Monthly Archives: March 2011

On neighborhoods and the Local

I walked home from work tonight via a route I’ve been meaning to try since I moved into my new digs… it takes me through a very multi-cultural neighborhood and via some foot-paths that are not on the map such that my total trip home is not much changed from the usual 2.3 miles. And I can stop at the M&S food hall on the way and get nice things for dinner.

Good thing one from my perspective, in this adventure, is that I found a great Asian grocery store. And here we meet US/UK language barriers. I say Asian, as an American, and mean China-Japan-Korea. In the UK the term “Oriental” is still PC (not in the US) and “Asian” means Indian or related sub-continental. So let’s re-phrase and be more specific. I found a store that stocks Chinese, Japanese and Korean food items and this (especially the latter) is good. What I still need to find is an ethnic grocer that stocks Indian ingredients, which at the moment I have been getting from Tesco, such as Chapati flour and Besan.

Whew, this expat thing is extremely complicated when you add in the differences in other expat cultures….
But the most interesting part of my journey was the walk down a long street of identical (identikit?) Victorian houses, where each was two floors, had a window and door on the main floor and one window above, was made of brick, and literally numbered in the hundreds down a single street. In the midst of this, I found a pub.

A pub, which is known as a “local,” is not something I’d normally associate with a typically suburban neighborhood full of houses and not what I normally see on my way home. My “local” is not that close to me, but I live in a strange suburban neighborhood on the edge of a shopping complex. Seeing this tiny tucked-away pub in the midst of rows of identical houses was a real eye-opener in the campaign to save the British local pub. I have some thinking to do on this. I suspect, that when I hear about the “Campaign to save the British Pub” that it is this that people are trying to save, not the gastro-pub in the city centre. I suspect, although I cannot know, that the pubs I passed tonight are actually the “locals” of a number of people in the neighborhood. I was interested, and fascinated.

These “locals” are really LOCAL and do not mean the same thing as the “locals” in the city centre. I hope that I can find my more local “Locals” and keep these alive as opposed to the big pubs in my local area….

Dear so-and-so, Rant-y English edition

I’m behind in voicing my rants against the locals…. I love my life in England but I must say there are a few things that make me want to scream…

Dear person in my flat building or visiting my flat building,

That thing where you insist on obstructing access to my front door, by parking with two wheels on the pavement/sidewalk directly in front of my building when there are plenty of spaces available in the actual building car park, is getting rather old. I would do something radical but as a person about to apply for residency in the UK I cannot afford to “key” your car or the like. Which is too bad, because it’s what you deserve.

You drive a Ford Zetec, it’s not actually a fancy car, NFAH

Dear work person visiting my turf who happens to be a “Sir”:

Congratulations to you for having been knighted. That must be nice. But hi-jacking my meeting with your own agenda, and sending me (the only woman in the room and the person who was supposed to be running the meeting) out to make photocopies for you just really sucked rocks and did not actually help the meeting to accomplish anything.

Yours, NFAH

Dear local buses on my number x route,

You advertise quite clearly that you operate “Every ten minutes into the City Centre” so I thought you actually meant that. When I waited at the bus-stop for 30 minutes this morning, I was confused. When the bus number xy that eventually did stop at my stop was a different number and decided to pick us all up at a stop that was not on your route I was confused. When you stopped at all of the normal route x bus stops it became clear that it had adapted the route of the never-was-going-to-come bus. This was confusing.

This is why public transport in England has a bad reputation, NFAH

Dear England,

the daffodils are blooming. The world is ready for spring. Normally in my last few years here you were very nice in April. Why are you persisting with this below freezing thing so late in March?

Would really like to turn the heat off now, NFAH

Stick a fork in me, I’m done!

The last few weeks have been an endurance test for me… by the time I got to mid-afternoon today I was completely shot. My job is difficult even in the best of circumstances, but when it decides to really force me into a corner it can be remarkably difficult. That’s fine, I knew that when I signed up for this life. But I can still be happy when I see a bit of a break coming up on the horizon. As of late this afternoon, things are supposed to be easier for me for the next six months, as I’ve been stripped of some of my administrative responsibilities until October and allowed time to think and reflect and hopefully to get things done.

This is much needed for reasons that I will not bother to go into and bore whatever few readers I have left after a couple of months of near silence. I am back-logged on laundry. There are few clean dishes in my kitchen. The bathroom is a disgrace and needs cleaning badly. The sheets need changing on the bed. These are the usual things that fall down when all-day work takes over and work moves from all-day to all-day and all night long. I desperately need a wife. These are the days when living alone and having no one with whom to share the household tasks really starts to grate on me. So maybe I need to break down and hire a cleaner. We’ll see.

But I will survive. I have the next ten days to recoup and recover. And then I’m off to the states for a few weeks of R&R; mostly to do with work but with a strange little family vacation thrown in. When my mother visited last summer, we discussed the family dynamic a great deal and I suggested that we should all hang out somewhere that is not Minnesota. As a result, we have crazy family vacation planned–the parentals and the two grown daughters, both in our thirties, both with PhD degrees and tough jobs but no husbands and certainly no kids, and we’re all heading together to Las Vegas for foodie adventures and to visit the Grand Canyon, which none of us have seen. In the same US trip, I (being me) am visiting a number of places for work (Denver, Boston, NYC, Miami) so it will not exactly be a relaxing trip overall but it should be a good one. And when I return from this trip I have a nearly-blank calendar for May, which is precisely what I need right now.

The schedule of work things that I am going to do while in the states is a good indication of the internal struggle that I am constantly facing between relaxing and trying to advance my career. It’s not an easy balance to make. I am keen to take interesting opportunities for interactions with others in my field and I do not easily or readily slow down. But I’ve been doing too much of this, and not enough quiet and considered working. When I was a PhD student, I had a very memorable Russian professor who cornered me in his office once and yelled at me that I had potential but I was not concentrating. I feel like the last 18 months have really been the picture of this problem, that I have been functioning and getting things done and mostly keeping people happy (mostly, not perfectly) but never shutting the world out to concentrate on any one thing, and I am getting excited now to think about what might happen if I actually concentrated on something for a while.

There have been times in the past when I have done so. When I was finishing my PhD in the US and was getting frustrated by the job market, I did in fact really buckle down and focus on fixing the biggest gap in my CV and this got me to where I am today. It’s time now to do this again, to stop rushing from mad crisis to mad crisis and from deadline to deadline and to seriously concentrate on the next big task at hand. I know I can do it. I just need to stop faffing about and to spend some time on the tough stuff until I can break it and start to make forward progress. It’s not going to be easy, but it is potentially going to be fun. Watch this space.

The toaster that put me over the edge

I have a new toaster. This is a good thing, as the old one was showing signs of age. It was also American, and had to be plugged in to my transformer. So did my stick blender and my hand mixer. All of them are gone now. Along with the new toaster I got this excellent multi-tasker which replaces the stick blender and mixer but also gives me the capabilities of a food processor, a tool that I’ve never owned before. So now there are only a few things left that run on American power, my beloved Kitchenaid stand mixer being one of them, but as that’s only used occasionally I’ve put the transformer away in the closet.


I knew there would come a time when I had acquired many British things and that if I stuck around here long enough, I would start to have this happen. My British possessions would start taking over from my American ones. I saw it happening first in my wardrobe, then in my linen closet, next in my gadgets and electronica, and now amongst my kitchen appliances. Yes I still own things that came over with me when I jumped across the pond, but they are now easily outnumbered by the things I’ve acquired here.


The prospect of the permanent residency application and my lingering feelings of doubt over my long-term future still weigh heavily on my mind. I am lucky to have a good job here and know that in some ways I am extremely lucky compared with my American counterparts, as the job is slightly different in the two countries and I like the British version. Well, mostly. I still don’t know what to do with the next 30 years of my life, but now I know that if I were to move back I would be a lot like I was when I first moved here but in reverse: lots of things with British plugs and a transformer back to 110 V. And do you know what? The British things I have are much nicer than the American things they’ve replaced. My new hand blender/multitasker replaced a couple of bottom-of-the-line Target post-divorce acquisitions. And it matches my new toaster with its gorgeous retro creamy finish. And interestingly enough it’s the first time I’ve ever owned a pop-up toaster: I have converted after a lifetime of toaster-ovens. Because they don’t seem to exist here, at least not at the stores at which I shop. So my new toaster becomes the symbol of my new and very different self after 4.5 years (!) of living overseas. Who saw that coming?