Before I get into today, a word of advice for other green card holders who are thinking of applying for citizenship: don't wait 17 years! Why? Because part of the application process asks you to list EVERY trip you've ever made outside the US in the time you've had the green card: where you went, for how long and why you went there. For someone like me, who was working for a British company, launching cars all over the world, and who has family in Britain, this was, well, a little challenging.
This morning, I duly showed up for my 7:50am appointment. Thank goodness I was early.
First problem: I approached the building to see an empty lobby and a line of about five people outside. Why on earth were they standing in line? Why not just enter? I found out why, after the stern admonishment of the metal detector supervisor to get out. Visitors stand outside and are let in one at a time. I guess we could be dangerous. So, I stand and a helpful person in front of me asks if I have my cell phone with me. Why yes, I do, who doesn't? She told me I had to go back and leave it in the car: that no one was allowed into the building with a phone.
So, in the copious documents the INS sent about what to bring, where to come and what time to come, no one thought to mention in writing the tiny issue about not bringing a phone into the building when literally 100% of people over the age of 10 carry a cell phone? I strode back to the car, deposited the phone and came back. The line had grown, but was moving. After making it through the metal detector I was now in the lobby.
Second problem: No signs to say where to go. No information on the form other than: "Report to Examiner 4." Very 1984. I eventually found a sign saying "Immigration" with an arrow. I followed the arrow to... nowhere. A dead end hall with restrooms. Two other confused souls were following me, equally perplexed. Finally a staff member told us to go to the second floor, pointing in the direction of the elevators, while standing underneath the sign for Immigration with the arrow pointing in the opposite direction. Maybe this is all part of the test.
Third Problem: On the second floor we enter a holding pen. No other word for it, really. I'm still early, which is good. Upon entering, we are told to deposit our form in the black tray at the front, then wait to be called. Have you guessed the problem with this yet? Yes, the people who got there early and whose appointments are earlier, have their forms at the bottom of the pile, while the people who enter later have theirs on the top. I sat next to one lady who'd been waiting over 45 minutes, while another person who came in 15 minutes after me, deposited her form on the top of the stack and was called two minutes later.
Sigh... I could so improve this process and I wish I could talk to someone, but rule number one: don't piss off anyone from the INS. They could deport me in the blink of an eye at the slightest provocation.
I was eventually called for my interview by a friendly and efficient lady who was very grateful that I could actually speak English. I got to hear more of her personal life than I really wanted, but then again, she probably doesn't have many people who understand what she's saying.
Half an hour later, after she'd apologized for having me take the English test, since my English was better than hers, and after I'd corrected her abbreviation of Maryland to MD, from MA, explaining that MA is Massachusetts, we were done. The "thud, thud" of a big red "Approved" stamp echoed through the room, and, just like that I was told that the next swearing-in ceremony would be in about a month in LA. She apologized for the delay. I expressed astonishment it would be that fast. She laughed and said that no one had ever used the word "astonished" in their interview before.
Oh, and for the record, my "English test" went like this. She gave me a piece of paper with this sentence and asked me to read it. "Who elects Congress?" I managed to get through it. Then I had to write on a piece of paper, the following sentence she read to me: "Congress is elected by the people." I got through that one too.
So there you have it. I can officially say that I am fully proficient in English, rubber-stamped and approved by the INS. I'm ready to become American.