This Side of the Pond – Oct. 17

By Sarah Pridgeon

I received word last week that I have been officially deemed a permanent resident of the United States, refreshing my green card and ensuring that this community is stuck with me for at least a few more years. The next step, when I recover from this one, is to seek full citizenship and turn myself magically into a proper American.
My poor mother, upon hearing the news, said she was not sure whether to be happy or sad. She is pleased to hear that I will once again be able to navigate airport security without too many raised eyebrows and should be in a position to continue my trend of avoiding the room where they keep the rubber gloves.
But I think she would rather they had turned me down and told me to go back home. She would, of course, only find this pleasing until I handed over my sixth batch of laundry while demanding to know what was for dinner.
Such a long way from home, you may be wondering how much contact I am able to have with my beloved family. The answer is: not nearly enough under normal circumstances, but a perfectly satisfactory amount in the event that I’m making demands. I am regularly reprimanded for not calling often enough, but nobody feels a particular need to pick up the phone if, for example, I am wishing to share my Christmas list.
At first, we relied on the wizardry of Skype, an internet-based program that offers free video calls across international borders. It was helpful, but not very convenient because my computer had a tendency to wallow in misery if asked to run the program for any length of time. Talking to my parents required pre-established call slots that bore time zones in mind and much more discipline than any of us were capable of.
An additional issue was that my mum and dad are cerebral beings with more common sense than average, but no real sense of confidence when it comes to technology. My mother is willfully ignorant, while my father is willing but sometimes ignorant.
In general, my father is more than willing to give things a go and can usually be found sneaking a new gadget into the house under the mistaken impression that the rest of us haven’t noticed. He was also the first digital photographer in my home county of Dorset. My mother, on the other hand, has absolutely no interest in social media or the internet in general and is thus impossible to teach.
This has caused some strange situations over the years: I once spent an entertaining evening rescuing my mother from the bizarre state of affairs of being Facebook tagged on a fake naked picture of a Harry Potter character. This was a difficult task, because every squeak of panic made the whole thing even funnier. And no, I don’t know how she ended up in that position either.
My father, on the other hand, was thrilled to receive an electronic gift card with which to purchase a book about Margaret Thatcher, but had absolutely no idea how to redeem it. When he attached a webcam to his computer, I was a little worried he would knock repeatedly on his monitor while calling plaintive hellos, in the hope that somebody would answer him.
Still, for the sake of communicating with her daughter, my mum was willing to make an exception. Some clever soul had invented a video call service called Facetime for the iPhone and, while a U.S. telephone refuses to call England unless given special permission, Facetime has no such reservations. She invested in a cell phone upgrade, prodded at it a few times and away we went.
After months of sad silence, my iTelephone finally rang. Upon answering, I was greeted by the top of my mother’s head. I provided detailed instructions on how to angle the device such that the viewer can see your full profile and, eventually, a beaming face appeared.
“I’ve got Facetime,” it said, somewhat unnecessarily.
“That’s lovely,” I replied. “Did you need something?”
“No, just letting you know – I’ll let you get back to your work,” she said, and unceremoniously ended the call.
As instructed, I resumed my work and managed to type three full words before the phone rang again. I was fairly sure what was coming – and I was right.
“Whatcha doin?” asked my mother’s forehead.
And thus began a brief period of Telephonic Overexcitement. Several times an hour, the phone would ring and my mother would appear on the screen with a fact of limited usefulness to share.
During this period, I was taken to visit the tomato patch, introduced to a loaf of bread that had just been removed from the bread maker and asked to provide a visual tour of the newspaper offices. At one point, I was even shown my father’s empty dinner plate as proof that the roast beef they had for dinner was really very tasty.
Because of her limited attention span when it comes to technology, the novelty quickly wore off.  This was just as well, because there are only so many ways to express interest in a tomato patch that doesn’t yet have any tomatoes in it.
Nowadays, we have returned to the relaxed telephone schedule we enjoyed when all of us lived in the same country. I can make a quick call to enquire about a recipe or settle in for a long chat on a Sunday afternoon, and occasionally even my brother will stick his nose into the frame. I miss my family terribly and am looking forward to my visit home at Christmas, but I comfort myself with the knowledge that I can at least converse with their haircuts whenever the need overwhelms me.