For those of you not directly under the auspices of the Department of State, or those of you who choose to stick your head in the sand like an ostrich, every post Community Liaison Office publishes a very helpful little booklet called the “Welcome Packet”. It’s name is usually not the “Welcome Packet”, however, it’s usually something really cutesy and dealing with local custom. They generally vary from 8 to 3,428 pages in length, and are best viewed in printout form, not online. Which means that the length of the packet for your next post is always determined by how much ink you have in your printer.
Seeing that it is the night before my flight (actually less than 24 hours prior to the actual departure from the U.S.), I figured that it is the best time to sit down and review all of the useful information that someone was generous enough to cut-and-paste from another Mission prototype. First off, let me say that the CLO in our new post rocks. The one I’ve been dealing with almost exclusively has never missed a question, dropped the ball, or been anything other than, well – perfect. This leads me to believe that Welcome Packets then are likely in the category of Things that Post Has Very Little Say In But Must Do.
There seem to be several requirements for a Welcome Packet, and I’ve taken the liberty of listing them below:
1. The date of the Welcome Packet must be a minimum of 2 years prior to your arrival.
2. The names of the CLOs included in the packet must be out of date – at least one of them has to have moved on to the next post. Even better if all of them have moved on.
3. The listing of offices and responsible personnel must also be similarly outdated.
4. The Welcome Packet must contain at least two cheesy cartoons that involve aliens (of the spaceman variety) or Americans abroad. Neither of them will be even remotely funny.
5. There must be at least one map that is of such a large scale that it is virtually useless to anyone who might need a map to navigate the city.
6. There must be a section discussing the history of the country. It will inevitably be the driest part of the entire packet, and will put you to sleep within 10 minutes. I recommend saving it for those nights of insomnia while you try to get over jet lag.
7. There will be a section about “social norms”. Read this. This is actually useful, and will prevent you from being removed from coffee lists and such.
8. Education Section. This will invariably tout the superiority/preferability of the local American School, which the Mission has some influence over. If you choose an alternative method of educating your children, get ready for the raised eyebrows, the “Why?”s, and to spend a considerable amount of your free time finding out the details for enrollment, the calendar, etc. Alternatively, you can bug the CLO, and add something on to their already considerable “to do” list.
9. There will be a decent amount of information about travel and local sightseeing. Keep this! It will be a good starting point. There is also usually a reference or two to some local guide, published by the local women’s group and sold, for your convenience, at the CLO office.
10. Finally, and probably most definitely, there will be the “NAGA” Section. What is this? Not As Good As, as in “X is available on the local economy, but the quality and selection is not as good as in the U.S., so you should bring a supply of X with you in your shipment”. To which I say – Are you KIDDING me???!!! I’ve seen the NAGA applied to such things as wrapping paper (seriously, Grandma used newsprint and why waste your $$ on stuff you use mostly for 4-year-old birthday parties which will be ripped off and discarded in nanoseconds?), cotton balls (because for some reason SQUARES don’t work as well???!), and children’s clothing (hey, if you’re feeding them right, they’ll bust out of them before they get a hole in them).
Of all of these “requirements”, the one that really irks me is #10. (Can you tell?) Seriously, doesn’t it defeat the entire purpose of letting go, moving into a new adventure, and trying something out? We’re pampered enough, I think. Not overly so, and if some random congressperson is reading this, we could all use a raise or at least guaranteed business class when we fly, but we do get to bypass some of the inconvenience that so many other folks, expat and local alike, to keep our “home bubble”. So I think that toughing it out by buying local toothpaste or shampoo is no big, fat, hairy deal. Not just that, but we are pretty limited weight wise as to what we can ship over, and if one were to bring a “supply” of everything recommended, you’d break the bank with overweight charges.
In the meantime, I think the Welcome Packet should chill out on the NAGA recommendations, or at least evaluate them a bit more carefully. In my current Welcome Packet, they recommend you bring your own mop and broom. Because, they aren’t available in India???? I can’t wait to find out . . . .