Expat-ish

Expat-ish
On the Beach

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Dear Graham..


(A long response to a comment on my last blog post, it was too long for a reply..)

Dziekuje Panu bardzo za kommentarze, zawsze dobrze wiediec co inni mysla. Cieszy mnie barzdo ze Panu tak smakuje Polskie jedzenie. Zgadzam sie ze jest bardzo dobre ale chyba osobiscie wole jedzenie z dalekiego wschodu.

I don't think that the blog post "The Other Way Around" had  any intention at all, just an observation on an observation but I am quite concerned that you read it as a treatise on why I moved to Cape Town from London: petrol pumps and self-scanners. The list of why I chose to move here is long and probably boring to everyone but me (and even so, it bores me)but I feel that as you have stated some reasons why you don't miss being in SA, I should reply to your comments and state the reasons why I don't miss my life in London too much and why I like it here. Briefly. Sort of briefly.

Firstly, except for the period up until I left Poland (age 4) I don't think I have ever lived near or aspired to live close to a Polish shop. It hasn't formed the basis of where I live. If we have Polish food, we cook from scratch at home although, now I think about it, there is a farmstall in Constantia that sells Eastern/ Central European stuff if I want it.

Living in Africa you do put yourself at a distance from lots of amazing European cities. In the 27 years of my life that i lived in Europe, i visited many of them and I hope to again one day in the future but with 2 kids aged 3 and 5 city breaks, I suspect, will not be on my list for quite some time. I have had a fairly nomadic life and I love to travel so, for me, wherever you live, you are far away from somewhere. I haven't lived in Poland for 32 years and I don't hark for it although I know it would be better to see my grandparents more often.

I have never been scammed by a petrol pump attendant and I don't know anyone who has (maybe they just didn't tell me). I'm not mad about parking attendants as I think I am capable of parking my own car but they can be helpful when unpacking your car or if it's busy. But for the officially employed ones, it's a pretty crappy job and I admire them for getting up in the morning to earn a living, some people beg or steal. The ones in long Street are very irritating but useful for helping you find a spot when it's busy.

I've never been nervous at traffic lights here- irritated, yes, by the hawkers. Agitated by the state of driving, the recklessness of pedestrians, yes. When I lived in London, I used to carp endlessly about the terrible London cabbies but, compared to the standard of driving here, I think they (and all British drivers) should be held out as world-wide exemplars of fabulous driving.

I've always preferred to walk in the day rather than at night (I find I can see more) and I walk happily in the day here with my kids or by myself. In London, I only walked at night if I was coming home after work or a night out. After there were signs on the way home from the station for a week asking for witnesses to a sexual assault in my lovely leafy suburb, I went off walking at night even more.

I can't argue with you about crime stats and I you have my deepest sympathy if you have at any point been the victim of a crime anywhere. I am surprised but not shocked that in 3 years you have not met anyone who has been a victim of a crime (although I would be shocked to hear of a hijacking in the UK). But that's great, I'm pleased that you move is circles that have been untouched by crime. Nice to know they exists somewhere in the world.

Since I have lived in CT (22 months)and my parents (5.5 years) we have read in the press about crime of course.The crimes we "know" about are 3 burglaries (while people were out) and one friend was mugged in Long Street in the early hours on a Sunday morning. That's 4 more incidents than we would ideally have heard about.

It could be that we are lucky not to have experienced more, I don't know, just reporting the facts.

Let me list what happened to me and people I know in London in recent years:

1. I had my wallet stolen 3 times in a month, once mugged at a cash point.
2. A friend was mugged, someone hit him over the head with a pipe, took his stuff and left him there.
3. At the end of last year, a family friend was greeted in his garage by 2 gunmen who made off with his car, phone, laptop wallet etc. He was in the car with his teenage grand daughter. They are fine, just were a bit shaken.
4. On a train home from work in daylight, I was spat at by a group of about 6 boys repeatedly (aged between 9-12) when I asked why they said 'because it's fun, **** off'. Not a single other person on the train(and it was 1/2 full) said a word. Maybe not a crime, but it didn't leave me feeling very good about my environment.
5. Whilst taking my girls for a walk in their pram (age 1 and 3) to get some milk in the beautiful suburb where I lived, I was stopped by 3 youths who asked me to buy some booze and fags for them as they were too young. I politely declined to which they replied: "F*** off you stupid b***h". They were kind enough to repeat that several times. Again, not a crime, but didn't make me feel too good.

That's just some stuff, not an exhaustive list, and it may seem petty to you but it didn't make me feel great about where I lived and where I wanted my kids to grow up.

From the sounds of it, living in South Africa didn't make you feel great about it which is why you left. I had the luxury of the choice to leave or stay (as I assume you did) and, so far, I am glad we made the choice to leave.

Yes, we have an alarm which is hooked up to a security company (which my parents have in London anyway) and we check before we pull into the driveway, we are generally vigilant (but not tense) but, for us (and it may not be the case for everyone) we have a better quality of life here. We have more time together, we are under less pressure, the kids have more freedom (yes, they do!) and we love so much of what living here has to offer.

Some stuff I don't miss about London:

1. Getting around. Takes an hour to get anywhere at all. Too many cars so they, rightly, imposed the congestion charge. Shame they didn't make the trains, buses and tubes run well enough and at a reasonable enough cost to compensate for that.

2. The work and consumer ethic. Work, work, work and getting more money to buy more stuff is king. SA may well go that way at some point but for the moment, for us, it's nicely behind.

3. The fact that I either having to fake finding faith or bankrupt myself to provide my kids with a half decent education (which is slipping year after year on international league tables- such a shame because the UK education system used to be a hallmark of quality).

4. The prices of everything, London is so expensive (except some clothes, I'm pathetic and miss cheap clothes).

5. The weather.

6. The fact that I always felt like a foreigner, even in a city of foreigners.

Things I miss about London:

1. It's an amazing city but since I had kids, my enjoyment of city attractions has been at a minimum. Life has other attractions for now.

2. The diversity and availability of the arts.

3. British comedy, cheap books, the BBC, Channel 4.

4. Mostly I miss that it's close to Brussels, where my brother is.

5. The friends that are still there.

I don't think CT is perfect, I don't think anywhere is perfect because if it was everyone would go there and it would be ever so slightly less perfect. But I think some places are more perfect for some people than others at different times in their lives.

I'm genuinely very happy for you that you are so happy in the UK- there are millions who love living there like you! I'm delighted the proximity of Polish food and Poland makes you happy.

I don't think I need to write AGAIN why I like it here. My all too numerous posts say it all.

I hope you'll be happy for us that we made an informed choice to live here that things are working out well for me and my family here for now.

All the best, Graham, enjoy your trip to Poland and New Year there. Just please don't think I left a country on account of petrol pumps and scanners....

Friday, 13 July 2012

The other way around

Some South African friends of ours are doing a tour of Britain and France and blogging about it as they go. I am finding it fascinating to read because I am interested in their travels and increasingly intrigued by how one views things, depending on where you come from. And even if you look the same, sound similar (ish) and have lots in common, so much of your worldview comes from your starting point. In my case: a muddled, mostly European (occasionally African) background and in their case, well-traveled South Africans.

There are some things that we agree on, some universal truths. To buy coffee in France, especially Paris, you need to ensure you seriously refinance your home. We agree that northern European weather is terrible, on the whole (who wouldn't?!). We agree that what is described as "Luxury" accommodation in some parts of Europe falls rather short of that standard, we agree that parts of northern Europe need a technology upgrade. We also think that there are too many people, too many tourists. I think these are all fairly commonly accepeted.

But what is most interesting is what we view differently, 2 small things that I picked.

Firstly, our friends remarked on the fact that in the UK you need to get out of your car, refuel yourself and go inside to pay. They thought that perhaps this wouldn't work in SA because although people might be happy to refuel themselves, they might be sloppier about the paying part.

I have mentioned before that in South Africa, you pull up into a petrol station, someone greets you, puts fuel in your car and then takes payment. I think this is MARVELOUS! Putting petrol in my car is not a highlight of my day, ever, so having someone do it is a treat. And if I can remain parked on my bum while I pay through my window, so much the better. It provides employment and I must say it never occurred to me that this is a security measure- to make sure I pay and don't take too much petrol. But perhaps it is, just in my glee and laziness, I never thought about it that way.

For me, in the UK the lack of a petrol pump attendant is another example of companies "cutting costs" (the amount of CCTV cameras in each petrol stations means I wouldn't exactly be successful in flight), the fact that I have to queue to pay in the shop, removing offspring from the car (and the drama associated with that) while someone ahead of me in the queue is busy doing their weekly shop does not make me feel very excited about the process.

The other thing that jumped out at me was the fact that they thought that being able to scan your own shopping in Waitrose or Sainsburys, was quite cool (although this was tempered by the fact that they knew that people had been "randomly selected" to have their trolleys or baskets checked one too many times).

 When self-scanning started in the UK it seemed like a good idea. Until you realised that the scanners didn't work quite often, that the queues for self check-out were often longer than for a regular till. When they did work, they could be terrible sensitive, demanding that you "replace the item in the bagging area" in a loud voice while a red light flashed over your head. It was never clear to me what the bagging area was although I am convinced it covered a precise area no bigger than a postage stamp. At this point, the machine went into meltdown and one of the elusive members of staff had to come and do something magical only for the damned thing to do the same thing on the next item. Once again, the self-scanners, in my opinion, are a cost-cutting measure- fewer members of staff, fewer wages, fewer costs- nothing to do with making life better for the customer. Give me a Pick 'n Pay till and packer any day over that.

But it all depends where you come from...