by Alissa

The other day, we pressed our fingers on the glass of the Waterloo Regional Police fingerprint scanner. Exposing our digits to official scrutiny is one of a series of breaches of personal privacy that are a part of changing countries. This was my second time having prints taken, and like any bureaucratic procedure, it becomes easier with repetition.

The finger print technology is stunning. One minute, a friendly woman in a polo shirt and green latex gloves wiped my fingers with a moist towelette and rolled them slowly onto the glass, the next minute, beautiful black and white enlargements of my whorls and creases and last week’s run-in with a measuring tape were in Ottawa, ready for processing.  The woman who took our prints clearly enjoyed her work, deftly rocking our fingers over the scanner while pointing out the dotted patterns of our sweat glands–tiny lakes in the topo map of our skin. Thumbs, fingers alone, fingers together, linking us into the record.

Based on these prints, the RCMP will issue a police clearance that should, in part, allow us to become permanent residents of Australia. Since Canada and the USA are the only countries in which we have lived for more than 12 months since we turned 18, those are the only police clearances we will need. When we did all of this last year for our Canadian permits (including the first finger prints–no juicy arrest stories here), we also needed clearance from Hungary, Switzerland and Germany. The Swiss and German ones we filed and paid for online and received shortly thereafter by mail.

The Hungarian one took three phone calls to the consulate, a money order shipped to Ottawa, and special return mail envelopes. It arrived late, of course, reeking of perfume, but with a high-tech veneer of security and discretion; bar codes and double envelopes assuring us that every bureaucratic formality had been closely observed. It was heart-warming, really. So Hungarian. The common experience of waiting for official paperwork, seeking and receiving the appropriate stamps and seals, is a part of what made Hungary home. And America home. And Canada home. And maybe now, Australia. But especially Hungary.

For a criminal record clearance from America, the FBI still requires physical prints, which the lady in the green gloves (fresh gloves each time) was also happy to lay down on the required weight card stock, along with some sympathetic noises about the non-cooperative nature of the American security apparatus, eh? Apparently the US isn’t a terribly trusting neighbour. She rolled our forms into a frame, rolled the black ink onto a strip of glass, rolled our fingers, thumbs, and fingers over the glass and rocked them into the appropriate slots without a moment’s hesitation.

Octavia wanted her fingerprints done, too, but settled for a reading of the Tale of Tom Kitten and a close observation of our turns at the “cool machine!” and desk. “How old are you?” the lady asked her. “Six!” she grinned, then, “No. I’m actually two.” As if this is all perfectly normal. Our little family at the mercy of so many systems. This woman in green gloves an ordinary appointment. Note to Ace: We’ll have to coach the kiddo on the finer points of how much information to offer when being questioned by the law.

It was painless, this small step toward formalizing our new residence. But it made for a weird kind of surrender, letting a stranger hold the weight of my hand, flexing and rolling my fingertips in turn across the pages that will give us legal status in Australia. How many finger printings lead to that?