Confusion Is My Middle Name

When I first arrived in the United States I had to contend with some completely baffling things that were just beyond my realm of comprehension. Like syrup on French toast (this is so wrong, French toast is savory, people!), driving on the right-hand side of the road and people spelling things in funny, misshapen ways.

And of course, filing tax returns. I had never done my taxes in my life and didn’t have the foggiest notion how to start. It sounded like something that would involve a calculator the approximate size of a saloon car and a team of bespectacled men with furrowed brows, taking up lodging in my living room for a month and sighing a lot. Doing taxes is something as foreign to me as making out with an alligator (although there was that one time in the Keys after the consumption of much tequila….oh wait, no, that was a crocodile!)

In the UK we don’t do tax returns, our place of employment takes care of all that for us automatically. If we’re due a refund it gets deposited in our bank accounts and as far as I’m aware we never owe anything. We never have to fill out a form or anything.

While I was in the HR department of my former job, here in the U.S., filling in my enrollment forms, the lady asked, “How many exemptions are you claiming?”

I looked at her like her like she’d just asked me the scientific formula for Donald Trump’s weave.

“…how many whats?” I asked.

“Exemptions.” she replied. “Do you have any?”

“Exemptions for what exactly?” I asked. “I used to be exempt from gym class if I had my period. And I am always exempt from Brussels Sprouts.”

“How many dependents are you claiming for?” she also wanted to know.

“….I have two cats and a tequila habit, is that what you mean?”

She looked at me partly with sympathy and partly with annoyance, but it made no difference. I had no idea what the hell she was talking about. She might as well have spoken Swahili and done cartwheels around the room for all the sense she made.

I had a similar problem with medical insurance. I’ve never needed insurance because I grew up with the National Health Service, which is free. You get sick, you go to the doctor, it’s that simple. You don’t pay for anything except the prescription which is heavily subsidized.

The first time I saw a doctor in the United States, the receptionist at the doctor’s office pounced on me as soon as I entered and asked about my “copay”. I gave her that, “What you talkin’ about Willis?” look.

“My what now?”

“How much is your copay?”

I was stumped.

“Is that anything like a toupé?” I said cautiously. “Because this hair is all mine, baby!”

I was really clueless. I was used to receiving free doctor’s appointments. I was used to my prescriptions, regardless of what drug I was prescribed, costing the same standard rate (at the time about £5.15) which you ponied up at the pharmacy and then you were good to go.

Now I have to deal with all the boss’s medical doings and my head could not hurt more if there was a porcupine bouncing around in it. I have no idea why something is reimbursed partially or why a certain claim comes back unpaid or what goes on an FSA and what goes to the regular plan and what questions to ask to clarify most of this and don’t even think of trying to explain how COBRA works.

It’s infuriating and I do not understand. I would much rather pout and mutter.

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30 Responses to “Confusion Is My Middle Name”

  1. Suze Says:

    Go tell your HR person that you will be claiming zero. I will claim you from now on. It’s for your own good. I will then give you your refund or tell you how much you owe me. I’m such a good friend huh?

  2. The Guv'ner Says:

    Suze: Gosh you are so nice, putting the poor old Guv’ner’s issues first. How can I ever thank you? :):)

    Honestly, I still have my young man do the tax stuff because Jesus H. I have no clue how to do it. I should learn I suppose… Nah. Why ruin a good thing? I’m owed a refund this year, isn’t that marvelous. Don’t ask me why I’m owed one because I don’t know. Oblivious is good!

  3. Suze Says:

    Oh that’s great that you get a refund. Can I borrow some money?

  4. The Guv'ner Says:

    Sorry dude, I need it for drugs.

  5. minijonb Says:

    I’ve lived with the taxes and insurance BS all my life and it still twists my melon on a daily basis.

  6. The Guv'ner Says:

    Haha! Well I feel less stupid if some of you natives get flummoxed occasionally. Still, it’s totally Greek to me. It confuses me to the point of sulking!

  7. CDP Says:

    Minijonb is right, we don’t know much more than you do. Rule of thumb on exemptions; the more you take, the less comes out of your paycheck (thus making it more likely that you’ll owe more at the end of the year).

  8. The Guv'ner Says:

    You see, THAT is all someone had to say to me back then and I’d have got it at least a bit. Instead I had to find out the hard way. 🙂 Now I stick with zero and get some money back.

  9. Chris Says:

    I don’t have a clue. I go to a tax guy who lives around the corner. I give him money and he does my taxes.

    If I need medical help I go to the emergency room, pretend I don’t speak English, and flap my arms around a lot. It helps if you talk loudly in whatever language you’re making up at the time — the louder the better.

  10. The Guv'ner Says:

    Haha, noted on all points, Chris. People usually think I AM talking in a foreign language anyway so I have a head start there!

  11. WendyB Says:

    All I have to say is…you are TOTALLY messed up about the French toast situation.

  12. The Guv'ner Says:

    Negatory, dear WendyB. I like it as is, or with cheese. No sweet stuff. That is ICKY! You Americans are weird. Really.

  13. Ms. Laaw-yuhr Says:

    Mmm, sweet sweet French toast.

    And I too dream of state-run health care, although I’m sure over here we’d f* it up completely, which is really too bad because we desperately need it.

    And taxes make no sense to me either and I’m a lawyer.

  14. pistols at dawn Says:

    I keep claiming 72 dependents because I figure I need the money more than the government does. On the upside, they pay me enough to live in this country that I can afford medical care.

  15. The Guv'ner Says:

    Ms. Laaw-yuhr: That’s ok because we fucked it up too! The NHS is great in theory. In reality, you wait months sometimes longer for surgery for anything not life threatening and the hospitals are understaffed.

    Pistols: I might try that but then I’ll owe three million bucks tax and I might cry into my caviar.

  16. The Lady Who Doesn't Lunch: Says:

    We let our accountant last spring and so will be doing our taxes by ourselves for the first time in 8 years. I’m frightened.

    It was easy when I was poor – one little form to fill out. One year I made so little money I didn’t have to pay taxes at all. Of course I ate nothing but butter beans and chewing gum, but I got to keep all my dollars.

  17. The Lady Who Doesn't Lunch: Says:

    I meant to say we let him go – he was a lying weasel.

  18. Diane Mandy Says:

    I feel your pain, sort of. I just left the U.S. for Germany and have yet to figure out insurance..and also, but more importantly, the trash recycling system here. I just stumbled on to your site via Catherinette. How long have you been in the U.S?

  19. Teri Says:

    Welcome to the U.S., Guv.

    No syrup on french toast? Really? That’s just weird.

    When I went to Ireland a few years ago I was planning my escape from the U.S. Should I still do it?

  20. The Guv'ner Says:

    Lady: A lying weasel accountant, you don’t SAY! 🙂 Honestly, I’m sure it’s not too difficult if you know what you’re doing but I just don’t even want to think about it. If there wasn’t someone to do it for me I’d be floundering big time! 🙂

    I guess, like you said that’s the one upside to being poor – taxes are easier! I’m fairly poor this year.

    Hi Diane!! That was the hardest thing for me coming here actually – just figuring out basic everyday things, when they occurred and what to do. You feel like a fish out of water for a while, huh! I’ve been here since 1997 (Yikes!) so really I have no excuse not to have figured out taxes by now but old habits die hard!!!! Hello.

    Teri: Well depends on how you want to live. Personally I can think of nothing worse than moving to Ireland but that’s just because it’s like a more depressed Scotland and I’ve been there and done that. I’m over rain and rolling hills and fields. 🙂

    Honestly though, syrup on French toast just seems wrong. But then when I came here I thought popcorn that wasn’t candy coated was wrong and now I love it! Maybe I should just try the damn french toast? 🙂

  21. The Idea Of Progress Says:

    My head hurts just reading this. I don’t understand any of this either, and I’m born and raised in this fine country.

    Can you explain my taxes to me?

  22. BeckEye Says:

    I wish I could use my period as an excuse not to pay taxes. “I’m already paying in blood, people! What more do you want??”

    I like French Toast with powdered sugar. I love when the powdered sugar sticks to the butter and forms little globules of heart-stopping goodness.

  23. The Guv'ner Says:

    IoP: Uh….no! Because I am CLUELESS. And I like it that way. Damn taxes and medical crap. I could have a lovely luxurious lifestyle if it wasn’t for such nastiness.

    BeckEye: Powdered. Sugar. On. French. Toast. OMG ICK. I don’t know. We always had it with cheese or some other non-sweet filling between two slices of French toast. None of this sweet stuff. I will have to try it but right now my gut instinct is to go “EWWWW!” Still, I bet I end up addicted to it.

    I wonder if anyone’s tried the period excuse for taxes. I mean assuming the tax man is a MAN it might work. They’d rather give you a few grand back than deal with lady things! 🙂

  24. minijonb Says:

    guv’ner: if i hire you to go sort out my health care people, could you, you know… “take care” of them for me? how much would you charge?

  25. The Guv'ner Says:

    Now THERE’S a business proposition I could relish, MiniJon! I can already see me dressed in black entering the building with my sawn off shotgun and an attitude while mouthing off about “executive plans” and “patient responsibility”. 🙂

    If you’re reading this from the FBI I am SO kidding, ‘k?

  26. Laughing through my chardonnay Says:

    I would give anything to have medical coverage! I haven’t had insurance since I was 18!

    Taxes are confusing for everyone. Whatever you do, do NOT go to some place like H & R Block, they’ll totally screw you.

  27. The Guv'ner Says:

    Miss Chard: I think it’s crazy that insurance costs so damn much that people with regular jobs can’t afford to buy it unless it’s subsidized by their job. I mean everyone should be able to walk into a doctor’s or a hospital and get treatment they can afford. You fall and break a leg you can be hundreds of dollars out of pocket and it’s hardly something you can ignore. Insane.

    Then when you do have insurance only certain things are covered and there are nasty little loopholes everywhere. Bah.

  28. ~:*:*:Pixie:*:*:~ Says:

    I tried to do my own taxes last year with Turbo Tax and nearly threw my monitor out the window… finally went to Jackson Hewitt (Hewitt Jackson?) and they did them for about $50. Good thing too, because I got $2,000.00 more back than I had originally figured. Healthcare… ugh. When I was married to the military it was fantastic (I had no complaints)… now… I think we just have insurance so there’s another nifty little card for my wallet. The deductable is $900.00, we don’t get $900.00 worth of sick a year (knocking on wood).

    Oh! Look! Guv’ner!!!! A GIANT COCKROACH IN A PANT SUIT!!!!!!!

    *ducking*

  29. Jo Says:

    Your copay confusion slayed me, so funny. I asked my accountant if I could scribble “Your sadistic tampering with my shoe fund is pissing me off” next to my siggy on my tax papers, but he advised against it. Think of french toast as crepes…savory with ham & cheese, sweet with strawberries & cream. Try dipping it in maple syrup rather than dousing it, baby steps forward 🙂

  30. The Guv'ner Says:

    Pix: You’re screwing with my sanity, woman. I have erased the part of my memory with any knowledge of those antennaed beasts and geometric pant suit hell but thanks for reminding me! As for the tax I’m expecting a couple of grand back (and naturally I’ve spent it mentally already).

    Jo: You might have something there with the baby steps thing. I love crepes and pancakes and the like, I just have this mental block regarding eggy bread and sweet stuff! Still countless millions of Americans can’t be wrong, right?

    Hee on your note! I can think of some strongly worded missives I’d like to write on mine. Can a person HAVE too many shoes? I don’t think it’s even remotely possible. Same with bags. This is something men will never understand. 🙂

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