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August 05, 2006

Swearing Oaths

This fall, I will be teaching for the first time as a GSI (Graduate Student Instructor). Yesterday, I filled out my employment paperwork. In addition to the usual W-4 and I-9 stuff, I also had to sign an oath promising to uphold the constitution of the United States of America and the Michigan constitution, and I had to have my signature notarized. This was only the second time I had had to have something notarized -- the first time was when my friend Wendi adopted her son and needed me to sign a statement saying that I thought she was fit for parenthood. If only all parents had to have character witnesses!

When I went to the notary, she asked if I had sworn the oath, which surprised me, because I didn't realize that I had to say it verbally. It turns out that she was just kidding, but I did have to take a verbal oath in order to get a library card at the Bodleian Library at Oxford University. I couldn't believe how many hoops I had to jump through to get this library card. I just wanted to spend one day looking through Elspeth Huxley's papers at Rhodes House. I didn't even want to check anything out. But first I had to get a recommendation from a professor at the University of Michigan, then I had to wait in line for hours to have my application processed, then I had to swear an oath that I would not light a match inside the library, and finally I had to pay three pounds sterling (about $6 at the time) to use the library for what was, by then, one afternoon! Needless to say, by the time they got around to taking my picture for the library card, I wasn't looking terribly happy.

Getting my signature notarized yesterday also reminded me of being in Ghana last summer. On my last day there, I finally made it to Kwame Nkrumah Circle in Accra, the capital. One of the spokes coming off the circle was a busy street full of people doing business on the sidewalk. One of the most popular businesses was "Oath Takers." At first, I was quite puzzled by this, but it soon occurred to me that an oath taker was probably akin to a notary public. I still don't know for sure, but I imagine people going to them in order to get a signature witnessed, or perhaps to complete land deals or even marriages. It is interesting to see what kinds of actions -- speech, signatures, etc. -- different countries consider to be legally binding.

Posted by eklanche at August 5, 2006 01:52 PM

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