nw3 to nyc

Observations on moving my family across the Atlantic


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And there’s another one

I’m referring to odd men. Back in the summer there was ‘creepy guy’ who got offended when I told him it wasn’t quite right for him to be hanging around a kid’s park with no kid. Today’s oddity was a bearded man wearing a sign around his neck proclaiming something about Jesus and sins who was hanging around our street. He decided that it would be absolutely fine to approach J and offer him what looked like a coloured stone. When I said ‘you shouldn’t give things to small children’, he just pushed it further at J’s hands, and J was of course fascinated by this and would have willingly taken it had I not pulled him away. The odd man then decides to follow us down the street, while I walk faster and hope the light’s in my favour so that I can cross the road and not stop. I look back and he’s gone.

After picking E up from school, he’s there again. This time dancing around on the street, sign flapping wildly. I hurry us all on and cross the road, trying to explain to a perplexed E why a man is dancing in the street with a sign around his neck. That’s a hard one.

But on the other hand, my good British friend G was telling me just the other day about a man outside Whole Foods on 14th Street, I think, who was dressed just in his underpants, dancing, with a sign saying something about making people smile. Which it did. What an odd world.


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Blimey, it’s a bit cold

What on earth is the matter with the weather? It was minus 6 celsius this morning. It is clear and bitterly cold, it’s the first proper cold day of the winter. I am feeling rather smug because I bought a new coat at the weekend in anticipation of snow in maybe February and am very pleased to have it today.  I have written before about my dislike of padded coats and today they were out in force. My new coat has a secret padded lining so that it feels like a duvet, but looks like a stylish black coat on the outside. Genius.

Everyone was moaning about the cold, reminding me that it’s not just the British who like to constantly talk and complain about the weather. We are similar in some ways, I suppose. I saw a man wearing shorts and a woman in flip flops – her excuse being she’d just had a pedicure (but why? it is winter) but what possible reason could he have had for his lack of layers? Crazy.


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2 years old today

I wrote my first blog post about moving to New York exactly two years ago today. 275 posts later I am still here and still blogging. I love recording my experience and reading it back, I’ve already forgotten so much. Life has changed a lot since we got here, mostly because J is growing up and is three next month. He goes to pre-school five mornings a week now, so our exploring has been curtailed. Even if he hadn’t gone to school, he was reluctant to behave in art galleries and even more reluctant to sleep when I wanted him to. Getting him into and out of the subway now requires a feat of strength with his buggy that is pretty much beyond me these days. This does mean that my blog posts will be different now and may be less frequent. I’ll still try to look for the odd, the amusing and cast a wry eye over it all, recording for me, for my family and for anyone who cares to read my blog. Please continue to enjoy.

Love nyc-newbie.


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Bureaucratic tendencies

I am frustrated. I thought I had learnt to brush off the rude side of New York, that I could cope with no one saying thank you and yet constantly asking me how I am, but it appears not.

First, there is 311, which according to nyc.gov is:

“New York City’s main source of government information and non-emergency services. Whether you’re a resident, business owner, or visitor, help is just a click, text, or call away.”

On Saturday I rang 311, inspired by R’s tale of getting back the scooter and lunch box he had left in the boot (err trunk) of the taxi when he was with E last week. He had rung them and they had traced the taxi driver using his credit card information, used to pay for the ride, and the taxi driver had come back to our building to return our things. I was very impressed.

But when I rang them I got quite a different experience. I had walked by a Range Rover with both of its front windows smashed in and glass all over the pavement and road. I was with J but thought I would ring 311 to tell them so that they could alert the police and owner. Battling my way with the voice recognition software of 311 which clearly wasn’t trained to understand a British accent, it finally gives in and sends me off to a real human. She then palms me off on 911 – the police – probably because she couldn’t understand me either.

And this is where it gets really painful. I explain to the lady on 911 that I have seen the car, it’s not my  car (yes, I tell her this three times) but I just want to do the right thing and report it. No, the person who did it is not there, as if they would hang around while I made the call.

She asks me for my details as the officer will want to speak to me. Why? Because there has to be someone for them to talk to. I wonder if this is loneliness on their part? Surely just knowing the address and looking at the car will give them all they clues they need to work out what happened?  They don’t need me. At this point I say to her that I have a roaming toddler, I’m on my way somewhere, I don’t want to hang around. So she refuses to take the street information from me. End of conversation. Well done, NYPD!

I walked by the next day and the car was covered in black plastic and tape, but the glass was still all over the place.

And today it didn’t get much better as the lady at the post office refused to take the lovingly sorted coins of our piggy bank (elephant shaped) telling me in no uncertain terms “I ain’t takin’ no quarters. I don’t want all your coins!” And sends me off with my tail firmly between my legs. Blimey. What fabulous service.

The bank was the same, you have to provide the coins in paper rolls. Really? My piggy bank doesn’t offer that service. So here I am stuck with tonnes of coins and nowhere to change them. Looks like I’ll be taking them all to CVS and their self service tills, that’ll irritate the locals!

 


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Slightly more serious than usual

Here’s a sobering chart. Every time I give someone a tip, I think it’s just a bit extra, a bit of cash in hand. But no, every time I tip, it looks like I am effectively topping up an incredibly low wage. The US tax man also thinks that I am tipping, so taxes on that income, so if I don’t tip, they have to pay tax anyway. President Obama is promoting a minimum wage of $10.10 an hour and most states get nowhere near that. What a system.

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Sometimes there’s just no answer

So I go into the local shoe repair shop, where the man behind the counter looks like he has seen a lot of shoes and a lot of polish in his time. I ask to collect R’s black work shoes which needed a new sole. He passes them to me and I look at them and say ‘wow, they look like new’. He looks at me quizzically and responds ‘what? You think I run ‘ot dog stand ‘ere?’ And what exactly am I meant to say to that?


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A different kind of familiarity

Returning to the UK for Christmas and New Year proved to me how much I love the UK. Even though it was mostly wet, mostly grey and dark, it was home. The familiarity of language, accents and culture all came flooding home. And in the most peculiar places. The services on the M1, where the woman behind the counter in Starbucks just said ‘hi, what would you like?’ No asking me how I am, having to ask back and them move on to the transaction. No standing in line, no being called  ‘a guest’, when I am a customer. And lots and lots of ‘cheers’ when concluding any  transaction. Ah, how nice.

I never thought I’d say this, but going into Marks and Spencer was great! Even though the one I went into was a bit rubbish and small, it just felt so British, so familiar. Given that practically every British person owns some M&S underwear, it seemed rude not to get some. And then there’s the classic M&S Cherry Genoa Cake. I love fruit cake and this is the best. Having devoured my mother in law’s one, I went to find another and was sadly disappointed. All gone. So I consoled myself with a packet of 6 mince pies, reduced to 50p (about a dollar). Bargain. I love mince pies too. I should start a new business importing them into the US to replace their obsession with cup cakes.

I had such a lovely time catching up with family and friends, I almost didn’t want to come back to New York. But the funny thing was when we got here (in a treacherous taxi journey in the driving snow from  JFK airport), it all looked so familiar, so normal, that it was good to be home.

Happy New Year to all my lovely readers. Only 18 months to go!


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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!

http://www.expatsblog.com/contests/786/apparently-speak-same-language-9-ways-to-get-along-in-new-york-city

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1 year on

So we’ve been in New York for exactly one year now. I didn’t quite get to 200 posts, but close at 187. I’m conscious that the blog has become fairly obsessed with food and art with a smattering of politics. I don’t think I really intended this, but it’s just the way it’s turned out.

I think I’ve probably said most of what can be said about the people here. I’ve got used to the language and cultural differences. It still bugs me when people don’t say ‘thanks’ when you give way to them on the pavement, but I try not to let it bother me too much. But I have got used to the fact that no one gives a toss that I’m British. And I am so pleased that New Yorkers are as obsessed with the weather as us Brits.

It’s nice to feel almost a sense of community after one year. Cities are lonely places, but when you come here with small children, they kind of open up for you. I bump into people I know via the school in the street and at the lovely playground near us. It’s nice when the butcher knows your name and baffling that the dry cleaner is excited to see your toddler and knows his name but can’t remember mine despite the fact I go there every week.

I have staked out my favourite food places and have become a creature of habit in what I buy in each. I spend a fortune in Fairway; I treat myself from Dean and Deluca; and am selective in the lovely Agatha and Valentina. I thought I’d cook a lot more, but I don’t. In fact the food here is so easy to buy all done for you, that really there’s no point in doing lots of it yourself. And of course everything can be delivered, so you don’t even have to leave your home. I’d been concerned about portion size, worried about becoming larger than when I arrived. Perversely I have lost weight since being here, but I put that down to the miles I walk with J and the running in Central Park.

And the weather? I love the fact that summer starts in May and pretty much goes on until late October. Basking in the beautiful northern parts of Central Park on 2 November was a real highlight and a huge contrast to NW3. The colours of the trees changed throughout October and some are still hanging on now. When we arrived last year I hated the greyness of the city, how drab it all looked with bare trees and brutal architecture. Now that I’ve seen New York through its four seasons, I don’t mind so much, knowing it won’t last too long.

I have felt hugely privileged to see as much art as I have this last year. I am blown away by the range and choice of places to visit. Visiting the Bronx to see the Gramsci Monument earlier in the summer was a real highlight and I was pleased we got to see 5pointz before it was painted over last week. There’s still so much more to see and I have a long list of where to go next, with strategic public transport planning to minimise the number of steps to drag my buggy being key to all visits.

So here’s to another year.  I’m excited to continue to discover the more obscure parts of New York, including the recently refurbished Queens Museum. I plan to spend lots more time in Central Park, visiting every one of its 21 playgrounds with J, having been to about half of them so far. We must go to Long Island and visit the Hamptons, just to see what it’s like. And of course I will be following the travails of the new Mayor of New York. I have just loved learning about New York politics.

And most importantly, I am looking forward to the arrival of Whole Foods on the Upper East Side. This is hugely exciting for us (err, me). Perhaps I should get a job and stop fretting about food?


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Searching for Avonte

Avonte Oquendo is a 14 year old autistic boy who has been missing since 4 October. The reason I know about him is because his face is plastered all over New York (see the snap of the poster on the subway below). It is all over the subways in particular because he has a fascination with trains. He disappeared from his school in Long Island City and hasn’t been seen since. The MTA who run the subways have regular announcements over the tannoy about him; the dot matrix boards interrupt messages about imminent train arrivals with more messages about him. I think by now everyone knows about Avonte and yet he is still missing. I have never seen such an effort on the London Underground and am impressed with this. I see from today’s New York Post that the reward for his safe return has risen to $85,000. I hope it works.

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