Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Living the Sweet Life

The Temporary European is finally home and settled back into NJ life. I've had some time to reflect on my life in London and the experience was definitely worth having but I do have to say there is no place like the USA. Since my return, I have been asked numerous times what it was like to live in London; that is a very hard question to answer. I find my stock answer is, "It was a great once in a lifetime experience." Beyond the rude people, crazy weather, bad showers and missing top sheet, my inability to consider ever becoming an ex-pat is hard to describe because the reasons are intangible. It is easy to describe the not so subtle differences differences, as this blog proves but the other "stuff" is nearly impossible to explain. To put it as simply as possible, beyond my obvious pining for family and friends, life in London was devoid of the American way of life -- there is something about Americans and the way we live day to day that really sets us apart. I am not saying we live in a perfect utopia but there is something about us that makes us different (in a positive way) from all other cultures. Whether it be in our major cities or our small towns, we exude a sense of connectivity that is inherently part of being an American. When meeting another American while in Europe, you exchange an easy nod that acknowledges this kinship created by the connection to the red, white and blue colors that bind us. I have always been a patriotic person but I am even more patriotic now. This is not to say that I am anti-EU, I just have a greater appreciation for being American and realize what a privilege and honor it is.
There is so much we take for granted here in the USA and I am trying to take that learning into my life and be grateful for everything I have. I think it should be mandatory for every American to live outside the USA for at least 3 months; we may do less complaining, more celebrating and have more understanding. But, as we all know, especially during these tough economic times, it's not possible for everyone to get outside of the USA and have the opportunity to look back at our mother land fondly while also experiencing what the rest of the world has to offer. I am grateful for having been blessed with that opportunity.
I made many great new friends, saw amazing places and things that will stay with me for a lifetime and I achieved a life goal by walking through the Bronte house. What more can a girl from Warren County NJ ask for? OK, I'm still asking for a published book... That's my next goal and I hope you all come along for that ride.
Thanks to all of you who read my blog faithfully and commented on my funny and not so funny experiences. I couldn't have survived the separation without all of you, my dear readers.
God Bless America and all her people!

The Forever American in Body, Soul and Philosophy

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Fine shopping, or should I say dining?

Go to any department store in London and you will find something decadent, expensive and fattening -- they are called Food Halls. No, no, I'm not talking Food Courts. Food Courts are where you find greasy pizza, limp salads and salty, hot pretzels. At Food Halls you find imported cheeses, exotic fruits, fresh seafood and catering services. It is odd though to be admiring and drooling over a Gucci bag or sniffing the intoxicating bouquet of Coco Mademoiselle Chanel and then a mere steps away find yourself drooling over puff pastries and sniffing freshly baked bread. Shopping can already be a dangerous proposition but the addition of such tantalizing goods takes it to new levels of scary. Do women really want to try on those new skinny jeans with the scent of delicious chocolates wafting through the air? Come to think of it, who wants to add the burden of dreaming about hot out-of-the oven scones when trying on a bikini? This is more dangerous than I originally thought! I wonder if this concept would work in America... I guess it could work at say Nordstrom's or Saks but honestly, I don't know if the stingy corporate folks would give up precious floor space for the likes of imported salami. I think we are safe for now but if you go to London be warned that a trip to the department still could likely result in $50 purchase of prosciutto, virgin olive oil and organic oregano and thyme. Bon appetit.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Where in the World Are My Wellies?

Of course it's going to rain all week, I sent my wellies back home via UPS on Saturday...the real irony is, I didn't wear them once while they were here. 

Soggy in the UK,

The Temporary European

Monday, 27 July 2009

Tostadas in London Rescued by the French!

Now perhaps it is my emotional state due to my nearing departure from the UK, but I swear I was nearly brought to tears by the kindness of a stranger. It happened yesterday at the Whole Foods (yes, I finally found it 8 days before said departure!); I had just toured Kensington Palace (the former home of Princess Diana) and I was starving. After perusing the third floor organic market cafe, I finally decided on Mexican. I approached the counter and was met by a young man who would both take my order and prepare my meal. He was not happy to be a burrito /tostada/ taco man and he let me know it. There were no menus so I was forced to ask questions and he was irritated beyond belief when I asked what came on the tostada. In my weakened state, I could not fight back and I really didnt' care to because I just wanted peace and some food. Project Smile London was on hiatus with this guy, I reasoned that my ability to restrain myself from verbally assaulting him was gift enough. Anyway, in retaliation for me asking questions, he scooped minescule amounts of rice, beans, chicken, guac and cheese into my BIG tostada bowl. For a brief moment I was tempted to question his laddeling technique but then I wondered if I wasn't being paranoid -- lots of mean people in a mean city can make you paranoid after a few months! I tried to be rational about the whole thing. "Come on Jennifer, this is what everyone gets," I told myself. As I walked my meager contents within their big bowl to the cashier, I wondered how this could cost 5.99. But, I wasn't going to make trouble, you know, the stiff upper lip and all. I could do with a few less calories since I wasn't eating live anymore... And then it happened, the nicest thing ever, the young, French man at the till looked at my pathetic tostada fillings and said, "That seems small."
My eyes widened with shock. "Yes, I thought so too. But that guy over there isn't very happy and he took it out on my tostada."
"Well, if he isn't happy, that isn't your problem." The nicest French man on earth said.
"Thanks, but I don't want to make any trouble. I'll just pay." I said (yes, I swear this is true).
"No! If I were you, I'd be angry. Let me take care of this." And he whisked away my paultry tostada.
He returns a few moments later with a tostada flowing with yummy Mexican contents and says, "I put myself in your shoes. You pay. You want the right amount."
I smiled at that nice, French man living in London and I wondered how long he's been living here and if he's originally from the South of France...

Friday, 24 July 2009

An Old Friend of Mine

Yes, this is going to sound a bit ignorant, but I never realized there was an actual Paddington Train Station.  I was so excited when I saw the station on a tub map and I knew I had to a make a trip there before I left England. I'm not sure if you all know Paddington Bear, but if you do, you know how lovable and adorable he is; if you don't know, please go to your nearest book store and find a Paddington book and read it -- it will only take you 5 minutes, just do it!
Paddington Bear is an old friend of mine; we met when I was about eight. I wish I could remember who gave me my Paddington book and mini-bear because I would thank him/her profusely. I took that bear lots of places and I got the biggest kick out of his suitcase, wellies and attached note, "Please look after this bear." Sadly, somewhere along my journey of life, I lost my little friend. I was saddened but I took hope that someone would look after my bear.
I've always secretly wished I'd find someone else's lost Paddington and I'd take care of that bear, but it's never happened. I have taken a trip Paddington station and once I was there the kid in me couldn't help but look around wondering if the infamous bear would turn up around the corner trying to find his way home. They have a bronze statue of Paddington but I couldn't get my picture with him because I was too embarrassed to ask any of the harried travelers to take a photo of a grown woman with a bronze bear statue! But while I was there, I couldn't resist buying a new Paddington to replace the one I lost so long ago. He is larger than the original but he sure is cute and I promise to take care of him.  If during your travles, you come across a small Paddington dating circa 1979, with a slightly torn hat, send him home but please give him a spot of tea first.

The Sentimental Temporary European

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Better to be French than Parisian...

I would never presume to judge an entire country on a visit to one city but damn, those Parisians make it hard! Arrogance runs high and rudeness is not far behind in the beautiful city of Paris. The Parisians are fortunate that they have the Louvre, Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower to offset their hideousness. Hmmm, could we take the symbolism of Quasimodo further and apply it to the beauty of Paris despite the outward ugliness of its people?...
The Parisians should really tone down their arrogance a notch or two because the Eiffel Tower, their greatest tourist attraction (in 2008 13,999,745 people visited the Eiffel Tower), the icon of France, and the most recognizable structure in the world, was really meant to be in Barcelona -- my favorite European city. It was originally designed and planned for the Universal Exposition of 1888 in Barcelona, but the politicians at the time thought it was odd and expensive and refused Eiffel's submission. He shopped the proposal to the Parisians and they accepted and he started building the tower in Paris in 1889. So, as you can see it is pure chance that Paris is home to the Eiffel tower; it is not some homage to their city as the Parisians would like us all to believe. 
It was worth going to gay Paris and seeing the sights and I would recommend it to any European traveler but just prepare yourself for brisk treatment and haughty glances -- heck, I'm a Jersey girl, I can  be brisk and haughty too, I just choose to represent my country to the best of my ability at all times, to all people. I honor George Washington in this way... yes,  you can laugh here. 
Anyway, dear reader, I hear that the French people in general are very nice and welcoming. I never did make it to the South of France but one day I will return to France but Paris will not be on my destination list -- once is enough for this Temporary European.


Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Tower Power

I finally saw the soldiers in the red coats and big, furry black hats! I found them at The Tower of London. I guess it only makes sense that they would be at the oldest fortress in Europe. The Tower of London outing was one of the best days during my time in Europe -- the Bronte pilgrimage is still #1 -- despite the rain and the mean Beefeater (I'll get to him in moment...) I reveled in the history on display within the immense grounds. My aunt, mom and I spent nearly four hours at the Tower and we still didn't see everything.
I waited to explore the Tower until I could enjoy it with someone else and I'm glad I did. It is the kind of place that demands turning to a companion and saying, "Wow," or "Can you believe that?," or "Man, that's old!" I had also been told that the best way to see the Tower is with the help of a Beefeater, also known as Yeomen. I prefer to call them Beefeaters because it sounds funny. Beefeaters are retired British Military men who must have served for at least 22 years in the armed services and hold the Long-Service and Good Conduct Medal. They live on the premises with their families and they take their jobs VERY seriously.
I was giddy with excitement as we waited for our tour with one of the serious, old military dudes and I waited patiently for our guide to arrive. He finally appeared in the distance and walked toward us in full regalia -- an impressive black uniform with vibrant red royal insignia and piping. His proper British accent was enthralling and his enthusiasm and booming voice were mesmerizing. Although, under that funny and fancy hat, I sensed a bit of cranky, old man but I figured he hadn't had enough prune juice that morning or something.
As luck would have it the unusually sunny weather I had been experiencing for most of my stay in London was coming to an end and the rain was pushing against the clouds looming in the sky over the Tower grounds. Mr. Beefeater stood on a stone step against the tower wall and told the large crowd that no brollies (translation: umbrellas) were allowed to be opened during the tour because someone could lose an eye -- now let me pause here for a moment, or two and let's ponder this together; 1) London = rain, rain = umbrellas...aren't they used to umbrellas in this city? Which leads to 2) In all my time here, I have yet to see someone lose an eye on a rainy day and I am among the most frenzied, rude, inconsiderate people in London, the hardened commuters. If they can figure out how to avoide gouging out the eyes of strangers I think we could manage at the Tower. Regardless of these musings "thems the rules" of this Beefeater and most of us put our umbrellas in our bags and hoped the rain would hold out.
About ten minutes into the tour, which was really informative and entertaining, the skies opened up and rain began to pelt our large group. In mid-sentence, the Beefeater said, "Get another tour after the rain, folks," and he was gone. It took me a moment to realize that a few tourists had opened their brollies and the Beefeater had stomped away as a result of their violation of his rule. I realize he made a rule and it was broken but what about the rule-followers like me, my mom and my aunt? Not only were we wet but we were guideless in the most historical place in the city! Having been a teacher in the past, I can tell you that to punish the entire class for one student's bad behavior is a big no-no. In addition, he could have considered that the violators may have not spoken English well and may not have understood his brolly rule! Or, maybe those folks who opened their umbrellas joined the group late? I am a firm but fair person and I feel that a second chance is always in order. Mr. Beefy, obviously didn't feel the same way.
We proceeded to buy a guided audio tour and did our best exploring the grounds and garnering all the history we could adsorb. Overall, despite the rain and the mean Beefeater, we had a fabulous time and learned a great deal about the history of England and the history of the Tower itself. It was humbling to think of all the history greats that have passed through those gates; some in good circumstances, but many in less than stellar circumstances. I didn't see or feel any ghosts, which was a disappointment but it was crowded that day and maybe the ghosts needed a break from all the tourists, or maybe the mean Beefeaters have scared them all away!

Yours Always,
The Temporary European

Monday, 20 July 2009

Project Smile London

To commemorate my last 15 days in London, I have begun Project Smile London. As I've mentioned before, the pace here is beyond hectic and the inhabitants can be sullen, sour and pent up. Before I leave, I want to impart a bit of happiness to random strangers and hope that it will be contagious and spread - hey, better to spread cheer than the dreaded swine flu!
Perhaps it is my utter joy at the thought of returning home but as I got off at the Holborn station I couldn't help but smile at all the rushing people around me. No, I was not gloating about the fact that in 16 days I'll be in the solitary, air-conditioned comfort of my own car (ok, maybe a little...) but I really felt bad for all these people scowling so early in the morning. The first man to receive my random act of kindness (hey, he was cute which is another rarity here in London) was shocked -- I cannot emphasize enough the fact that a mere smile can stop people in their tracks here -- but he didn't have time to smile back because I was swept along with the commuting crowd; I think I made a small, positive impact on his day.
Emerging into the sunlight, I continued Project Smile London and was pleased and amused by people's reactions.  Now let me say that it is important to make the distinction between a gaping, goofy smile that will just frighten people and a subtle smile that uplifts the face and makes your eyes friendly and warm. I have perfected the latter and that is the smile I am using on the people in London. Some people reluctantly smile back and others just stare back confused. My smile didn't have any power with my cranky bus driver. I even added a "Good Morning" to the smile but he didn't even look my way. Oh well, I wouldn't let my project be dashed to bits.
I know the power of the random smile because I have been given this gift a few times in London and upon receiving those rare gems, they have made me forget my worries, even if for a moment or two, and temporarily restored my faith in humanity. Come to think of it, I could call my little experiment Project Humanity because that is what I am trying to spread here in London, a little more humanity. Ironically, I got some more insight into the mind of Londoners on a Jack the Ripper Walking Tour; our guide, Philip, a 35 year old London-native, shared with me his views of London and how the city has really spiraled into a complete loss of British-ness (if you will). I felt sad as he told me how the proper London he knew as a youth has slowly slipped away. Apparently, there wasn't always as much spitting on the street, awkward silences on the tube and unwillingness to help lost strangers and tourists. Philip told me that when he was younger, people were friendlier and had more manners and plain old decency. I sighed along with him because the London he had lost was the one I was expecting to find. Please, dear reader, don't be confused, I like London and respect its history, nobility and grace but those things are embedded in the inanimate objects, no longer the people. The true Londoners are defeated and saddened by the evolution of the city's population. I share this sadness because the city does have so much to offer but you really have to cut through the unruly teens, uncontrolled crowds and bad manners. 
I can only hope that Project Smile London takes hold and that the city accepts my  humble offering to try and make things better. For all those Londoners like Philip, I hope the pendulum swings back and London is once again the mecca of manners and kindness it once was.

The Temporary European

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Inherited Chaos

My cousin-in-law and dear friend, Jackie, calls me "The Debacle Kid." Those of you who know me well can understand why but in my defense, I don't seek debacles they seek me. After spending ten days in Europe with my mom and aunt, I now realize that being prone to debacles is genetic. Yes, genetic; some of us are predispositioned for more debacles than others and my gene comes from my mom's side of the family. I know this because even when they weren't with me, my mom and aunt encountered calamities that I thought only happened to me.
See examples of debacles below:

Debacles with Me
Our 2 1/2 day trip to Ireland was cut short due to Air Lingus' sudden desire to switch us from a 9:05 am flight to a 12:30 pm flight (with no prior notice), as a result we didn't get to our hotel in Cork until well after 3 and most of the day was wasted; so we went to a pub!
Our trips into the center of Cork to catch buses or meals had to be methodically planned as the road to our B&B closed the day before our arrival and buses had no access while taxi access was limited -- did I mention that the B&B was at the top of a very steep hill? It was reminiscent of some hills I've encountered in San Fran, seriously. Please close your eyes for a moment and picture me, my mom and my aunt pulling suitcases up said hill after having traveled since 8 am. As MasterCard says, Priceless!
We missed the Ring of Kerry Tour because a woman at the B&B told us we couldn't make it to the tour bus in time but when we went to Killarney the next day we found out from the elderly tourist information matron that we could have gotten a later bus directly from the tourist information office.
We had to cut our visit to Killarney short because of the limited bus schedules back to Cork and the Cork airport (no castle visit for us there).
We sat in the airport for 4 hours (yes, we could have stayed in Killarney longer!) because our flight was delayed due to massive thunder and lightening in London. Did you know that lightening and thunder are rare in London? Hmmmm. Anyone smell a debacle?

Debacles Without Me
Need I remind you of the Continental plane that turned around...?
They missed their tour to Stonehenge because the new guy at the Original London Tours office wrote down the wrong departure time. No refund.

Random Debacles
Last minute day-trip to Paris results in some disappointment as the Louvre was closed and the Eiffel Tower closed early (due to Bastille Day!). PS Paris is not gluten-free friendly (my mom has celiac's disease and nearly starved!)
After waiting to see the Tower of London for 2 1/2 months, I went on the only day of constant rain and the Beefeater ended the tour after some dumb tourists opened their umbrellas after the strict Beefeater said not to; we paid an additional £3.50 for lame audio tour.

In tribute to my proclivity for fiascos/disasters/calamities, I have decided to embrace that which I cannot change and I have created a new word to celebrate these misfortunes; I am proud to announce debaclicious! I figure I should savor the delicious aspect of my debacles and pay homage to the absurdity they cause in my life.

So, the next time your car runs out of gas on the day you realize you didn't renew your AAA membership, feel honored that you are experiencing a moment so large it is debaclicious. If you find yourself stranded at the corner of a seedy street in a foreign city and finally find a bus but can't get on because your metro card expired -- that is debaclicious! I think you get it, so publish a post and tell me about the debaclicious moments in your life -- they don't only happen in Europe -- if only that were true, I would know that in 23 days I'd be leaving all my debacles behind.

Expanding the Lexicon One Word At A Time,
The Temporary European

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Have Nots

So I have no top sheet, had to purchase wash clothes, I am suffering through a hanger shortage and I must walk up 4 flights to get to my teeny, tiny flat (with no coffee table, dishwasher or air conditioning), yet I have remained positive and optimistic. But when I was stripped of my laptop, it was the last straw and my perfected British stiff upper lip began to quiver. I will not go into the annoying details of the how and why, but I was without a home (flat) computer for four days. As you can imagine, I was not very happy.
In this day and age, you can take a lot away from us modern humans, but computers are sacred and must not be tampered with, especially since I use my computer on nights and weekends to keep in touch with my family and friends so far away and 5 hours behind in time. And let's not forget my commitment to this blog, and my writing in general. Perhaps city living is just grinding on my nerves a bit too much, but I have lost a lot of my patience over the last week or so and the computer debacle put me over the proverbial edge. At any given time I can rattle off the things that make me utterly insane here in jolly old London; the tube is annoyingly hot, the tourists walk too slow on Oxford street, I'm sick of my feet getting filthy when I wear sandals and I miss lemonade. I know these are random thoughts but at the moment these are the things that are on my mind. In another few moments, I will have a completely new list of annoyances just as random. I blame this varied thought process on the city's constant assault on all of my senses. For example, at my flat there is an industrial fan that runs from 10:30am until 11:3opm daily at the restaurant below. Throughout the day or evening, I find myself holding my breath or feeling annoyed and it isn't until that damned hum stops that I realize the tension it unknowingly causes. I am nearing the end of this exchange program and I am thankful. I only hope my sanity holds out; I am fearful of returning home either a jabbering idiot or a complete meanie.
The good news is I have a laptop again. Maybe since I am reconnected with America once again, I will feel calmer, more patient and resilient enough to ward off the forces of this chaotic city.

Serenity Now...

The (Frazzled) Temporary European

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Flight Status

So, my aunt and mother have come to visit me in London. For both, it is a first-time visit and a chance to spend some quality time with me and one another. But this is not a sappy little story about three female family members exploring Europe; this is a saga about how my mother and aunt were able to get a Continental 727 to return from the tarmac to pick up said aunt. Yes, you read correctly, an entire plane full of people on a direct flight to London was turned around to pick up my Auntie Ann.
I am proud to come from a family of strong women, on both sides, but this event has taken our many stories to new levels. It all started at 7am London time (11pm Los Angeles time) with text messages from my aunt saying she was delayed due to bad weather and she was concerned she wouldn't make the connecting 9am (NJ time) flight that my mother would be on. I was worried too when I checked her flight status and she would only have 5 minutes from the time she landed to get onto the London flight. I tried to remain optimistic and not alarm my mother who is afraid to fly and could only make the trip with the company of her sister. At 10am London time, I got the following text from my mother, "Can you track Ann's flight for me. I’m in the car on the way to the airport." What to do? To lie to mom or not to lie to mom?
I text back, "She was a bit delayed but she'll get there on time." Technically, that was not a lie... Upon arriving at the airport, my mom inquired about her sister's flight and the whole truth was revealed in all its glory. Next text, "She isn't landing until 8:55 and my flight leaves at 9! She'll never make it." How does one calm a frazzled mom from 3000 miles away? More lying.
"Don't worry. They'll wait." As the boarding time neared my mom's texts became more abundant and frenzied. I told her to put off getting on that plane as long as she could. Our one saving grace was that my aunt's gate was directly adjacent to my mother's gate -- a miracle, but the real miracle was yet to occur. At 8:57 they made my mom get on the plane. They assured her they would wait for her sister so my mom begrudgingly got on and set next to the empty seat meant for her sister. Back in London, I got a text from my aunt at 8:57. "We landed they are waiting for me!"
I typed back feverishly, "I know. The gate is next to yours. Just run for that plane and text me when you get on it." Then, silence. No mom. No aunt. I was out of my head. What was going on? "Mom, is Auntie A with you?" Silence... "Auntie A? Where are you?" Silence...
Then a text from my aunt, "I missed it. I was here and the plane was not at the gate. "
I texted back numerous expletives and swore out loud for added emphasis. Several minutes passed as my aunt and I tried to figure out what her next step should be. As I started the process of calling Continental, I simultaneously began tracking my mother's flight. Suddenly, my blackberry starting vibrating on my desk, the time was 9:17. "I'm on the plane. They came back for me. Gotta go."And sure enough, there on the screen was the flight status for Continental Flight 18 --Status: In Flight. 20 minutes late. Had to return to gate. I had to wait 8 hours to find out how these two women, both measuring less than 5 feet one inches, had the power to turn the flight back.
This is how it went down: On the plane, my mother had sobbed so sadly for her sister that the flight attendants came to comfort her. They assured her that my aunt would get on the next flight and they would be reunited in London. But my mom kept saying, "I can't do this without her. I can't get to Paddington Station."
Even the man next to my mother was moved by her sobs. "I'm sorry about your sister," he said. She cried even more. Finally the flight attendant asked my mom, "If you could get off the plane and be with your sister would you?"
"Yes," sobbed my mother.
"Let me see what I can do." The attendant said and went toward the cockpit door. She then proceeded to knock on the door -- now let me remind you that the plane is sitting in the middle of the runway, waiting for its turn to take off -- and she tells the captain the saga.
He says, "Get her off the plane if she is hysterical!"
The nice flight attendant explains, "She isn't hysterical. She just wants her sister. If we would go back to let her off, why can't we just go back and let her sister on?"
"Fine." The captain said and he turned the plane around to get my Auntie A.
And they flew together happily ever after. When they were getting off the plane in London, the captain said to them, "No you ladies stay together." They giggled and walked off the plane hand in hand.
I met the dynamic duo at Paddington Station at 11:45pm London time. We were exhausted but excited to be together and laughed untl we cried about the whole event. We are now the 3 Temporary Europeans and we know that we will be alright because between the three of us, we can make anything happen!

Watch out England and Ireland!

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Double vs Bendy

Here in the big city life, I am an expert commuter; I take a tube for three stops where I walk one block to catch a bus which travels 15 minutes and takes me almost to the front door of my office building. Who would have thought this Great Meadows Gal would be adept at not only city life but foreign city life? I get a little thrill every time I think about it. Cue "If they could see me now!" La La La.
Now, where was I? Oh, yeah, commuting: after 2 months of living in London, I finally experienced a ride on "the bendy bus." These buses are super long and they bend around tight street corners and strike fear in the hearts of cyclists and pedestrians alike. Londoners dislike the bendy buses as they've been the culprits in a quite a few accidents and really don't fit (literally or figuratively) in this super old city with its super narrow streets. It's not that I've been avoiding the bendy bus as much as I've just lucked out because my route doesn't have a lot of the beasts running. My ignorance of the etiquette for riding a bendy bus was evident about two seconds after I got on the bus; I sat in the seat right next to the slinky-like connector and the undulating and shifting that ensued for my 15 minute ride made me wonder if 1) I had gotten on an amusement park ride rather than a bus and 2) if I would make it to the office without throwing up. The only thing worse than throwing up is throwing up in public in a foreign city. I am happy to report that the stiff upper lip also helps with a weak stomach. To make the ride even more interesting, it seemed that at points where the stretch of road between lights was extremely limited, half the bendy bus was at a red light and the other at a green light. What the bloody hell?
After my thrill ride on said bendy bus, I began to wonder if the double-deckers would get put to pasture in favor of its bendy cousin, which holds twice as many commuters. I feared another London icon may be going the way of the dinosaurs...(need I remind you of the guards at Buckingham State House???). Well my friends, we can all sigh with relief! My research has yielded some promising news. Due to its dangerous (and undulating?) nature, Sir Bendy may be phased out soon in London:

Calls for the removal of the bendy bus escalated this summer [2008] after a series of accidents, including one in which Lee Beckwith, 21, was killed when he was trapped by a bus door in Essex and dragged for a mile.

TfL figures suggest bendy buses are more likely to be involved in an accident. It is estimated that they cause 5.6 pedestrian injuries per million miles operated, compared with 0.97 per million for all other buses.

Bendy buses, manufactured by Mercedes-Benz, are also involved in 2.62 collisions with cyclists per million miles, compared with 0.97 for other buses, and have 153 accidents per million miles, compared with 87 per million on non-bendy routes. Critics say that because passengers don't have to board at the front, many avoid paying.

"Many Londoners, particularly cyclists, see the awkward elongated bulk of the bendy bus as unsuitable for the city's streets," Mr Johnson said. "I am making sure the buses are removed in the most cost-effective way and today's new contract marks the beginning of the end for bendy buses in London."

Bendy buses make up 5 per cent of the London bus fleet but the 350 vehicles are responsible for about 20 per cent of bus-related deaths. They were introduced by the former mayor Ken Livingstone, who decommissioned the Routemasters.

Yeah for the new mayor of London! For now, the bendy buses still plow through the streets but I will make it a point to avoid them, both as a passenger and a pedestrian, and I will only ride the double-decker or single platform bus. Hey, I do what I can to support the aspects of London that make it a great city.

Doing My Part,

The Temporary European

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Summer Attire at Buckingham Palace

I remember quite distinctly learning about London, England as a child in elementary school; the classroom was decorated with pictures of bobbies complete with hats, whistles and sticks; bright red double-decker buses; black taxi cabs and of course, Buckingham Palace with guards in front that were wearing red coats and big, black, furry hats. Of course there is more to London than these things but these are the images that were placed in my young head and have lived with me ever since.
I'm delighted to say that since I've been here I have seen some bobbies, sans the sticks, ridden the double-decker buses, almost been run over by numerous black taxis, and I even saw Buckingham Palace... but the Palace was a bit of a disappointment. I know, it saddens me to write it but I have vowed to be honest with you, dear readers, and it was nothing like the pictures my elementary school teacher displayed in our classroom so many years ago.
Upon approaching the circular drive out front, I was met with a huge fountain; lots of gold and statues of ladies clad in robes. It was beautiful but not what I had come for. I turned excitedly to see the Palace. But, quite honestly, it looked more like a government building than a palace. The front had no distinguishing features and there were plain gates all around. My eyes took in the bland architecture and I scanned the building from top to bottom, and left to right but I didn't see any guys in red coats and black hats. I finally turned to my companion and said, "This can't be the Palace. It looks boring and there are no guards with the big, furry hats." I was assured that it was indeed the Palace and told that if I looked closely I could see the guards. I wasn't having any of it. "Look closely? I'm 20 feet from the boring front door and I DON'T see any guards with BIG BLACK HATS or RED coats. I'm not blind!"
My annoyed companion pointed slightly to the left and there, hidden by the shadows of the roof overhang, was one solitary guard in a blue uniform wearing some type of military beanie. A beanie? I looked quickly to the far right and saw his comrade in the same blue uniform with the same beanie.
"Unbelievable," I uttered. "I want to leave. This is a disappointment." I snapped a picture of the plain old guard (more for proof that there were NO red coats or black, furry hats) and walked away from the gates. I knew I was being childish but I felt robbed.
I know these Brits are sensitive to heat -- 88 degrees for two consecutive days is considered a heat wave and the number 1 news story -- but the day I visited Buckingham State House (my new name for it), it was only 80 and the day before hadn't even reached the 80s so there was no possibility of heatstroke, etc. Let's consider, for the sake of argument, that it had been 88 that day and for weeks before --since when does the weather displace tradition? The Queen doesn't wear shorts on a hot day. Does the President of the United States give summer speeches in a guayabera? I think not! Do cops in NYC stop wearing bulletproof vests in July? I think not! Suck it up protectors of the Queen and don your red jackets and big, black hats before you dash the hopes and dreams of even more Americans.

For those of you who really want to know why they are wearing those dull outfits (I will still keep telling people it's their Summer Attire), I've done a little research on this matter: Currently the soldiers guarding the Palace are the 23 Engineer Regimen and they don't sport the traditional garb. I have no idea why they are there and why they don't wear the fancy duds; maybe the other guys needed a rest from a long winter of wearing the big, black hats and the outfits are at the dry cleaners?

Sighing Sadly,

The Temporary European

Friday, 26 June 2009

Deep (London) Thoughts Part II

Fast approaching the two month mark and I have more oddities to share with you; yes, they may be in the form of a complaint but I can't help it!

1) Queues -- First of all, why can't they just say line? It's easier to say and spell. Secondly, they love queues here! They queue up for everything and anything. A trip to the post office is a 15 minute wait in the queue - ALWAYS. I now know how the Cold War Russians felt waiting for toilet paper.
2) Coins -- There are too many friggin' coins here. After purchasing a cup of coffee my purse weighs an extra 3 pounds by the addition of coins: 1 pence, 2 pence, 5 pence, 10 pence, 20 pence, 50 pence, 1 pound, 2 pound. It is a coin collector's heaven. I am not a coin collector.
3) Surgery -- Why call the doctor's office surgery? No one is cutting anyone up a the doctor's! Surgery sounds very serious to me, but here it's just a trip to see your GP.
4) Drinking -- Holy Get Your Drink On! Some pubs stop serving food at 8 and only serve liquid dinner. Every Friday there are crowds that spill onto the streets. And that is on nearly every corner, people! They stand there drinking, drinking, drinking with no nuts or pretzels in sight. I'd be smashed in no time and with my luck I'd fall into the road and get hit by a black cab. I don't drink at pubs...
5) Warm Beer -- I don't really like beer but I've had to drink a few pints when I'm out with my colleagues and I must report that warm beer is revolting. The only thing tolerable about any beer is its super cold nature, take that away and it's bloody unbearable. This helps me keep true to number 4...

On a happier note, something I will miss when I leave jolly, old England is something I call sandwich in a box. The English loooove sandwiches (after all, the name comes from the Earl of Sandwich) and they have these delightful triangle contraptions that hold both sides of said sandwich in a stacked formation. It is really handy as it allows easy transport which is great for eating on the go and not resorting to icky fast food like burgers and fries (chips). I'm hoping this sandwich box finds its way to the states soon!

Until we next meet,

The Temporary European

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Language Lover's Delight

Few of you know about my attempt to bring the word dungaree back into the American lexicon; I was saddened by my failure because I hate to fail and because my grandmother, Alice Rodriguez, used that word and I thought it was a nice homage to her. I love words and how they are strung together to tell stories, make impressions and create feelings. When I taught high school English many years ago, all of my sophomore students were in awe upon reading the poems of New Jersey poet (go NJ!) William Carlos Williams; his ability to paint a picture in the readers mind with so few words captured the attention and respect of 90 16 year olds -- no easy task.
When in the company of true British people, I feel the same way my students did so many years ago. It's not that these speakers are poets but in some ways they are word artists. For example, only in a British pub on a Tuesday afternoon can you overhear two men drinking pints say, "I recently went to Spain for holiday. I spent a fortnight there in a quaint villa."
A few things go through the average American mind: 1) Holiday? Oh yeah, that means vacation here. 2) Fortnight? Who is this guy Edgar Allan Poe? Okay, fortnight means 14 days... 3) A 14 day vacation! What in the hell?!
The use of language here is amazing and can best be described as chock full of extensive vocabulary, multiple 3 to 4 syllable words, the sprinkling of multiple adjectives (nice is rarely muttered) and grammar that is often impeccable. Yes, I am generalizing but I must say that even the cheekiest of teens has quite a grasp of how to wield the English language, for better or worse.
Below are a few words I get a huge thrill from; they are not necessarily 3 syllables but they make me smile with the joy of loving the English language every time I hear them:
Ta (means Thanks)

Loving the Lexicon and Forever Yours,

The Temporary European

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Despacio, por favor.

I must be a glutton for punishment. Or perhaps I'm just very brave. Either way, going to Spain for a weekend with the last name Rodriguez, jet black hair and chocolate brown eyes would only lead to the logical conclusion that I speak fluent Spanish but sadly I don' t. Yet I continue to feel confident that one day I will speak fluently because my limited Spanish continues to take me farther than I always fear it will.
Having been to both Madrid and Barcelona, I was expecting a much different Spain than I encountered on this trip. I went to Costa del Sol because I was in need of some sun, sea and fresh air. As it turns out, Costa del Sol is the beach getaway for local Spaniards and few other Europeans and absolutely no Americans. I tried not to let this early discovery jade my expectations for a fabulous beach weekend. I had already been stripped of my sunscreen at security in London (In a later blog, we will discuss the conundrum of how to bring sunscreen to a sunny location when not checking luggage -- travel size for sunscreen do not exist because it would only ensure coverage of one arm so what are we supposed to do?? I digress....) and I was highly anxious about getting a burn, I didn't need to also be stripped of my hopes for this weekend to be fun and relaxing. But as the taxi traveled away from the airport and closer to the coast, I began to feel dread nesting in the pit of my stomach. Street after street of raft vendors and random explicit graffiti sprawled on vacant building walls was not was I had envisioned. The sordid sites were an interesting contrast along a busy avenue sandwiched between the sea on one side and rolling mountains on the other. I reasoned with myself, "It's best to visit a place where the natives live and not be imprisoned in a resort like a fragile, little bird in a gilded cage." The stiff upper lip came in handy and I focused on the beauty and ignored the rest for the remainder of the taxi ride.
Upon arriving at the Torrquebrada hotel, I sighed with relief because it appeared to be clean and somewhat modern. After some broken Spanish on my part and some broken English on the check-in clerks part, I was in my room and all my hopes were crushed and true disappointment set in. The rugs were stained by years (many, many years) of use, the comforter on the bed was as limp and thin as a piece of tracing paper (but there was a top sheet!!) and the TV didn't work. I pathetically walked out to my little patio hoping that a view of the Meditteranean sea would make me feel better but the rocky terrain standing in for the beach with its few grains of remaining sand forced a sigh of despair from this fragile, little bird yearning for that cage.
I know I am a spoiled American but I can't help myself. For me a beach vacation comes with expectations of silky white beaches and pina coladas by the pool (starting at 10 -- coconut qualifies as a morning drink, kind of like a power shake) and fluffy pool towels. Having traveled quite a bit I also know that our "Star" system is not the same as the star system of other countries but I thought a 5 Star rating in Spain would equal a 3 Star after the translation -- I was sadly mistaken; at best my hotel would earn 1 dull star missing a point (not really a star then, huh?). I pondered all of this as I slumped in the patio chair and one word came to mind that held the possibility of trip resurrection -- POOL! It was my last chance and I clung to it desperately. I didn't want to get too excited because I knew if the pool turned out to be a stagnant puddle swarming with flies that I may throw myself in with the hopes of drowning so I could put an end to the whole mess.
Gentle reader, I will cut to the chase and tell you that the Torrquebrada gets a 4 Star rating for their pool! Gracias dios! Two glorious round pools lay glimmering in the sun. One was tiered above the second connected by a tranquil potted waterfall that fed water into the lower pool. Palm trees provided limited shade but added to the tropical flowers that were blooming around the grassy area that was home to yellow and blue lounge chairs. The calm sea was visible over the tops of white stone railings and birds actually twittered and tweeted in the leaves of trees above. Paradise in the midst of a certain kind of hell. I skipped back to my room, changed into my bathing suit and ran back to the pool. Despite the less than fluffy towels, the absence of pina coladas (or any poolside drinks), and the many topless European women, I relaxed in a lounge chair and smiled at the sun. I knew a burn was in my future because I was sans sunscreen but sometimes you just have to be thankful for what you have and forget the rest.
I knew that more disappoints were lurking around the corner and my language deficiencies would cause frustration but I had the pool and of course my one Spanish phrase that I clung to "Despacio, por favor" and that's how I took the rest of my weekend -- slowly.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Consumers, Patients and Diseases, oh my!

Here in England, pharmaceutical advertising to consumers is prohibited. The only form of pharma advertising allowed to consumers is disease awareness campaigns. This is an interesting dilemma as it really calls for some intense creative ways to elevate the disease to the consumer while also getting them to head to the doctor to ask for treatment. But, clients don't want to necessarily build a market, they want to build their brand (or really, make money from their brand's sales!). What I find interesting in this model is the need to create stories about a specific disease that can lead only to one brand -- obviously this is not so easy when you are talking about a commodity market like diabetes or high blood pressure, but when is creativity easy?
I am far from being an expert at the whole DTC (direct to consumer) world here in the UK, but it has helped me reconsider our approach to brands in general back in the USA. Working from the disease to the brand gives an interesting perspective and opens up a whole world of possibilities. I watch the telly diligently here and I take in the disease awareness campaigns and I note the language, the tone and the approach. Some fail to make an impression and others succeed in making me wonder "could I get macular degneration?!" or "could I have colon cancer?!" Then I sit back and realize I most likely will not get or have either but have just been victim to some really good advertising. Cheers, fellow marketing mate, you've done your job but you haven't fooled this copywriter!
Yes, I am a geek of both the literary and pharmaceutical nature. Sorry for those of you who are not in the advertising biz but I wanted to share this blog with my pharma peeps and give a shout out to all the creatives who give up moments of their lives they can't reclaim to try and help people get the right treatment, the right diagnosis and some QOL (which we can never say in print).

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Tube Rage!

The thing I find most disconcerting about Londoners is their inability to express themselves verbally; I excel at verbal and nonverbal communication so you can imagine how this deficiency annoys me. Couple this deficiency with their misguided belief that mumbling simple pleasantries as they push/nudge/bump you somehow cancels out their bad behavior. Perhaps it's because they've let their fancy accents go to their heads? I think they believe that just because "Excuse me" and "Thank you" sound elegant coming from their mouths it counteracts the rude invasion of personal space and their complete disregard of the "no touch" rule.
I nearly went postal on a 50ish year old man who insisted on jamming his less than slender self on the tube the other day. He completely didn't realize that "Joisey don't play that" when he tried his combination Excuse me-push on me. When Londoners offend one another, rarely do they verbally counter attack; such behavior is considered uncivilized and rude. Anyone see the irony here?? After Mr. Pleasantly Pushy gave me his third Excuse me and harder than usual push, I turned to him and said, "There is nowhere to go." He then plodded through and looked back at me and said thank you in a snotty manner. I looked down at him (he was short too) and I said, "You are not very welcome." In New York this moment would have passed without notice; here in London it was a major altercation. I had clearly violated the no verbal interaction rule and my fellow tube riders were wondering what my next move would be. I let this man live and bore holes into the back of his head for the remainder of the ride. As I stood in silent rage I grew angrier and angrier. I was specifically sick of these psuedo-swanky Brits who justify their rude behavior, and sick of the tube in general.
At work, I shared my story with some colleagues and they said I had just experienced Tube Rage. I didn't realize it at the moment, but they were right! I felt better once they started to share their Tube Rage stories with me. One particularly funny writer told me how his intended verbal punch-back actually caused him great embarrassment. In a similar situation, a fellow rider asked him curtly "Can you please move in?," and he smartly replied, "Not without getting the woman in front of me pregnant." He felt proud of his comeback until he realized that the poor woman in front of him may be worried about some type of inappropriate contact and he spent the rest of the ride looking down at his feet trying to hide his red face. After we all shared a laugh about my colleague's experience, I felt better knowing I wasn't alone in this experience called Tube Rage.
Keep your eye open for my mug shot on the world news appearing next to the anchor person saying, "NJ Girl Verbally Attacks Fellow Rider in London Tube" ... I say, consider yourself lucky to walk away with just a tongue lashing!

Saving Money To Post Possible Future Bail,

The Mouthy, Temporary European

Monday, 15 June 2009

Where Genius Once Lived

"He said the pleasantest manner of spending a hot July day was lying from morning till evening on a bank of heath in the middle of the moors, with the bees humming dreamily about among the bloom, and the larks singing high up overhead, and the blue sky and bright sun shining steadily and cloudlessly." Emily Bronte Wuthering Heights

I made it to the moors of Yorkshire, alas it was June and not July, but the sun was shining and the bees were humming. But I think my heart was thumping louder as I walked the exact path that Emily and Charlotte had walked themselves. It was exhilarating to imagine them walking in their long dresses through the fields of sheep, intermittent rocks, and various flowers. The walk on the moors only paled in comparison to stepping into the very place these ladies and the rest of their family called home. Haworth Parsonage was larger than I imagined (without taking into consideration the addition that was added by the Reverend who took over the parish after Patrick Bronte died). The foyer was large, airy and bright and there were many windows throughout the house. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the entire home was furnished and filled with actual Bronte belongings. The living room where the girls would write their poetry and novels still held the couch where Emily died (in an earlier post I incorrectly stated that she died in her bedroom; I was mistaken, sorry!). Standing in the room where the genius who wrote Wuthering Heights took her last breath, was humbling and sad. Because she died so young (30 years old) there are not many of Emily's personal items left, but I did see her German books, her lap desk with its contents as she left them and her favorite dog, Keeper's collar.
In contrast, there were many of Charlotte's personal items. These items were kept in various glass cases in her bedroom: shoes, gloves, jewelry, a dress she wore on her honeymoon and even a lock of her light brown hair. She was a tiny lady, I'm thinking 4 feet 10 inches and a size two, yet she had been such a huge literary force -- a woman ahead of her time.
There was no photography allowed in the house but I have committed most of it to memory. For the two days I was in the village, I would make it a point to walk by the house whenever possible. I took many self portraits outside and even asked a stranger to take my photo in front of the house. I walked in the front yard and looked out at every view imaging how it may have looked for Emily. Luckily, most of the town has remained the same since the Brontes were alive; a few new buildings have come into view (new being 1890ish) but for the most part, the landscape has remained untouched.
I only wish all of you could have been there with me, it was truly a beautiful and fulfilling experience that words cannot describe. Another favorite writing Brit of mine, Virginia Woolf, did a much better job describing her visit to Haworth in a short essay about the trip. In this excerpt, she describes how she felt as she looked at the case that held Charlotte's belongings, "But the most touching case - so touching that one hardly feels reverent in one's gaze - is that which contains the little personal relics of the dead woman. The natural fate of such things is to die before the body that wore them, and because these, trifling and transient though they are, have survived, Charlotte Brontë the woman comes to life, and one forgets the chiefly memorable fact that she was a great writer. Her shoes and her thin muslin dress have outlived her." I leave you Virginia's words my friends as I don't think I can do much better.

Humbled and Inspired,

The Temporary European

Friday, 12 June 2009

Shopping for Fruit is Fun!

Something we have in common with Londoners is a passion for shopping. A place I find most interesting here is Marks & Spencer, or as they say M&S. It is part grocery store, part pharmacy, part department store. The large M&S locations are about four floors and have everything from pickled beets to bras! I have to admit that I went in for fruit once and left with hangers and socks (and the fruit as well). What I find interesting is that the clothes are not low quality -- they are well-made and trendy. The clothes range from reasonable to moderate -- I can't speak for others, but I wouldn't feel comfortable buying a blouse for over £50 in a grocery store.
M&S is celebrating their 125 year anniversary and they have a long commercial on the telly which announces this, over and over. Apparently, M&S started out as a penny bazaar and is now all the rage here in London. The commercial is a bit annoying but I crack up at the part that says something like, "...they (M&S) liberated housewives with curry in a hurry, and drip dry and we ladies were properly fitted in the boob department...". The Brits love to use the word boob and do so freely on TV and in everyday conversation. It cracks me up! Anyway, you can easily spend hours in the "grocery store," and buy many things you don't actually need. When my mum comes over, I plan on taking her to M&S; I can even buy her a nice lunch and coffee while we are there. Now that is truly one-stop-shopping!

Hopefully this link will work and you can watch the advert too:

If not, just go to youtube and type in Marks and Spencer 125 years. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Navigating A Tubeless City

Since we last met, I have become even more intimate with the bus system here in London. Why?, you may ask, well because as of 7PM last night, nearly all the tubes in London stopped running and this city of nearly 7.5 million is relying solely upon buses for mass transportation. 
The fun started last night: On the tube at 6:15PM I became a human sardine (I don't even like sardines). The tube was so packed I almost didn't make it off the train at my stop; although I do not remember being born, I liken my slow but forceful process through the heaving, humid bodies of at least twelve fellow commuters, to the trip down the birth canal. The waiting platform never looked so welcoming.
This morning was less of a birthing experience but still painful. I found a bus that would take me half way to work and it was jammed with cranky commuters who felt the bus was as bad as taking a horse and buggy. Mother nature added insult to injury on this strike day and decided to add soggy to our other multiplying adjectives for the commute into work. Those who have cars decided to drive into the city making traffic unbearable. It took the bus 15 minutes to travel 4 blocks. I was fortunate enough to get a seat on the bus and I busied myself by studying the mad and frustrated Londoners surrounding me. I read one woman's text message to her boss, "Morning, Michael. This bloody bus is taking ages. I'll be another 20 minutes. Cheers." Another young woman was complaining loudly into her phone, "I don't know! Another 30 minutes maybe. Bloody hell!" And the sound of an Englishman from somewhere in the depths of the bus floated in the air, "This is futile! Bloody futile." I was impressed that no one lashed out at their fellow commuters and there was not one squabble over seats, or the bag in the shin or the unintentional elbow to the back; for the most part, everyone continued to ignore one another in the typical London fashion. Good to know that even in times of crisis the proper people of London don't resort to violence and shouting.  Although, this is only day 1 of the strike...
After getting off somewhere near where I thought my next bus should be, it started to rain harder and I had to laugh at the continuous onslaught of the comedy of errors. I found my bus three blocks later (yes, I missed my bus by 5 seconds) and I waited for the next one to arrive. The rest of my journey was pretty uneventful and I made it to work in a little over an hour (it normally takes me 28 minutes).  I'm not sure how I'm getting home...I'll worry about that later.
A few of my coworkers are still straggling in; it has taken some 4 hours to get here! I hope this strike ends soon because it's only a matter of time before even the civilized London dwellers go New York style and fight it out at the bus stops and buses. 

For those who care to know: The last transit strike in  NYC was on December 20, 2005 and that strike lasted for nearly 48 hours. 

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Like Dorothy said, "There's No Place Like Home."

As one of my favorite saying goes, "Nothing is ever easy!"  Here in London this saying reigns; buying groceries, getting to work, getting ready for work (no outlets in the bathroom) -- it's all hard. But, I persevere because I am woman, hear me roar... okay, I'm getting carried away. 
On Saturday night, I went to dinner with a really great woman who is originally from New York. Before leaving my, flat I mapped out my way there and my way back; I have learned the hard way that prior mapping is a necessity here in this city. I set out confidently with my handwritten travel plans tucked away in my purse. I arrived safely and fairly unfrazzled at the City Road Station but was a bit put off by the amount of begging homeless, trash in the corners and graffiti on the walls. Up until that point I had not seen much of this in London. To my amusement and bewilderment, a gaggle of girls, approximately aged 18 - 22, came spilling out of the train station wearing my clothes from the 80's! They had on fluorescent pink tops with black minis and black tights with matching fluorescent pink ballet flats or stilettos (where does one buy fluorescent shoes in 2009??).  They looked like a girl band that had gotten lost in a time machine and were transported into the future. While there were some other fluorescent colors, pink was the color of choice. My friend arrived (thankfully she was not wearing the girl band colors) and we began walking toward the restaurant. The neighborhood changed quickly to trendy restaurants and people in proper dinner attire. We had a lovely dinner at an eclectic restaurant (think nature meets industrial decor). I cannot say enough about how fabulous it was to talk with an American. I did not realize how much I missed the simple interaction of dinner with a fellow-American. 
Here in London, it is normal protocol to stay at a restaurant for 3 hours or more. If you want to leave within 1 1/2 hours, it is hard to get the attention of the waiter and to get your bill (they don't call it the check here). Before my friend and I knew it, it was midnight and we were tired and talked out. After finally getting the bill and leaving, my friend informed me that we needed to figure out which bus to take home. Bus? My travel plans did not include a bus. 
"What about the tube?" I asked.
"The tubes aren't running  anymore," she said.
 How the hell can the tubes just stop running? A major city like London closes down its hub of transportation at midnight. Are you f**king kidding me? I keep all this to myself as I didn't want to scare my new friend. After nearly 10 minutes of walking to bus stops and reading the routes, we figure out which routes to take but we had to part ways due to our living in opposite directions within the city. I suddenly found myself alone at 12:30 AM at a bus stop among drunk people, and I had just missed the bus. I quickly learned that night buses run every 20 minutes; so there I was with the drunks for 20 long minutes. Thankfully, Stacey kept me company on my blackberry during the ordeal. Let me also add here, that once I got on the bus and took the 20 minute ride, it would not let me off in my neighborhood. I would have to find another bus that would take me home. I was not feeling good about my new travel plans, quite honestly, I felt confused, scared and anxious. I felt even worse when the bus arrived; it was packed with more drunks. I was shuffled on by the masses and was wedged (literally) between three drunk friends, two men and a beefy woman. They decided to talk about me and wonder why I was typing on my blackberry. I let this banter go on for a few moments and then the NJ Girl in me couldn't take it anymore. I knew these types, all ballsy to those they think are timid. 
"What do you want to know?" I confronted the beefy gal. She was surprised and suddenly turned nicer. After some high fives (she initiated) and "NJ is close to New York" geography instruction, the trio got off the bus along with most of the other drunks and I sank into a seat and dreamed of my Audi and its door locks.  Finally, I reached the end of the bus route and walked toward the closest bus stop. My wedge heels were beginning to hurt and I was getting cranky(er?). The first bus stop was no good, I saw another one up ahead. A bus passed me as I walked to the stop; indeed this was the one I wanted and my bus pulled away without me. Thankfully, I knew my way home from there and decided to walk rather than wait with yet more drunks. 
I will spare you the painful steps of my 20 minute journey on foot because to relive it again will only hurt my psyche and my feet all over again.  I will say that I successfully scared the daylights out of two young chaps who thought it would be funny to pretend that one of them was falling into me; when the unfortunate fool nearly stepped on my toe I yelled, "What the f**k is wrong with you people?" I clearly had had enough fun with the natives and the Joisey in me could not be held back. The two men ran away and I continued to talk to myself (out loud) the remaining two blocks home.
Upon entering my flat at 1:30 AM, I threw off my shoes, tore up my travel plans and fell into bed exhausted and mad as hell. Maybe eating home alone isn't so bad? That night I dreamed of speeding down route 80 in my car with the windows open, the sun shining and the radio blasting some Dave Matthews -- man, I miss home.

Loathing Public Transportation,
The Temporary European

Friday, 5 June 2009

Sleep Tight

Even bedding is not the same here in England. At home, we are used to a simple bedding system: fitted sheet, top sheet, blanket and then the fancy comforter. When I first got here, I thought perhaps the bedding issue was due to the dumpiness of my former flat. I have come to find that all places share the bedding issue; I've stayed at the dump in Islington, two nights in the posh Bloomsbury Hotel, a night in a swanky boutique hotel in Canterbury and now my homey flat in the West End, and the bedding is all the same. Here, they use an oversized top sheet as the mattress coverage and a duvet that is stuffed with a down comforter -- and that is it. Now, there are many perplexities here to ponder and discuss. 
First, why no fitted sheet (kind of like why no round toilet seats and mounted shower heads)? Anyone who is a fitful sleeper knows that even the best fitting fitted sheet can slip up over the mattress corners, imagine a flat sheet merely tucked in under the mattress? Disaster. 
Second, why no top sheet (kind of like why no long shower curtains)? Top sheets are nice to have because if you get too warm at night you can throw back your blanket and still have some coverage. And more importantly, if hotels are only using the duvet system, are we to believe that they change the duvet every time a new guest checks in? I'd like to think so because the germ ramifications are both nauseating and immoral. I do take some comfort (no pun intended?) in knowing that the women who comes to change my bedding and supply new towels does indeed change the duvet every week. 
Third, consider the annoyance factor. If any of you have ever used a duvet, you know how tiresome and frustrating  it is to get the down comforter out and back in! It is like a mini-marathon of sorts. As a matter of fact, a laundry detergent commercial here uses that very premise; the woman is struggling with her duvet and she has to climb into it and it becomes a long, dark labrynth and she gets lost and upset but then she smells something fragrant and beautiful and she crawls through and finds a sunny field of flowers (symbolic for the great-smelling detergent). Now imagine, if you will, changing these things weekly? You would have to change them weekly because there is no barrier top sheet to keep germs and loose skin cells off the duvet (ewww). 
On Monday, Adrian came in and said he couldn't wait for his wife to return from a long weekend at the beach; she had taken the boys and he had been lonely all weekend.
"I was so bloody bored I decided change to all the summer duvets for my wife. Those things are a nuisance." I was touched by both his sadness at being alone and his doing something nice for his wife in her absence. But, I was more interested in this summer duvet versus the winter duvet disclosure. 
"What's with the duvet system here?"  The Jersey girl in me came out.  Adrian laughed. He went on to tell me that there are duvet "weights" -- heavier (more feathers) for winter and lighter (less feathers) for summer.  He also explained that it wasn't always like this; according to Adrian's recollection, up until the 70's they had regular sheets like we do but then the sudden change to the duvet and sheets were sent packing. Now, dear reader, I felt obligated to research this phenomenon for you and I found a lot of interesting facts about duvets. 
1) Duvets are actually the comforters and the cover itself is actually the duvet cover (duh!); for the sake of simplicity and sanity, I will continue to use the word duvet rather than switch back and forth
2) Duvets (and their covers!) were invented by the rural English around the 17th Century
3) Duvets are derived from laziness! After extensive research (ok, a few google searches) I found that the whole reason for a duvet is, "Duvets reduce the complexity of making a bed, as it is a single covering instead of the combination of bed sheetsblankets, and quilts or other bed covers."  We Americans are known for our work ethic, thus our commitment to sheets, blankets and quilts.

If you'd like to learn more about this strange European love of duvets, just google, "why do Brits use duvets" and you will find a plethora of blogs and sites talking about this topic. 

Sleeping Sheetless in London,
The Temporary European

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Boyles on Humanity

It would appear that our friends across the pond are finally succumbing to reality TV. This is not to say that reality TV hasn't reared it's ugly head before now, but up until recently it hadn't completely penetrated the mass public. But thanks to Simon Cowll and Britian’s Got Talent, Brits have become more American than they’d like to admit, and are completely addicted to brainless TV. Perhaps I should consider myself fortunate to be here during the Susan Boyle rise and fall but it does make me a bit sad to see our accented friends acting like complete idiots over this nonsense. Need I remind us of our idiocy over Richard Hatch (Survivor) and his after-winning mayhem? Or our obsession with Anna Nicole Smith and her drug-induced monologues on her reality show (sad that she appears to have been murdered over the money the show earned her). Some may snicker in delight as we witness our kin across the pond lower themselves to the likes of "Has Susan Gone Mad?," and "Susan Uses The F Word" headlines but I worry. I worry that if the Brits were the last fortresses for English speakers' esteem, respect for higher education and if nothing else, mastery of the English language, then we are all doomed.

But, I find some hope in the future of English speaking humanity here in London; thankfully, the Brits have not succumb to the nasty American habit of clapping and cheering when an unfortunate waiter or waitress drops and breaks a cup or plate. The Brits let the moment pass unnoticed as the dropper quickly picks up the item and carries on with the least amount of humiliation possible. I'm going to ignore the Susan Boyle phenomenon and spare the Brits some humiliation as I hope (and pray) that they recover their senses and find their way back to the BBC.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

City Sunbathing

The parks in London are truly fabulous. I've been to numerous little parks and squares as well as the infamous Hyde Park. Today I ventured to Regant's Park which is just a fifteen minute walk from my flat (well, fifteen minutes for those of you who don't get lost finding your way out of a paper bag.)  Regent's and Hyde are tremendous in size and are host to cafes, man-made ponds, fountains and much, much more. Not being a city gal, I've only ever seen photos of people hanging out in Central Park, NY in the summer. Sure, I've strolled through the park on sunny days but I'd never come across those real city folk who don their bathing suits in the park. I always wondered how odd it would feel to be in the middle of the city, in a bathing suit without a swimming hole in sight. Today, I played the part of city gal, and I rented a chair in Regent's Park (£1.5o for two and 1/2 hours, not a bad deal) and sunned myself with all the other city people. Okay, I wore a tank a skirt; I still don't feel comfortable wearing a bathing suit in the literal middle of a city). But, I was there with a sandwich, ipod, a good book and a newly purchased beach (?) towel from Marks and Spencer (I'll tell you about M&S at a later date) along with hundreds of others. The park experience was interesting-- people in bathing suits, people drinking champagne and wine, even people celebrating a one year birthday party in the park complete with Thomas the Train helium balloons. There was water but it was only decent for the many swimming fowl (geese, swans, ducks and some other unidentifiable feathered friends). The closest you could get to the water was in a rented paddle boat which just seemed like too much work so I passed. Some people came to the park unexpectedly and decided to sun bathe in their underwear, others were planned right down to the fancy bikinis and matching covering ups.  The sun worshippers were as diverse as their attire -- I heard German, Italian, French and some English being spoken.  The one thing we all had in common is that we wanted to be outside on this unusually warm May day and we were either too cheap, too poor or too tired to take the two hour train ride to the beach. 
My mom will be proud to know, I wore my sunscreen; I can't say the same for all the other park lovers and red skin was abound. I find that no matter the country, most people can't seem to grasp the idea of sunscreen. Ah, humanity.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

A Little Help From My Friends

Yeah, yeah, I know that's the title of a Beatles song but they were from England and this blog is dedicated to my friends so it's fitting for a blog.

All of my family and friends have been extremely supportive during my time here in London but I have to give a "type out" to Nadia, Jenn, Fran and Stacey. With the likes of email, blackberry messenger, facebook and skype, I am in constant contact with these ladies at every moment of every day.  I am convinced we are solely responsible for clogging up the cyber super highway.  All the ladies have me covered from the start of my day until the very end. Please see schedule below:

Nadia and Stacey are my early rising friends -- they get me through my mornings while the rest of my back home people are still sleeping and getting settled into work.

Jenn jumps onto the electronic bandwagon around 9am USA time and stays with me straight for the remainder of my work day.

Fran picks up the nightshift and we talk on skype until it's time for me to hit the sack, or Alex needs a nap  :) 

P.S. Stacey BB messengers during breaks in her school day and Nadia checks in on me during her train ride home.

No worries that here in London I’ll find better friends than the ones I have at home; no one can ever compare to my Soul Sisters. Thanks ladies, I honestly don't think I could have made it this long without your love and support.


The Temporary European

Friday, 29 May 2009

So Close But Yet So Far

When I was in high school, my AP Brit Lit teacher, Mrs. Michaels, gave an assignment to read any British novel and write a paper on said novel. This paper was the real deal -- footnotes and references, a thesis statement -- all the stuff I was no where near prepared for at the time (need I remind you that computers were not yet a household item rather electric typewriters and those plastic whiteout strips reigned). 
I searched that two page list of titles and my head hurt at the thought of reading some stuffy old book by some dead Englishmen. I decided to cross out all the novels written by men and see what the women had to offer. As you can imagine, that left me with a very short list. And there, at the top of the list, were the names of two sisters, Charlotte and Emily Bronte.  Jane Eyre sounded too simple but Wuthering Heights, now that seemed dark and tragic (just like I loved my literature!). Needless to say, I fell in love with Catherine, Heathcliff and the moors. I was so enamored with the book, I finished it in a week and I made multiple trips to the school library (no internet research folks, this is 1987) and read all I could about Emily and her family.  I was so sad to discover that Emily didn't write any other novels because she died so young -- I actually cried. I loved this family with its sensitive sisters and unruly brother.  They were plagued with illness and died very young, yet somehow despite their sequestered lives, they produced some of the best British Literature that survives in the literary canons to this day. 
I went on to read everything I could find that any of the Brontes had ever written. As my literary life grew, so did my readings of the Brontes; biographies, literary criticism, articles and the like. I could envision the little parsonage they grew up in and I could see the rolling hills outside of Emily's bedroom window. In some ways, I feel like I've been there, but I haven't. Not yet. 
Haworth, their little hamlet, is a two hour train ride from London (imagine the trip back then!) and will require an overnight stay at a little B&B.  Despite the journey ahead of me, I will go to their home and walk their garden and put my hand on the very staircase banister that Emily held onto when she went up the stairs of her home for the last time before she died in confinement in her little room.  
I'm sure you can sense my passion for the Brontes after reading this blog; imagine my post after I've gone to their home! I may be speechless and beyond the written word for a while, but I will definitely recover and tell you all about it. 

The Temporary European yearning for the little village of Haworth
PS Despite additionally reading Jane Eyre and doing a paper on both sisters and their works, Mrs. Michaels gave me a C; she said my thesis was too weak. Sadly, she was too jaded to realize she had inspired a student to read not one but two books, start a life-long love of literature and plant the seed that eventually led to a doctorate in literature. Sad, sad, sad, for her. 

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

New Jersey is a State of Mind Not Just A Place I Call Home

I'm glad that as my blog title says I'm only temporarily here in Europe. I miss my family and friends and I miss my home state. I want to dedicate this blog to New Jersey, whose name origniates from a British island in the English Channel.
Yes, our taxes are high. Yes, we have a corrupt government system. And yes, we have a lot of traffic. But quite honestly, it's yes to all those things here too and I assume it's the same in many other places. It's easy to get caught up in the "hating NJ" hype but New Jersey has a lot to offer whether you love the city or the country (or both, as I do).  New Jersey's varied, stellar qualities are a well-kept secret; many think New Jersey is nothing but shipyards and oil tanks thanks to the view from Newark airport. Those parts of New Jersey are the defenses that keep too many from discovering our state and overpopulating it even more.
My state is home to the best tomatoes, the best malls, Hot Dog Johnny's, Princeton, Thomas Edison, The Boss, the Sopranos and the best beaches and beach communities anywhere (and that's just the short list).  But the things I miss the most about New Jersey are not easily put into words because they are intangible yet vivid and comfortably familiar when recognized by the senses. During May, in particular, there is an undercurrent of anticipation that dwells in the very fiber of a true NJ native; it is the yearning for summer that can't be controlled and is easily set off by the nose's keen awareness of the first scent of Summer. Summer smells distinctly different from Spring; it's a heavier smell and carries with it the impending humidity and flecking off of the trees and flowers as they drink in the sun. It's the birds' wings stirring up the makings of their nests as their baby birds start each day anew.  It's the grass in the morning still covered with dew before the sun strikes it hot and sizzles the wetness away. 
More literally, there is the anticipation of the perfect beach day, the expectation of grilling burgers and hot dogs, the intoxicating smell of coconut suntan lotion and extended sunlit hours that allow a few more minutes on the deck/at the lake/on the boat. 
I miss the anticipation of May and if you are lucky enough to be in New Jersey as you read this, go outside and breathe in deep and think of me. Let your toes wiggle as they anticipate flip flops and smile because it's almost summer in New Jersey.

My Heart is Forever in New Jersey even if my physicality is, The Temporary European.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Deep (London) Thoughts

Part One of a series:

London is considered to be among the best world cities, New York is number 1 (and for good reason folks!), but here are some things that make the London ranking a real head scratcher;

1. What's with the random one way streets that make no bloody sense? Try getting a bus in a city where one way streets reign. Your return street could be anywhere!
2.  Fabric seats on commuter trains? I appreciate the cushioning for my bum but I want to burn my clothes after sitting on those germ havens...seriously.
3. Black cabs -- Yes, they symbolize London for all of us but have you ever tried to get out of one gracefully? The combination of the low rounded door entry and the ridiculous height from the ground results in a near crawling out of the cab onto the street. Note to self: Never wear low cut blouse or skirt when traveling by cab.
4. Pickles -- I have yet to get one pickle with any burger or chicken sandwich. What gives? What do pregnant English women crave??
5. The bathrooms: Now this actually could be a post of its own but I will keep it short for the purposes of this blog entry; May I ask, what is wrong with a mounted shower head? And why are the tubs all so bloody high? Toilets should be ROUND, I have yet to meet anyone with a square ass. Shower curtains should reach the floor and go ALL the way around the tub/shower. And finally, wash clothes are a must!
6. Bikers from hell: This city has THE craziest bike riders ever. They ignore traffic lights and signs and they have no qualms about running into you. A girl at work was hit by a biker her first week in London and she spent a week in the hospital. The police don't seem to care about the bikers gone mad.
7. Speaking of police, they need Clinton and Stacy here, badly. Yes, there are some wonderful boutiques and forward-thinking designers that hail from London but the people in the streets are a gaggle of Vogue's fashion dont's. It hurts the eyes.
8. To seat myself or not? That is the question you will be plagued with here in London when it's time to eat. I think I have finally figured out that at a truly British restaurant you must find a table, peruse the menu, then place your order at the bar/hostess stand and then go back to your table and wait for your food. HATE that. It's especially hard when dining alone as you must carry all your belongings to the bar and hope someone doesn't snag your table while you are ordering. My solution, don't go to British restaurants opt for Italian or simple Cafes.  
9. WiFi-less! They are just catching up with the times...and the real kicker is, we can thank Starbucks for the WiFi that is available. No one here thought of equipping cafes, coffee shops, hotels and even their homes with WiFi until the coffee gurus introduced the idea. My love for Starbucks continues to grow.
10. Beauty Treatments MIA! It appears that the classism we read about as students in British Literature is alive and well here in England. Until recently, beauty treatments such as waxing, manicures and pedicures were purely an upper class luxury. As a result, the Spas and Nail Salons are sparse, even in the posh hoods, and the services are still on the expensive side. American woman truly are seen as pampered divas with money to spare! A simple mani + pedi puts you in the elite class. 

A friend from home put it so well when we were discussing London. He said, "It's a great city but it's like going to New York City, circa 1975."  

I'm sure as I continue to live here I'll find more Deep London Thoughts to share with you. In fairness though, I will say that London has the BEST public transportation system ever; it's safe and easy.  And of course, the history and architecture are tremendous. 

Missing home,

The Temporary European