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Portrait of an Immigration Office

Scott Diel tries to remember he's just a guest in this country.



"What's this 'McKee?'" asked the Estonian immigration official to whom I presented my living permit application.

"It's my middle name," I replied.

"Why's it have a lower case 'C?'"

"I don't know. It's Scottish. That's how it's written."

"But it's not that way on your passport. Your passport has an upper case 'C.'"

"I didn't realize that."


"You're right. On my passport it's written with an upper case 'C.'"


"All of the letters on my passport are written in upper case."


"I don't know. Do you want me to call the US Embassy and ask? Is it that important to you?"

The official frowned.



            "Where'd you get that chair?" the official asked.

            "From the desk next to you," I answered. There had been no chairs at her desk, and I wanted to sit.

            "What if someone needs it?"

            "No one needed it. I asked."

            "Oh, you asked, did you?"

            "I didn't steal it, if that's what you're suggesting."

            "You should not take chairs from there. Someone might need them."

            "Okay, from where would you like me to take a chair?"

            "I said he could take the chair," interrupted the official's colleague at the next desk. "No one was using it."

            "You take chairs from the big table," my official shouted. "Not from smaller tables!"

            I returned the chair to my official's colleague's table and selected one from the large table behind me.

            "There," I said. "I now have the correct chair. Shall we proceed?"

            The official frowned.



Until recently, living permit applicants were required to provide the following with their applications: an original university diploma, certification by a state psychologist that they were not insane, and certification from a state clinic proving they were HIV negative.

            "Do you have the additional documents required?" the official asked.

            "I do." I presented him an envelope.

            "I see here that you're HIV negative."

            "Yes, I went to the state clinic and they administered the test."

            "But how do I know you don't have AIDS?"

            "I don't understand."

            "The Estonian state needs to be certain you do not have AIDS. How do we know you don't have AIDS?"

            "Because I'm HIV negative," I offered, still not sure what the man wanted.

            "Yes, but how do I know you don't have AIDS?"

            "If I'm HIV negative, then I don't have AIDS. Scientists tell us that to contract AIDS you must first have the HIV virus."

            "Well, I'm not a scientist."