Do You Exist?

May 30, 2012


I’ve got papers, therefore I must exist.

I walked into the Post Office. Documents firmly in my hand.  Ready for my passport interview.

The middle-aged lady behind the counter glanced at me from the lofty heights above her bifocals. Stamping her position of authority before the painstaking examination of papers would begin.

The child in my stroller was 9 months old. She needed a passport too. Her application was completed first. All boxes ticked.

Half way through checking my application, the interviewer shuffled my papers about. There was a big problem. My birth certificate. It was written in Indonesian.

I was used to this. My country of birth has been a bureaucratic bother when filling out paperwork most of my life. I was born in Indonesia to Australian parents which makes me an Australian citizen. I pointed out my citizenship form that accompanied my birth certificate. It was in English.

She went away, behind a closed door. She needed to consult with her supervisor. I was the wild card that skewed her day.

She came back. There was a further problem. The citizenship form didn’t indicate my gender. It declared every other possible detail about me, but not my gender. She needed a document to state that I was born a female. In English.

I drew her attention to the old passport on the counter – the one I had let lapse – and reminded her that I was a female in that document.  Would that be enough proof of my femalehood?

Apparently not.

I pointed out that my name on the Indonesian birth certificate was the same as the citizenship form, and that in my lifetime I had not met one boy named “Deborah Jane”.

She went away again. Meanwhile my 9 month girl was going nuts in the stroller. I picked her up before she could grab all the strategically placed eye-level toys.

The interviewer came back. Nope, it needed to be stated in English. She told me that I needed to get an Indonesian interpreter – at my expense – to prove what it said.

What the?!  There was no way in hell I was going to pay for an interpreter. All to prove that I was a female? My baby started screaming in my arms. At this point I was quite prepared to go behind the counter, pull up my skirt, and show the interviewer firsthand that I indeed had lady bits.

I took a few deep breaths and composed myself for a stealth attack of logic. I thought it was worth a shot.

I launched it:

Here was my daughter. She had been proven to exist, yes?
And the documentation to prove this fact was her birth certificate, yes?
Well, guess what? I – yes the person standing in front of her – I was on that birth certificate, under ‘MOTHER’.  Which indicates that I gave birth to her. And in order to give birth one must have female anatomy, yes?

Who could argue with this?

She couldn’t.

I walked out of there with a passport and a crazy new sense of validation.

I had papers – and a vagina – therefore I must exist.

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Suzi May 30, 2012 at 3:42 pm

Ughhh! The documentation war! My Hubby is German and so his birth certificate is invalid also, now we are having dramas because his passport lapsed and they wont take his citizenship cert because he is listed under his dads name because he was under 16 when he moved to Aus. Which is how it works! FFS! I feel your pain, sadly he does not have a vagina, so it appears may not exist…

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Deb May 30, 2012 at 3:46 pm

Oh Suzi, that’s both hilarious and frustrating. Bureaucratic nightmare! ;)

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Kelly Exeter May 30, 2012 at 6:43 pm

Having just done the passport renewal thing for Mr X and the new passport thing for Mr 2 … and all the paper wrangling that went with both … I’d say I feel your pain, but no, your pain easily surpassed mine!!
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Deb May 30, 2012 at 10:45 pm

Paper wrangling is painful, isn’t it?! There has to be an easier way! ;)

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Kate @ Our Little Sins May 30, 2012 at 8:12 pm

Oh Deb, I can’t believe how ridiculous some of these people are! Thank goodness you’re clever!!
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Deb May 30, 2012 at 10:48 pm

Kate, it’s easy to look clever when you’re dealing with bureacracy. ;)

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Grace May 30, 2012 at 8:46 pm

Ugh! Bureaucracy at its finest!!! I would’ve loved to have been a fly on the wall to hear that heated conversation…lol!
In Japan, all foreign residents are required to hold a “foreigner’s card”. And when literally translated into English it read, “Alien Registration Card”
So for years, I existed in Japan – as an alien.
I barely ever had to pull it out except for one time when a policeman pulled me over for riding my bike with a broken headlight. Ah, the life of a vagrant in Japan!
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Deb May 30, 2012 at 10:49 pm

That’s so bizarre, Grace. Some days I think I need to carry an Alien Registration Card in my own home! Hilarious. :)

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Anita May 30, 2012 at 9:43 pm

LOL – I have a similar problem. I was born in Turkey to American parents. Fortunately, I was born on an American Air Force Base so I do have an American birth certifcate and an American passport. My passport lists my place of birth as Turkey; try traveling with a passport with that info on it! I was interrogated when I flew into Cairo as a 19-year-old. It scared the bejeebers out of me.

Yes, we have a vagina and we do exist! :)

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Deb May 30, 2012 at 10:53 pm

It’s a curse sometimes Anita, isn’t it?! I’ve been questioned many times about it at airports around the world. And the amount of times I’ve put it on a document (like a job application or similar) and they call out my name in a waiting room and look weirdly at me and say “But we were expecting and Asian lady”. Really?! Come on people! Humans can be born in a country that’s not their own… or in an airplane even! ;)

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Veronica @ Mixed Gems May 30, 2012 at 10:35 pm

I had to laugh out loud with this. You told the story so well and so amusingly. Very quick thinking indeed, Deb! I’m not so sure I’d be quite that quick on my feet.
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Deb May 30, 2012 at 10:54 pm

Ha ha, Veronica, I bet you could! It didn’t take much to see flaws in this one. ;)

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Lee May 31, 2012 at 8:42 pm

LOL!! Checkmate! You won the war against stupidity!

The thought of you flashing your lady bits in the post office – Gold!

Deb the humorist writer! Love it. xx
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Deb May 31, 2012 at 9:02 pm

Lee, I rarely attempt humour – despite being funny in real life! – but I thought I’d have a crack at it. ;)

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Tez May 31, 2012 at 10:36 pm

This story is a real giggle-fest – love it. Your logic is a thing of beauty.
My ‘thang’ with bureacracy began when I married in 1968 and discovered I and everybody even remotely connected to me had been spelling my first name incorrectly for 22 years. There was a lot of hoopla about whether I existed and if I should be allowed to get married. After two marriages and three different last names and hating my first name, I decided to change my whole name to one I made up for myself. As you can imagine, the rigmarole I went through with all the petty officials at every form-filling event bordered on the absurd. Now I just tell them I’m a figment of their imagination, hand over all the official papers and tell them to sort it out. It’s a hoot to watch the looks on their faces.
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Deb June 3, 2012 at 10:43 pm

Good on you for changing it altogether! And I’m having my own giggle-fest at the thought of you telling people you’re a figment of their imagination! Clever lady. x

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Liz June 1, 2012 at 9:41 am

Ha, reminds me of my own struggle.

I was born in Australia to New Zealand citizen parents at a time when NZ’ers could just come and go as they pleased in Australia.

But, to prove I was a citizen of Australia I had to provide one document for each year I was alive until I was TEN to show that I stayed here as a citizen. I don’t know about you, but my parents were INCREDIBLY lax when it came to documents – such a nightmare.

I finally got there, but my citizenship certificate states I’m only a citizen from when I’m 10 onwards. Before that? I must have been some kind of illegal immigrant out of my mother’s womb – because I didn’t have citizenship anywhere else, either!!

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Deb June 3, 2012 at 10:46 pm

Liz! I’m honoured that you’re here! I adore your blog (though too shy to comment yet!). Hilarious that you were a non-entity pre-10 years old! Maybe bureaucracy exists to amuse us? x

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Naomi Bulger June 1, 2012 at 11:12 am

Oh, bureaucratic blindness makes me laugh (then cry, then laugh again). I still think about the time my Austudy payments were apparently diverted to Naomi Campbell (because after all, Amazonian American supermodels really need university support AND Ms C and I have so much in common so it was an easy mistake to make ?!)… but this takes the cake. Thank goodness for lady bits!
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Deb June 3, 2012 at 10:48 pm

But of course! Hilarious, Naomi, this is hilarious! I’m loving all these bureacratic madness stories. xx

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Claudia June 1, 2012 at 7:19 pm

Ha ha!! Thank goodness you were so quick on your feet! My husband and I went through bureaucratic hell just to get married. He has dual citizenship, Argentinian and Croatian (born in Buenos Aires, now lives in Croaita), and I was born in the Philippines to German parents. In Croatia they wouldn’t accept my original birth certificate from the Philippines OR the official translation and document I got from the German Embassy in the Philippines. They insisted on an international birth certificate that was not older than 6 months – and that would have taken months to get I didn’t know there was such a thing as an “international birth certificate” and I’d never heard of a birth certificate “expiring” after 6 months. Still trying to get my head around that one. (We ended up getting married in Germany where the paperwork – surprisingly enough – turned out to be much less of a hassle).

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Deb June 3, 2012 at 10:53 pm

Wow Claudia – that sounds like a bureaucratic headache! I have not heard of an International birth certificate either… especially one that expires?! What a wonderful fusion of cultures you and your husband have! xx

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Sharon @ Funken Wagnel June 3, 2012 at 5:26 pm

LOL! I was reading this thinking how tempting it’d be to just flash her! But you nearly did, so…

What ridiculous logic and such a run around
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Deb June 3, 2012 at 10:54 pm

Sadly I would have probably been arrested for a public display of flesh.. and hence would be denied a passport! ;)

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Carli (@tinysavages) June 3, 2012 at 9:27 pm

So glad you didn’t have to flash in the end. This reminds me of a phonecall I had last week with our Bank. I spent ten minutes confirming my identity with the rep who had to call me back so I could retrieve an SMS code on my phone. He then pretended to have no idea who I was. I had to say to him “are you seriously pretending you didn’t just talk to me for fifteen minutes?” – this stuff drives me crazy!
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Deb June 3, 2012 at 10:55 pm

That’s infuriating, Carli, isn’t it?! How funny though.

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