Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Not a Tourist 5 (A Tourist Again)

Last weekend, Alice and I visited Brighton, and so we were tourists again! Brighton is a crazy beach party town. The beach and boardwalk is kind of what we both picture Coney Island being like, except that neither of us have ever been to Coney Island. Fun times.

The Weather was beautiful, so we weren't the only ones who decided to drop by for a visit...

We saw most of the sights: The boardwalk, the beach, the royal pavilion, the lanes, we had a Pimm's, we had an English Breakfast, we had a good time, and a nice relaxing weekend. Ahh, to be a tourist!

The rest of this blog entry one is going to be a little scattered and random, because it's kind of a recap for the past while...

Someone Will Be Along For That
It is very much part of the culture here to let the staff clean up after you at restaurants, bars, etc. Not sure if this is a result of the class system where you can't be bothered to bus your own dishes, or do things for yourself, but people pretty much leave their beer glasses wherever they are and let someone else worry about cleaning it up. To the point of just setting the empty glass on the ground. It is common for the bars to overflow into the street after work when the weather is nice, so, yes, literally, you just set your empty beer glass on the curb and let someone else worry about it.

Bin It
This one is a bit shameful. OK, very shameful. There is no recycling system at the temporary house, so everything just goes into the trash. "Bin it!" And I'm ashamed to say that this really makes life easier. If you just don't care about anything and toss it in the bin. Hopefully our permanent home will have recycling and we can become good citizens of the world again, but in the mean time, it sure saves time and thought and energy when you just toss everything into the bin when you're done with it.

Scotch Egg
I ate a scotch egg. This is a hard boiled egg covered with sausage and breading and then fried. It tastes exactly like you'd expect it to taste. (Unless you were repulsed by the description, then it isn't as bad as all that.) Which is pretty good. Nothing life changing, but pretty good. Not as good as sausage rolls.

Pickle Sauce
Why don't we have pickle sauce in the USA? This isn't pickle relish, but this funny dark brown chunky sauce with onions and other vegetables that have been pickled. This may also be called "Sweet Onion" Sauce. It is the most perfect condiment for sandwiches or practically anything! The brand we found at the grocery store is Branston, but there are probably others available. (Which brings me to...)

No Brand Loyalty
I realized that Alice and I really have no brand loyalties when it comes to food. Which makes the transition from USA to UK food quite easy for us. We don't miss specific brands of food that are unavailable here. Salsa and things will taste different and be harder to find, but we won't ever be looking for any one brand and then get annoyed when we can't find it. Salsa here may taste different than salsa in the USA, but we were always buying different and funny salsas back in the USA, so different bottles tasted different back there, too.
I'm not saying this is a good or bad trait of ours, just that it's the way it is.
The one exception to this is the Rooster Sriracha sauce which Alice puts on just about anything. They sell other brands here, but they are not the same bright red that we have known. And they have a swan or something on the label, so it isn't Rooster Sauce.

The Royal Wedding
The royal wedding is this Friday (2 days from now). We will either go to a local street party hosted by The Charles Lamb Pub in Islington, or we will watch with the masses on big-screens in Hyde Park. I'm trying to convince Alice that we should go to the local pub just so we can avoid all travel and transportation that day, and also so we will be a mere 3 or 4 blocks from our apartment with its personal and private bathroom. But I think Alice really wants to go to Hyde Park, so we'll probably end up going there.

Speaking of which, at the grocery store, they are selling Will & Kate Commemorative Pies. Steak and bacon Pie, I think (meat, not sweet). Alice took a picture.

Speaking of Meat
We had conveyor-belt sushi, and they had steak sushi. Alice grabbed it, thinking it was tuna, but it was steak. They also had a tempura shrimp atop a sliced up tempura chicken breast. So I got to eat a few extra sushi. Otherwise it was pricey and not so great, so we probably won't go back.

And Not Speaking of Meat
Bits in pubs don't eat. Except maybe a bag of crisps (potato chips). They go, and have their pint of beer, and don't eat anything. Seems strange since Americans seem to eat wherever they go. We're such pigs, and not the kind that you make Royal Wedding Commemorative Pie out of.

Still Not Quite Here
We should be moving into our permanent home at the end of next week. It will be nice to start feeling a little bit more settled... Especially for me. Alice is fully set up at work. I'm still working off a laptop on the dining room table. Islington is great, though, and hopefully Putney will be just as good or better.

Land Of The Free
Last week, the DOJ shut down the major online poker sites in the USA. Why does America call itself a free country? I managed to change my PokerStars account to the UK before the shut-down, but my Full Tilt account reverted back to my USA address and I can't play on it now, even though the country I live in doesn't mind if I play poker online.
One irony that has not been talked about much is that online poker allows people to gamble LESS than casino poker. When playing online, I generally play with blinds of $.10-.25 or $.25-.50. Occasionally $.50-1. Or I play tournaments with a buy-in between $5 and $25 but usually in the $5-$15 range. When I go to a casino, I play $1-$2 or $2-$5 blinds and tournaments that cost $50 - $225. A bad night at the casino can cost me more than a bad month can online.
All the talk is about the people gambling for huge stakes online, but the vast majority of players--recreational players like myself--play for a pittance. What we would otherwise spend renting a movie or for a World of Warcraft subscription. Online sites can offer penny poker. Casinos can not. And the truth is, most of the time I would rather be gambling for less. I am much happier playing $.10-.25 than $2-5 (here it's £2-5 which is even worse).

No Cars
At the Shell station up the street, gas/petrol costs £1.38 per liter. I'll tell you the math, but make you multiply it out yourself:
£1.00 = ~$1.65
1 gallon = 3.785 liter.
Part of me wishes that the USA would tax gas up to this price and force us to come up with better transportation. The bus and underground and train system in London is amazing. We we ever want anything like this in American cities, we'll need to start now and work hard and pay for it.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Not a Tourist 4

It has now been 10 days, and we're settling in nicely. I have made notes on this blog editor throughout the week, so I can hit some of the fun and silly things and so I won't forget. So, without further ado...

Here is a (short) conversation between Alice and a waiter:
ALICE: Do you have hot sauce?
WAITER: No! Salt on the table.
Concise and to the point. It really needs no further explanation.

This week, we purchased the Cumberland Vegetarian Sausages instead of the Lincolnshire Vegetarian Sausages. I think I like the Lincolnshire ones better (slightly) but I'm not yet sure what the difference between them is.
I think the logical thing to do is to Pepsi-challenge REAL Lincolnshire vs Cumberland Sausages and see which one I like better in a proper taste-test. Alice will not follow (pescetarian) but it seems like my duty.
I wonder if locals could articulate the differences between the two. Maybe, maybe not. It might be "Oh, well _____ has a bit more pepper and ______ has a bit more _____."

I was pleased to notice that our (Sainsbury's) peanut butter jar has a warning on it saying "CONTAINS PEANUTS." It seems like this would be one of the cases where they should warn you if it does not contain peanuts. Speaking of which, we also bought a bag of peanuts and that did NOT warn us that it contained peanuts. Which really makes you wonder, doesn't it.
I posted this on Facebook and a friend (Mike H.) back in the USA confirmed that neither Jiff or Adams warns American consumers that their jar of peanut butter contains the deadly peanut. I sense a lawsuit.
(This is not to make light of anyone with a peanut allergy. My god!!! That is scary. It's one of those things where it seems like you could accidentally kill someone instantly and completely by accident. And I like peanuts and peanut butter enough that just being near me may be toxic. Scary!! You've been warned.)

Our 5 year Anniversary was last Friday, 8th of April. (See how i did 8/4 instead of 4/8 there!)
For this, I had packed one of my suits, a few dress shirts, ties, dress shoes, etc. in our air shipment so we could go have a nice romantic meal out. None of that has arrived yet, so I had to buy clothes for the evening...
The clothes I bought were just a little bit more British/European than the clothes they sell in America. I can't quite put my finger on why; just the shirt had a color and a pattern that looked a little bit more British. The shoes were shaped a little more British. The pants were tailored a little bit more British. Which all makes sense, since I'm in Britain.
Here's what I did notice:
For starters, everything is tailored for people who are a bit slimmer than the fat Americans. Fortunately, after my successful weight-loss last year, I am a bit slimmer than the fat American I used to be.
The cuffs are a bit bigger. They look more like faux french cuffs a bit more, and I bet if you look closely at British people on TV (tele) you will notice this. They just have a bit more flare or panache.
Same thing with the color of the shirt. And this one I really can't describe very well. It's just a shade more British than American shirts. I cannot say what that shade is. Alice was impressed overall though. Probably as much by the fact that I went out and bought myself nice clothes than the actual clothes themselves.
Which brings me to my long-term point: I'm going to end up looking British after a year or so when I have replaced many of my clothes. Whether this is the culture rubbing off, or just the only stuff I can find, and whether I still feel a little uncomfortable wearing it or not, it's going to happen.
While on my way to meet Alice wearing my new outfit, I felt a little uncomfortable just because it was a little bit out of my usual style. I figured (correctly) that I would be even more invisible than usual because I would look less like a tourist (I'm not a tourist, remember). I was given hope as I climbed the stairs out of the underground station and an older man in front of me, who was wearing a very conservative suit stepped up the stair and I could see he was wearing bright, BRIGHT blue socks. So... If he can do that, I can wear a shirt with a little extra euro-flare.

Which brings us to our Anniversary dinner. We went to a wonderfull little french restaurant in Putney, near our soon-to-be-home. It is called L'Auberge. It is run by a husband and wife, and it will be our go-to restaurant for special occasions and when Guests are in town.
This next line is incredibly high praise..

This is our London Pamplemousse.

That being said, L'Auberge (London) is almost nothing like Pamplemousse (Las Vegas) except that they are both excellent, delicious and beautiful french restaurants. There can't be very many people in the world who have been to both, but if anyone reading this has the opportunity to join the select group of us who have, I encourage you to do so!!
If you really really want to join a select group, you should also eat at Le Petit Prince in Paris.
(You're welcome.)

On to the Theatre:
We saw In a Forest Dark and Deep, the new Neil LaBute play. Featuring Matthew "Lost" Fox and Olivia "Dollhouse" Williams. (She is currently better known for the movie "An Education" but I know her from Dollhouse.) The play was excellent! I thought the script was very good and the actors gave great performances. I thought the directing could have been a little better, as there were a few scenes where both actors pretty much ended up on opposite sides of the stage facing out. And some areas of the really cool set were not used to their full potential. (And the set designer did not follow my "Design it and then spin it 30 degrees" philosophy. Which would have improved sight lines.) But overall it was a very good show and an enjoyable evening--even though the show itself was very dark and intense.

It's past 11pm, so you get one more thing and then I'm done:
Soft-serve ice cream tastes like Cool Whip. So much that I think it IS Cool Whip.
We went to the Shoreditch Flower Market today, and had Cool Whip cones which we thought were going to be ice cream cones.
But then Alice's very cool co-worker, Kignsley (who apparently didn't realize that no one in America is named Kingsley) took us to the Shoreditch House private club and we had a late lunch on the rooftop restaurant. It was jolly good!!! Or "awesome!"
And you have to say (read) "awesome" with the most annoying and nasal American accent you can muster. Because that's what we sound like to the people here.

Good night, then.

Not a Tourist 3

Its been a few more days and I'm at least sleeping through the night now. Haven't quite gotten the time of day right yet, because it's about 2:00pm and I'm just now starting to think about lunch. In fact...

OK, it's now 4:15 and I ate lunch and took a long way around Islington. Partly to look around, partly to get a coffee, and partly to look at parks that I may want to take Katie to.
Bernard Park, Islington
Has sports fields (soccer/football) and playgrounds and some green area. Nice, but not really a destination park. Just a regular neighborhood park.
Thornhill Square Gardens, Islington
A nice little oval-shaped green & flower space next to a beautiful old church. Not quite big enough to go for a picnic unless you lived in the area or were nearby for some reason.

Pedestrian drift:
I'm getting proficient at drifting to the left instead of the right when approaching pedestrians. It's strange because there is no real rule in this country or the USA that pedestrians should pass each other on the left or right like cars. If you approach even a little bit to one side, you can pass on that side, whichever it is, without problem in either country. Only when you approach someone straight on does this difference come into play. Americans will naturally drift to their right and Brits will naturally drift to their left. So if you approach each other, you end up doing the stutter-stop 'which side do you want?' dance. But if you see them coming from several paces off, you can start drifting and get by with no problem. And you won't look like a tourist if you drift in the correct direction.
For fun, in the USA, start drifting to the left when approaching people on the sidewalk and see how many you can annoy without them realizing what you are doing differently.

Also, Twitter and Facebook are ruining blogs because you mention something there in a sentence or two and then you don't feel the need to repeat yourself.

But I'll repeat myself anyway:
PokerStars re-activated my account because I am no longer a resident of Washington State. I could go on for pages and pages about how stupid and backwards the poker laws in the USA and in WA in particular are, but I won't. Regulating & taxing online poker could be a big 2nd step in the drive to balance state and federal budgets. (Mom, I promise the 1st step wouldn't benefit tax-wise from me, personally.)

We also got our local bank cards--which have a SIM in them just like all bank and credit cards probably should--COME ON, USA! Get with the program. A SIM enabled card 'signed' with a pin # is so much more secure than a signature! About a year ago, Alice & I went to dinner with Noreen and Greg, and Noreen and I accidentally switched (identical) bank cards. I unknowingly used her card several times before finding out what had happened. This is even funnier because none of the 'stolen card' algorithms would have been triggered by me--since I went out for sushi, got some wine at a wine shop, etc. which are all things Noreen would have done if she had been along with Alice and I for the whole weekend instead of just dinner beforehand. With a PIN instead of an (often unchecked) signature, I wouldn't have been able to use her card for anything!

I need to remember, or write down all the things that amuse Alice or else I forget. Oh..
Alice was amused by
  • Getting a free umbrella from work that comes in a sheath that can be worn over your shoulder like a samurai sword. She told her workers she would use it to push people out of her way to ride the tube during rush hour.
  • She was not amused when noticing that these little sesame balls she bought (which looked like small versions of the ones you get at dim sum, but were actually more like doughnut holes) contained pork fat. They were delicious, by the way.
  • She also made it to work and home again without incident on her first day.
  • I guess she was most amused that the Covent Garden Lush store has a basement level and is huge.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Not a Tourist 2

Katie (the dog) is here! YAY. She's suffering doggie jet lag. Exhausted by what would have been a very stressful and confusing journey. But she's here now.

We're starting to settle in, but still only sleeping a few hours each night due to jet lag ourselves.

The temporary apartment is very small, but we're managing just fine. We will probably do a load of laundry nearly every day to keep up with the combination of limited space and limited washing machine capacity.

We are already noticing (as we had been warned) that there would be a million little differences and just doing everyday tasks will require more thought. Like grocery shopping. All our lives the grocery stores have looked about the same and had more or less the same brands and the same things. Every once in a while something new would arrive and something would disappear, and something would change labels, but it would be only one or a few at a time in an otherwise recognizable store. Here, they have mostly the same stuff, but it is mostly different brand names, different packages, different organization, and sometimes under a different name. And then you are mentally converting all the prices over to figure out what things cost.

I wonder (and will mention here if I'm still doing this) when I will just think in pounds and won't need to convert things into dollars to know a price.

Even the vegetarian sausages taste like British vegetarian sausages. Actually they are quite good and taste almost like real British sausages, but its just different than American sausages.

(Ok, I meant to write more, but didn't. It's now the next day from when I wrote all that, so I'll just post it and start Part 3.)