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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I can’t feel my thighs

This is our final day in New York. E, J and I will travel back to London later today and leave R to do all the fun stuff like packing and handing back the flat. I love our flat so much that I want to pack it up and take it back with us. Luckily I don’t have to see the flat all empty, as it will make me very sad. It is the best place we’ve ever lived; R says it will be the best place we ever live. I think he’s right. The luxury of the expat life has some great perks.

Some nice men came round early this morning and took all our air freight, so that’s done. I will leave with just two suitcases, a sports bag and no buggy. J is all grown up now.

It is also a very cold day. In fact, I think it may be the coldest day since we’ve been here. It is minus 13 at the moment and over night it got down to minus 17! I was wrapped up to the extent that all you could see was my eyes shielded by glasses. My thighs were the least covered, just in jeans from mid thigh where my coat stopped to mid calf where my boots began, and they were tingling in the cold. They have only just defrosted.

I went to the phone shop to cancel my US mobile and went past Fairway’s. No more visits there. It reminded me that Whole Foods is due to open today so I went to have a nose, but I was two days early. Typical, we live here for over two years and then they open Whole Foods two days after we leave.

The streets around where we live are pretty grotty at the moment. There are huge chunks of ice everywhere, as it hasn’t warmed up enough to entirely melt everything. But where it has melted a bit, it reveals all the dog poo, the rubbish that people threw in the snow and it’s so dirty.

We’re going to the ever lovely Mansion Cafe for lunch and a final round of pancakes and bacon – why does that combination work so well? Then we’re off.

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2 weeks to go

So we’ve done 2 years, 2 months and we have 2 weeks left. There is so much to do, but we have done loads; it feels OK so far. Here’s a glimpse of what it’s like near the end of our expat life in New York.

  1. You suddenly realise that living way up high in the sky is amazing and that living in a fabulous apartment building with lovely, friendly staff is just the best. You wonder how you will ever cope with opening the door yourself and consider installing a concierge desk and doorman in your new house.
  2. You know everything is ‘the last’, so you make the most of it. You max out on babysitters to go out at much as possible, going to bars and restaurants that you’ve always fancied but never quite managed. You regret not going out more, but hey, that’s OK, there has to be some time to watch the Good Wife and The Blacklist.
  3. You remember all the logistics that got you here from London and reverse them. You feel like a pro when dealing with the relocation agents, the shipping people and know all the pitfalls. It’s a nice feeling.
  4. You feel complete relief at having sorted housing and schools back in London and feel excited to be going back to what you know, the people you know and that wonderful familiarity.
  5. You make sure you can get rid of all those things you can’t take with you and because you have a thing about recycling, find people who will love them after you are done with them. Still can’t find a home for the iron, but you keep on looking.
  6. You make time to see all the people you have come to know and go out with them to talk about how great it has been but it’s over, it was always a short gig and yes, you’re happy to go home. This may mask some more emotional feelings, but being British, best kept inside. Ahem.
  7. You try to work out how to tell your toddler they are leaving the only home they know and the school they love. Focus on what’s important: the number of the house you are moving to. It’s very important when you are only 3.
  8. You help your nearly 9 year old think through the move, what it will be like to go back to her old school, to where she remembers, knows people and feels happy. Enjoy the excitement she feels.
  9. You make a mental list of all the nice New York food that you want to take back, just to ease the transition. You hanker after a trip to Sainsbury’s but know secretly you will miss the inconsistent world of Fairway’s. A bit.

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Mmm, malt loaf and moving home

I’m in the land of malt loaf, a surprisingly tasty, squidgy bread that’s low in calories and high in loveliness. I just had some with some Anchor butter because in the UK it’s in every supermarket and there’s nothing like it in New York.

But really I should be writing about the new year and not going on about food. Again. Yes, 2015 the year we return to the UK. We will be leaving New York within three months as R’s job is relocating back to London again. The New York years are nearly over.

This changes things. It now means that all the ideas on our bucket list need to be either abandoned or booked. We still haven’t been up the Statue of Liberty, so that’s all booked for late January; not the greatest time of year to see it, so fingers crossed for no snow. R is woefully behind in his New York tourist excursions so he is doing some things alone, like the Tenement Museum, but of course that means a return visit to the nearby Katz’s Deli, the home of the enormous salt beef (corned beef to the Americans) sandwich. Yum. Plus a trip to the New Museum, which is likely to be very J unfriendly, but we’ll give it a go.

I want to make the most of these three months and not lose them to moving preparations, obsession about schools and flats to rent in NW3. So, lots to do and lots to write about as we head towards our exit.


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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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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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?