Sunday, May 1, 2011

Culture Shock


What a freakin week.

Let's start at the very beginning shall we?
I'm sure you all have noticed that blogs tend to be all about the good and wonderful things that happen to a family. The outings, the celebrations, you know. Not that that is bad thing or anything, don't get me wrong, but sometimes it tends to paint an inaccurate picture of their real life. Our real life, I should say. I have personally been guilty of this because I like to focus on the good events in my life and I like to show others, mainly family that live far away, what we are up to. Who wants to write about the sucky parts of life?

Before moving to London I told myself that I want to change the way I write my posts about me and my family on my blog. I want to write about real day-to-day life. My thoughts, my feelings, my struggles, my triumphs, the mundane, and the eventful things of my life.
Basically, the good, the bad, and the ugly of moving and living in London. For in fact, that IS real life.

So, here it goes...

We moved into our permanent flat last Saturday which was a pretty exciting day. Although I loved our temporary flat in Canary Wharf, (Marisa would always say, "I love my new house in London."), I was ready to get on with real life. After all, we have been waiting to do this for at least 2 months now. We got the flat we wanted in Greenwich and we really felt that this was the place for us. (I promise pictures and details of our flat in a future post.)

Our flat came unfurnished. We had planned to move into a furnished flat before moving here because most one and two bedroom flats come furnished. Furnished means it has beds, a table, couch, side night tables, and even lamps. We thought it would be perfect and easy on our wallet, but it turns out though, for many reasons, that we moved into this great unfurnished flat.

So, because it is unfurnished I had ordered several days before move-in our beds and bedding to arrive on Saturday. No biggie. I even paid a little extra for the bedding to arrive on move-in day. Those of you who know me well know that I am a major planner. So, not only did I have our furniture arrive on Saturday, I even had our groceries delivered that day too.

Let me get off the subject a little bit to explain grocery shopping here. Remember my friend Shannon? She had told me previously that people in London shop online and you can have it delivered literally at your door for free and no tipping necessary. Sweet? It is the best. thing. ever!!! No exaggeration. Are you saying I don't have to drag my two kids to the store for two years?? YES, please!!
Anyways, again, I'll show in a later post more about grocery shopping in London, but for now, just know that I had my first delivery arrive the day we moved in.

Everything was going smoothly when we moved in. The beds arrived from John Lewis, (Another suggestion from Shannon. Too bad they don't have one in the U.S. because it is a fantastic store), our fridge was filled with food, everything great. Pat on my back for being a planner.

Things start to unravel as soon as it starts to get close to dusk and the bedding hasn't arrived. I called customer service for John Lewis and here is what they said.

"I can't tell you where it is because we don't know. Sorry."
What? How do you not know where it is? I even paid extra to have it delivered today!
"And tommorrow is Easter so call us on Monday. Sorry about that."

We had furniture, but had no bedding. Great. At least I got my extra shipping costs reimbursed. I slept with one of Tim's sweatshirts, hood over my head, zipper zipped to my neck, two coats as blankets to cover me and a puffy jacket of mine as a pillow for three nights in a row. Yes, feel sorry for me.
Luckily, the girls had blankets we brought from California so at least they were taken care of.

Monday I called.

"Sorry it is Bank Holiday we don't know where it is. Call again tomorrow."

I called Tuesday morning.

"It should come in today. Sorry about that."

Still not ALL of our bedding has arrived to this day. I am still missing the girls' sheets and pillowcases. And I'll explain soon why that is.

Two things here. First, Shannon warned me that customer service here sucks. Like, bad. Definitely experienced that in multiple occasions aside from ordering furniture I will get to later. Second, England has so many Bank Holidays as they call it. i mean it is GREAT because we have more time off on top of all the days he gets off with KPMG plus that means I get to see and be with Tim more AND he doesn't have to work like an American dog slave on normal work days. But the holidays are a pure annoyance when you are moving and trying to settle into a new country. People and stores literally just shut down for Bank Holidays.

So after all this I just sucked it up and told myself I had been warned and there is nothing I can do about it.

Sunday: We tried to get our internet hooked up. We were told before we moved into our apartment by our relocation agent (and Shannon) that hooking up internet can take awhile. Why? Because when you call to set up utilites people in the UK are in no rush to help you. "Expect them to say 10-15 days to come and hook up your phone." I was told. Again, crappy customer service.
Solution to this is to buy a dongle as a source for temporary internet. A dongle is a mobile broadband, USB thingy.

We were prepared BEFORE moving in to our flat to buy a dongle, but as luck would have it, the dongle didn't work. How do you live without internet? And how do you live without internet in a new country? Internet was our source for bus routes, finding schools, weather, and anything you can thing of to know the area better where we live.


Monday: Bank Holiday. I called John Lewis about bedding...

"It is Bank Holiday I have no idea where your order is. Sorry." Then why are you at work answering phone calls if you can't help me?? Ugh.

We did know that ASDA (UK version of Wal-Mart, literally. Wal-Mart blue with happy face and roll back / ASDA green with happy face and roll back) was open and we needed all the basics for our home. Hangers, blender, mixing bowls, bathroom rugs, iron, etc. you get the point.
We had only a slight idea how to get there by bus so we just tried it. We missed the closest bus stop so we had to walk aways to get there at the next bus stop, but again, I just told myself, no big deal, we didn't know, nothing we can do about it. We even put Marisa in a trolley (like a bag on wheels people use for shopping) we brought because she was tired of walking. Pretty funny.

After buying a massive load of stuff for our home at ASDA Tim mentioned let's just get a taxi home. I thought he said he didn't want to pay for a taxi home so I just said, "We can do it. Let's just walk to the bus stop and figure it out." (Tim thinking, "Alright, but we can just take a taxi. Oh well." I didn't know this at this time.)
Again, I just pushed along a stroller jam-packed with stuff and Natalie, a trolley in another hand packed with stuff, Marisa walking beside me, and Tim's hands full with more stuff. We got a little confused with the bus stops so we walked awhile from stop to stop figuring out which one we needed. The whole time again just trying to suck it up and adjust to "my new life".
Finally, after waiting awhile at the correct stop, the bus comes, I start to get on, and the driver denies me entrance.


No more room for buggies, you have to wait for the next stop. Mind you I am already half way on the bus with my MASSIVE stack of stuff, it is also Bank Holiday and the buses don't come as often so I could wait about 20 minutes for the next one, and both girls have had enough.

I'm now mad.

Now what?? I don't know a number for a taxi. Tim, the good man he is, keeps me calm and asks somebody for a minicab number. Long story short, we were able to get a minicab to our flat, but the whole time I'm saying out loud, "I HATE PUBLIC TRANSPORATION! I WANT MY CAR, MY CARSEATS, MY BIG ROADS, MY STORES! I'M NEVER COMPLAINING AGAIN ABOUT RUNNING ERRANDS IN AMERICA!" and on, and on I go.

Thanks to Tim again, all is calm in the front...until...later that night. I can't make phone calls on my phone anymore.

Crap number two or twenty-seven since our move to London??

Before we can get our permanent mobile phones here we need proof of residency. (Which we still haven't gotten yet despite our persistance to have it sent to us.) So, in the meantime, Tim doesn't have a phone, but I have a pay-as-you-go phone. Which means what it means. You pay a certain amount up front and when you are running low, your phone will tell you to "top-up" and so you pay again until you need to top-up again. Unfortunately, the mobile phone lady put us on a retarded plan the day after we got here, and I guess we didn't pay attention because we were so jet-lagged, that now without going into unnecessary details I can't make phone calls, but I can receive them.

Next day: I had previously researched in the U.S. and while staying in Canary Wharf about schools for Marisa. I told you before the process is different and slightly difficult here in London so before I proceed with my story, I will explain why.

In the states, when you move into a home you are assigned to THAT local school nearby in your area. Everyone and anyone can go to that school if you live in that designated area. No problem.
Here, way different. Just because you live in THAT area close to THAT school doesn't mean you can get in. Schools here are rated and are posted online as an Ofsted report. Not all schools are equal in the same borough or neighbourhood. So that means most people are going to want their child to get into the best school in town. That leads to competition and waiting lists. I happened to have moved into a good area here in Greenwich. Luckily, I live 2-3 blocks from two of the best primary schools here in Greenwich. Unfortunately, I missed the registration deadline to apply to schools which was back in January. Even though I moved in to the area and wasn't here to apply my application is still considered late and Marisa will be put into a waiting list for both primary schools. Plus, first, schools give priority to those people who work in the state school system, second, to those who have siblings already at the school, then third, to those living close by. But if spots starts to fill quickly, and all the good schools do, they will even go out and literally measure the distance of your home to the school to see who will get in before another person. Crazy.

So where does my child go??

The Greenwich School Admissions told me of a school that she could probably get into, but when I asked my friend at church, Nicole, what that school was like she said this,

"The teachers are fine, but I wouldn't send my kids there.
Parents are usually young teen moms,
kids have even been sent to that school hungry having had no breakfast,
the schools has a reputation and the Ofsted report is bad,
your child will be overlooked because the other kids all have issues,
and plus that is so out of the way and far from you."


That's exactly where I want to send my child. (Sense the sarcasm?)

Plus, here in the UK children start school at like 2-3 years old. The equivalent of Kindergarten in the U.S. is called Reception here. So according to her birthday Marisa will start Reception here this September!

So, you are telling me that not only do I have to send my first born to Kindergarten a whole year earlier than expected, I have to send her far away to a crappy school from 9-3 everday when two of the best state schools are 2-3 blocks away from me??? Over my dead body.

My friend Nicole though literally saved my life. In fact, she was the only good thing that happened this week.
Because I didn't have internet or phone on Tuesday she said she would come over with phone numbers ready and we can make phone calls to primary schools and nursery schools for Marisa and get this schooling figured out.
Well, she was beyond amazing because she did all the calling for me. I mean I'm perfectly capable of calling myself but she did it for me because she said she knows how to deal with British people. And, oh boy, am I glad she did. It was like watching a pro-negotiator doing her art. Calling all schools and admissions, dealing with snotty English people, telling little white lies just to get information out of them. I mean, only a native can do that. (Actually she is American but married an English man and has lived here for years. She even has an English accent and can put on a real good one on the phone, but with me have a perfect American accent. Talent.)
Anyways, long story short. She literally got Marisa into one of the best nursery school nearby. And because of her I am able to start Marisa in Nursery (pre-school) instead of going straight into Reception.

I owe her my life.

So this week I had my second sob session. Everything wasn't going as smoothly as I wanted it to.
I was tired of everything. DAYS of no table, eating off of the floor, no tv or couch, no internet, no phone, no car, I had enough.

I was worried sick about schooling for Marisa,
the girls' bedding not arriving yet and having no idea when because I can't check email,
I haven't ordered a table yet because how can I without internet?,
I had no idea how to use the bus system because how can I without internet?,
I can't even research where to take the girls during the day, like the library or something, because of no internet,
I don't like being cooped-up at home because I like to explore where I live whether in Orange County or London,
I can't even make phone calls,

and then I start to complain about things that are irrelevant...

I can't understand people totally yet, they might as well be speaking another language,
I hate that everyone smokes and don't even give a second thought being literally two feet from kids puffing smoke in their faces at the park,
If i see this....

one more time, I'm going to scream,
why would anyone want that as a souvenior??,
London is so over-rated,
we still have to make purchases on our U.S. credit cards, which are many, and which charges us international fees, and WHY haven't our banking in the U.K. followed through like they said they would BEFORE we got here,
why isn't Tim showing any emotion to this all?,
why do they have to make things so difficult here!!!

Tim just looked at me and said, "I have been waiting for this. This is culture shock."
"No it is NOT culture shock!! I am fine, I am just frustrated."
"Tanya, I have seen this on the mission. It is culture shock."

For whatever reason I was fighting what was inevitable. I think I wanted to prove to myself, to everybody I guess, that I was strong enough to handle this transition. It is not that I was complaining and that I didn't want to be here, because despite all this I still very much want to be here, I was just plain frustrated.

So there you go, my week. Exhausting. Up and down and all around rollercoaster ride. My first experience of culture shock no matter how hard I tried to fight it.

I have internet now, obviously. Tim went to the store to figure out the dongle Thursday.
(P.S. returns in the U.K. are very rare. Tim took his laptop to prove it didn't work and only then did they exchange for a new one. First class, crappy customer service!)
(And P.P.S. I'm sure you're thinking, why not go to your friend's house to use the internet? Well, the church boundaries here are huge so my new church friends don't exactly live nearby. Plus, I don't even know how to get there. Even if they give me bus routes, I have no idea what I am doing yet or where is where! Too much of a hassle to be dragging two kids across London with no clue in the world. That is why Nicole so graciously offered to just come to me with information and numbers in hand to help me. Way easier.)

My phone is still not working because we haven't had a chance. Tim works and can't make it to the store before it closes plus Friday was a holiday for the Royal Wedding and so is tomorrow. What for? May day, of course! Right...
I got our table ordered thanks to the internet. That comes next Monday. Marisa's school will call me Tuesday to tell me whether she got in for the morning or afternoon session. Hopefully the rest of the bedding comes in shortly and I guess I will call whenever I get my phone fixed to find out...
So, we are still waiting on most things, but with at least internet I feel like things are going to start to move up from here. Crossing fingers!

My friends who have lived here before said that the first little bit is really hard and then after that I am going to LOVE living here. I'm very much looking forward to that!
This past weekend, with my main worries put to rest Thursday night, was SO much fun. I'll post pictures tommorrow of the Royal Wedding and our Tower of London trip. Until then, cheers!


Unknown said...

I love you with all my heart. Sorry this is being so hard, and I'm glad you have internet now, and that you have Nicole. I think you're very brave and a very good mom. We'll pray for you.

Unknown said...

Tanya, you're doing great. Thank goodness for friends who can help you get settled. We miss all of you so much. Like you said, "Thank goodness for internet." I'm glad we can get hold of you now.

Anonymous said...

What an adventure! Hang in there mama. The best is yet to come. I'm sure even these early experiences are the ones you will vividly remember and will retell as time passes. Your sweet little family is missed! Marisa...we missed seeing your sweet face in Primary!

Matt said...

Hang in there Tanya. We love you.

shannon said...

Tanya! This post was like a giant flashback! (Just read July-December 2008 on my blog--once you get internet :) Once we left our temporary digs we slept on leaky air mattresses for over 3 weeks in our permanent house waiting for our container full of furniture from the US. It is HARD! For sure! And I stand by what I said, once you get through this yucky transition part with internet installed, furnishings in place, bus routes you know like the back of your hand, Marisa happily in school, favourite family hangouts established you will fall in love. And as I sit here reading this post of your painful transition knowing exactly what it is like, I would do it all over again. Hang in there! PS You will be so glad you kept a record of this part of your journey. Looking back at this later you will smile :)

Fisher Family said...

Oh Tanya! I can completely relate to you!! Hang in there. You are going to love it, but you will also have such a new appreciation for living in the states. it sounds like you are making the most of your time there and the royal wedding sounded amazing! Love, love hearing about your experiences! It is so fun to relive it through someone else :) hugs & kisses to you and your girls!

Jenny Hart Turk said...

Wow Tanya! I hope things are getting a bit easier, but I don't blame you for being so dang frustrated. Living in such a huge city like that and so different from the U.S. (even though they speak the same language)! You are a brave woman! I'm glad you go to see Steve & Cookie last week! It's nice to have familiar faces around when everything else is so foreign. Can't wait to hear more stories about your adventures!


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