nw3 to nyc

Observations on moving my family across the Atlantic

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Another healthcare rant (with a twist)

I’ve written before about the crazy healthcare system here in the US. I don’t like it but I put up with it because, well, I have no choice and we have pretty good insurance. Here’s my most recent experience:

Me: Thank you for my prescription for eye drops, how much is that nice chemist lady?

Nice chemist lady: (looks sheepish and nudges packet across the counter to me, showing the cost printed on it in small type)

Me: 200 bucks??!!! Really?? What’s in it? Gold?

Nice chemist lady: Yeah, maybe (and continues to look sheepish)

I restrain myself from going into my NHS rant and pay the bill.

And today the complete opposite happened. I took J to the doctor and just couldn’t resist sharing my 200 dollar story so she took pity on me and gave me a handful of samples instead of yet another phenomenally expensive prescription and said ‘use those, I get loads’. Ha!

Then they couldn’t get their new IT system to work; it couldn’t cope with the fact that I wanted to ‘pay out of pocket’ because they don’t recognise my insurance, so I walked out without paying! I’ll have to go back and pay the bill later, but I did enjoy the frisson of excitement from not having paid…

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The tyranny of Invisalign

I had British teeth, all a bit crooked and crowded. When you live in New York City, you are surrounded by straight, white, beautiful teeth because practically every kid here wore braces and ended up with great teeth. I have been obsessively looking at everyone’s teeth since we’ve been here. Just over a year ago, I caved into the pressure (perceived by me) and spent a fortune on this crazy treatment called Invisalign.

Invisalign is a teeth straightening treatment. You wear plastic aligners over your teeth, made from 3D images of your teeth, and every two weeks you change to a new aligner to make a new movement in your teeth and for me that meant getting through 30 sets in just over a year.

I have worn them 22 hours a day, every day; taking them out only to eat or drink. I have made cups of tea before my meal in order for them to be cool enough to drink a the end of my meal to reduce the time the aligner is not in my mouth. I have been in great pain when I had a new aligner, because the pressure is so great on my teeth.

I had vile lumps of cement put on to 17 of my teeth which were coyly called buttons by the orthodontist to fool me into getting them put on. Apparently these were to help the aligner, but I never quite understood that.They were the worst part of it as they were so ugly and so rough in my mouth, they made eating much harder all round.

I even had to wear elastic bands that went from my top aligner to my bottom teeth, secured by a metal bolt on my molar, to adjust my bite. That was very unattractive, so much so I refused to wear them out and about and hid at home with them in.

I have brushed my teeth on average four times a day, got through miles of dental floss and should have bought shares in the toothpaste manufacturer, because I brushed so much this last year.

And the result? Well, yesterday I went to the orthodontist who removed all the cement, filed my wonky teeth and made me look amazing. Despite all the moaning above, I love my new teeth. They aren’t quite American teeth yet because I haven’t had them whitened and they need a few refinements to sort out the minor bits that need doing. But they are close to it.

Today has been odd. I still wear the last set of aligners at night until my new ones come through in January – for the refinements. So this morning I took them out, brushed them and left them in the cupboard because I don’t need to wear them during the day now. All morning I felt naked, like I was missing them. I seemed to be experiencing a form of dental Stockholm Syndrome, I wanted to go home and put them back in. I have resisted, but I did brush my teeth after lunch because I just can’t help it.

I won’t share a picture, I haven’t come that far from my British roots, but maybe I should change my name from nyc-newbie  to ‘previously British teeth’ instead.

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The $500 bug bite

This is a cautionary tale called “don’t let your kids get bitten by bugs in New York City”.

When the bite doesn’t heal, but spreads in a randomly circular fashion over your child’s leg and you hope that it will heal and five days later it still looks a bit angry, then you probably should follow that urge to take her to the doctors. And when you’ve waited in the waiting room for 40 minutes, then been seen by a nurse who then makes you wait another 20 minutes for the doctor, don’t despair if your toddler runs amok. You must think happy thoughts, that it is Friday and that it will, it must end soon.

And when the doctor appears, looking not so much like a doctor, more like your glamorous grandma, keep the faith, listen and hope that you can escape soon. And when she confirms that yes, that leg is horribly infected, you did the right thing and here’s a prescription (written out twice, as the first one was illegible, even for a doctor) you know you can now escape into Friday night, now feral children in tow (they need their tea). And then you can deal with your despair because she said you have to come back Monday!

Go back to the doctor on Monday, better prepared this time. Children fed beforehand, entertainments in bag and an acceptance of having to wait forever – confirmed by the receptionist who rolls her eyes when you ask how far the doctor is behind. And there you have it: a miracle, you are called within 10 minutes, see a nurse for 5 minutes, wait 2 minutes for the doctor, spend 5 minutes  with the doctor (this time in Pucci inspired grandma wear) and congratulate yourself on  being a good mother who spotted that it wasn’t right. Then thank the doctor for her perception and her kindness. And don’t be insulted when she says she doesn’t want to see you there again.

And the cost for all this: that’ll be $295 for the two doctor visits and just under $200 for the antibiotics. Gumph. NHS anyone?

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And I thought kale was for cows

It’s hard to believe these days, but it’s true, that I was brought up on a farm way out in the English countryside. All cows, fields and pretty much nothing to do. The farmer grew kale for the cows and they munched it. We grew our own vegetables, well my mum and dad did, and I don’t think I ever ate kale. Not knowingly.

When I rebelled age 14 and turned vegetarian, much to my dad’s disappointment, I subsisted on a fairly meagre diet until post University when I got all poncy and started buying kale in bags from Sainsbury’s and steamed it. It tasted OK, I felt worthy and the world kept spinning. I never persuaded R of its virtues and since he was the main reason I turned against my vegetarian ways around the age of 30, it was unlikely I’d ever get any vegetarian food down him, however hard I tried.

So why this little visit down kale memory lane? Because in New York KALE IS EVERYWHERE! Yes, it deserves those capital letters, because it’s bonkers. Kale in plastic boxes smeared in cheese, to make it taste better but ruin any health value it may have once held. It’s in the juice bar, as an option to go in your drink. You see women in those ubiquitous Soul Cycle outfits sipping green juice, and you know it’s mostly kale. Yuck. It’s sold in huge bunches in the vegetable section. Surely no one could eat that much of the stuff before it goes all swampy in the fridge?

According to the New York Times  “there was a lot of buzz in early to mid-August about looming shortages in the tough, seemingly ubiquitous leafy green (kale) that has reigned as a darling of foodies for the last couple of years.” Apparently it’s OK now, they found a few fields that farmers forgot about and those poor cows lost their tasty afternoon snack to give those New Yorkers their daily dose of green. I had a quinoa drink the other day, that was gross too, but that’s another story…

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Apparently we speak the same language

Update: This competition closed on 20 December. I came 3rd in the US bloggers section, so thanks for all the comments!

I felt inspired to enter a competition to share my expat experience. I have written a top tips post which was published on the Expats Blog website yesterday. Take a look using the link below, you may see some common themes from things I’ve written about before and some new observations. If you have a moment, leave a comment and tell others what you think. Thanks!



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You can call me marshal

Just for today, though. Today I was a volunteer marshal at the New York Marathon! This goes so close to our house, so it seemed rude not to. What an amazing event. 47,500 runners who were about two thirds of the way through when they came past me.

I saw the amazing wheelchair racers, the elite women – by in a flash – and the elite men, pounding up the road. And then followed by thousands and thousands of runners in every colour under the sun. The early waves of runners were serious, focused and uninterested in the crowds. The later waves sought out applause and ran alongside the barriers, high fiving everyone as they went. People with names on their tops had their names shouted out in encouragement by complete strangers in the crowd.

The crowds on my block were super loud and excited and must have hugely motivated the runners. Not so many crazy costumes in this race; I saw Cleopatra, Elmo from Sesame Street and a few crazy wigs. I shouted encouragement, clapped a lot and removed rubbish from the road, including many bananas, not wanting any comedy slip ups. It’s a huge privilege being able to stand in the road as a volunteer and get so close to the action.

After standing from 830 until 230 in the afternoon in the Arctic blast of the cross streets, I was ready to wander home for a cuppa. What a great day!

Here’s some pics.

Mile 17 before the masses arrived.

Mile 17 before the masses arrived.












Elite women - the first two and quite a while until the others came by.

Elite women – the first two and quite a while until the others came by.











Elite men. So fast.

Elite men. So fast.










The masses and the mess: the green squares are soggy sponges.

The masses and the mess: the green squares are soggy sponges.

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Where did all the pregnant ladies come from?

Phew it’s hot today, around 30 degrees and the streets of New York are melting in the heat (almost). I don’t know if it’s because people are wearing less, or walking slower, but there seems to be an inordinate number of heavily pregnant women around the place. I feel for them in the heat, it must be awful. They looked pained and uncomfortable. One theory for all the pregnant ladies is the Hurricane Sandy impact: no electricity, nothing to do so why not get cosy with your loved one? Makes sense. Not a new phenomenon. The New York Times on Monday (a bank holiday here too and a slow news day, I think) focused on this and referred to various studies that failed to show a direct link between events like Sandy and increase in birth rates 9 months later. I’m no scientist, but I can tell you this, in my bit of New York, it’s baby belly central, so something went on around that time!


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Smoke alarm

Today’s papers are focusing on an announcement made by the New York City Government about plans to increase the age at which you can buy cigarettes from 18 to 21. As a non-smoker, this sounds good to me. Any disincentive to smokers has to be a good thing. I have been surprised at how little smoking you see in New York. In London you would see gaggles of people outside buildings, puffing away during office hours. The smoking ban in pubs and restaurants back in 2007 made a huge difference to anyone who hated coming home stinking of cigarettes. It was a relief not to have to air my clothes on the radiators after a night in the pub. Here, you aren’t allowed to smoke in parks, beaches (not many of those in New York City!) plazas and other public places. The argument here against raising the age for buying cigarettes is all about liberty: the freedom to buy cigarettes when you are old enough to fight for your country, you’re old enough to decide whether it’s a good thing to smoke. On a more political front, the New York Times observed that the announcement made here on Monday about these proposals was fronted by Dr Thomas A Farley (they are big on using the middle initial here) who is the city’s health commissioner and Speaker Christine Quinn. Previously anything health related would have been announced by Mayor Bloomberg. The Times speculates that this is him passing the mantle to Quinn, in her bid to be Mayor. Whatever the truth, the New York Post has the best headlines as ever: “The Cig is Up. Quinn Bill to hike cigarette age to 21”.

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Give me an A

Yep, that’s what all the restaurants in New York want. Mayor Bloomberg introduced a new health inspection regime in July 2010 that means that each restaurant now displays a ‘Sanitary Inspection’ grade by the front door. An A is very good, means that the inspectors only turn up once a year; a B not so good, as the inspectors will turn up four times in a year to see what you’ve been up to. E and I have been tracking these letters and often comment on them, wondering if anyone would get an A+ and what would happen if you got a Z. I am yet to see a C grade, which is the lowest grade you can get. I had a look at the New York Department of Health guidelines on inspection and grading. It’s a thrilling one page read. If you don’t get an A first time round, you get another chance, with a random inspection a month later. This explains the ‘Grade Pending’ notice on a restaurant near us, which has been puzzling us. But given it’s way more than a month, I’m not sure the regime is working perfectly and with 24,000 restaurants to inspect, it’s no surprise.

Today, the New York Post got all in a lather about this, calling the Department of Health staff ‘killjoys’ who walk into restaurants and ruin everyone’s dinner as service pretty much stops as the inspection takes place.  The Post goes on to say “Bloomberg’s blue-coated buzzkills are increasingly invading city eateries during peak times, shutting down service for several hours and leaving diners hungry and businesses broke”. Fantastic alliteration and I suspect total overkill on what’s actually happening, but entertaining as usual from the Post. So watch out next time you fancy a meal out!


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“I’m really ever so not well”

…says Lola to Charlie. “I’m not happy, Charlie,” says Lola. “Why do I feel so really, really not well?” So Charlie says “It’s those germs in your mouth.” “Germs?” says Lola. And Lauren Child, author of the Charlie and Lola books, illustrates what germs look like with a kaleidoscope of colourful splodges with childish scribbled faces against a dramatic black background. E learnt about germs that way and if Lauren Child had been writing her books today, here in the US, she would almost certainly included a reference to Purell to zap those germs. I’d never heard of Purell when I lived in the UK. I’m not sure if it’s even sold there, but in the US everyone knows what it is. Purell is a hand sanitiser. It’s the clear, alcohol based gel that clean-obsessive New Yorkers carry in their bags everywhere they go. It is pretty much a verb here. This week’s New Yorker magazine spent five pages documenting the rise of Purell from an idea by a couple called Goldie and Jerry Lippman who founded Purell’s manufacturing company, Gojo Industries in 1946. The dispensers for Purell and its competitors can be found in the library, by the post boxes in my building, by the door to the school, pretty much everywhere. Like the motion sensitive paper towel dispenser, the goal is not to touch anything, if you can help it and if you do, immediately apply Purell. I was with a native New Yorker a while back and we had been to a public building and as we walked out she said to me “you’ve got your Purell, right?” I looked confused. She whipped out a bottle and told me what it was and I said, but I use baby wipes if my hands are mucky. Not any more. I went to the chemist (drug stores, they’re everywhere too) and bought a tiny bottle for a few dollars.  Just to fit in. Just to be a proper New Yorker.