Monday, January 25, 2016

The Likes and Dislikes of London

Well, now that I am back in Canada (on Vancouver Island) I thought I would answer the question that I get asked most often now that I am leaving. And that question is what will you miss and not miss about life in the UK.  It's an interesting question when you have lived abroad somewhere and seen many different ways of doing things.  So, let's ponder...

Likes

  • While this is also a dislike of mine, the population density means you can get so many online services delivering the item to you house the next day, or even within an hour
  • The support for Apple Pay everywhere. I can take the London Underground or visit a store with simply my mobile phone and pay.
  • The strong currency. The Pound Sterling is one of the strongest currencies in the world.  So it is great when travelling to have as everything seems cheap when you convert back.
  • The travelling. As you have seen we have been to a lot of different countries.  I will miss just how many pkaces you can visit from the UK throughout Europe
  • The Dog Friendly Society.  Oscar really likes this one.  Basically you can take your dog on the London Underground without a carrier. You can take him into bars and coffee shops.  In fact you can them most places
  • The ability to take cash out from any machine.  Being back in Vancouver and wanting to take cash out, I experienced the pain of trying to find an "in network ATM".  In London all I had to do is walk up to any machine and take out my cash.

Dislikes

  • On the London Underground you can never get a cellular signal.  They have wifi in some stations but by the time you connect to it the train is leaving!
  • On the above ground trains, despite being above ground, the cellular signal still isn't reliable enough!
  • On a morning rush hour, or in fact just about any day, the city can be overwhelming with people everywhere. It sometimes can drive you a little crazy. 
  • The Internet at home.  Our Internet at home, while 10 MBPS, it is seldom that fast and often needs to be rebooted every other day. 
  • The Small Roads.  While part of the charm of London and the UK is the history and roads, it is also frustrating when trying to commute.
Of course, now that we are off to New York next, we will have to see what we like and dislike about being there.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Leaving as a Local

Well, our London adventure is coming to an end. It's been nearly 18 months here in London and it has been great. It has certainly had its challenges, many of which were never posted, but it has turned out to be a great experience.  There were a few good bouts of being home sick.  And then there was all the times I thought Canada did things better than here. And of course there was the times of missing the people from home. 

But after 18 months, I have come to appreciate the London experience. It has broaden my horizons in so many different ways.  I now have an appreciation for how things are done in the UK and Europe, and many are truly smarter than they are done in North America.  And there are the new friendships to nurture from here now while we travel to our next adventure. 

When we first arrived we were very much tourists. We didn't know our way around or what the cultural norms were. But now as we get ready to leave, we are a local. We provide travel directions to lost tourists, and can navigate the London Underground without a map (most of the time). We can go for a bike ride or drive and not seem like the person on the road that doesn't know the rules. And we even know to say the common UK words and phrases to describe things rather than our odd Canadian words. Of course one thing we still don't get, and never will.  And that's how to pronounce the names of many train stations and cities. It seems that unless you're born here it takes far more than two years to learn the pronunciations.  We still get many weird looks when asking a cab driver to drive us to Wapping.  


We will miss all the travel opportunities throughout Europe. In only 18 months we have managed to see 14 different countries and 22 different cities.  It has been amazing to see all that in such a short time!  Now we can do many more adventures as we change and call New York and Chicago our new homes for the next year.

We will miss you London!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Seeing the Wheels of Justice First Hand

When you live abroad, you often try things you would never even think to try at home.  For example, I went as saw my first court case in person. Of course I saw the OJ Simpson trial on TV, and a few news stories here and there of other trials, but I only had that broad view of what it is like in a courtroom.

However, seeing a case in person really opens your eyes to what goes on but also how justice works in different countries. For example, in London, there are a number of courts. I ended up going to the Central Criminal Court (known as The Old Bailey) which is where they hear the most serious criminal cases.  These usually involve cases of terrorism, murder and other similar cases.  I ended up sitting in, via the Court Galleries (for the public) to a manslaughter and murder case. Both were very interesting to see at their different stages including jury selection and actually hearing the case.  

Like you may imagine or have head of, the lawyers and judges in the UK wear wigs and robes while in court. They also stand whenever addressing the lordship (the judge) and also whenever the judge is entering or leaving the courtroom.  The courtrooms themselves are steeped in history, but have added modern conveniences like televisions and computers. Unfortunately as a member of the public you are not allowed cameras in the courtroom so I have no photos to show. Just memories and experiences. They don't want you recording a court case or taking pictures of the jury. 

Speaking of the jury it was interesting to see a jury selected.  They essentially bring 30 or so people into the room (known as the jury pool that move from courtroom to courtroom that day) and then have a lottery of names called for whom will hear that case.  The lawyers don't ask the jurors any questions like you think they do. Instead they are sat down and sworn in and told what they should or shouldn't do. Then they start hearing the case. After seeing a jury selection I was curious what the odds are of being called for a jury. In the USA you actually have little chance of being called. The the US Federal Courts only 0.03 percent of the population was called. Granted there are still state courts (who don't have a unified way to get data on how many people were called) but as you can see, the odds of serving are quite small. It was also interesting to read this article about the many of the myths of jury duty and how they were wrong.


I would recommend everyone try and see a court case, in person in their life.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Your Credit Rating....

Something we don't always stop and think about is our credit rating.  It is used to banks, cell phone companies, financing companies and more to determine if you are worthy (of being loaned money, starting a cell phone plan, etc.).  It can make your life fairly easy to get new services or loans and you don't always think about it.

Something that we learned is that your credit rating is really country specific.  For example, the credit rating that we have in Canada doesn't extend to the UK, or the USA.  Instead, you have to start "new" in each country.  So, when we first started here in the UK, we couldn't sign up for a cell phone plan or get a credit card (because we had no credit here).  Instead we had to use our debit card here in the UK to get started.  We will have to do the same thing again when we go to the USA.

So, you may think that you could simply "defect" on your credit in one country and have no repercussions when you move.  However, it seems that each country's credit rating bureau does check with other countries (hence why they ask for your previous addresses) to see if you have gone bankrupt and if so, they make it even harder to get credit in the new country.  I read quite a bit on how the credit bureaus all communicate because I thought in our wired world, why couldn't my good Canadian Credit Rating help us here in the UK!  And, it seems they only really communicate the really bad borrowers but not the good!

A benefit we have since learned about is that most credit card companies will let you get a credit card in another country based on your current credit rating in another country (as long as you already have a card with them in your home country).  The credit card companies that do this tend to be the international ones - like American Express or Capital One.

So there are ways to make establishing your credit rating easier it seems!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Hard Holiday Things to find in the UK

The Holiday season is very much one steeped in tradition and how you were brought up.  As a result, there are many things that make you think Christmas!  That being said, here is a list of the things that I love during Christmas but haven't been able to find in the UK:

  • Eggnog - This is an odd one.  You can get a Starbucks Egg Nog Latte in the UK.  And in the UK they really like "pre-packaged" things so you would think Egg Nog would meet that requirement.  But that isn't the case - seems they only like Egg Nog they make themselves.
  • Cranberry Bliss Bar - At Starbucks during the holidays I have the guilty pleasure of the Cranberry Bliss Bar.  However, sadly in the UK you can't get them!
  • Outdoor Christmas Lights - Throughout Canada and USA we love to cover our homes in Christmas Lights.  However, here in the UK, you just don't see it.
  • Christmas Baking - the only Christmas baking they really have here that is common to Canada is the Gingerbread Man.  Everything else doesn't seem to be something you can get in a store whatsoever if you want a treat!
Now, with the above being said, I have learned about some unique British traditions around Christmas....that include:
  • Christmas Lunch - instead of waiting for dinner for the big meal, the British like to have a mid-day lunch instead where they eat it all!
  • Christmas Pudding - this is similar to Canada/USA.  But the difference is that the British actually bake in small silver coins (yes - real legal tender) in the cakes.  Whomever finds it in their pudding while eating will be bestowed with good wealth (hopefully for the dental repairs!)
  • Leaving Booze Out for Santa - in the USA and Canada people traditionally leave milk and cookies for santa.  Here they leave out alcohol for him!
  • Stockings at the end of the Bed - in the USA and Canada people usually hang their stockings by the fireplace.  For the British that doesn't make any sense.  They hang them at the end of their beds!
So just a small snippet of how things very around the world during the holidays.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

What it is like driving in the UK

After nearly a year and a half in the UK, you really get to experience what it is like to live somewhere else and the day to day aspects of life.  One of those common ones is driving/cycling.  While most people would say the obvious difference is that in the UK they drive on the opposite side of the road (which is true), that isn't the only difference.  Here are some of the things I have noticed when it comes to commuting:

  • In Canada (and most of Europe) the speed limit signs are all in KPH (kilometer per hour), but in the UK they are in MPH (miles per hour).  This is despite most other measurements being in the metric system
  • In Canada there is a lot of signs about where you can or can not park.  In the UK this is all done by the colour of the lines by the kerb.  If there are two red lines that means it is a "red route" and you are basically not allowed to stop.  If there is a single red line that means you can sometimes stop, but parking isn't allowed.  If there are two yellow lines that means you can stop but you can't park.  And if there is a yellow line you can park, but make sure to look for the machine to buy your ticket
  • In Canada there are parking meters for every space.  In the UK they tend to have a machine where you buy your ticket for the block
  • In Canada (mostly) there are few speed cameras.  In the UK there are a lot of speed cameras.  Thankfully they are painted yellow and there are white lines on the road so you can see them.  The unique aspect is that people usually speed until they get to them and go right to the speed limit at the signs.  The speed cameras simply looking if you are over rather than going with the flow of traffic
  • In Canada you would call a highway as any road with a limited number of on and off ramps and high speeds.   In the UK you would call this a motorway
  • In Canada the speed on the highway tends to vary based on the highway.  In the UK the motorways have legalized speed limits of 70mph if there are two lanes or 60mph if there is one lane
  • In Canada it is not always obvious at a cross walk if you have to stop.  In the UK if there are flashing yellow lights (aka Zebra Crossing) you have to stop if there is a pedestrian in them.
  • In Canada you can get your driver's license when you are 16.  In the UK you have to be 17.
  • In Canada you can turn right even if a traffic light is red.  In the UK you can't turn left (remember - other side of the road) EVEN if the light is red.  You can only go when it is green.
  • In Canada you can't ever stop in an intersection.  In the UK you can stop in an intersection/junction unless it has a box like marking.  Then it is no stopping (and often there is a camera there too)
There you go.  Some examples of how driving in the UK isn't just difference because it is on the other side of the road.

Monday, December 7, 2015

A common language but so many differences

After doing a blog awhile ago but different words in the UK from Canada, I thought I should add more to the list.  So here they are:
  • Watch out for the sick on sidewalk = Watch out for the barf/throw-up on the sidewalk
  • There is a Junction ahead = There is an intersection ahead
  • We live in an Estate off XYZ street = We live in a building complex off XYZ street
  • I need an ugly Christmas Jumper = I need an ugly Christmas Sweater
  • Warning - Humps Ahead = Warning - Speed Bumps Ahead
  • We had a row about that = We had a fight about that
  • We are about to move so we should call the removals service = We are about to move and should call a mover
  • I wonder what apartment we should let = I wonder what apartment we should rent
  • I'm going to the Chemist to get some cold drugs = I'm going to the drug store to get some cold drugs
  • I think I will get a flu jab this year = I think I will get the flu shot this year
There are so many differences between the two countries, despite them both speaking English.  This is just a few of them!