Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Living the American Dream

New York, New York….let me be a part of it….

I always wanted to be a part of it, so when I finally got the chance to live The Manhattan Dream, I said good bye to ole Europe, to my friends and family, packed my two suitcases, and took off from Roissy Airport in Paris on a cold and rainy Saturday morning about two months ago.
I landed in JFK International Airport seven hours later, filled with that feeling that certainly all new immigrants get whenever they arrive somewhere: excitement, fear of the unknown, and the “what the fuck am I doing here???” feeling.

Anything to declare?

Even if Ellis Island was shut down 50 years ago, the immigration process in the US has not changed much really, merely has it become more modern nowadays. You still need to stand in line for hours together with other would-be immigrants, and instead of checking for head lice and infectious diseases, you would be submitted to full background check by the Immigration Authorities. After cross-checking your VISA information with FBI and Immigration Services databases, you finally get a “Welcome to the US!” from the Immigration Officer, and you are finally ready to move on with your new life…or at least that’s what you would think…

What’s your SSN?

I heard that question a dozen times a day upon my arrival, and quickly understood that without your holy social security number, basically you are just a ghost in this country. No SSN, coupled with the fact that you have no credit history in the US means that no one will trust you: you cannot open a bank account, you cannot rent an apartment, even subscribing a cell phone contract is impossible.

Your broker is your best friend.

First thing to do when you want to settle into a new place is obviously finding somewhere to live. Luckily enough, my firm offered me one month free housing to give me time to find my own place. Should not be too hard, I thought, I am in New York, housing situation cannot be worse than London or Paris…how naïve I was…

I have met all types of brokers the city has to offer: the charming American guy that is REALLY interested in what’s happening in Europe (yeah, right!), the Philippine broker that understands PERFECTLY what you are going through (been there done that sort of), the aggressive one (I’m telling you this is really great value, a steal, you should really go for it….and I’m like, yeah but still it’s $2,000 for a basement studio….with no windows!!!), and also the one that couldn’t care less (oh no SSN, sorry can’t help you then, but call me when you finally have your number! Good luck!).

After having met with five or six brokers and visited about twenty apartments, I finally understood that it would be difficult to find an apartment that was bigger than a closet, not in a dodgy part of the city and not infested with mice, cockroaches or other unwelcome guests. The 30th apartment didn’t look too bad, so tired of searching, I finally decided to go for that one. Just to hear that without a SSN, they couldn’t give me the apartment…unless I was willing to pay 12 months rent upfront! I could go on with four more stories like this one.

I’m not a part of it yet, but I’m getting there.

Once I was able to sort out my housing situation (I consider myself lucky with a 6th floor no elevator 1-bedroom in a nice area of the city) things started becoming much easier. 4 weeks after my arrival I finally received the Holy Grail SSN in my mail. I was finally a legal alien! Here, small things like that really can make your day!

I have started becoming a true New Yorker:

I am walking much faster, I understand that one NY minute is much more valuable than a minute anywhere else.

Tourists annoy me, coz they don’t walk fast enough.

I am not shocked by the 1-800-COPSHOT stickers anymore (it‘s the number you are supposed to call when you have been witness to a cop being shot).

I am not afraid of heights anymore.

I am starting to think that NY is the center of the universe.


claude said...

bring back Ismael and his 1-month deposit!!!

Karen said...

Yeah, found way worse than Ismael here!!!