Friday 12 September 2008

America is weird.

After a year and three months of living in Britain, I went home for a brief (10 day) visit. As I sit here trying to get over my jetlag—which always feels worse this side of the Atlantic, as though my body clock is set to permanent New York time—I'll try to formulate some thoughts on the whole experience.

First, America is weird. And it's not unpatriotic of me to say so! It just is a really weird place. I flew in on the final night of the Democratic National Convention, so I missed Obama's speech (though I later watched it online). Kinda would have liked to see it live, there. And then I spent a week at my parents' house, where discussing politics is assiduously avoided for certain reasons I will not go into now. So while the Palin thing was going on, I was living in a parallel universe, without cable, dealing with family stuff (although blessedly managing to escape to the beach every day). I got a nice tan, but I felt frustratingly out of the loop.

So the Palin thing.... Well, I was back in a small town. I grew up in a small town. And the woman reminds me of the mean girls I went to high school with. That's about all I can say about her.

British politics is so different! Political discourse here is so different! Journalists—not standup comics—ask the hard questions.

Without cable for the week, I missed my usual, sanity-saving Jon Stewart counterpoint. Now that I'm back, Comedy Central no longer allows viewers in Britain to watch episodes online. Bastards! Without them, the whole election melodrama feels unbearably surreal.

Yes, these are momentous times, it's true. So why do they feel so high school?

Friday 22 August 2008

Because you can vote twice!

I'm always fascinated when I hear of a random fellow American who has settled into life in Britain. Remember Rich Hall from Saturday Night Live in the 1980s? His career is perking along nicely here and he's currently performing down the road from me in Edinburgh. Starsky's Hutch and now reality TV contestant David Soul also lives here, in London. A Radio 4 interview with him the other day revealed he's got dual citizenship (yes, it's possible to obtain; the U.S. doesn't advertise the fact it's possible, but it is. Don't ask, don't tell, right?).

Anyway, Soul surprised the interviewer by saying he can vote not only in the American elections, but British as well! I liked the sound of that....

I moved here for marriage, without knowing I could be a dual citizen. I just assumed I'd remain an expat, until the day we decide to move back—which would not, my husband insists, be while a Republican is still in the White House. Not too far long to go, surely, but...honestly, I'm so disgusted with the state of health care in America, and I'm getting so "spoiled" by the NHS (I lived for years without any coverage in New York), I don't want to go back yet. I can't see America getting universal health care anytime soon. The insurance-industrial complex (sorry, Ike) will never let that happen, IMHO. Obama talks about a single-payer system, as an interim solution, it seems (quote from the Wall Street Journal, just to show I'm well rounded), an acknowledgment of that awkwardness, perhaps.

Universal health care is an issue I feel passionate about. Now that I have it—it's been a year and three months I've been enjoying its benefits—I'm thinking more and more of making my relationship to Britain official, of making an honest woman of her and "dualising" myself. If, of course, she'll have me.

Wednesday 25 June 2008

Back in My Arms Again passport, that is—and my marriage certificate, and driving license.

Unfortunately my time is up! So if I want to drive here, now I have to take practical and theory driving tests. I called the Swansea office for advice, and they told me to look in the Yellow Pages for my local Driving Standards Agency to find where to take them.

So, that will go on my ever-increasing list of projects. I really couldn't be terribly bothered (even after all this) to get my licence here—petrol is so expensive, and public transport so good, that I don't really see the point. Although a nice little hybrid car to take on day trips, to explore the Highlands and Islands, would be grand...but then, at least one wee isle, Eigg, won't usually allow visitors' vehicles.

While BritRail is a thing of the past, unfortunately, the privatized British rail service is still pretty good. So, I'll call it a green decision to put my license-getting at the bottom of my list—for now.

Friday 30 May 2008


Hello and apologies for the long absence. Now that's out of the way.....

I found out today (OK, I ignored my own advice and waited until the last possible moment to apply) that after filling in the form online and then sending off a copy of my documents, I have to send in my actual passport--not a copy!--and driver's licence to Swansea, Wales, the only place in the entire U.K. that processes driving licences.

Apparently, in Britain, before you can even learn to drive, you must first apply for a "provisional licence," and the only place that handles that is in Wales. Wales! There is no local DMV in every metro area. I thought, worse comes to worst, I trot down to the DMV equivalent in Glasgow and take a driving test if I miss the deadline or get the paperwork fouled up. Wouldn't hurt, anyway--I could use some lessons in defensive driving on the wrong side of the road. But no! That is not how they do things over here. You have to stick your passport (or birth certificate, if you're a "native") into an envelope--or, as the nice Welshman on the phone told me, I can get a "special delivery" silver plastic one at the Post Office™ and that's supposed to be delivered in 24 hours. If I enclose another one for the folks in Swansea to send back, the whole process should take a week. But I feel like I'm entrusting the family jewels to the Royal Mail!

Well, I guess I won't be driving here. Ever. Or maybe. I don't know what to do. What if I need to leave the country the day after I send my passport in? What do you think I should do? Chance it? Road trip to Snowdonia? I guess I can always apply for a new passport at the embassy in London if mine gets lost in the mail....

Moral of story: Do not be like me. Be organized and do this sort of thing early, make sure you've gotten your affairs in order!

Oh, dear reader, I feel I've failed you! But perhaps not, if you take me as an example of what not to do.


Friday 11 April 2008

Monty Barack's Flying Circus

Awesome. I hope he takes John Cleese up on his offer!

(photo from Comedy Central)

Saturday 5 April 2008

"Makes you feel proud"

I missed this documentary, but I remembered seeing the trailer for it. Seven pounds an hour to pick veggies in the fresh air! I've had research jobs that paid less, stuck in a stuffy office with weird publishing types.
Speaking of the BBC, iPlayer is amazing! I love the BBC. LOVE.

Wednesday 2 April 2008

That's no immigrant, that's my wife

So, dipping my toe into the ocean of conTROVersy about whether or not immigrants are "ruining the country," by which country I mean Great Britain, first means committing to this: I am an immigrant, i.e., someone who "comes to a country for the purpose of permanent residence," as the dictionary defines the word. Wow, it's cold in here.

It happens that I married a Briton and we decided to live here rather than there. It had little to do with how fantastic a nation this might be (and don't get me wrong, I love it), but more with certain logistics: My husband's very close to his family, mine likes to travel, New York is kind of over, and anyway, we can always move back to America. It was reverse-emigration for me; the sort of move one can make when one is white, middle-class, educated, and really could move anywhere. Why not Britain? I joked that as a descendant of Anglo-Saxons and Celts myself I was merely "going back to the Old Country." It didn't feel like a forever choice, or one borne of necessity the way, say, fleeing a ravaged country to seek asylum elsewhere is. (Though I might have felt that way for several weeks during November 2004.) It was, I acknowledge, a privileged choice. But still, here I am, making a life, paying my taxes (to two countries!) and trying to, you know, contribute.

At the same time, I tend to cling to my paranoia that the world hates Americans. There's a certain comfort in it, insofar as it means I don't feel the need to bother trying very hard to fit in. But then a "study" makes the front pages of the "papers" and I remember how much the rest of the world, with its fear of the newcomer, has in common with ol' border-fence-building America after all. And I feel compelled to wade in.

Now, I know you can't always get your news from newspapers, and you can't take at face value what "I'm Alright" Jack has to say about what's causing everything from long NHS waiting times to global warming, but people do buy those papers, and they buy into that thinking.

Today we had a new washing machine installed, and one of the workmen, seeing my husband's computer in the corner of our kitchen which he uses as his office, took the opportunity to share. "Och my son's doing computers at university. Of course the education's terrible these days. It's the immigrants who are ruining everything in this country."

My husband was too shocked to say anything (I was not home at the time), and the guy left soon after. When he reported the incident to me, I asked him, "Did you say 'My wife's an immigrant'?" My poor husband is kicking himself for not thinking fast enough. But who expects a person who comes into your home for the purpose of doing a service to come out with such hatred? How is that professional, or appropriate? How did racism become acceptable if you just call it "immigration"? I've been in the same position myself, shocked silent by some idiot racist remark at a random moment, only to think of the right zinger in hindsight. Looking at it cynically, my husband wouldn't have changed this man's thinking, at most he might have served as a reminder to think before speaking next time.

Are immigrants ruining the U.K.? The Guardian today looks at the aforementioned study, done by a House of Lords economic affairs committee, and reminds us that "No government, including a Conservative one, would want to reduce the number of skilled workers or students coming to Britain, as both are net earners for the country." At the other end of the spectrum, unskilled workers aren't exactly dead weights either.

But that doesn't take away the fears of the average tabloid reader. Coming from New York, where everyone knows the dirty little secret of the "modern form of slavery", the complaints sound depressingly familiar to me. Every third-generation "patriot" who pulls the alarm for border patrol has someone brown out back cutting their lawn, doing jobs that no one else wants.

And me? Here I find myself, in Britain, a taxpayer, a "skilled worker," an immigrant. And an American. Periodically I wonder if in addition to that crime, I am perceived as stealing someone's job; though in reality, I've been working "off-site" exclusively for American companies. And I've been treated with nothing but respect by everyone I've met. But I know this: a line has been drawn in the sand. The next racist remark about "the immigrants," I'm not having it. To plug my man, "Not this time."

Monday 31 March 2008

Air(ing) America

A measure of homesickness: I watched Judge Judy on TV yesterday, just so I could hear that accent....
OK, I have no right being homesick here, it could be argued, since at any given time of day, you turn on the TV and (if you have a Freeview box) there is an American show on. At the same time as Judge Judy, I could have also picked The Dog Whisperer, Scrubs or The Simpsons.
But I guess it's that no-nonsense New Yorkness about Judy Scheindlin that I miss. My husband says she reminds him of the woman who married us in New York.

(photo of City Hall © Robin Gillett)

Driving Britain

In less than two months I will have been living here (Scotland) for one whole year. Which means I have to get cracking on applying for a provisional GB licence. (If one waits until 12 months have passed, then there's a lot more bureaucracy to deal with, and apparently a driving test is involved. Eek.)

Seems I have to go down to a Post Office® (the ® is still so shocking to me--I cannot get over the fact that Britain privatized/privatised their postal service) and pick up form D1 of the Driver and Vehicle Licencing Agency; alternatively I can apply online. Horrifyingly, I will have to surrender my New York license/licence. I really like that picture. Plus, applying costs 45 pounds! That's 90 dollars!

As an aside, peeking at New York State's DMV website, I got a strange sensation seeing the official writing at the top: David A. Paterson, Governor, David J. Swarts, Commissioner. It has been weird watching that drama unfold from over here, via the Jon Stewart show and the New York Times.... Yes, I read the NYT online every day, in addition to getting my news via the BBC (mostly Radio 4). I don't often read the papers here, too polarized. Polarised. Anyway, that's what I say, but it's really because I'm still slightly homesick. NYT is my way of staying anchored. More on that later.

Cheerio and happy left-side motoring!

(Photo © me)

The creator of this website/blog is a girl

And she's psyched that Anthropologie now ships to the U.K. Unfortunately, they don't seem to have a "sale" area for overseas shoppers. Still, nice to know I can find my favorite bowls again (I love these though they always crack).

Friday 28 March 2008

What happened to my brain?!

One of the reasons I started this blog was to try to assemble all my random bits of information on settling in to a new life in a strange country--specifically as an American in the U.K., more precisely Scotland--so as to help others in a similar position. As an immigrant (is that what I am, really? I'll explore that later on), it helps to have some guideposts; or, think of me as a sort of flashlight, shining the way toward obtaining a visa, shipping your stuff, or flying with your pet.

Anyway, today's post was going to be all about how to figure out how to vote via absentee ballot. In researching and getting together a bunch of handy links, I came to realize that I have missed the deadline to vote in the Presidential Primary by more than two months. Somehow I thought I'd have time, since the Democratic Primary is stretching on and on. I feel like such an ass.

Assness aside, links for finding out how to apply for a ballot are here and below (as well as on the right). At least I took the opportunity today to join Democrats Abroad. It's all about community.
2008 Absentee Voting Information for Americans Abroad
Federal Voting Assistance Program
Vote From Abroad
I misssed the party, yet again:'Democrats Abroad Vote in London'
Democrats Abroad
There's a Republicans Abroad too, but if you want that one you're on your own.

Wednesday 26 March 2008

Day One

So the first post on this blog will be about something that came in the mail today from the IRS (actually my mom sent it on to me because the IRS doesn't know where I am yet--ha!): my Economic Stimulus Payment Notice.

What I want to know is, how is sending everybody a few hundred dollars going to stimulate the U.S. economy? Or anyone's economy? Well, it'll be enough to buy a new iPhone, or perhaps it'll cover two weeks' worth of a mortgage payment for some people. Yay. Now, what was that pesky U.S. deficit up to? Oh yeah: $9 trillion, according to these authors.

But, silly me, of course I know why this was done: Bush is hoping to leave office on a high note. Unbelievable. What an insult to the 4,000 servicepeople he sent to die since mailing out $300 checks the first time, in the summer of 2001. I should rip mine up as protest, instead of spending it all on beer and sandals like I did seven years ago.

Anyway, just to say, the tax deadline in the U.S. is less than three weeks away. Here's hoping you all have your W2s and 1099s already, and a reminder that the forms are downloadable from the IRS's handy-dandy web page.