When I’ve got a container full of everything I own slowing sailing around the horn of Africa (second time, yo, but now headed in the other direction this time) and I’m in the midst of trying to set up house in a new country, I keep a pile of ‘super-duper, I would be totally screwed if I lost these’ papers with me at all times.
I was just going through this pile trying to sort this from that when I found a small piece of paper with the following clump of scribbles on it:
- towel animals
- us embassy
- so happy that you called
- tax letter
I often jot down little notes or words in an effort to recall the experience later. Many times the scraps of paper end up in my paper pile, and by the time I dig into it, it can be confusing to set this with that.
Glancing at the paper, it only took me a moment to remember that only two of the items were truly linked; but, wouldn’t it be a grand bit of silliness if towel animals and the us embassy were somehow linked? Alas, they are not.
Embassy and So Happy that You Called
Before I left Mauritius and while I was getting everything prepared to move to France, I had lots of paperwork to complete, letters to send and people to see. Basically, I had to shut down everything in Mauritius and start to set up everything (once more, sigh) in France.
As an American, I had registered with the US Embassy in Mauritius when I had first arrived. Since I was about to leave, I thought I should swing by to let them know I would no longer be living in Mauritius. I stopped by the embassy one day, but no one was there to assist me. The security guard there gave me the name and number of someone to call the next day.
Bright and early the next day I gave a call to the number given to me, “Hi, I’m an American and I would like to schedule an appointment to unregister myself from the Embassy, please.”
The friendly woman on the other end of the line responded in an excited voice, “Oh, no problem! I can actual do that for you right now over the phone. Thanks so much for doing this. I’m really happy that you called to do this because people usually never unregister.”
She took my name and that was it. I was officially unregistered.
But, wow. I wouldn’t say that I was shocked to hear that people usually don’t unregister, but I was kind of disappointed in the process. It should be a requirement to unregister if you register.
I immediately thought about elections that happen Stateside and how during the televised play-by-play the commentators are always mentioning that states are waiting for the overseas ballots to come in for final counts. How accurate can those potential numbers really be?
And in countries where there are natural disasters or political instability that leads to evacuation type situations, how do the embassies really know how many Americans are truly in the country?
When I told the Frenchman about this, his response was, “So, your country really has no idea how many Americans are living and working overseas?”
I shrugged my shoulders. Dang him. Dang the French and their fancy, laminated ‘I-live-abroad’ cards, welcome packets and list of emergency numbers and contact points.
But, in all seriousness how difficult would it be to audit this type of information?
Here’s an idea for those that collect this type of information: Take the list of all registered Americans and attempt to make contact with them either via the local phone number they gave you or the email address they submitted during registration. If they’ve left the country, unregister them. It obviously does not take that long to complete the unregister process since it only took the woman on the other end of the phone like 10 seconds to officially unregister me. I didn’t even need to be there.
And I hate to think this, I really do, but maybe some of the smaller countries kind of like to have messy, uncertain data on their books. I imagine an official meeting regarding budget, number of staff, requests for new office pcs and furniture would go a tad smoother if, for example, a tiny island could say, “Yes, we need it all because we have 200,000 registered Americans living here.”
I hope it’s just laziness or that Excel went down or something.
This was just perfect timing with the US tax submission deadline right around the corner. In my pile of important papers I have all of the necessary and relevant documents to assist me in completing my taxes. And just quickly – a ‘thank you’ shout out to the IRS guys and gals for doing a pretty great job of writing Publication 54.
The flow charts and case examples of working on an oil rig vs. obtaining a British library card are actually really helpful. Seriously, it is well worth the read if you are struggling to complete your taxes as a U.S. citizen living and working abroad.
A few days before I am scheduled to fly out of Mauritius, we get a letter from our bank that states the following:
“Dear Valued Customer,
Further to a technical problem, the certificate of interest which was previously sent to you is erroneous and should be discarded. Please find annexed a new certificate of interests for your tax return purposes.
Rest assured that the Mauritius Revenue Authority (MRA) has been duly informed of this oversight and correct interest figures forwarded to their office.
We sincerely regret all inconvenience caused by this incident.
The Customer Service Department”
What’s so sigh-worthy about this letter is that it is coming seven full calendar months after the income tax year ended. Er…opps.
And so, IRS, I swear I am trying my best, really. I can not explain the ‘technical problem’ that went down with calculating interest for the year or years or year and a partial, or why the country suddenly decided to move from a 1st July to 30th June fiscal year to a 1st Jan to 31st Dec fiscal year just a few months ago; but I shall muddle through and send you everything I’ve got.
The last week or so had me living at a resort on the island because our container had been packed, sealed and sent on its way. One day after returning to our room, I found a lovely swan towel animal scattered with fern leaves sitting on the ottoman near the bed in the bedroom.
It just got me thinking about towel animals and how they are always in hotels and resorts in tropical places. Why? And how did this ever come to be?
I think the history of towel animals in resort rooms would be kind of interesting to research. Which country started it first and when? Who was the first towel animal expert? How did this craft – can we call it that? or skill – spread across the world? Are there classes?
Just something I was pondering on one of those hot and sticky Mauritius days.