Service of Being Detail-Oriented

June 17th, 2010

Categories: Details, Quality Control, Suspicion

Between poor soil and rich wildlife, we have little luck growing things in our garden with the exception of a couple of hostas in two places. Last week, my heart sank when I noticed that instead of the gargantuan, graceful green leaves that had come back this spring on one of the plants, there were uneven, ratty, six-inch stalks.

I asked my husband if he’d noticed the devastation–from deer, given the teeth etchings on the leaves–and even though he’d walked past that area, he hadn’t.

We are not detail-oriented in the same ways and don’t observe everything equally. So what? I wondered if we’d pass the tests that I read about in The New York Times article in last Sunday’s Metropolitan section, “Do You Take This Immigrant?

Immigrants who are married to US citizens and want green cards must confirm that they are really married–that there’s no fraud involved. There is so much flimflamming these days in many quarters which is why couples must go through this exercise, even though the Times reporter, Nina Bernstein, notes that only 505 of over 240,000 petitions in the country last year were denied due to fraud.

Bernstein quotes the United States Citizen and Immigration Services district director, Andrea Quarantillo, about the system. “Is it perfect? No. It’s judgmental.” And the repercussions for failing can be dire: Some are deported.

Bernstein notes questions ranging from “where do you keep the hamper? The shoes? What color is your wife’s toothbrush?” to “What’s your wife’s favorite piece of jewelry?” I bet we’d get that one wrong because I have a few favorites. Another test is whether you have a joint bank account or joint assets. Some people don’t believe in mingling assets.

The paper offers a marriage test  you can take to see how well you know your spouse with questions typical of those asked these couples. We would definitely fail “Where did you and your spouse first meet? When was it?” We don’t agree.

One pair argued like a married couple and even though they got some answers wrong, they passed for that reason. So maybe we’d pass.

I got the feeling that in spite of the fact that those being tested had to be detail-oriented, the system has a remarkably helter-skelter aspect to it. If you don’t pass the first time, you can bring a lawyer with you for the second interview. Did your lawyer prep you with the right questions? Was one interviewer more wily and suspicious than another or did he/she ask trickier questions?

Although my taxes haven’t yet been audited by the IRS–and I just ran around the office to knock on three types of wood–from what I hear, the outcome, too, can vary according to the agent you speak with and how he/she interprets your answers and backup.

Is the implementation of this kind of government service more arbitrary than just; should the government system be as detail-oriented and consistent as the test-takers must be?

7 Responses to “Service of Being Detail-Oriented”

  1. DCW Said:

    My husband and I would def. risk deportation, if we had anywhere to go.

  2. Linda Said:

    I am extremely detail oriented about most things, but I could not tell you the color of MY toothbrush! Good thing I am not married, or I could be deported!

  3. Lucrezia Said:

    Everyone is detail oriented, but selectively so.

    Send me to a cocktail party and I will not remember what people wore unless garments were exceedingly ugly or outstanding, and that only if I’m in a mood to look.

    That won’t stop me from remembering quotes from a cherished text, or a bridge hand which was held over a quarter of a century ago. A fashion editor will leave with different impressions.

    I got in trouble with Israeli airport authorities after responding to all questions, but unable to say anything about the locations of various sites visited. Details are related to envisioned importance. Results of the married tests cited above will reveal interests and priorities, little else.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Sounds as though we would all meet on the next boat out of the country were we put to the test.

    Just as Lucrezia can remember quotes from a cherished text–which I can’t–my husband remembers numbers and books he read as a child and last year, authors, titles and like Lucrezia, he couldn’t tell you what anyone wore or any of the silly things I recall when we travel.

  5. Lucrezia Said:

    Nothing silly about remembering attire, or other trifling details. It’s that kind of person the cops turn to in case of a hit and run or other crimes requiring witnesses powers of observation. An ancient card holding won’t put a criminal (other than a cheat) out of business. Nature bestows differing assets for a reason. Put them together, and its called teamwork. I loathe cocktail parties. Next time, if there is one, I will make a game out of observing skirts and ties. Perhaps there will be a stick up……who knows?

  6. Peter Winslow Said:


    I am not the least bit detail oriented, which has put me at a considerable disadvantage in almost every aspect of my life, but that is not what I am writing about.

    Many years ago, my job was to issue visas to foreigners seeking to visit or immigrate to the United States. At the time, there was considerable feeling in this country that we should, to the extent possible, only let family members (like wives) of American citizens and people with exceptional skills, like rocket scientists and stone masons, into the country as immigrants. The poor and unskilled, communists and criminals need not apply.

    To help us decide who to let in, Congress passed detailed laws about what made visa applicants eligible to receive a visas, and about what we could, and could not, do to determine whether an applicant was deserving of a visa. These required us to do our jobs in accordance with the American ideal that you were innocent until proved guilty. As a practical matter, especially with visitors’ visas, when an applicant’s turn to receive a visa came, unless there was a legitimate piece of evidence showing that he or she was not eligible, you got your visa. As a consequence, we issued visas, especially visitor’s visas, to a great many applicants, who we had a pretty good idea were not deserving under the law. We also denied visas to many who were deserving but were victims of slander or their country’s arbitrary judicial system.

    The Australians, on the other hand, had in their immigration laws, a stipulation that all visa applicants must speak, read and write a language – what language was left fuzzy. Australian consuls, consequently, who didn’t like the look of an applicant who was a European, were entitled to ask him or her, “Do you speak Urdu?”, knowing full well that he or she didn’t. When the applicant answered, “No,” that was it.

    It may have been unfair and arbitrary, but the Australians ended up getting far more productive and more easily assimilated immigrants than we did.


  7. Jeanne Byington Said:

    When you mention Australians, Peter, I think of a country famous for harboring convicts, which, while long ago, might be the reason for their law. Yet, when I think of the mistakes I have made about people based on my first impressions, I shudder to think of how effective this law is.

    Lucrezia, the team approach you mention points directly to why this method of detecting true vs. faux couples is so faulty. Opposites often attract, creating great teams but lousy test-takers to determine if they live in the same place/are married. I knew a husband who got the color of his wife’s eyes wrong. Only later did they learn that he was color blind.

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