New City, New System

I wrote this post after some rather disappointing and un-productinve apartment viewings, but I have a few tomorrow that seem promising. We really are getting along quite well overall!

We’ve been here less than a week and we both have had several moments of feeling  overwhelmed. I have lived internationally before – once when I was 13 for 4 months in Paris with my brother’s family and again when I did a study abroad myself for 2 months as a college student, also in Paris. But both of those times I wasn’t in charge of anything, really. My housing was taken care of for me, the study abroad program provided cell phones for each set of roommates, and I was able and content to structure my days, but not much else. Derek and I have been busy finding housing and cell phones, getting the lay of the land, and adjusting not only ourselves to a new culture, new city, new system, & new time zone, but our daughter too.IMG_5229

New System:
Cell Phones – plans are cheaper, and phones are widely available, but we’ve run into a few momentarily frustrating hang-ups. Our US phones will take a UK sim card (great! we thought) so we bought one, but then found out that the US phone would have to be unlocked. However, when we took it to be unlocked we were told it couldn’t be… We bought a UK phone.
The plans seem straightforward and we know what we want, but we can’t get a plan set up until we have a UK debit card. We can’t get a UK debit card until the bank sends us one, and who knows when that will be – we’ve been working on setting up the bank account for what seems like more than a month. We have an account number, but no card as of yet. I was amused by the EE (mobile phone company) guy who when he found out we didn’t yet have a card said, “Oh, it’ll be very difficult to set up a plan without a card.” Me, “How difficult?” Him, “Very difficult.” Me, “Do you mean difficult, or impossible?” Him, “Very difficult. I can’t set up a plan without your debit card.” That sounds like impossible to me. Enter the pay-(cash)-as-you-go sim card and inexpensive phone. Although as a plus we’re planning on hanging on to that phone so our visitors (you) will have one to use when they (you) come!

Grocery Shopping – Typically when I go shopping for our family there aren’t many surprises. I go to one of two or three stores, and I know what I’m going to get. I don’t have to make any new decisions on brands or sizes of food unless I want to. I know and understand what is priced well and what isn’t with a simple glance at the posted price, and I’m happy to make a few random decisions on produce (what’s in season, do I want this organic) and the like. Not so anymore! It is a bit embarrassing to admit, but I have felt fairly overwhelmed (I know, I need a new word – boggled, bewildered, steamrollered?) the few times we’ve been shopping. Every single item I buy is a brand new decision and I have to make those decisions during my window of happy baby time. Do I want the generic brand, or what looks like a name brand? Do I care that it costs £3 rather than £2? How much is £3 again? (kidding…mostly). Will we eat that much cheese by the time we’re out of our temporary housing? (Of course we will). Do I have enough cash? Can I carry that home? (Until we get a car there’s really only one store that is decently sized within easy walking distance).


Some other random differences: Almost all apartments have at least a washing machine if not a combo washer/dryer (hooray!). Most bathtubs don’t have a curtain or sliding doors, but a glass ‘shower screen’ that doesn’t cover the whole tub. I’m not a fan, especially as I’m the one in our family that mops up water on the bathroom floor. There is some use of the metric system (Celsius temperatures, purchase produce in kilos), but it’s not exclusive (they use mph when driving, pounds and ounces in cooking, and for some reason cheese is labeled in either pounds or kilos, depending on the brand).

Little L is fascinated by our combo washer/dryer.

Little L is fascinated by our combo washer/dryer.

Then there are also the obvious differences – the accent, terminology, and driving on the left.

New City:
When we moved to Logan Square in Chicago in 2009 we weren’t very picky about our neighborhood. But when we moved back to the city in 2010 we were much pickier, had a friend helping us find housing, had a higher budget (one of us actually had a long-term, full-time job for a change), and we had been there before so we had a better idea of what we wanted. No such luxuries (well, besides the job part) here. We thought we wanted to live in the city center, but I have looked at quite a few apartments, and almost all of them seem to be bordering a sketch-tastic part of the city. Across the street from a Tavern, next to social housing, close to a big road with gentlemen’s’ clubs…no thank you. All of these places look lovely online and that’s even with google street view. But when I get there I can tell I won’t feel fully comfortable walking around.  As Derek has started work and as our temporary housing does have a deadline, I have the responsibility of finding our flat. Hence feeling somewhat overwhelmed. If you feel the need to cross your fingers, say a prayer, wish me luck, or whatever it is you do, you are welcome to do so. The hard thing is that we would probably be fine in most of the places I’ve seen, but I want to be happy and safe, not just fine. That’s fair, right?

In the majority of the cities I have lived in before there is something by way of a grid for the streets, or at least an structured system. Even though we have walked all over the city center I have yet to discover the system here.  I think being grid-less would be fine if all of the maps were reliable and the same. The other day I was trying to find our way on a map in my hand while referencing a posted you-are-here map and I was having a hard time, particularly once I realized that the maps had streets and canals in totally different places! And I know I was looking at the right areas! Paris may not be on a true grid, but at least if you have a Paris Pratique you can trust it to be correct! With that being said, however, we have happened upon some lovely views in our wanderings:

IMG_5253Enough negativity.
We’ve picked up a few pamphlets for nearby things to see – and there is so much within less than an hour’s drive! Stratford-upon-Avon (Shakespeare’s home), Cadbury World, Kenilworth Castle, and more. I know once we get settled in we will be able to appreciate where we are. Also, as a bonus, all of Birmingham’s museums are free!

Image of Kenilworth Castle from the English Heritage Website

Some other positivity:
I’m so glad I brought our stroller (or buggy, push-chair, or pram if you’d rather we use some britishisms). I was concerned that other moms would exclusively have little umbrella strollers, but we are not at all out of place with our sturdy/cobblestone-taking/big-wheeled stroller.
I’m grateful there is decent public transit here. I do think we’ll be getting a car, but if that was on our to-do list this week I would cry.
I’ve already met a few other moms mums with kids that have made me feel so welcome. It’s a blessing.