Category Archives: Undiplomatic Behavior

Everyday Is Like A Game of Charades. One word. Four Letters.

With our upcoming return to the States, I’m up against a challenge…

We have certain household items that need to be sold. We don’t want to do without them until the very last minute, but that doesn’t leave much time to haggle.

Giving it all away is NOT an option.

This proves problematic when up against variables such a market saturation, demand, and other nifty things I learned in business school…

One afternoon, I popped into a pawn shop by our house to inquire how much the second-hand market could bare such items. After giving the clerk a quick description, I asked what he’d be able to offer for them… just a ballpark figure.

The clerk refused, insisting that I first bring in the items before we discuss pricing.

I quickly explained my situation– moving back to American right away, don’t have much time, need to know the best way to sell this stuff, I just live around the corner, blah, blah, blah.

They were still, “No. No. No.”

“Look,” I said, “I’m not going to hold you to the price. If I come back and you don’t think it’s worth the higher end, I won’t make a fuss. I just need a ballpark figure to work with… an idea of what this stuff is worth used.”

Then it dawned on me…

“Wait. Do you even know what I mean when I say ‘ballpark figure’?”

The clerk smiled meekly and shook his head.

“OH! I’m so sorry (thunk!) It’s just an American phrase. Ballparks are… Okay, nevermind. Look, again this is our situation… I just want to get your opinion on what you think these items are worth should I try to sell them.”

“So you want a range, like an estimate?”

“YES! Exactly. A RANGE! An ESTIMATE! Can you give me a range?”

“No”

(grumble, grumble)

By the way, there was a time in my life when I would have been absolutely appalled to be living so near to a pawn shop. Like… six months ago when I lived in the suburbs.

Oh, how city life has made me tough…

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Filed under Misconceptions and Mishaps, Packing Up and Moving, Undiplomatic Behavior

La Vie en Rose

Loosely translated: “having a rosy outlook on life”… or so my two years of college French taught me.

My French professor believed that anyone could learn a language. It was just a matter of throwing yourself into it with wild abandon and allowing the little “drawers of your mind to open up”.

(Why do profs always say things like that?)

I made A’s all four semesters, but those drawers remained shut as we made our way through Paris this past weekend. I guess I’ve lost the wild abandon of my college days… Trust me. It’s okay.

So anyway… Yes, we spent a long weekend in Paris.

eiffle-tower

Just for the heck of it? Not quite. We decided to combine the obnoxious task of re-establishing our tourist visas with a romantic getaway in the world’s most romantic city with my romantic husband… and our toddler.

They said we had to leave the country and come back through immigration. No one specified where and for how long. What better way to stick it to the English than to break croissant with their historic arch-rivals, the French!* (Just KIDDING!)

I think that’s making the best of a bad situation, don’t you?

In other news, Mike accepted a job in Northern California. It’s still overseas and not London and not quite home, but we are so grateful nonetheless.

In spite of moving again, we are certainly excited about the next chapter in our crazy life.

La Vie en Rose!

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* Okay, so I used to think that the English “animosity” towards the French was just an ridiculous stereotype. Then, one night I caught a short blurb about the French economy on the evening news.

Apparently, France hasn’t been as badly hit (relative the the UK, of course) by the credit crunch because of the way their banking is set up. The French government maintains different measures to keep its citizens from buying stuff they can’t really afford.

(Maybe a little socialism isn’t such a bad idea…)

When the cameras returned to the British news anchors in London, their only commentary on the story was, “Well, aren’t they smug?”

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Filed under Misconceptions and Mishaps, Packing Up and Moving, Sightseeing, Travel, Undiplomatic Behavior

The Trouble With Having My Nose in the Air

I was out one evening when my train was held at a station. Someone ahead of us “had taken ill” and the entire line shut down until they could be attended to.

Meanwhile, I was shoved next to two very… um, lively girls sharing an iPod. They were singing out loud and dancing with arms in the air…

The seemingly more outspoken of the two whined, “Com’on now. What’s WRONG with you people!! Stop being so DULL. No one is dancing…” (Uh, no one else can hear the music…)

Some people smiled indulgently or snickered, but I was in full on disdain. It’s wasn’t their enthusiasm that I found so repulsive. It was their overpowering B.O.!!

A funk, by the way, that was only heightened as they insisted on removing layers in some crazy, quazi-pole dance in a very crowded train…

Call Americans fussy or obsessive about bathing, but B.O. was simply not something I regularly encountered except for the two times I’ve lived abroad- Italy and, now the UK.

I can stand the smell of sweat from a particularly warm day (which it wasn’t) or a good work out. I will even admit to having missed a shower or two on occasion, but for these girls seemed to be chronic offenders.

I thought I was about to take ill right then and there. Fortunately, I only had one more stop to go…

A few days later, I was pushing Avery in his stroller when I detected more foulness the air. I walked faster to hurry home, but there was no escaping it. It lingered all around me.

I was mentally preparing a rant about how bad London stinks when I reached into our diaper bag and found the source– a sippy cup with milk in it… buried and forgotten from FOUR days ago.

Yeah, the foulness stinking up the streets of London was coming from ME!

That’ll teach me for being so smug.

smell460

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Filed under The Tube, Undiplomatic Behavior

Banking 2.0

It’s been a while since I’ve ranted about the banking system

Since my last post, I was finally added to our accounts. I have my own cards and everything.

No more begging Mike for advances on my allowance! Whew-hew!

So, the next logical step in my plan for world domination was to set up online banking. That should be relatively simple…

HA! Haven’t I learned that nothing, and I do mean NOTHING, is as simple as it should be here?

We attempted to log on to the site and were blocked. The outgoing message informed us that before setting up ONLINE banking, we must first call their PHONE banking to verify our details.

Once that is completed, the bank will MAIL (as in by Royal Post, not e-mail) a 9-digit log-in, which we can then use to set up online banking… and each step should take… umm, 3-5 business days.

FINE!

When their letter arrived in the post this morning, I hopped online immediately. Instead of then allowing me to access our accounts, the site spit out another reference code (15-digits, that’s SIX more digits than the last one…) along with instructions to call their PHONE banking again and give them this code…

…and then, they really will (promise, promise, cross-our-hearts-and-hope-to-die this time) authorize us to access our very own money online.

Is your head spinning yet? Oh you just wait for this next part…

After 10 minutes on hold, I’m told that the code I have in hand is Mike’s, not mine or even ours. So, I just have to answer a few quick questions to prove that I’m also on the account. (Fine. Whatever.)

I am transferred to another rep, who verifies this, but proceeds to tell me that I still cannot access OUR accounts with MY HUSBAND’s code.

In fact, it is ILLEGAL and I will need to apply for my own super secret code, which must never be shared. Not even with my partner

“I don’t get it. It’s the same accounts.” I argued

“Yes, but we do this for YOUR protection. Customers can only can access their individual accounts,” he replied.

“Okay, but this is a joint account. We’re married. We live together. We share the finances…”, I sputter.

“Madame. (dramatic pause) People don’t always stay together,” was his sage and worldly response to my obviously naive claim to wedded bliss.

“That is THE most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.  We’re talking about the two of us accessing the SAME accounts. We share the exact same accounts!”

“No. It makes perfect sense. If you were to separate, you would want to…”

I cut him off with my hysterical laughing. I’m so used to this insane run around by now that I’m past the frustration. All I CAN do is laugh.

“Okay, whatever. Just send me the papers.  I guess I’ll talk to you in 3-5 business days,” I said once I regained my composure.

Besides, if I were to ever leave Mike, don’t you think I’d drain our bank accounts first…

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As an aside,  all paperwork and official documents, from my bank cards to our phone bills to my library card, are issued to “MRS. G Duffy”. (As opposed to “Grace Duffy”, unique and multifaceted individual with a separate identity from Mr. M Duffy…)

Prior to moving to the UK, the only time anyone ever called me “Mrs. Duffy”, it was usually in mocking. Still, it amuses me to no end to live in a country where titles actually matter.

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Filed under Banking, Marriage, Undiplomatic Behavior

Blogging Under The Influence

Last night, I ran a brush through my hair, put on eyeliner and a shirt WITHOUT peanut butter stains, and headed into the city to attend my very first London Bloggers Meetup…

I was nervous about going, especially as I looked over the profiles of the other attendees…

Strategic Online… Director of Internet… PR Guru… Techie Wonder… Boring American Housewife Complaining about Londoners… Huh?!

Although my background is in online advertising and I have an MBA in Marketing, let’s face it… that all feels like a lifetime ago (even though it really wasn’t) and I totally didn’t bring my “A game” to London.

When I worked as an agency, I used to attend “networking events” all the time. I’d toss back a few cocktails, make some small talk, exchange contact info… Not a bad way to earn a paycheck and win the client.

I’m friendly, talkative, and fun. You’d think I’d be good that that sort of stuff, but really… I’m not. I would sometimes drink a little too much, maybe forget to bring my business cards, and inevitably say the wrong thing… only to sober up the next morning afternoon day and kick myself.

So walking into this event…for the first time… alone… as a foreigner in a new country… Yeah, nervous can’t begin to describe. Turns out, I had no reason to fret.

IT WAS FABULOUS… and there were so many interesting new people to meet.

I should first mention that the event was sponsored by Smirnoff and Splendid Communications, and held at the private company bar at Diageo Headquarters (maker of  some fine favorites such as Guinness, Tanqueray, and Captain Morgan… just to name a few).

…and as if that wasn’t FUN enough, they had mixologists (bartenders) create a signature cocktail for each guest based on their blog.

Curious what concoction they came up with for the “American Mom in London”?

Why, red, white, and blue with a touch of sweetness, of course. It was a mix of apples with a bit of tea (from my URL), vodka, blueberries, and maple syrup.

And why maple syrup, you ask?

Because… and I quote, “It’s what you Americans put on your pancakes, right Love?”

(It always goes back to the pancakes, man…)

Also, it turns out I brought my “A game” to London after all. As I was heading out, I said good-bye to a guy with whom I had chatted when I first arrived. He was, at that point in the evening, holding TWO drinks.

I made a comment about him having a drink in each hand, using an old college expression from the States.

He gave me such a (mock) scandalized look and told me to “never, ever say that again” as the other people who had overheard me fought to suppress giggles. He explained that what I just said was “umm… a bit of a dodgy term here”.

We had a laugh about it though, but on the bright side, I guess some things never change. Only now, it makes for great blog fodder.

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Filed under Blogging, Foodie, Life In The States, Misconceptions and Mishaps, Undiplomatic Behavior

Getting Invovled. Too Involved.

So, I hear that there’s this really awesome-active and super-involved parents’ group in our area.

I’m on the mailing list.

I have the membership card.

I get the newsletters.

I have yet to attend an event….

The most I HAVE done is trade e-mails and phone calls with one of the organizers, who is just so friendly and nice, by the way.

As soon as she learned that I just moved here (and didn’t know anyone in the neighborhood), she  immediately invited me to coffee.

I was so excited! This could possibly be my first BRITISH friend. Maybe she could explain my oven to me… hmmm.

We met up last week while her daughter was in nursery school. Since I also haven’t bothered to find one for Avery, I had him in tow.

“No worries”, she chirped over e-mail. “I’m looking forward to meeting your son, too.”

I told you. So nice.

We talked for over two hours while Avery amused himself with his cars and trucks–ramming them into his sugary pastry bribe (If you sit still, you can have this ENTIRE massive, gooey, raisin-y sweetness all to yourself)… and occasionally tossing them across the table.

He was mostly well-behaved, except for drinking his milk and spitting it out INTO my coffee…

I know, Eww!

She seemed to take everything in stride. Having a toddler of her own, she was totally cool with it… I think, and we just continued with our conversation.

I learned that her husband also works in the film industry… just like Mike. In fact, he even works in computer graphics… just like Mike.

“Wait, what company did you say he works for… Whoa! No way!”… yep, just like Mike.

As soon as I got home, I called Mike and asked if he knew her husband. He did… Quite well, in fact.

HE’S MIKE’S BOSS!!!

I flipped out. I just had coffee with Mike’s boss’ wife and had no freakin’ clue!

I probably should have pieced it together based to some of the things she’d mentioned, but I wasn’t thinking about that. I was just so eager for her to like me, which I actually couldn’t get a read on.

I’ve since replayed the entire event in my head over and over and over again, each time sinking deeper and deeper into my personal shame cycle.

Avery was licking the cafe window*… in front of Mike’s boss’ wife!

Avery totally had a poopy diaper and I didn’t even notice… but what if Mike’s boss’s wife did?

At one point, I think I may have accidentally spit while I was talking to… Oh my  dear goodness! Mike’s boss’ wife!

What’s worse is I had suggested that me meet for dinner this weekend and I haven’t heard back from her. Now, chances are she’s busy. Understandable. It did take a few weeks for us to find a time to meet for coffee…

Or she could HATE ME.

I have always liked Mike’s co-workers (and their spouses) and I’m very supportive of  Mike’s career. I mean. OBVIOUSLY.  I will move halfway around the globe for him to pursue his passion and work with great people, but I maintain a very strict boundary between Mike’s professional life and me (i.e. his personal life) because…

1) I think it’s important that Mike have a realm unto himself and…

2) to avoid situations like this: “So, I hear that Pokey Von PokeyBee** is a total jerk… Wait, what did you say your name was again? Oh, he must mean the other Pokey Von PokeyBee. he he he.”

I don’t crash their Friday “pub night”, I don’t get into the details of the office politics, and I certainly don’t hang out with “the wives/partners”.

I think possibly spitting on Mike’s boss’ wife, regardless of how unintentional, crosses that line.

*Umm, I have no idea what Avery’s deal is with licking windows… in public, no less. It’s  his new “thing” and it’s GROSS.  I stop him every time, but to no avail. I just hope he gets over it soon.

** Made-up name and there are no jerks at Mike’s current company. I know, it’s amazing. An entire company of non-jerks. No wonder Mike likes working there so much and hopes to CONTINUE working there long after the movie wraps up this winter 😀 (hint, hint)

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Filed under Family, Friendships, Misconceptions and Mishaps, Undiplomatic Behavior

A System of Cheques and Imbalances

Living in the nation that inspired Pax Britannica, there are plenty of times when I just want to yell…

“You conquered two-fifths of the world, now ACT like it!”

…but never more so than when I’m dealing with the bank.

Oh. My. Goodness. I could start an entire blog just on my rantings about the banking system in the UK.

In fact, I think I will.  I know, I’ll call it “Lloyds is Pants” just to see if it gets deleted.

(Go ahead. Click on the link. I’ll wait…)

When our bank isn’t busy changing its customers’ passwords, it’s…. well, I’m not exactly sure what it does…

There is the time when our bank LOST a huge transfer only to realize six weeks later that they had actually credited it  to the account of a Mr. M. Durby rather than ours…That’s something, right?

Wait. I shouldn’t even call it “our” bank since apparently I’m still not allowed to bank there. This is in spite of having personally submitted the paperwork to be added to the accounts over a MONTH AND A HALF ago.

Of course, we couldn’t just go to the branch around the corner from our house. Oh no! We had to go to the branch in the middle city…

… during lunch

… on a Friday.

There were several bank employees basically milling around since Friday isn’t really considered a work day here. (Come to think of it, neither is Thursday and definitely not Monday…)

We still stood in line for over an hour to see the one sucker who was actually still taking customers.

Once it was our turn, we handed over the paperwork- completed, signed, and dated. We provided proof of our identities and our London address, copies of our marriage license, and even references and past statements from our American bank.

(All required before you can even discuss having a account in the UK, by the way, but this was just to add me to an existing account.)

It took all of five seconds for the teller to see that everything was in order. She promised to mail the papers to their home office in only God knows where and that I should be added to the account straight away…

Two weeks later, Mike received a call asking him to clarify if I was opening my own accounts, or simply being added to his. (HIS! ugh!)

Assuming it was handled from there, I didn’t think anything of popping into our local bank branch to deposit a check… er, cheque into our account.

I pulled out a deposit slip from our book, helped Avery with his raincoat, and the two of us headed across the street.

Teller: You can’t deposit a check into this account. Your name isn’t on the deposit slip.

Me: I know. It’s an old slip, but I should have been added to the account by now.

Teller: Should have?

Me: (explain, explain explain…) So, you see, my name should be on the account by now.

Teller: Well, it’s not. Do you have your own account? I can deposit it there.

Me: No, I don’t

Teller: Why not?

Me: Because I was supposed to be added to… Wait, can I open my own account?

Teller: Umm… no.

Me: Well, what can I do with this cheque? Can I cash it?

Teller: No, we can only deposit it into an account for you. If you could just give me the account number and sort code…

…and we went through this about five times. Each round my frustration and volume increased until I realized that I had become noticeably hysterical loud. I backed off and just left, too exhausted to come up with something more dramatic.

Not that arguing would get me anywhere. Anyone immigrating into the UK starts off with ZERO credit history. Even if you moved here for a job, it takes YEARS before you can get one established. So ,basically being “jobless” here leaves me… persona non grata.

Some banks will let you get around this by depositing a sizable amount of money from your home country. In our case, it was the amount that they  had “lost track” of for over six weeks…

Unfortunately, having a British bank account is a necessary evil. Most employers will only pay by direct deposit and a checking account is needed before you can set up utilities or rent a home.

The problem is, in addition to the various documents mentioned above, first and foremost you need a valid UK address before you can open an account here.

An act of the Crown helps, too.

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Filed under Banking, Rantings, Undiplomatic Behavior