This is something that seriously bugs me about Americans

You know, sorry and all, but better out than in.

On the part of the Esta form which reads “Do you seek to engage in or have you ever engaged in terrorist activities, espionage, sabotage, or genocide?” Kenyon ticked yes instead of no.

He only learned of his error when his grandson’s travel was refused. “I couldn’t believe that they couldn’t see it was a genuine mistake and that a three-month-old baby would be no harm to anyone,” said the 62-year-old.

The baby was taken from his home in Poynton, Cheshire, to the embassy in Grosvenor Square, London, to be questioned by officials. The round trip took about 10 hours, longer than the nine-and-a-half-hour flight time from Manchester to Orlando.

“Baby Harvey was good as gold for the interview and never cried once. I thought about taking him along in an orange jumpsuit, but thought better of it,” said Kenyon. “They didn’t appear to have a sense of humour over it at all and couldn’t see the funny side.

“He’s obviously never engaged in genocide, or espionage, but he has sabotaged quite a few nappies in his time, though I didn’t tell them that at the US embassy.”

It’s not the lack of a sense of humour. That can, sadly, happen to people of any cultural grouping. Rather, the thing which drives me up the wall about Americans–of a certain type possibly–is their rock hard belief that the rules of the bureaucracy are actually important.

To be possibly hyperbolic about it, the British deal always was that we’d have very few rules but those we did have were both really important and also ones that pretty much everyone agreed with. No murdering people for example–yes, obviously, murderers don’t quite agree with that but pretty much everyone does. The French/Russian whatever deal was that there will be masses and masses of rules but no one is going to take them seriously. Even those supposedly enforcing them are going to be reasonable about it–or in the Russian version slipped a few roubles to shut up and go away.

The Germans had and have lots of rules and they’re important. Socially at least. Move into a block of flats and you’re highly likely to find a schedule for when it’s your turn to sweep he driveway. And it would be a terrible social faux pas, and possibly even illegal, if you didn’t do it. And properly too.

And that’s what pisses me off about America. They’ve that German attitude towards the rules. It must be important other wise why would there be such a rule? And sod being reasonable – or bribeable – we’re going to do everything by that book of rules. Up to and including interviewing a three month old baby about his terrorist activities.

Perhaps the problem is that the US is still too young a culture. They didn’t get ruled by the Hapsburgs for 400 years and thus don’t have the beneficial contempt for bureaucrats which makes for a happy life.

30 comments on “This is something that seriously bugs me about Americans

  1. “…Harvey and his parents, Faye Kenyon-Cairns, 27, and her partner John Cairns, 31, had to fly out separately a few days later.”

    One could argue that ‘separation’ shouldn’t be such a big deal for people who can’t even make a marriage commitment before bringing a child into the world.

  2. I remember reading an article by Jeremy Clarkson about filming Top Gear in the US. As I remember it it went something like:

    They had parked a car in a no-parking area which was in front of a gate. The business that the gate was the entrance to was closed and the crew were there if they needed to move anyway. A policeman comes up and tells them to move it. They explain the above and ask the policeman to use some common sense. The policeman replies:

    “Sir, when you have laws there is no need for common sense”.

  3. That is why the British voted to leave the EU. Rule-bound and bureaucratically running enforcement at moron-level.

    But now I am very worried about the whole of EU law being imported into the UK. Sir Humphrey will be working overtime to ensure that almost every one of those (former EU) rules will be seen as essential to the UK’s welfare.

    We will hear propaganda such as “If only ONE xyz will/could be harmed by removing this or that law …)

  4. Tim: you’re a bit starry eyed about Brits and bureaucracy. Jobsworthiness has a long history and is well entrenched in the public sector. Remember that poor girl who died of asthma in a hospital car park because her friends brought her to the wrong hospital entrance? Rather than call an orderly and stretcher, the functionary made them call and wait for an ambulance.

  5. No, I did say the old deal was, not the current one is. But even then we Brits look at the example you give and think “fuck that.” Germans would be saying “Quite right too”

  6. JuliaM,
    They’re married, judging by their surnames. With surnames arranged in the modern manner.

  7. Presumably there is some purpose to the “Do you seek to engage in or have you ever engaged in terrorist activities, espionage, sabotage, or genocide?” box.

    Jokes aside, it surely can’t be because terrorists are so thick that they’ll tick it and reveal their secret plans.

    And it’s interesting it covers historical acts and not necessarily those directed against US interests.

    I wonder if it is there as some kind of “gotcha” clause, so that if somebody with an undesirable history gets in, but whose dirty past wasn’t a crime under US Law, they can now be done over for lying on their form?

  8. @MyBurningEars

    Presumably there is some purpose to the “Do you seek to engage in or have you ever engaged in terrorist activities, espionage, sabotage, or genocide?” box.

    Its probably there so any undesirable whom they can prove has lied about it can be immediately deported without trial or appeal.

  9. Once upon a time didn’t the Yanks employ Irish as police, giving them a more relaxed attitude?

  10. ‘No, I did say the old deal was, not the current one is. But even then we Brits look at the example you give and think “fuck that.” Germans would be saying “Quite right too”’

    No, that is not what a German would say. A German would see this as an opportunity to improve the process by adding regulations for when it is time to send for the orderly, who is authorized to make that call, and also how the one designated orderly in each shift will be marked on the roster. There will also be a special stretcher designated for this procedure alone, and a weekly inspection to make sure that it is in good working order.

    ‘Presumably there is some purpose to the “Do you seek to engage in or have you ever engaged in terrorist activities, espionage, sabotage, or genocide?” box.’

    There is a purpose. It allows the US to quickly expel embarrassing residents for lying on the entry form.

  11. ‘Presumably there is some purpose to the “Do you seek to engage in or have you ever engaged in terrorist activities, espionage, sabotage, or genocide?” box.’

    Allows them to discriminate against Oxbridge graduates.
    Entirely sensible precaution.

  12. There is no small irony in the speed with which the INS attempted to deport all the foreigners who were widowed following 9/11, an organisation that can take 10 years to process a single green card had the letters out the next day just about.

    Oh, and they too much longer to stop the Saudi visa waver service, despite many of the perpetrators of 9/11 having entered on it.

  13. Tim, there was a very significant amount of immigration from Germany to the USA, which goes a long way to explain the conformist streak that runs through American life, and officialdom in particular.

  14. I parked in a big empty 40-minute zone last night. I came back to move my car and found I’d left the lights on and the battery was flat. Depending on British Common Sense I left a note in the window saying “flat battery, arranging fix – I live at XXXX”.

  15. “46 million Americans are of German descent, the largest single ethnic group in the US”: a made-up figure.

    Anyway, the problem is the Germanic attitude to rules without the Germanic efficiency to write good ones.

  16. Anyway, the problem is the Germanic attitude to rules without the Germanic efficiency to write good ones.

    The EU in a nutshell.

  17. Tim, your indictment of American forms is on target. I cringe often.

    I would add that in big cities, you are more likely to go to jail for ticking the wrong box than for actually committing the subject crime.

  18. Rather, the thing which drives me up the wall about Americans–of a certain type possibly–is their rock hard belief that the rules of the bureaucracy are actually important.

    You need to spend a bit more time here, Timmy. Most Americans don’t believe the rules of the bureaucracy are important. It’s one of the main reasons Donald Trump is president… The rejection of Obama’s rule by bureaucracy regime.

    At this point, most of us would be happy seeing the vast majority of bureaucrats serving as lamp post decorations.

  19. I would add that in big cities, you are more likely to go to jail for ticking the wrong box than for actually committing the subject crime.

    Yes, that would be a hallmark of a Democratic Party stronghold.

    And yet another reason Donald Trump is president.

  20. Flatcap

    46 million Americans are of German descent, the largest single ethnic group in the US and one of the least talked-about

    I’m not so much questioning the 46 million, but I don’t think “largest” is necessarily correct. In that “American” (old stock) is one of the acceptable ways to identify and a very large % of that is Anglo-British?

    For example, and there are lots of other links:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Race_and_ethnicity_in_the_United_States

    However, English-Americans and British-Americans are still considered the largest ethnic group due to a serious under count following the 2000 census whereby many English and British Americans self-identified under the new category entry ‘American’ considering themselves ‘indigenous’ because their families had resided in the US for so long or, if of mixed European ancestry, identified with a more recent and differentiated ethnic group.

    and which, although we know the German make up is very substantial, intuitively does make sense?

    Though, of course, if we consider the “Anglo” bit more from a DNA perspective…

  21. Went over to Boston area a few years with some Brits aged 30 ish for stag event. Got ID’d in every bar. Understandable perhaps. Except we had a 60ish man in our party. First night he left his passport behind. Virtually impossible for him to get a drink. The argument he’s obviously over 21 had no effect.

  22. Except we had a 60ish man in our party. First night he left his passport behind … The argument he’s obviously over 21 had no effect.

    That’s just mental!

    Boston – that’s Irish and English isn’t it. Can’t even blame the Gerries for that? Irish for Christ’s sake – maybe he insulted them by not ordering Guinness?

  23. Yeah, we’re pretty new to the bureaucracy thing here in the US. Really didn’t have much of an administrative state until the 1930s. I don’t know how the freedom-loving americans of the 1920s morphed into the totalitarian progressives who rule us now (and make up most of our population), but I seriously wish it had not happened. Once you switch from a self-regulated, self-sufficient populace to a bunch of obedient and dependent wards of the state, I don’t believe there’s any way to turn it around until you hit the Venezuela-level bottom.

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