Friday, January 22, 2010

Sick, Sick, Sick

For the better part of the past week, I've been combating one serious cold. Apparently, it's going 'round London right now, and I've been lucky enough to be host to a few of the germies the past several days.
When I was wallowing in misery on the couch the other day, it dawned on me that this is twice in 3 months I've been taken down with a cold.  Not taken down in the 'i-dont-feel-great' sense, but taken down as in, 'not-going-to-work-i-feel-so-poorly' sense.  Geez. 

I can count on one finger the number of times I had to take more than a day off from sickness the past 4 years in the US-perhaps 4 fingers in total if you also add a day here or there for various sick days.  But, this is now a combined 6 days in 3 months!  What gives?  I'd heard the old wive's tale about UK germs being of a different kind than US germs (I am *so* over-simplifying here, but you get the gist...), and thought it was complete bunk when I heard it. A cold is a cold.

Apparently not!  I'm a fairly health person, but I guess even here in the UK, it's just a different beast.  Brace yourselves, new expats.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Liverpool Football

Have no fear:  this blog is not about Liverpool Football (Soccer), technically.  But, rather the fun conversation I just had with a co-workere about the topic.  Bear with me for a moment...

Liverpool Football, typically a good team, has been suffering horribly this season-loosing to teams that are embarrassingly bad, top players being injured, and their manager in particular coming under fire for some very poor decisions.  Please understand: the only reason I know these things is because Simon is a Liverpool fan.

Liverpool lost to Reading two nights ago-a team that's in a lower league, so theoretically, it *should* have been a foregone conclusion that Liverpool would win.  Not so-thus continuing to add to the agony of Liverpool fans for the year.

So, it was kinda fun to get in the elevator this morning, and see a co-worker with his Liverpool coffee mug.  I decided to 'take the piss' (ie give him a hard time) and said, 'should you really be seen in public with that mug after the other nite?'  Now, there are two great things about me making this statement:  A) I'm a girl and B) I'm American.  The combination *should* mean I don't know poo about the sport (for the most part...).  The look on his face when I made the statement to begin with was priceless.  Then I decided to take the piss further and said, 'and, you know it's bad when an American points this out!.'  By then, his mate in the elevator began to laugh a bit, and I then sealed the deal with, 'never mind an American Girl!'

Then, we got to his floor, and  both guys got off the elevator.  And, just as they were exiting, Liverpool Mug guy's mate began to give him serious grief.

Ah, that was good fun.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Britan: A New Love

I've no idea where this came from.  I don't know if the last trip back to the US did this, or it's just part of the natural process of moving somewhere else, but, it dawned on me today:  I've *really* come to enjoy living in London.  I still have my days where I could punch everyone I encounter-especially the tourists who stand in the middle of a busy sidewalk while looking at a map-but, by and large, I've come to like more about London/Britan/the UK than I ever thought I would.
So, as I was trying to figure out where this came from-what exactly is it about this place I like, I've come up with a few things worth mention-in no particular order..
1. The Brit love of all things trivial:  pub quizzes, QI, Mock the Week...Brits love to know and talk about trivial things.  And, I don't mean 'trivial' in the 'doesn't mean much' sense, rather I mean 'trivial' in the sense of 'trivia'-ie random little bits of knowledge-that especially come in handy in conversations, pub quizzes, etc..
2. My British friends (or friends in Britan):  You know who you are, and you should know how important to me you've become.  London would not be nearly as great of a place to be without you guys!
3. British cooking.  I *so* do not mean the old, stereotypical 'British food'.  But, rather, between watching programs with Hugh Fernly-Whittingstall (extreme, though he is..); Kill it, Cook it, Eat it; my trips to Borough; or general chats with folks about food & beverages, I really have come to appreaciate the British approach to food and cooking.  I can't explain it-other than to say that it resonates with me.
4. The reaction you get from a stranger when're friendly to them.  Once the 'oh, you're American' reaction has passed, I think most Brits are shocked by coming into contact with friendly stranger.  It's become a bit of a favourite hobby of mine while here-when I can, I like to strike up a simple chat, make a comment, or do something that I guess could be percieved as a random act of kindness.  The British reaction is priceless:  stunned, confused, accepting, and then a bit appreciative. Excellent.
5. I've said it once, and I'll say it again:  Pork.  Sausage, bacon, name it.  The Brits know pork like you wouldn't believe!
6. The history.  Perhaps stating the obvious, but the history of this country-and what still remains to remind me of it every day, just amazes me.
7. BBC News.  Especially the intro music.  Love it! :)
8. I know I've mentioned this on more than one occasion as well-but it's still true:  the proximity to Europe-and the relatively inexpensive ability to get there. 
9. Facebook.  OK, I know that techincally, this has nothing to do with the UK, but it does allow me to feel like I'm still a good part of my friends' lives back in the US-to the point, that I don't feel like I'm missing out quite as much as I otherwise would-which would definitely be difficult to deal with on a prolonged basis.  Because of Facebook, I feel like I've got the best of both worlds (literally) right now.
10. 25 days of vacation-plus holidays.  Again, maybe I'm stating the obvious...but, 25 days is STANDARD.  You'd be hard pressed to find a company who didn't give this to their full time employees.  From day 1.  Name me one American company that does this, nevermind 10, or 100...

Well, I'm sure there are dozens-if not hundreds of other, small reasons I've come to enjoy living here (Boots, cocktails at The Dorchester...).  What are some of your reasons expats, that youve come to enjoy living in the UK?  I'd like to know-perhaps there's something else I can do/experience/learn about & add it to the list!

Transferring Money from your UK Bank to your US Bank

Partially to help me remember where the information is, partially to help others who read this blog, but...

A BIG HUGE thanks to Victoria for this incredibly helpful information.  I've been struggling to do this for the two years I've lived here (like she says in her post, I too still have student loans & a mortgage to pay in the US. ugh.).  Hitting the ATM while in the US to take money from your UK account, only to turn around and deposit in the US is certainly *not* ideal.  Looks like Victoria has found a way to easily, quickly & cheaply transfer money from your UK Bank to your US Bank (or Canadian...) using a service from company called

I haven't tried it yet, but I definitely will in a few months-and will let folks know how it goes.

As a somewhat related may want to read up on what amount can be transferred from the UK to the US before raising eyebrows with your bank-and possibly have to pay tax on it.  In speaking with my tax adviser about this previously, I was told to 'keep it minimal'-ie less than $10k a *year* would be good. But, above that, I'm sure the bank-and the IRS may start take notice.  Or not.  Depends on your situation, I guess.  But, worth a mention, nonetheless..

Monday, January 4, 2010

Worth a Re-Post

'Anonymous' (JT, I think...) left this in their comment to my 'Catching Up' post.  I thought it was a great article & worth sharing with a wider audience:

Happy Reading!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Catching Up

Whew.  10 days off the proverbial grid have been fantastic, but oy there is so much to catch up on!

The holidays were great-but like for many, frustrating as well.  It was great to go back to NC and see my father and catch up with old friends. But, as much as I enjoyed being back in the US, a part of me (likely b/c Simon stayed in London) missed the UK. What gives?  I just can't win: When in the UK, I find myself missing the US.  When in the US, I find myself missing the UK.  yeesh...I'm beginning to feel a bit like a homeless person as a result.  Is the grass always going to be greener on the other side of the border?

Aside from the above, there were a few other things that caught my attention that I can tell are indicative of my time away out of the US:  personal space and impatience with driving.  Normally, while walking around London-on the streets, in the tube, in shops, restaurants..whatever, it's not uncommon to have your personal space invaded with such a frequency that you become oblivious to it happening most of the time.  So, I was struck by the frequency with which people said, 'excuse me' while I was out & about in NC-and frequently, folks were a good 5-feet-plus away when saying this.  The first time it happened, I thought she was just being overly polite, and the pardon was a bit extreme.  After it happened about 4 more times that same day, I came to realize that it was my 'judgement' that must be off.  My concept of when to say 'excuse me,' has apparently shrunk to a space of about 18 inches! :)  And looking back, I guess I must have semed like an arse when coming so close to people and not saying 'excuse me!'
The other thing I noticed was how impatient I've become when driving.  Don't get me wrong-I haven't been a patient driver for years, and when I was last in Seattle (in July), thought my over-impatience was a one-off response.  Apparently not. After just 2 days behind the wheel in NC, I realized (again...) this new reaction from me isn't necessarily due to other drivers (though seriously:  get the F off your cell phone while driving!...), but is due to my being 'out of practice' with driving and dealing with my impatience.  This is particularly disconcerting, as the reality is I'll only continue to become worse at this as I continue to live outside of the US & drive with ever-increasing infrequency.  I'm going to have to come up with a way to cope with this one.  Suggestions welcome!

Anyhoo..after being in the US for 7 days, it was back to London on the 31st.  Yes-31st.  Via a red-eye flight.  Poor planning on my part... :)
NYE was spent eating delicious Mexican food at my friend, Justyn's house. From there, we were supposed to head down to the Thames to view the fireworks from someone's rooftop.  But, being the jet-lagged traveler that I was, at 10p, I had to bow out.  I didn't think I would last until midnight-muchless the 2am or so it would be before we returned home. So, Simon & I spent the rest of 2009 on the couch watching a Jools Holland program (awesome!), and counting down the minutes.  A few minutes before midnight, we switched the TV over to the BBC to catch the fireworks, popped a cork on the champagne, and opened the door to our flat.  Though it was cold outside, we're close enough to the Thames to hear the fireworks-mind you delayed, and muted.  But, it was fun nonetheless!  Personally, I can't believe I managed to last until midnight, but after the glass and a half of champagne, my time was limited-and by 1a, I was heading to bed.

2010 started off with one of my favorite hobbies:  shopping! :)  Simon & I decided to pop out & have a walk around, putter around a few shops, and run a few errands.  The tourists were all heading home, so it was one of the least crowded days I think I've ever spend in London!

Fast forward to last nite (Saturday...). Simon & I decided to splurge a bit so we headed to The Bar-at The Dorchester Hotel for a few cocktails.  We had just been there two weeks ago for our Christmas dinner (seriously one of the best meals of my life...), and Simon had become um, 'obsessed' with one of their cocktails-The Vespar.  He wants to learn how to make it himself (which would be good. at 18 quid a pop, making it himself will save a small fortune...), so we decided to go to the bar early on Saturday so we'd be able to sit at the bar & chat up the bartender.  What a bizarre evening it turned out to be...

After being there for about 30 minutes, another couple (I think. Still debating, to be honest...) sat down at the bar next to us.  It was clear from the moment they sat down that they were regulars-greeted by all the bartenters, free cocktails coming their way, the whole treatment.  After a while, the bartender sat a few shots down in front of them, and I inquired as to what they were.  Note to self:  don't start up conversations with dubious people in bars.  Long story short, Simon & I chatted with them off & on over the next few hours, and as best as I can guess, the lady (considerably younger than the guy...) was a bit of a 'kept woman.'  It wasn't the first conclusion I jumped to, mind you.  Rather, it was bits & pieces of odd questions from them and a few comments that eventually had be believe this. I'll save all the boring details, but it's worth mention what the big tip-off was: After a while of chatting with them, the girl asked me if we were on our first date. We laughed  & said, 'far from it.'...Odd question-or so it seemed.  But, Simon was dressed quite nattily in his good suit, whereas I decided to go in jeans. So, between the location, the way we were dressed (which, Simon & I later discussed just screamed 'class differences'), and their 'setup', it was a logical conclusion that perhaps we had a similar arrangment!  Different classes based on how we're dressed?  I can see it, but honestly thought something like that would have faded with the 1950's.  Crazy.