Tuesday, November 27, 2012

10 Random Things from London

We have been here in London for two years now. When we first moved here there was a lot of things we had to adjust to that we didn't expect. Of course everyone knows that the driving and food are vastly different from the states, but here are our top 10 random things we found difficult to understand.

1. Language Barrier
Most people know the Brits call things different, like chips for fries or a biscuit is a cracker or cookie. They also spell words differently like tyres, pyjamas, colour, ect. Most of these are humorous and nothing we didn't expect.

The problem comes when they call something COMPLETELY different and we have no idea how to find what we are looking for. While the Americans in our community try and help each other when we are looking for something, there is always a random item you want that has a weird name you have no idea what to look or ask for. Iodine is a good example, or should I say Betadine. We have been looking for this since we moved here 2 years ago, but just recently stumbled upon its British name.

Another language barrier issue is accents, as in we have one. They don't understand us if we speak too fast, and we can't understand them. Of course we have adapted to their language which make it easier to communicate, but we still always have to keep in mind that we are the ones with the accent.

2. No Food Preservatives  
I thought I'd spare you a picture of moldy bread, but the fact is they do not put any preservatives in their food. It is very frustrating that a loaf of bread or milk only lasts 3 to 4 days. The UK is on a national health care system, so the government limits any chemicals that go into food. Most of the locals turn their nose at the idea of yellow lemonade because they don't use unnatural food coloring (or should I say colouring lol).

I should warn anyone visiting London that while you can buy some of the American foods you are used to, they will taste different. The meat also tastes different too.

3. Doors
The problem with the doors is there is no door handle. Well that isn't entirely true, there are some doors that have a handle but don't lock like an American door.

This is our front door. You open it by turning the key to unlock it. The big knob in the center is just to help you shut the door. It has no function in opening the door. Our back door looks like a normal American door with a push down handle, but it really isn't that simple. In order to lock it you have to lift the handle up to engage the bolts before turning the key to lock it into place. It took us months to figure out how to lock that door. The property manager had to finally give us a walk through on how to use it.

The main problem with not having door handles is that it each house has a different way to open from the inside. Imagine going to a friends house, having to leave, but having no clue how to open their door. I've stared at a door for a good minute before finally asking for help out. I think we finally figured out how most of the doors work, so we don't have that problem much anymore.

4. Technology
The Brits are not as open to new technology as us Americans. Sure they all love the iPhones and gadgets, but most other technology they are very reserved about adopting. Our first shock was the lack of Pay At the Pump. There is only one place around here we found where you can do this, although half the people still go in to pay. The internet here can be as slow as dial-up, and you also have to pay for the amount of bandwidth you use.

Here is a picture of our bathroom sink. Notice there is separate faucets for the hot and cold water. They are not big on adapting to a single spigot sink. They also are hesitant to put water softeners in their house even though they have terribly hard water that destroys their appliances. 

5. Shopping
Going through the grocery store, I would never have expected to find the eggs in the baking isle rather than the refrigerated section. Or the cocoa powder with the hot chocolate mix. The problem goes much further than just what isle to look for things you want. Finding the right store to do your business is the tricky part. For example, the cobbler is the person to go to in order to get a copy of a key made. Or finding sewing supplies (haberdashery) at department stores.

6. Education
I will be honest, after 2 years of living here I still don't fully understand their education system. The elementary school seems about the same, but they start much earlier. Misty is 3 and is in Nursery which is like preschool. In Nursery she learns her letters and the sounds of letters. In Reception, which is like Pre-K, the 4 year olds learn how to write and read. Year 1 is like our Kindergarten, but the kids are reading books by themselves and doing math. So they start off a year ahead than us in the states.

After elementary school things get very confusing. From my understanding the kids take important tests at various points. These tests divide the kids into those going to trade schools and those who go to university. The way the kids do on the tests, specifically the subjects they do well in, will determine their career or trade. It is perfectly acceptable for a 16 year old to have completed school and be entered into the work force as general labor. At 16 a child is considered an adult and can buy lottery tickets. They can drive a car at 17 and the drinking age is 18.

7. Recycling
Where we live, about 80% of our trash (rubbish) needs to be recycled.

To give you an idea, the brown been on the left is about the size of a normal American size trash bin. This is where our compostable trash (mostly food and paper) goes and it is picked up once a week. The green bin which is less than half the size of our brown bin is for normal trash. We also have 4 recycling bins: Glass, Shiny Paper, and Plastic/Metals (which I was able to request two of since we are a big family). The recycling bins and the green trash bin are picked up every other week.

Now you might wonder, what happens if you can get it to fit in your bins. You have two options which are hold on to it or take it to the recycling center. The recycling center is more than happy to accept anything that is recyclable  but if you have trash that is general rubbish then they will make you empty it out on a table to prove that nothing in there could have been recycled. 

This has been one of the most difficult things to adjust to, but I know it is a more responsible way of life. It really does make us consider what to buy. I stopped using paper towels because it generated too much trash. Sponges are another thing I used to go through a lot more frequently. Now I learned to wash my sponges. I went up to base for a few days and they have less strict recycling rules up there. I felt so wasteful not recycling every bit of trash. At first this seemed like such a time consuming chore, and admittedly we have piled up trash needing to go to the recycling center. However, now it seems like second nature to put your wrappers in the proper recycling bin.

8. Fashion
Black tights or leggings, boots, and a long shirt are all you need to fit into British fashion.

While this is a good example of what the look should look like, it often ends up less attractive. I'm going to leave it at that.

9. Banking and Bills
Getting a bank account here was one of the first major hurdles we had to overcome. It took almost a year before I got a debit card with my name on it. It was very frustrating being dependent on Ray pulling out money for anything I might have needed. London's economic is based on finance and banking.

Credit cards are on a "Chip and Pin" system. This means there is a small computer chip in your credit card, and every time you buy something you must enter your ATM like pin number. They feel this is a safer system than the US swipe cards, and Europe seems to be switching to the chip and pin system. They do not require a signature on your receipt and don't check ID, so I'm not sure it is any safer.

Most of the bills you pay is through the bank drafts or direct debits. The bank drafts are just wire transfers. Bills will have a bank account which you put your money into with a note or memo stating it was to pay your account. Also, billing cycles are different. We pay our water every 6 months and our electric is paid once a quarter (4 times a year). There are different ways to set up payment plans, but this seems to be the preferred method of paying. It is important that you set your utility bill money aside every month or you'll have a huge bill you can't pay.

10. Electric 
Coming over here I knew the electric was different. I didn't really know what that meant. When we got here we got some converters and transformers so that our American appliances would work. These work great for our entertainment systems and computers. As for my kitchen appliances, some do well, but most are slowly dying. My kitchen aid mixer makes a horrible noise as it goes around now and my blender has already died. Along with my YoNana machine and my mini food processor. Other appliances that merely heat up things do fine.

Here is a picture of our electric outlets. They all look like this. There is a 3 prong input for the plugs. Then they have an on/off switch so you don't drain power when you are not using the outlet. It can be frustrating to remember to turn on the electric outlet before using something, but sadly we just leave most of them in the on position.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Labor Day Weekend: Leeds Castle and Paralympics

We headed back to London on Sunday, but stopped by Leeds Castle on the way home. The castle is much smaller than Dover Castle, but the castle grounds were amazing.

We had to take a land train to the castle.

The flower garden was full of beautiful flowers.

They had a bird watching station for the kids.

The thing the kids loved the most was the hedge maze. 
I must say were were throughly impressed with this maze. 
It took us much longer than we expected to get through it.

Lexi found her way first.

Neil was lost in the hedges.

Neil and I were the last to find our way out.

Once you completed the maze, you had to go through this underground grotto that was filled with statues. It had an under the sea theme and was quite impressive. Most of the pictures didn't turn out because of the weird lighting.

On Monday the kids had to go back to school, but Ray and I continued our fun extended weekend by going to the Paralympics.

Misty playing in empty rows.

Labor Day Weekend: Dover Castle and Sandwich

We had quite the exciting weekend. Ray had a four day weekend for Labor Day, so as soon as the kids got home from school we left town to go to Kent. We found our way to our holiday park and settled in for the night. The plan of the weekend was to see some castles in Kent as well as make our way to the Goodwin Sands. Unfortunately we found out that the Goodwin Sands is a sandbar in the middle of the bay, so we were not able to collect "Our Sand" as Lexi put it. Have no fear, we had a ton of fun all weekend.

We started with Dover Castle. We made our way to the top of the castle and got a wonderful view from the top.  Neil even managed for find a spot to Skewer the Moo.

Neil skewered Misty on the top of a trebuchet.

Our Royal Family.

In one of the tunnels the kids found a patch of light, so they both wanted 
to be in the "spotlight". I see no acting future for either of them lol.

After Dover Castle we drove around a bit trying to find the Goodwin Sands, which as I mentioned we couldn't get to since it is a sandbar. We decided to explore some more of Kent, and went to the town of Sandwich. Yes, Sandwich! It is right next to some other unusually named towns: Deal, Worth, and Ham. I'm sure you can image the bad jokes that came along. So, what's the Deal? Is it Worth going to Sandwich. Should we get a Ham Sandwich in Sandwich...would that be Worth it? Is it a good Deal? ect... We were all cracking up over these bad jokes, ok Ray wasn't he was just shaking his head in disbelief as the jokes got worse. All joking aside, Sandwich is one of the most preserved medieval towns in England, so I wanted to stop there and check it out. 

Sandwich Signs!

We didn't stay for the Sandwich Festival, but we got some ice cream in Sandwich and played on the playground. Neil took his ice cream cone paper and took a perspective photo as if it was a hat for Misty.

Later on that evening we returned to the holiday park. They had some cheesy evening entertainment. Lexi ended up winning a game, and they gave her a t-shirt.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

London 2012 Olympics

We had a wonderful time celebrating the Olympics here in London. What a great time to be here!

Our excitement started by watching the torch relay. It ended up being a parade that started with large buses/trucks from corporate sponsors.

Kids waiting for the torch
Then there was a group of torch bearers that came with one guy holding the torch. I read somewhere they each hold the torch for about a mile or two then pass it on to someone else. Several of the torch bearers were nominated by their community because of their volunteering and contributions for the community.

We got tickets to three events, but BBC offered 24 channels broadcasting live of all the events. The first event we went to was shooting. Ray and Neil went to the Royal Artillery Barracks to see the 50m pistol finals and skeet. 

Neil outside the shooting venue.
One of the things Neil commented on was how touching it was to see all the emotion that the Korean man showed when he won the gold.

After everyone had packed up, the officials started taking questions from the audience. Neil was selected to ask a question. He asked about the flags that were at the end of the shooting range and what the colors on the flags meant. They only told him it helped the shooters determine wind direction, which he said he already had figured it out beforehand but so he didn't get his actual question about the colors answered.

At the venue they had the torch for visitors to see. So Neil and Ray got their picture taken with it.

Next was synchronized swimming. This was really cool because we got to see the Olympic Park. Ray and Lexi joined me for this event.

Welcome to Olympic Park

Olympic Stadium

Aquatic center this way (crowd control with foam fingers lol)

This is how close our far our seats where, but it was alright because we could see good enough.

This is me and Ray, as you can see I was so excited to be there :)

Awards ceremony for synchronized swimming. Russia won gold, China won Silver, and Spain won bronze. I will say that the people for Spain cheered the loudest. The Spanish are VERY loud people who are sports enthusiasts (see our Barcelona trip) lol. We decided that Ray was too quite to live in Spain lol. 

The last event Ray took Lexi to Taekwondo because they have been taking classes together for the past year. This event was held at the Excel expo centre, which is in the Docklands area of London. 

The Docklands

Excel Centre 
Lexi enjoying herself at the Taekwondo event

Well that was our Olympic experience. We had so much fun and are very thankful to have had this opportunity to experience it.