nw3 to nyc

Observations on moving my family across the Atlantic


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NYC to NW3

As I sit here in London, munching chocolate covered pretzels, my last paean to New York, I am just working out how it feels to come home, to repatriate. Not quite in NW3 yet, we move in later this week, but near enough.

The familiarity is good; the accents natural and the food the same as usual. Paddington station was confusing, someone moved the taxi rank and didn’t tell me. No sign of Paddington Bear either, which was a disappointment to J.

Taxi cabs are wider, well, they seem wider according to E; and the driver chattier. They’ve got credit card machines in now and I’m sure that’s new. I asked the driver whether most people use cards now. No, he says, mostly cash. I think that may have more to do with the 10 per cent surcharge. New York taxis rides are mostly paid for with credit cards, which is odd that New York should be more advanced, as we found the finance system in the US to be pretty backward in many ways.

Starbucks was surreal this afternoon: sitting in an identikit cafe, sipping the same old drink in the same old cups but surrounded by British accents. It is far more expensive than New York. I was just desperate for a decent cuppa as where we are staying the kettle is ingrained with the deposits from the super hard water of London. No water filters here.

So it’s really just a slow process of assimilation now. Doing all the boring stuff you do wherever you live, but this time it’s normal, I am normal and my accent is irrelevant. I am not having to learn everything anew.

Over time I expect the New York experience to fade and become the ‘can you believe we used to live in New York’ type of memory. Only the photos and the videos; the Fairway’s reusable bags, the Zabars mugs and the love of salty sweet snacks evidence we were ever there.

This is my last blog post. Amazingly I have written 312 of them.

I have loved doing this blog, it’s been a fun way to record our experience and share it with anyone who cares to read it. It doesn’t matter than you don’t know who I am (unless of course you know me anyway) but hopefully what I’ve recorded is useful, interesting and above all amusing.

Someone told me once that I was being ‘snarky’. I think that’s a bit harsh. I may have been occasionally sardonic and often sarcastic, but it’s all done with humour and a layer of exasperation resulting from getting to know another culture. And that’s what this has been all about.

And there I leave it. I was nyc-newbie.

 

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Wailing on Wall Street

This is what I was doing earlier tonight as I got out of the subway at Wall Street. In the dark it’s very hard to read street signs and there’s no logic to the street layout down town – the logic of the grid system is far north from here. I was squinting like a very old lady and looking as bemused. In a bid to not get mugged, I huddled to look at my phone and work out where I was but that was hopeless too as it was too hard to see such small print. I am getting very old, I must update my contact lenses.

I then stumbled across the New York Stock Exchange building which looked amazing all lit up at night.

photo 1

So I have decided that the episode of Sex in the City where Carrie gets on the subway because there are no cabs and where she emerges at Wall Street station (not sure which line, but let’s say it’s the 4 5 line) is completely unrealistic. I don’t see how she could have oriented herself and got herself the the Stock Exchange Building to ring the bell in rush hour in her enormous Laboutin or Blahnik heels. No way. I was wearing fur lined Camper boots and I had no idea.

It’s so cold again, that being on the street that marks the original wall of Manhattan where in the 1660s New Amsterdam originally ended, just reminds me of Game of Thrones. But that’s another terrible TV reference that R says I should stop doing. But I can’t; it makes me laugh. Better than wailing.


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NW3 in NYC?

view from Brooklyn

 

Yes, it’s all about the B boroughs at the moment. Today we went to Brooklyn to Pier 6 to use its amazing water park and playgrounds. The photo above is taken from pier in Brooklyn looking over the East River to the tip of Manhattan. You can see One World Trade Center poking out high in the middle.

It’s a beautiful day today, around 31 degrees and perfect for a water park. Whoever is developing Brooklyn’s water line is doing a good job, this is the best kids water area I’ve seen so far and it’s completely free. But of course with free comes crowds. So many kids all having a fabulous time. Overall everyone is very well behaved and even the locusts from the camps are doing OK. J and E both enjoy it enormously in their own ways. I seek out shade and keep a watchful eye on the ever adventurous J. We only linger briefly in the slide playground as it’s just too hot and the slides are roasting. Check out the pictures on the Brooklyn Bridge Park website.

We pack a picnic and eat that watching the waterline: the Staten Island Ferry making its orange way across the water; the helicopters whirring around like wasps as they visit the Statue of Liberty; and the footballers playing in the midday sun on Pier 5.

And the greatest revelation was the walk from the subway. We get out at Borough Hall, the first stop in Brooklyn on the 4 and 5 line and walk down Joralemon Street. I was expecting industrial, faceless boring buildings. But no. It was beautiful. A quiet, sometimes even cobbled street, with tall townhouses in immaculate condition. Colourful flowers in pots everywhere and even a babbling pond with a frog! I was not expecting to find some fake NW3 in this part of NYC. It’s just lovely.


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Ever wondered where that taxi has been?

The iconic yellow taxi in New York is everywhere, apart from when it’s raining, when they disappear! R found this very cool website that shows a day in a life of a New York taxi. You can watch its route through the boroughs and see how much cash it made in a single shift. I was surprised that the level of tips wasn’t higher – with the automated system in the cabs calculating the tip level for you, I would have expected an average of 20 per cent but it is much lower. And I wouldn’t want the night shift, must be very lonely wandering about the streets in search of a fare at 4am, earning nothing.

And if you are as mesmerised as I am by this, you can get it to it all over again by picking another random taxi to follow during its day of work. Amazing.

http://nyctaxi.herokuapp.com/


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Yes, yes, he’s right!

At last, someone who agrees with me that the alarmed doors on subway stations are pointless. I have complained here before about the noise the doors make when I have to use them to get my buggy on to the platform and how I feel like a fare dodger for using them. Turns out other people hate them too! In an opinion piece in today’s New York Times, which is accompanied by a short 2 minute 26 second video, a writer called Ken Webb shows how awful these doors are. And he’s almost on my side when he talks about the volume of the alarm affecting babies being pushed through the doors – at 85 decibels, this seems pretty loud to me. He even shows someone pushing a buggy through, but doesn’t show what I experience every time, which is the physical origami I perform as I try to hold the door open and wheel the damn thing through without the door slamming in my face and the alarm deafening me. Yes! He’s right. Someone at the MTA should take note of this man.

 

 


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A trip down Canal

Off to Chinatown today. I’m searching out exotic ingredients for a special Valentine curry. Yes, I know, romantic stuff. I like Chinatown, I like that Canal subway station has a lift and when you pop out on to Canal (the street) it’s like being in another world. It’s a Wednesday lunchtime, so not busy and there are only a few tourists around. There’s a calm about the place, with locals shopping, eating and walking with a purpose in the bitter cold. I am heartened by the great people in the Bangkok Center Grocery store on Mosco (yep, no w in Chinatown) Street and the masterful way they took my recipe and found almost everything I needed. I am brave and go into two Chinese bakeries and buy random nice looking cakes and buns with the hope of liking something new (and I do – I like Taro buns!).

And after a lovely trip out, I come across these t-shirts hanging from a tourist shop. Who would wear these?

Tourist t-shirts


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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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