Last month I saw this Huffington Post article detailing the little differences between America and the rest of the world. I read through, nodding and laughing along, and decided to compile my own list.
Without further ado, here’s a list of things to know before moving from the US to the UK.
(*Side note: this is heavily NYC -> London focused as that is my experience.)
Apartment Hunting: Or should I say, flat hunting. If you previously lived in Manhattan, you’ll be fine as the letting costs (i.e. rental costs) and Estate Agent/Broker process are similar, minus the 15% annual rent fee (although Estate Agents have a reduced version). Unless you’re a bajillionare, rents will be high, flats will be small, and 95% of conditions will be “charming” (i.e. older and not in tip top condition). In case you don’t want to move your furniture across the Atlantic, you’ll be happy to know that many flats come more or less fully furnished (although the quality varies…tremendously).
Setting Up Your Flat: Sign up for internet and tv as soon as possible. It can take two weeks for providers (i.e. BT, Sky, Virgin) to hook you up.
Bank vs. Flat: Here’s a head scratcher for you: in London, you need a bank account before you can apply for a flat. You also need a permanent address in order to apply for a bank account. How’s that for a riddle?
999: This is the official emergency telephone number in the UK. I actually didn’t know this until recently and had a moment of “Wait, what do I do in case of emergency…..?”
Tube > Subway - The Tube is much cleaner and runs exceptionally more frequently, even during off peak hours (average wait time is 2-3 minutes). On the flip side, it closes around midnight and there aren’t as many stops so you often have to walk further to get to your destination.
NYC Taxis > London Taxis - Not only are London taxis exceptionally more expensive than their NYC counterparts, but outside of central central central London, they’re also not as prevalent. If you think you can just run out of your flat and hail a cab on the street, think again. (Unless you live on a major road). In addition, the vast majority of black taxis (the ones you hail on the street vs. ones your order via an app) don’t accept credit cards.
London Bus > NYC Bus - Even though it typically takes longer, I actually prefer the bus to the Tube. However, the only real reason London wins this is because of the double decker advantage.
Cell Phones: You’ll need to ensure your phone is “unlocked’ before arriving in the UK. Otherwise, your American phone wont work over here. Most companies don’t want to do this unless you’re near the end of contract. AT&T and Apple tried to pull this nonsense with Joel and me so I went into defense mode until they finally agreed.
You can order your UK sim card online and have it sent to a UK address for your arrival and then simply add your plan (online) once you’re settled. I use Giff Gaff for my personal phone (the absolute cheapest on the market - only £12/month for unlimited data, unlimited texts, and 250 minutes) and O2 for my work phone. I’ve heard some people experience not so great service with Giff Gaff, but mine is just fine 99% of the time and requires no contracts. Win Win.
Credit Cards: What’s a sure fire way to immediately show a stranger that you’re American? Whip out your credit card. The Brits (actually, I think it’s most of the non-USA world), use credit cards with a small silver chip and pin. I continued to use my non-foreign transaction fee US credit cards for the first couple months I lived here and every.single.time I used it, the cashier looked at me with a blank stare as if to say “What am I supposed to do with this magnetic strip, swipe, signature card?”
According to the above HuffPo article, the electronic identification chip/pin credit cards provide greater security and would have prevented the recent breach at Target that exposed 70 million customer records. The problem is, it’s a wee bit tricky to get a British credit card (i.e. some nonsense about having no proof of UK credit, yadda-yadda-yadda.) An easy work around is to ask for a British version of one of your existing credit cards. I did this with AMEX, demonstrated proof of residency, and received my very own chip/pin credit card within two weeks. You can of course use your new bank card, too.
Wine: When ordering a glass of vino at a bar in the States, I’d mentally pray for a “good pour”, i.e. heavy pour. The fact is, you never know if you’re in for a baby pour or generous pour. The Brits figured out a system for this. At the majority of pubs, you can either order a Small (125ml) or Large (250ml) glass. (Side note - 250ml can be as much as 1/3 of a bottle). It’s all part of the government crackdown on binge drinking, but I have a feeling that even though there’s an option for a smaller glass, most people still end up ordering the large version. Why? Because really…why wouldn’t you?
Time: This is a given, but they do 24 hour time here. And everywhere else in the world. BUT, it reverts back to 12 hours time when speaking. Rule of thumb - Writing: 24 hours. Speaking: 12 hours.
Bills: Electric and water bills are served up quarterly, not monthly. So just when you think “oh maybe they forgot to send us our bill since we just moved here?”, think again.
Eating In vs Take Away: When grabbing a sandwich at a UK cafe (i.e. Pret, Pod, etc), you’ll pay a higher price if you choose to eat in. I’m not sure how many restaurants/cafes this affects, but apparently, a court ruled that since the level of service is minimal when customers take their food to go, it should be exempt from extra VATs (i.e. tax.) The price different is typically around 50 pence.
Weather: The good news? I’d wager to say London’s reputation for constant rain isn’t entirely accurate. The bad news? London isn’t know for sunshine, either. In fact, a recent study revealed that the UK suffers from a “Vitamin D deficiency epidemic” with 2/3’s of people classified as severely lacking. Long story short, be prepared for days of grey, grey, and more grey.
Medical Insurance: One of the first things you will need to do is to register at your local surgery (doctor’s office). Find one here. You can simply walk in and register - you’ll need to bring proof of address (i.e. a copy of your rental agreement or bill) and your passport (including your Visa) with you to the GP’s.
You must have the right to work in the UK in order to get need a National Insurance Number and you must have a National Insurance Number in order to work. Request yours by clicking here.
Airport Transportation: Know your options when traveling between Heathrow and central London. I’ve listed the estimated times and costs, which each have pro’s and con’s depending on your luggage and timing situation. (Getting to Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, and City Airports are a whole other story).
-Regular black taxi (not pre-ordered): £50-£80/30-90 minutes depending on traffic
-Pre-order taxi: £30-£40/30-90 minutes depending on traffic (I use Airport Executive)
-Heathrow Express: £20/15 minutes (The train arrives and departs from Paddington Train Station. It’s really modern and nice and makes the Newark Airport train look 200 years old.)
-Tube: £5.50/60-70 minutes…depending on where you’re going.
Chain Store Equivalents: Whether you’re trying to find the right supermarket, drugstore, or favorite department store alternative, here’s my take.
-Boots: Duane Reade, Walgreen’s, CVS
-Primark: An even cheaper version of Forever21 and H&M.
-Supermarkets: regional food stores in the UK are all different, but if you were to rank UK supermarkets from best (i.e. nicest produce and meat selection) to worst (i.e. best for quick last minute shopping), it’d be this order: Waitrose -> Sainsbury’s -> Tesco.
-John Lewis: Nordstrom or Bloomingdales
-Marks & Spencer: If Target and Macy’s had a love child. And sometimes sold food. Kind of.
Have any additions? Think I’ve gotten something completely wrong? I’d love to see any and all suggestions.
Let me paint a picture for you…
After two weeks of non-stop travelling, intense work changes, and an abnormally full social calendar, I’ve been given the best present in the world - two full days of “me” time.
Joel is in New York City (kind of perfect timing), so the vast majority of the past two days has been spent sleeping, reading, drinking wine, eating cheese, and cuddling my dog. I actually added “RELAX” to several hour long blocks on my Google Calendar so I wouldn’t get wrapped up in the ever growing to-do lists of real life.
After laying horizontal on my sofa for several house, this afternoon I decided to put on real clothes (i.e. pants without an elastic waist band) and geek out for several house at The Wallace Collection, a former family residence in Marylebone. Turns out, the family’s biggest hobby was collecting English and French 18th century paintings, furniture, and porcelain…..my favorite period.
If you’re also inclined toward the Georgian and Louis/Versailles era, I’ve got two words for you: TREASURE TROVE.
I understand that this wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but for me, taking the time to slowly stroll from piece to piece and chat up the curators for background stories is my version of utopia.
When we first moved to the UK, Joel and I daydreamed about sitting around on a Thursday night with no weekend plans and booking a last minute trip. We almost pulled the trigger a couple of times, but ultimately, it’s a bit too intense/anxiety ridden to take a trip that last minute.
While it wasn’t super last minute, we lived a bit spontaneously and scheduled a trip to Madrid with one week’s notice.
This was actually our first trip since we got married….just the two of us.
With all the changes in the last year, there was never a time for a honeymoon (it will happen…eventually) and even though there have been a handful of trips in the last six months, none were just….us.
And boy, did it feel good.
Friday night kicked off with 8pm drinks at Meson de la Guitarra. Considering Spain’s late night dinner lifestyle (as featured in the NYT earlier this week) mixed with the popularity of the bar (we received a ton of recommendations to go here), we figured drinks from 8-10pm would be normal.
We were wrong.
For two hours we had Meson de la Guitarra to ourselves, a pitcher of sangria, some tapas, and a couple of musicians.
At around 10pm, a couple people began trickling in and by 1030, the place was filling up.
You live, you learn.
At 11pm, we arrived for dinner at Bocaito, a quintessential Spanish restaurant (in terms of food and ambiance), which came recommended by a local colleague of mine.
It was here that we fully understood the late night Madrid culture…
At 11pm, the host was quoting 1 and 1/2 hour wait times and the rooms were packed with guests of all ages.
Saturday morning we woke up to rain, rain, and more rain. The timing was rather perfect since our goal for the day was to go on a culinary adventure at Mercado de San Miguel.
The indoor market is stall after stall of tapas, particularly seafood. And wine. And jamon….which is hanging everywhere.
Three hours later we emerged with grins from ear to ear…..partly from all the wine, partly from our full bellies.
We then went for a bit of a walk, cursing the rain along the way…
And decided it was time to soak up more culture, i.e. try more food.
This time we went with churros and chocolate.
But the best part of the weekend? Easily our bike tour with Bravo Bike.
Kaspar took us on a three hour ride throughout the city explaining the history, sharing local facts, etc. We cruised through parks, passed by palaces, stopped for a cafe con leche and pastry, curved around tiny alleys, and finished down a big boulevard that was empty of cars thanks to a protest. Kaspsar also doubled as a paparazzi, snapping our photo around every twist and turn.
My only regret is doing the ride toward the end of the trip since we gained such a better understanding of the city and the culture.
Although the thought of eating more croquettes or jamon makes me queasy…
Here’s to living (a smidge) spontaneously!
He leaned over from his barstool and whispered in my ear "This is the best restaurant in the neighborhood. Maybe even in all of Paris."
This week I landed in Paris for 24 hours - one hour for a work meeting, the remaining hours for exploring.
While I returned to some of my old favorite stomping grounds, the reality is that I haven’t lived in Paris for nine years (le sigh) and needed to scope out some new spots.
I took a French class this past Fall to brush up on my Francais and my teacher recommended Les Cocottes. She also suggested it to two of my friends who recently went and raved about it.
Tuesday afternoon I wrapped up my meeting, said “Au Revoir” to my colleagues, and ventured to the 7th Arrondissement. Although the area is home to some of Paris’ most famous landmarks (Eiffel Tower, Musee D’Orsay, Hotel des Invalides), it exudes a neighborhood/village vibe.
I made my way passed Champs de Mars, down Rue Saint Dominique, and found myself in front of Les Cocottes. I had heard rumors of the no reservations policy/long waits, but by my 1:15 arrival, I was seated right away at the bar, which actually seemed to be the prized restaurant real estate.
While some classic Parisian restaurants hold on to an infamously traditional look and feel, it was a pleasant surprise to see how a restaurant could segue into a modern era. Les Cocottes has created a comfortable, yet casual ambiance that feels like 2014, while still maintaing and serving classic, melt in your mouth, what-you-come-to-Paris-for French food.
I started with the Foie Gras (I think the salad dressing was made of crack because never in my life have I wanted to eat more plain lettuce).
Followed by Pavé de cabillaud demi-sel, ragout de pommes de terre et carottes (Cod, potatoes, and carrots).
I don’t even like carrots, but…..wow.
There are simply no words.
I only wish you could smell this photo.
As I paid for the meal and savored my last few sips of wine, an older gentleman entered the restaurant, was greeted by the staff as if he was everyone’s best friend, and sat next to me at the bar.
Monsieur obviously took pride in his appearance and the result was immaculate - tortoise shell glasses, a silk tie, and a silver napkin holder were sartorial perfection, reminiscent of another time.
He asked me if I was enjoying my wine. I replied “mais, bien sur” and that even though it was my first meal at Les Cocottes, it hoped it wouldn’t be my last.
Jean Servot proceeded to tell me that he dines here every week, always ordering something different. He confided that he’s lived in the arrondissement since the 1930’s and then he leans over on his barstool and whispers in my ear "This is the best restaurant in the neighborhood. Maybe even in all of Paris."
The next thirty minutes were spent discussing life, love, France, and the United States (his favorite state is Colorado). Although we spoke only in French, he asked me where I was from originally and was shocked to learn the answer was America. He assumed, based on my accent, that I hailed from Australia or Great Britain. This was no news to me since I was placed in the Aussie/UK group instead of the American group during my “Accent Class” at The Sorbonne. I’m still trying to figure out that riddle….
Finally, it was time for me to go. I told Jean that it was an absolute pleasure to meet him. His response was much more charming.
"Today, President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande will meet, but I consider myself to be infinitely more lucky to have had this meeting with you.”
Even the waitresses swooned.
We exchanged cards and said “Until next time”, not “goodbye”.
I arrived in Amsterdam last week for a quick work trip. Although I visited the city once before, it was seven years ago and I didn’t have the best experience.
This time I left feeling completely different and cannot wait to return. I’m thinking Spring time…tulips.
First and foremost - Pannekoek (i.e. Dutch pancakes) are a dream. The doughy, crispy, sweet dish soaked up every sin from the night before…and there was a lot of Amsterdam sin to soak up. I’m very thankful there are no photos from that part of the visit.
I asked the concierge at my hotel to point me in the direction of a non-touristy area to walk around. He absolutely delivered and I proceeded to spend hours getting lost from canal to canal (and that’s not just figurative…getting lost in Amsterdam is a bit tricky). Ironically, while I wandered aimlessly, I was asked for directions four separate times. Who knew I looked so Dutch? As far as my walk was concerned, the bikes and facades kept me company…
As did this Lady lookalike statue.
The highlight of my trip? Walking passed a school during pick up. The Dutch have taken their love affair with bikes to a whole other level for carpooling….a true sight to be seen.
First and foremost, we had a low key celebration for Joel’s Birthday consisting of pain au chocolat (his favorite), sparklers, and a big ol’ Sunday Roast with friends. The real celebration (a trip) is on the horizon.
Lady started looking a bit too furry…
So we took her in for a little snip snip. With her new bob/page boy haircut, me think she passes for a puppy.
Lady also spent the past month sharing my real estate curiosity. On one of our neighborhood explorations, she sized up her favorite stoops.
She’s also been taking advantage of her frequent bus rides, treating them more like “meet and greets” with the locals.
Celebrated Australian Day with my favorite Aussies. Highlights included Tim Tams, summer clothes (they cranked the heat up to make it feel like down under), and a mechanical surf board ride (Tristan is the champion and lasted 100 seconds…..I lasted 16).
Finally enjoyed dinner at Locanda Locatelli, a wedding present from some friends. It was far and away the most indulgent, gourmet meal we’ve had since moving to London. A cheese plate with bespoke honey for every cheese selection? You better believe we enjoyed every second/taste of it.
Witnessed this intense, breathtaking rainbow while boarding a flight to Amsterdam.
Finally experienced Tayyabs, a BYOB Indian restaurant in East London infamous for great curry, dirt cheap prices, and a packed/mobbed scene. Most people line up to eat, but even with a reservation, it’s typical to wait 30 minutes or so.
Enjoyed a beautiful Sunday pub crawl through Notting Hill and North Kensington with some of my favorite people. I feel bad even typing this considering the weather in the US, but I’m really loving this mild winter we’re having.
The five of us met just six months ago (except Elysha and I who have known each other for 17 years) and now here we are celebrating Hannah…
Celebrating what, you may ask? Her baby girl who will be gracing us with an appearance in just a few more weeks.
We celebrated in the most logical way - with afternoon tea.
The Pelham is the opposite of London’s legendary tea houses. Instead of being in an ornate grand room at a massive hotel, The Pelham is a townhouse in South Kensington and the tea room is an intimate space as if you were getting cozy at a friend’s house.
Their afternoon tea included all the typical fix-ins, although it has to be noted that those peanut butter chocolate bites at the top were the winner and the fruit cake pops in the middle tray were the loser.
I’m of the opinion that you can’t go wrong with finger sandwiches. Realistically, they’re simple and boring, but there’s something about those light bites that I love….
Especially the cucumber sandwich one. It’s the most ridiculous of the bunch, but it’s my favorite.
They served several small scones person person, which helped to maintain the light fluffy texture (nothing worse that a big crumbly dry scone).
And the jam…..perhaps a haiku will do it justice.
Raspberry jam on my scone.
Drizzle from my spoon.
Taste buds dance.
Three hours later (no really, how did we drink tea for so long?) Hannah opened a couple presents for baby girl S.
And we discussed some very deep, meaningful life questions, most important of which is will Hannah deliver in the same room as Kate Middleton? Maybe yes. Maybe no.
This bunch of girls - what a good find.
This week was one worth forgetting.
But instead of focusing on the bad, how about we devote energy to joy.
Here are three quick videos that brought me happiness, inspiration, and in its simplest form, a smile, on this dreary grey Friday.
Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory won the Audience Award for US documentary at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Quick synopsis - a social worker had the idea of bringing iPods into care homes.
The result? A transformation that will warm you up even on the coldest of days. Watch what happens when a man with Alzheimers’ comes alive when he hears the music he grew up with.
Click here to watch the video.
Want people to take ACTION?! Turns out, happiness and joy is a better motivator than sadness and guilt. The SPCA of Wake County took this motto to heart.
Instead of encouraging people to adopt through depressing messaging (I’m looking at you, Sarah McLachlan), they created a Pet Adoption Celebration Video.
Because really, when a furry child joins your family, it’s cause for CELEBRATION!
Click here to watch the video.
Need a quick smile?
Not only does this golden retriever guard his owner’s bike…..he also hops on board for a ride.
Click here to watch the video.