No I have not flown to the USA today but I may well have done. It is the youngest who has gone but I am fast discovering in retirement that I seem to do far more than ever for my children despite the fact that they are technically both now adults. No doubt if therefore they had asked me to wing my way across the Atlantic, I would have had a go. The youngest, however, is spending a year studying at the University of Texas in Austin and there have been some frantic preparations going on of late, aggravated by culturally-different (better described as indifferent) bureaucracy.
For instance amongst the list of "must-haves" was a certificate to evidence that either you have been innoculated against or are not carrying tuberculosis. Has anyone ever tried to acquire such a certificate in the UK where the disease has been eradicated to the point where the dreaded BCG vaccination was abandoned several years ago on the basis that it was unnnecessary? Certainly the doctor's surgery could neither issue such a certificate nor recommend a body that could and when an online search produced reference only to one specialist unit in London that treats people suffering from the disease (usually in foreign visitors or immigrants apparently) but does not issue certificates, she had to give up the quest.
Interestingly we have received an e-mail reassuring students and their parents about the introduction of the Carry On Campus law. It's not another in the series of English Carry On comedy films but rather legislation upholding the right to bear arms within the university perimeters subject to certain restrictions. Talk about reassurance. I've almost gone mental at the thought.
Then there appears to have been an aversion from the private hall of residence she is to live in to communicate by e-mail as instead it prefers the medium of letter and text message (but only to those with a zip code and US mobile, sorry cell-phone). When it has remembered, an occasional Facebook message has been sent instead. Consequently the youngest was not informed that invoices are obtained by logging into an account for which she was never sent a PIN and please don't get me started on paying that bill.
Oh okay, I'm going to rant anyway. Strangely, and perhaps it's a privacy or money laundering issue, but you are not permitted to know the details of the destination bank account. As a result the ability to make an international transfer is denied. Instead we were invited to send an "e-check." Try asking an English bank to do one of those: "We can make an international payment," is the not unsurprising stock response.
Then there was the option of using something called "Discover" but we never did discover what that is.
Of course there was the ubiquitous facility for payment by debit or credit card which we had hoped to avoid because of the ridiculous transaction fees that our banks can charge when sterling is changed.
"Are there any other means of payment?" she enquired.
"No, but you can give us a money order on arrival," we were informed. A what? Obviously another banking term unknown to our Anglo Saxon systems but which would appear to resemble a humble postal order. "You might be able to use your currency card to pay for that or else withdraw cash at an ATM and buy it in the premises across the road."
Well we could hardly risk that, especially as there is of course a daily limit on the amount of cash that can be withdrawn from an ATM. So rejecting the potential for the youngest carrying a wadge of cash it had finally reached the point of reaching for the good old reliable visa card. Except that without a USA zip code the site really did not want to accept my payment.
Several attempts later and after liaising with my bank and the recipient, payment was made but only after I had to tick a box consenting to a twenty six dollar "convenience fee." Twenty six dollars to use a credit card and the insult of calling it a convenience fee after the hassle we had gone through; I cannot forgive.
Mind it is not just the USA that looks to charge for fresh air. Manchester airport is onto a clever little earner with car parking fees; £45-99 for an overnight stay at the onsite multi-storey. I'm sure I could get bed and breakfast cheaper for myself than that rate. Instead we arranged to pay less than a third of that for hotel parking last night and then, just as my faith in faceless capitalist profiteering had hit rock bottom, the gentleman at reception waived the charge.
When we visited Cuba, I recall our guide impressing on us that prices there are set according to need, so that essential items are priced lower than non-essentials; white rum for instance is treated as an essential and virtually given away. What a brilliant system. Forget open market economics and pass me the bottle. After all the hassle of getting the youngest airborne, I could do with a drink!