I never thought I'd say this...but oh for the IRS in Britain!
A couple of days ago I managed to thoroughly embarrass myself - and I was pleased about it, even though many of the Americans I know rolled my eyes when I told them.
Having printed off my tax return (which I could fill out on the forms online, in PDF and then print into a hard copy) I signed it, with my favourite blue fountain pen, confident that the elegance of my writing with it would increase my chances of avoiding selection by the inspectors. Then I had a sudden shock - what if I was supposed to complete the forms in black ballpoint! Having been well trained with years of forms for the Passport Agency, for the DVLA, for the Revenue, for Student Loans and myriad others I knew what a key part of the paperwork process using the right type of pen was: though I still have no idea why. I immediately got on the line to the IRS here in Philadelphia.
Now, apart from the annoying habit of having every operator you speak to parroting their "employee number" at you before they'll talk to you properly ("I'm not a number, I'm a free man"?) the experience was blissful. The chap and chapess that I spoke to on the phone were delightfully helpful. When I presented my dilemma to them, I had to explain it to them twice as they just couldn't understand what I could possibly be worried about.
"So, you're sure it doesn't have to be black ball-point, or blue rollerball, or entirely indelible?"
"So long as it's not invisible ink we're absolutely fine with it, sir."
What a refreshing change. What a shocking illustration of how hard under the bureaucratic thumb Britain really is by comparison.