nw3 to nyc

Observations on moving my family across the Atlantic


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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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.


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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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The lights are on, but there’s no one in

Not in a New York taxi anyway. Logically you would think that if a taxi shows a light on its roof it is available for hire. Well it is and it isn’t. A taxi shows a light for available and it goes off when it picks up a passenger and becomes unavailable. But it also has two smaller lights on either side that say off duty. From a distance it is hard to tell which is on and it is very annoying. This annoyance is componded by the advertising shaped like a luminous toblerone stuck to the roof of the taxi that stays lit regardless. We aren’t the only ones to feel this way and the rather boring sounding but self explanatory New York Taxi and Limousine Commission met a couple of weeks ago to agree with us that this is a barmy system and should be phased out. So by the Spring all taxis are either available or unavailable. Doesn’t mean they will take any notice of you when you are waving your arm in the pouring rain trying to get one to stop, though.


Rockefeller christmas

We visited the Rockefeller Centre (Center) to see what all the fuss was about. New York stopped on 28 November when the christmas tree lights were switched on. It is magnificent. A 30 foot tree covered in 30,000 lights on a staggering 5 miles of wiring. This tradition started in 1933, the year the Rockefeller Plaza was opened. The fabulous TV series, 30 Rock is based on this famous address, with the wonderful Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin. Just around the corner is the famous Radio City, a venue currently hosting the christmas Rockettes, but soon to host Ed Sheeran and Keane, both British, I think. So many people there on Saturday, late afternoon. We tried to flag a taxi down but many were reluctant to go to the Rockefeller, we ended up changing our approach and asked for a street nearby. The streets are shut off to allow pedestrian access, tourists cram into the small spaces and I heard the inevitable comment about why bring a stroller (buggy) to this? I note this wasn’t directed to any of the many users of wheelchairs also enjoying the spectacle. Yes it was horrifically busy and a slow grind through the crowds to look at a tree may seem an odd way to spend a couple of hours, but it was worth it to share this New York tradition. Somehow the lighting of the tree donated by the Norwegian nation that sits in Trafalgar Square just isn’t the same.

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Tip top tipping

Or not as the case may be.  Tipping as something I do when in a restaurant, mostly taken care of by the bill coming with 10 – 15 per cent tip included and I don’t think too much about it. I’ll tip the cab driver, give the guy who delivered my paper in the sun, rain and snow at Christmas and that’s about it. In the US, and in particular here in New York, tipping is a way of life and it is expected.  I am told that the tip should generally be double the sales tax, which in New York is 8.875 per cent. This is fine if you have bought a service, like a meal, a cab ride, a pedicure etc. Confusion begins when there is no sales tax barometer to use. So what to give the guy who delivers my groceries on Sunday afternoon. I ask the doorman in my building and he is reluctant to advise when I ask, but comes up with 3-4 dollars. So I give the very pleasant delivery guy 4 dollars and he seems happy. I am typically British in my nervousness in not wanting to cause offence by getting the tip wrong but too embarrased to ask every time. I think it may take some time to work this one out. And most importantly, I must stop thinking that the tip is the place R likes to go on a Sunday afternoon with a car load of rubbish.