I’ll Miss You, I’ll Miss You Not

Into our second week here, I’ve had a little bit of time to come across some differences from the States. Some things are better, some are not as good; some things are easier, some are harder.

I definitely won’t miss:

  • Constant presidential election coverage. It’s fairly brutal every election year, but this year might be the worst ever.
  • Driving. Those horribly potholed Baltimore roads, terrible drivers cutting you off, traffic…
  • The Bawlmer accent. No offense, Hon. But the Queen’s English is just so delightful to listen to.
  • Mosquitos, especially with the Zika virus scare.
  • American health insurance/health care. It’s purposely confusing, you never have any idea how much money you will actually have to shell out, some people can’t afford it, and there’s a lot of politics tied up in it. Here, you need health care, you get health care for free. Simple. Fair.
  • The tipping culture. I much prefer the British way of only tipping 10% and not for nearly as many services, because employees receive a fair wage.
  • Baltimore summer heat and humidity. I lived there 11 years and I will never get used to it.

I’ll miss:

  • My car. I realize I said I won’t miss driving, and there’s a lot about it that is annoying, but it’s also so easy and comforting to have your own vehicle parked right there, to take you door to door wherever you need to go, whenever. And if your kid is having a meltdown, at least she’s strapped into a car seat and can’t get out and no one else but you can hear or see her.
  • Peanut butter. There’s a reason the Brits don’t eat PBJs—the peanut butter here just isn’t very good. Past experience taught me this, so I packed two Costco-size tubs of Skippy Natural in my suitcase. (That said, the Nutella here is totally way better.)
  • Having a yard, particularly for the dog’s and kids’ sakes.
  • American washers and dryers. You just don’t appreciate them until you’ve had to use one of those small, horrid washer-dryer combo machines they have here. They don’t so much dry your clothes as boil them into a permanently wrinkled, damp ball of stiff fabric.
  • TARGET. Oh, the magical land of everything you need under one roof. Where do I go when I need contact solution, yogurt, a swimsuit, a prescription, a desk fan, a dog leash, birthday cards, seasonal decorations, a big bag of charcoal, and a dozen unnecessary small items that weren’t on my list but look how cute and they’re only a dollar!? How has Target not caught on overseas? Of course, you do need a car to take home all your bags of stuff…
  • Restaurant servers automatically bringing water refills. Or at least bringing them quickly when requested. How are people here never thirsty? Why does no one seem to drink as much water as I require? Everyone must be terribly dehydrated.
  • The safe assumption that a business you’d like to go to is open on Sunday, or after 6 p.m., or in the whole month of August…
  • American deodorant. Not for us, no; I stocked up with about quadruple the amount we could possibly need in the next two years. But when you are on a crowded, hot tube with European men’s arms up over their heads… oy.
  • Giant American strong “filter” (drip) coffees
  • Restaurants that have non-smoking outdoor patios. Europe and the U.K. have way more restaurants/cafes with outdoor space to dine al fresco, which I love, but so many Europeans and Brits smoke, and we’ve had to opt to sit inside because everyone outside is smoking. Such a bummer.
  • Crisp, sweet, crunchy apples. So far I’ve only seen and tasted mealy Braeburn, Gala, and Pink Lady apples. Crying inside for my Fujis and Honeycrisps!
  • Baltimore/East Coast spring and fall—especially fall.
  • And snow days! Sure, last year’s blizzard was a bit much, but a few snow days are always lovely, especially with our wood-burning fireplace I’m also going to miss.

I’m sure there will be more things that occur to me that I miss or don’t miss. I’ll write a similar post as we are returning to the States in two years and see how the lists have changed!

Transit Travails

The public transit here is fantastic. The tube and the buses run efficiently, there’s always another one in just a couple minutes if you just missed one, they’re typically clean, and it’s all one big incredible network that gets millions of people where they need to go every day.

That said…

It’s infinitely more difficult to get around via public transit with a 3-year-old. She actually does really well, for the most part, and likes taking the underground and the big red double-decker bus. But it’s still very stressful for me, for multiple reasons. For one, there’s an element of physical danger. I’m trying to juggle folding and unfolding an umbrella stroller while at the same time gripping E’s hand so she doesn’t run away into the crowd or fall down the escalator/onto the tracks/into the gap/down the stairs. One thing to note is that the tube stations are almost all NOT accessible, i.e., stairs, stairs, and more stairs. So I spend a fair amount of time making E get out of her stroller, folding it up, then unfolding it and coaxing her to get back into her stroller. I will say that quite often a kind stranger will offer to help carry the stroller up or down stairs for me. And more often than not, people really do pay attention when they are sitting in the priority seats (for disabled or pregnant people) and get up and offer me their seat. Sometimes they don’t, and I spend a stop or two glaring in their direction, hoping they will feel my pregnant-lady silent wrath, because I’m the non-confrontational type.

Yesterday we needed to go over to our new house for a scheduled mattress delivery, and I also wanted to go to the medical practice I’d decided to register us with as our GP (there will be another post about this whole process, once I figure it all out, assuming I ever do), and this required taking the tube and a bus. No big deal, right? Sure, if you are an able-bodied individual just taking yourself.

Get E into her stroller. Walk half a mile. Get her out of her stroller and onto the bus. Get off the bus. Calm temper tantrum over her not getting to push the button. Get back in her stroller. Walk to underground station. Get out of her stroller. Fold up stroller and hope a nice person offers to help carry it down stairs. Try to calm temper tantrum over her not getting to use the Oyster card to open the gate. Walk down a million stairs and two escalators to the tube, while holding onto her and to the stroller. Try not to let E fall onto the tracks. Get her onto the train and find a seat (not always possible, in which case, make sure she holds onto a pole). Get her off the train without falling into the gap. Get her and folded stroller up a million stairs and escalators. Get her to get back in her stroller. Now it’s raining. Put rain cover on stroller. Argue with 3-year-old who doesn’t want the rain cover over her. Push stroller in rain back to apartment. Too hard to hold an umbrella while pushing the stroller so just get wet. Hope rain cover drowns out the continual refrain of MOMMY I WANT ANOTHER SNACK.

The other problem is that she can actually get out of this stroller by herself; she has figured out how to undo the buckle, and if she is feeling ornery or tired of being in the stroller or just simply wants to push the button for the crosswalk signal (and oh, does she know how to push buttons), I will be strolling her along and all of a sudden, mid-busy-bridge, she’s out and running ahead of me. It’s horrifying.

Today we had a very simple transit journey. Walk to nearby Bank tube station, take the Central line nine stops to Queensway, walk across the street to the Princess Diana Memorial Playground. Really easy. But we left before 9 a.m. and therefore found ourselves in rush hour. Bank station was really crowded, and then when the first westbound Central train arrived, it was so packed we couldn’t get on. We decided to wait for the next one, which came along just a couple minutes later. Also packed. Waited for the next one, which was only a minute behind. Also packed. I was in awe just watching train after packed train go by. This city is full to the brim. We finally squeezed onto the third or fourth train that came by.

On our return trip, we made a scene both getting on and off the train. Apparently E decided she wanted to wait for the next train, because that must be our new fun game, so she dug in her heels and wouldn’t step off the platform, so I was trying to drag her by the arm over the gap and onto the train, and tripped or got the stroller stuck or something, and we lurched on there, me yelling at her to be careful!!! because I was afraid she’d fall, as I very nearly fell over myself. Getting off, we almost missed our stop entirely, because her bucket of sand toys spilled all over the train just as we were trying to disembark, and I was again trying to wrangle her as well as all our stuff. It was a good thing the doors seemed to stay open a little longer at that stop, somehow. When I finally got us off the train, I seriously considered collapsing onto one of the platform benches and having a good public cry.

Instead, I bucked myself up, got us and all our stuff up all those stairs and out onto the sidewalk and E back into her stroller once again, and stopped at Starbucks for an iced coffee and a cookie. Because I earned it.