Tag Archives: #scotland

Housing Hiccups & the Scottish Rental Market

Here’s the thing about defeat: it doesn’t exist until you’re dead.  (Or if you’re a video game character, not even then.)  Defeat is just a trial leading to an error that informs you what not to do next time, for as many next times as you need until you strike upon a winning combination.  So here’s a little story of a recent pothole in the road of life, and how that’s panning out for me now.

I never intended to commit myself to the rabbit hole of student housing again.  Before I applied, I inquired with the department as to whether it would be suitable for an adult re-entry student with certain (apparently special) needs.  They were not forthcoming with information, either on the accommodations themselves or the pursuit of alternatives.  Through my own research I determined that renting privately would be impossible for a person of my means without being present in the target continent, given silly in-person restrictions like proving my corporeal existence.  So I decided to take shelter at the university as a starting point, hoping not to begin my Scottish residency on a cobble-stoned curbside.  This logic, it turned out, was perfectly reasonable and utterly impotent.  The university department of housing is a for-profit operation designed to fill as many rooms as possible with as many foreign students as possible (tuition is free to Scottish residents) and then to point to the dreaded Terms of Service (TOS) as proof of their ownership should you be sideswiped by this data.  That little note in the body of the email about a cancellation period, it turns out, refers to a 7 day window that begins as soon as you accept the offer from the safety of your home continent, several months prior to arrival.  The fallout of this is that you are locked into a living arrangement – year long, in my case – sight unseen and situation unknown.  I discovered all of this when I announced my departure within the hour of my arrival and became embroiled in a protracted battle to gain access to anyone with the authority to do better than throw their hands up and deny any authority.  This was my happy introduction to the town, the country, and the university I’d sought after for years.  It was a hostile welcome, particularly to a ragged wanderer who’d just jettisoned all manner of security, familiarity, and home comforts.

 

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The shoebox.

 

The appointed Rational Decision Maker of the housing department, as it happens, was heavily fortified behind a boss dungeon of detours and misdirections.  Repeated assurances that I would be contacted went unfulfilled for weeks until finally I was retroactively informed that a representative had conversed with me without ever revealing his relation to the department.  Needless to say, I did not avail the anonymous man as to my housing concerns.  The well-oiled engine of the adult world is missing some pivotal screws! I worked meanwhile with a Student Advocate at the Student Union to assess my tenant rights and legal footing, and by the end of a month I at last managed to jam my foot in the door of the Wizard’s palace and communicate my appeal to the man behind the mask.  I had to trot out some highly personal information to make any headway against the TOS, but in the end I emerged victorious.  Score one for the little guy.  Literally.

And all of this is merely a preamble to the main point, which is this: I have leveled up, and the rewards are sweeter for the struggle overcome in obtaining them.  I have successfully navigated the Scottish housing market and secured shelter for myself in a foreign land.  I have repelled the dragons, defied the odds, and put down roots – and I go forward with the knowledge that these intimidating obstacles are conquerable.

Once free of my TOS tethers, I began my search for a new home at the UK’s Craiglist equivalent: Gumtree.  I soon had countless tabs open to various rental aggregate and agency’s sites.  In retrospect, for a small town like St. Andrews it may have been easier to simply pop in at the agencies in person, but I was under the impression from prior experience that it was better to rent from landlords directly, where possible.  This turned out to be a less accessible option, as the strict Scottish rental regulations encourage most private citizens to outsource that fuss and bother to the professionals.

In Scotland you don’t rent so much as “let,” although I have heard the terms used interchangeably.  (Similarly, an apartment is more commonly called a “flat”, though it can be called both.  I am not sure if there are nuanced differences to when the terms are appropriately employed.)  So most homeowners employ a “letting agent” who markets the rental and manages the considerable bureaucracy.  On a positive note, the regulations appear to be designed as much for the tenant’s protection as for the lettors and landlord.  While this is ostensibly the case in the States, it is more in evidence here by certain quirks of the Scottish system, such that deposits are held by an unbiased third party organization established specifically for the purpose of protecting rights and mitigating disputes.  This third party organization also oversees the walk-through assessment of the property before and after the tenancy.

One of the first things I discovered when I began my search was that many lettors state point-blank that they do not let to homewreckers, er, students.  Of course, the single-occupancy properties I was looking at appeal exclusively to singles and young persons of which students make up a majority, so many lettors preempted these applicants by stipulating “professionals and grad students only.”  This was particularly confounding to me because as a 30-something re-entry student I am neither a graduate nor a typical undergrad, and as a homebody I maintain my abode in fairly high standing.  Furthermore, although not presently employed I have ample professional experience, both freelance and office-based.  So I determined to emphasize my professional experience and minimize my student status when promoting myself to prospective lettors:

“Hello, I’m calling about the flat at 321 Northsouthwest Humperdink?”
“Are you a student or fully employed?”
“Um, yes.”

After a brief phone interview I was greenlighted for a viewing, so I set out in my least outrageous sweater pulled over a collared shirt, trying my best to look tweedish and teacherly.  All went smoothly until the agent responded to my inquiry about property tax.  “Oh, undergraduates are exempt, actually.  Are you an undergraduate?”
“Why, yes, I am!
Woops. Gratefully it was not held against me, though the particular property I was looking at was not specifically sacrificed at the alter of “student lets.”

Proceeding with the application process, the agent took my email and sent me a list of documents they would require.  These included landlord, employer and character references, along with proof of income and enrollment status.  It turned out to be fortuitous that the cat was out of the bag, so to speak, since a financial aid document was the only proof of income I currently had.  I returned these things by email while reciting a silent mantra of thanks to whatever managerial spirit had seen to sparing the redundant requirement of a formal application.  There was a brief period of uncertainty when they inquired if I could provide local references and I cringingly confirmed that I could not.  To compensate for this deficit, I sent along some official letters of reference from former employers and waited on tinterhooks for a week or so, at which point an angelic choir of shoulder angels accompanied the happy announcement of my approval.

 

end 1 the trophy

furnished lets

 

Contrary to the informality of the application process, the walkthrough itself was considerably more formal than those I’ve undergone in the States.  When the woman from the third party organization met with me, she had already been through the property once with a fine tooth comb.  She then gave me a tour while pointing out the issues she had already found and documented.  I later received a copy of this comprehensive report, including photographs and notations on the condition of all aspects of the home, and was given a week from the time I moved in to submit corrections or additions.

One of the coolest discoveries I’ve made about renting in the UK is that it’s not at all uncommon to find a furnished rental.  There’s an option in every search filter for furnished housing, and no shortage of listings that meet this handy distinction.  Thanks to this, I was able to rent privately without having to worry about buying everything I would need for the home – a condition which would have either left me destitute or profoundly spartan.  So it was that my new home came with a double bed, bedding, couch, chairs, a television, and a fully equipped kitchen.  There was even some modest decor, which I was told I could put into storage if so desired.  Most of it is still scattered about the place, though, since clutter makes a home.  But I’ve also made my own contribution, of course, and at last have my revenge for the scrupulously decor-resistant dorm walls!

 

decor 2

decor 1

 

Prior to my departure from student housing, I had been warned that private letting in St. Andrews would be difficult and expensive.  Perhaps because I was looking after most of my fellow students had already settled in, I was fortunate to find a fair number of choices.  I also discovered that for a short bus ride out of town I could find housing for half the price of what it went for in St. Andrews.  I ended up taking a place within a 15 minute walk to the school – half the distance of the student apartments – and less than a 5 minute walk to the beach, for less than the cost of university accommodation.  Adding in private utilities, it came to about the same.  Suffice to say I was reasonably satisfied with the switch.

From start to finish, my experience renting in St Andrews was dramatically different than my last experience in the States.  Compared to St. Andrews, my home university has a student body of roughly 40,000 in a city with a population of over 100,000 in the excessively popular Bay Area of California, one of the most populous states in the nation.  Listed rentals are inundated with applicants within minutes, and the extremity of demand has prices skyrocketing and landlords clamoring to convert ANY unused space into an income source.  Most of what I looked at there was four white walls with a bed and a hotplate, some no bigger than a large closet.  They made me claustrophobic, and I have a history of living in trailers.  For all of that, the minimum monthly cost was still well over a thousand.  Due to this, I ended up commuting to school from a friend’s place about two hours north for the first four months of my university career, until at last I landed a little apartment an hour closer.  Even then, they said they had received hundreds of applicants within an hour of posting, and I was only fortunate enough to secure it by virtue of arriving at the open house early and with a binder of references.  So I just have to laugh when I hear people say that St. Andrews is a hard place to rent in.

Welcome home, wanderer.  I am living in Scotland!

 

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Welcome to the Wild, Bridled, Mid-West

On my first foray into the Scot lands in 2009, I stayed at a charming hostel perched on the edge of Loch Ness and hobnobbed with the venue management over drinks in the evening.  Inspired, as I recall, by a customer’s sordid tale, the bartender imparted to me a truism, as she implied, on Scottish temperament: if you fall and crack your head open on the curb, the Scots will pick you up, dust you off, and send you on your way with a bandaid and a pat on the back.  I did not, of course, take this story literally.  But I did infer from it that the Scots were a laid back sort of people, warm but resilient and able to take a few knocks.  In a world of ever-growing restrictions in the name of public safety, I was attracted to the idea of a more relaxed climate and attitude toward personal responsibility.

When I was a wee whipper-snapper, my favorite playground equipment was a horizontal bar just high enough from the ground for me to do flips on.  Nowadays, at least where I come from, you’ll rarely see so much as a metal slide (burn hazard) much less anything you might risk cracking a skull on.  And the red tape isn’t limited to the little people; try to sit, stand or walk anyplace not strictly approved for the purpose and you’ll be yelled off on charges of “safety.”  I can only assume that this pattern of paranoia is a product of the lawsuit culture in the United States.  The “safety” really being referenced is the city or the property-owner’s protection from liability.  Even erroneous lawsuits are costly and damaging to reputation.  I was looking forward to living some place where the laws were a little more permissive and I could explore my environment without fear of being yelled off by the authorities.  After all, if I want to stand in the shower while drying my hair, that’s my right as an idiot.

At first blush, my intuition seemed sound.  As I was discussing job prospects with a local friend, he mentioned that Law was not a very lucrative discipline in Scotland, as there just isn’t enough work to be had in the field.  A fascinating idea, coming from a place where Law is considered an extremely responsible degree with excellent prospects.  So it is all the more confounding to discover that, far from the land of hard-knocks I had envisioned, Scotland is extraordinarily regulated.

The last time that I lived in school-accommodation, I was dumped into a small apartment with three other people and then immediately and entirely forgotten until the rent came due.  The contrast with my latest experience is enough to make you long for the days of administrative apathy for your existence.  In the Halls at St Andrews, not a week goes by that something isn’t being tested, inspected, handled and branded for safety regulation compliance.  It’s an active, ongoing cycle that can’t be buggered to back off while semester’s in session.  One day the porter needs access to inspect the fire equipment, another day it’s the ever-foreboding shower head that requires immediate investigation.  Cleaning inspections run monthly, and our adrenalin systems – that is, the fire alarms – are tested Every. Single. Tuesday. Morning.

Additionally, each semester an electrician requires permission to enter the premises and test every cord, contraption and cable that ever even dreamed of harboring an electric current.  He then glues a large purple sticker to each and every device lest it be caught horrifically naked and unstickered and summarily confiscated. From where I sat on the bed after the electrician had had his way with things, purple stickers could be seen adorning the television, television cables, refrigerator, dishwasher, thermostat, lamps, stove, tea kettle, and the kitchen sink.  (Okay, that last one was a bonus.)  And personal possessions were not immune: everything from my laptop to each individual mobile charger had been tagged.  It reminded me of an old roommate who used to put stickies on all of her property with the words, “Do Not Touch!” throughout the apartment.  I was discovering formerly unnoticed stickers for days.

 

a-storm-of-stickers

A storm of stickers.

 

But the height of the insanity snuck up, as it often does, in the wee hours of the night.  I was awoken one Tuesday morning to the soothing sound of an electric trill.  As I slowly drew myself up from the alternate universe of unconsciousness, I calculated the date.  Yes, it was Tuesday.  Fire alarm test.  The trilling stopped and I drifted back toward the siren call of blissful slumber.  The alarm sounded again and my eyes popped open, landing on it suspiciously.  I checked the time on my mobile: not yet 5am.  Was the system glitching?  Tripping a few hours too early?  Was this a real alarm?  I couldn’t smell smoke or hear screaming.  Most likely it was a glitch or a drill, but I hadn’t read anything on the noticeboard about the latter, so I had to prepare for the worst.  If I was going to be standing outside in the Scottish night for untold hours,  I’d need protection from the cold. I pulled on my jacket, shoes and hat.  Should I save anything?  I started to leave empty handed, then reconsidered and went back for my laptop – that way I could let my family know what was happening and keep busy until (something like) order resumed.  I proceeded cautiously, checking closed doors for heat, then finally exited the building.  I skirted the large crowd loitering just outside the door and put some distance between myself and the prospective inferno, looking back to search for signs of smoke.  I noted that no authorities had yet arrived, which I would expect even in the case of a false alarm.  Just as I was wondering how long we’d have to wait, I heard a voice announce from the crowd that we were free to return.  A drill.  It was all just a drill – a thing I have not experienced in twenty-odd years, and never in the dead of night.  And not just a drill, but a timed one.  The Warden was less than impressed.

Presumably, all this safety paranoia in the Halls stems from an administration in abject fear of over-protective parents, many of whom may hail from the lawsuit-happy U.S.  But the regulation-frenzy isn’t relegated to the Halls.  I had another surprise when I attempted to access a classy website catering exclusively to adult sensibilities on my mobile.  Mobile providers, and indeed internet providers as well, block any and all 18+ content by default.  Even high brow literature, such as I was plainly seeking, is not immune.  It’s not enough to be the authorized owner of a device – access to, shall we say, sophisticated content requires not only a manual change in the Account settings but the submission of a valid form of ID.  Since I don’t have a Scottish driver’s license and am opposed to censorship on principle, I had to proffer the exhaustively long serial number attached to my government-issued passport.  Short of these, you won’t sample a paper thimble’s worth of undressed vanilla.  Since “adult sites” can be interpreted very broadly, you’d be surprised how much falls behind the veil.

A less salacious shock came in the form of counter-shock measures.  UK regulations do not permit any outlets in the bathroom, with the solitary exception of one exclusively for shavers built into on a small lamp above the mirror, presumably to keep it sufficiently removed from sources of electrocution.  It is also not uncommon for switches in the bathroom to be on pull-cords, reputedly to prevent wet hands coming in contact with electric outlets.  I don’t know if this has anything to do with light switches generally being located outside of the room they are intended to light, but I am certain that they are an endless resource for pranksters and small children.

 

shavers-only-need-apply

Shavers only need apply.

 

Scotland isn’t quite the land of hell-hardened warriors that I thought it was, but the overbearing public oversight isn’t all bad.  There are a number of social services that we could use in the U.S.  When I went to order tickets for a show, I found discounts offered not just to seniors and students but to the unemployed.  The railway even provides an avenue for mature students, like myself, who ordinarily age out of student benefits to prove our academic status to qualify.  Tenants are liable for property taxes, known as tarrifs, but these are waived for undergraduate students who rent privately.  And there are full-service discount stores here selling the same essentials (like mulled wine) you can buy at the more expensive chain stores for a fraction of the price.  St Andrews is considered by the locals to run toward the high end in cost-of-living, and judging by the way property prices plummet as you head out of town, that must be the case.  But coming from the Bay Area of California, living has never looked more affordable.

 

price-tiers

Price tiers.

 

So, Scotland may ere more on the side of a Coddling Nursemaid than a Nanny-state and be refreshingly lawyer-free, but until the day that I can surf my laptop from the bathtub, it will never be the savage land sold to me by Braveheart and a little bartender at Loch Ness.

 

careful-visitors-welcome

“Careful Visitors Welcome.”

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Between Worlds

The blog conventions dictate that I shall be known as “Jordan in Scotland,” but it should really be “Old Man Undercover.”  Not only have I sat on a shelf and ripened a decade or two longer than the majority of my peers, but I clearly have the constitution of a man many years my elder. If I were at home right now, I’d be bookended between two cats on the couch, drinking tea. Of course, I can be as childlike as I am centennial. But so can an old man if you stay off his lawn and give him a lolly. The point is, I’m old and set in my ways. I know what I like, and I’ve spent the better part of many years discovering what makes me happy and comfortable and carving a little nest for myself which is conducive to those ideals. So what am I doing in a featureless flat in a foreign land, bereft of all worldly possessions beyond the ones I could fit under the seat of a plane?

Oh, sure, it’s easy to take a holiday from everything that ties you down. Even liberating.  But a holiday, this is not. If this were a holiday, I’d probably be sharing each little oddity, amusement, and imposition with a close companion. But I’m out here on my own, 5,000+ miles from home, with all the usual responsibilities to manage and none of the customary support. I won’t pretend to be having a grand old time of it. But if I didn’t want to be here, I wouldn’t have come back.

It’s been seven years since I first jammed myself into a flying tin-can for eleven hours and had the privilege to inhale British-European air upon my glorious extrication. Six years, nine months since I’ve been scheming to repeat the ordeal. Because the one thing holidays can’t offer you is the chance to live like a native. For three months in 2009, I was a Londoner. I lived in a flat in the borough of Kensington, took the Piccadilly line from Gloucester Road station, and sat for classes at University of London. The experience filled me with a new lease on life, countless Bangers and Mash, and one last niggling thought as I returned to the States: “I was just getting the hang of it!”

 

hamish-2009

Hamish in 2009.

 

This Scottish scheme was conceived during that previous stint abroad. During the semester intermission, we popped up to Scotland on the rail and took a peek at some of its finest offerings: Stonehenge, Dunkeld, Loch Ness, the Castle of Edinburgh, the Wallace Monument, the Isle of Skye, and Hamish the “Hey-ry Coo” (Hairy Cow). I knew before the week was out that I’d be coming back. But I never do anything by halves. For the next 9 months, I’ll be a Scotlander – longer than I’ve been a San Franciscan from my native California. Nine months and no going back. You could make a whole new person in that time. Nine months in the little medieval town of St Andrews at Scotland’s oldest university, rocking the gothic since 1413. You could make twenty-five generations in that.

You’d think that seven years’ preparation would have prepared me. But this newer, more audacious stint at international infil-, er, integration sends me straight back to nursery school. I’ve noticed in my many lifetimes that one of the harder things to navigate in life is anything you’ve never navigated before. From the moment we’re wrenched from the womb, if we’re lucky, someone is holding our hand and leading us forward every wobbly step of the way. We learn our way around the crib, the house, the neighborhood, the campus, all under the watchful eyes of our elders – slowly graduating from one bubble to another like a geographical Chinese nesting doll, all along wrapped in the confidence that we’re right where we’re supposed to be.

So it’s always something of a terror being set adrift without a map. How do I get where I’m going? What am I supposed to be doing? Am I about to get eaten? Good luck and godspeed.  Anytime I have to do something I’ve never done before, no matter the magnitude, there’s trepidation. It’s inevitable that I’m going to do something wrong. Make a wrong turn, say the wrong thing, walk the wrong way, and generally betray myself as an infant without attendance. In the words of the venerable Bilbo, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door.” Transplant yourself to a new world and every day is an adventure. Adventure is not about safety or comfort. It’s about living. Leveling. Expanding.

And going to another world is exactly how it felt. In the days leading up to departure, it’s all I could think about. I once drove from Arizona to Oregon to seek refuge at home, but there’s no road between home and my heading, this round. If I wanted to come back, I’d be at the mercy of the aviation gods and the depths of my wallet… and Time. There’d be no popping back for dinner and drinks or a hug, no matter how much I or my mother needed it. I may as well have been stepping through a one-way portal to spend the next nine months in search of the one that brings me back. The overbearing sense of “No Exceptions, No Returns” was overwhelming. Not only did I have to remotely prepare a life for myself to step into in the new world, but I had to insure that my life at home would continue to function without me. This turned out to be a lot more difficult than it had in the past, not only due to the extended duration but to the ways that my life has changed.

You also might expect, as I did, that being older makes things easier. But at least in this case, youth seems to have the advantage. For my first expedition abroad, I was fairly new to living on my own. I had moved to a town about two hours south of my parents, and could get home easily if I needed to. I had a new apartment, a new car, and was the newly adopted father to a couple of adorable shelter cats. I had recently returned to college, and my petition to study abroad had been accepted. I was feeling competent and intrepid. I coerced a loyal friend to house-and-cat-sit for my little London excursion, and soon looped back to the States and resumed my life as if nothing had happened. But a lot happens in seven years. I’ve inhabited different residences and jobs, developed relationships, grown my network, and refined my own sense of place and community.  I’ve also developed the kind of ailments that introduce themselves after thirty, like back pain and an irritable bowel. Even more problematic, my furry dependents, now both nine, have each developed their own health hazards. And, oddly enough, my parents aren’t getting any younger, either.

 

homelife

Home life with my cats.

 

My life at 36 is infinitely more beleaguered than my life at 29. I had to thoroughly uproot myself from my latest apartment – no one would be house-sitting this time. I sold most of my furniture in the classifieds, and liquidated many possessions through yard sale and donation. I had to enlist my poor mother to take on the unenviable nursing care of my special-needs cats for the better part of a year, and at a time when she didn’t need the extra hassle. I had to settle my accounts, stockpile medications, and say goodbye to friends knowing they might not still be around when I get back. As if that weren’t enough, that old nemesis Bureaucracy had to rear its great horned head: the pharmacy bumbled my prescription, my university-sponsored health insurance lapsed due to my being technically unregistered (studying abroad), my mobile contract expired a week before departure, and the British Consulate stole my passport without informing me.

 

dsc_6738

Starting to pack.

 

The proverbial hurricane that carried me away from home was anything but exhilarating. I felt like a piece of paper that had been torn in two, with half blown to another continent and the other still wilting, bewildered, back at home. I’ve had a weather widget for St Andrews parked on the home screen of my phone for several years, serving as reminder and motivation; a digital carrot carrying me toward my self-prophesied fate. But upon finally arriving at the pinnacle of my hard-sought destination, poised in the seat of victory atop a double-decker bus, my thoughts were ever in two places. Not unlike they’d been when I’d returned from London, actually. Maybe it’s a side-effect of the portal.

 

on-the-double-decker-bus

On the double decker bus.

 

After surviving a series of excruciating flights and a layover in Keflavik, I arrived in Edinburgh on August 28th. I’ve blocked out most of that period, so it’s fortunate that the age of digital documentation doesn’t let us forget. It looks like I did manage to collect my luggage at the claim; I suppose that explains why my new abode isn’t entirely derelict. And I do recall the personnel for the Edinburgh Tram outside the airport being incredibly gracious, helping me sort out payment and route not just with patience but solicitude, and not merely in the paid-to-please brand of the term. Perhaps they were new to the work, or maybe they were attracted to the California sun still baked into my clothes. But the sense of disorientation remained profound; I was as green as the Wicked Witch in Emerald City. I bought a day pass for the bus in Edinburgh and when the driver directed me to scratch off the date, I stared at him dumbly. What WAS the date? Was it still Saturday? Was it August, here? With everything so altered, it was very difficult to be sure.

One of the first things I noticed upon setting down in Edinburgh was my inherent tendency to veer to the right on walking paths when faced with pedestrians traveling in the reverse. I noticed this because those oncoming had an unfailing tendency to veer to their left, placing us on a collision course. It gradually dawned on me that we unconsciously seem to organize ourselves on foot by the same rules that we’re accustomed to driving. Thus, constituents of the UK don’t just drive on the left – they WALK left. Have fun attempting to reformat your walking legs if you ever make it here. And then go to a college town half occupied with American exchange students, and have fun playing human pinball trying to guess between them and the locals!

 

leith-in-edinburgh

Leith in Edinburgh.

edinburgh

Edinburgh.

 

Another thing that immediately captured my attention were the serving sizes in restaurants. The Scottish don’t strike me as timid eaters, but a standard helping at the venues I’ve sampled would have been sent back in the States on the charge of forgetting the entree. The burger and smattering of fries I received in one establishment looked a little lost on its comparatively enormous saucer, but they were sufficient to satiate my stomach. Visitors to the US must be aghast at the portions we serve, and satisfied as to the source of our infamous battle with obesity. Truth be told, I would have eaten twice that number of french fries (at the least).

 

serving-size

An example of the serving sizes here.

 

Another thing to watch out for here is the predominance of sparkling water. It’s wise to cultivate the habit of adding “tap” when you order a glass of the old standard, and “ice” isn’t bad to include, either. Just as popular is the practice of ordering to go. Virtually every venue will ask if you mean to “sit in” or “take away” – from the afternoon cafes to the evening pubs. In the States, staying seems to be taken for granted unless otherwise specified. As an introvert, I really ought to get a handle on this “take away” trend.

But what has been most surprising for me on this journey so far is not that I have missed my home during this tumultuous transition, but how much I have missed London. I find myself looking not for the comforts of home but to relive the experiences I left behind in Britain. The rustic pubs and tea houses on every corner. The bridges over the Thames, the London Eye, and St James Park. The Tube, the boroughs, and live theater enough to rival the television listings on subway billboards. And I desperately miss my London flat, with its big windows, tall ceiling and cozy kitchen. I came prepared to embrace the British way of life, the one I had jump-started all those years ago. I just forgot how distinctively different two countries that share a continent can actually be. Living in the UK bears certain associations that I’m discovering are not exclusively universal. The Sainsburys grocery chain and Boots pharmacy still exist up here, but I might have to trade in my staple diet of Bangers and Mash for Scotch Eggs and Whiskey. The locals still speak the Queen’s English, but you wouldn’t know it for all you can understand them sometimes.  And the buses!  I have yet to get hopelessly and irrevocably lost on the buses. This definitely isn’t London anymore, Toto. I guess we’d better practice our Scots.

 

bus-system

Ready to learn the bus system!

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