop” is American, but it just works better here, think NYPD Blue as compared to The Bill), and one traffic violation later I have perfected the hard stop. And I have been warned that if it happens again I will be off to traffic school. I should admit I rolled over the second Stop sign while the police car was behind me. To be fair it happened just after we moved here and I was so relieved to get where I was going successfully what with driving on the wrong side of the road.
In local Singaporean schools, all that was required of parent participation was to wait with your child outside the house in the morning for the school bus to pick her up and be there again in the evening when the bus dropped her off – I have seen school buses driving around San Francisco but there has never ever been any children on the buses. Parent mandatory volunteer hours (an oxymoron or what), were foreign to me. Loads more to come in upcoming posts on the differences between schools in SF and in Singapore.
Getting asked for ID was a novelty at first. Although the legal age to buy booze is 21, if you think the person could be thirty-ish, you have to check. The novelty of believing, if only for a moment, that I may be an old looking thirty is wearing off.
Hence the need for the driving test. No one seems to want to accept my Singapore license. At the concert – aging Brit rocker Paul Weller – the guy who was checking ID said somewhat officiously, “This is really an exceptional circumstance but in this instance I will take your Singapore ID, however in future you will need to show your International passport (aren’t all passports International?) or a Californian license.” I just don’t get the constant age ID checking especially for people with grey hair (I mean my husband, naturally).
If you have found moving to a new city challenging at times please let me know. You can add comments at the end of this post or email me at email@example.com. Thanks.