Sunday, 24 October 2010

Paper or Plastic... or... metal things

Europe seems to be awash with cash -- wonderful greenbacks, that aren't actually green, and come in a whole bunch of different colors... and sizes (psst... your wallet might not fit the larger denominations very well)... and material. I learned relatively quickly that my Chase Visa wasn't going to cut it at every establishment that I would visit and, as a result, I carry cash, and only use plastic when they I to make larger purchases.

I only use mine to buy jeans and vacuum cleaners...

Culture shock. Handing my card to a bartender in Seattle and saying "Leave it open" doesn't work the same way out here. Not only is that just a weird thing to do here, but the rest of the world is using a technology called "Chip and Pin" on their cards, which isn't available in the United States as of today. I learned this the hard way during a date in the French Riviera city of La Ciotat, where none of my cards were expected, though my companion's were...

So she bought us dinner...

Oddly enough, American Express has a Chip and Pin option available, but not for their American customers... which is really weird.

Culture shock. My pockets are always full of coins. These jokers have coins that are actually worth something. Puts a new meaning to the phrase "a pretty penny". This isn't a problem if you carry a purse. I don't carry a purse though, so my trousers (STOP. THE WORD "PANTS" MEANS SOMETHING DIFFERENT HERE. DON'T USE IT IN PLACE OF TROUSERS, WHICH I THINK IS A STUPID SOUNDING WORD) are constantly weighed down by thick coins. The more coins the better. I never throw these into fountains, and I've given up on making wishes altogether.

Not carrying cash around has its advantages. If I go to a city in the United States, I know that I can comfortably buy shoes, some drinks, and dinner. If I go to Poland, I have to know how much things will cost before I withdraw money, otherwise I'll be in a situation where I either have too much or not enough cash, and neither of these are situations you want to be in, because you'll ultimately have the choice of spending all of that money at the end of your trip, or converting it back to sterling, in which case you'll pay a conversion cost. You could also just... hold onto them, which is what I do... but now I'm stuck with a desk drawer full of Norwegian krones.


In case you're coming to London for a short trip, pints of beer cost between £2 and £4. Believe me, I wish I knew that before I moved here. I especially wish I had known where to find £2 variety. Look for pubs that serve "Sam Smith's" brews... we appropriately call these pubs "Sam Smiths' Pubs". There's also a chain of bars operated by a company called "J D Weatherspoon" (we call these, "Weatherspoon's Pubs"), and they're cheap as well, but I'd advise against going to one because they lack character. I'm going to write that into the Wikitravel page some day.

The Big Smoke...

When I was originally toying around with the idea of ex-patriatism (I'm not sure if that's a real word) I thought that, perhaps, the best way for me to get an idea of what life would be like wherever I ended up was to find an expat blog or two for each of the countries and cities that I was considering living in. My options were limited, as I intended to move across the globe under the sponsorship of the company that I worked for, so I had the following areas to consider:
  • Luxembourg City
  • Paris
  • London
I sat around in Seattle for more than a year looking at Wikipedia pages, travel guides, and Flickr snapshots. I had conversation after conversation over countless beers with people who had traveled to, spent an extended period of time in, or lived in the three cities above and, in the end, I had what I would consider to be a fairly good understanding of the big picture that surrounds living in any of the aforementioned areas.

Unfortunately, it seemed that basing the biggest decision of my life on a macro level view of any of these places just wouldn't cut it. Culture shock doesn't seem like something that arises from a "Woah, look at all of these weird old buildings" experience, but rather from an overwhelming number of "You seriously pronounce the word 'lieutenant' as 'LEFtenant'?" situations, and those were the type of things that I was missing, simply because they aren't the first things that people think of when they think of the experience of living in another country.

The tweets and status update age has given people the opportunity to actually draw attention to all of these seemingly insignificant things, but not in a way that I had cared to digest them -- I can spend an hour reading someone's tweets and feel like I haven't actually learned anything at all about anything at all. Blogs that centered around the expat experience seemed to be the best way for me to go, though finding one that was up to date and interesting to read was harder to find than I would have thought.

Regardless, I found a few that I trusted, and moved myself out here with the absorbed wisdom of a few folks who seemed to be just like me. To that end, I think I'm doing alright out here, and recently decided that it was time to give back... so here I am.

I moved to London at the beginning of April 2010 at the age of 25. Here's some stuff that I wasn't prepared for...

There are basically three types of drinking establishments in this city:
  1. Pubs - These close at/around 11pm... which is just, absolutely insane.
  2. Bars - These are fancier, more modern bars, and they usually open until 3 or so. There's usually a dance floor or something, which distinguishes them from pubs, which are more like coffee shops that sell beer and breaded fish... and coffee.
  3. Clubs - These are big, and people dance in them.
People in London really do say all of those things that you think are just jokes for American audiences. They really do.

Ryanair flights aren't nearly as cheap as you think they are. And it actually is unreasonable to take a train to Paris every weekend. Just remember, they stamp your passport EVERY TIME you do that.

Not everything is outrageously expensive here. Grocery stores are actually quite a bit cheaper than they are in the States. Most stuff is more expensive though.