Hiya! It has now been four weeks since I moved to Northern Ireland with my family (and dog), so according to those with similar experience, this should have set in as my new reality. While I do think that it feels like I live here now, thanks to some of the standard hiccups that come along with major changes, it is still hard for me to believe that I need to travel 2,981 miles to hear a townie describe this distance as "wicked wicked fah".
A New Home
I know that all four of my loyal readers (thanks for refreshing your browsers as much as I do to increase my pageviews!) will be happy to hear that my wife and I moved into a legitimate townhouse just over a week ago. After living in temporary serviced apartments for nearly three weeks (and walking my dog with obvious cystitis two miles on a bank holiday to the emergency hospital), my family and I were extremely ready to find a long-term residence. The only problem was that, while a large segment of the population owns a dog, no landlord wants tenants with one. After expressing interest in a townhouse recently occupied by university students, I had to impatiently wait 24 hours for my US bank to transfer the housing deposit. If you ever find yourself living in another country, please tell me if you find a process to transfer foreign currency without feeling like a criminal. I tentatively used a wire transfer to send US dollars to Transfer Wise in Estonia (who offers the best exchange rate), a service which then made a BACS transfer (UK-only process) to my letting agency. Somehow, this took about eight hours for my US bank and another hour for Transfer Wise on the following day while I read the word "PROCESSING" 35 different times and prayed I hadn't just funded a terrorist organization.
Meanwhile, Ulster Bank will not give anyone a current (a.k.a. checking) account unless they bring their online application, official passport and visa, and a utility BILL to the branch. I used capitals for "bill" because I brought my rental agreement FOR MY NEW ADDRESS, two different utility companies' letters addressed to me and my wife AT THAT ADDRESS, and my application that was SENT TO THAT ADDRESS, but none of this was enough to prove that I live in Belfast. All of this becomes an even more ridiculous chicken-egg scenario when every utility that I call asks for my bank information because they expect proof of a direct debit before completing the process. Read that again. Those former residents of my place made the move especially painful by somehow managing to break both gas meters while they were causing a significant water leak in the en suite bathroom, a fact that I discovered when my wife's first long, refreshing shower caused water to pour down into our dining room while my daughters and I were playing with their Argos-brand toy shopping carts three feet away. My family and I did get to enjoy the new location as soon as the next day, though, when we walked to the end of our street for lunch at a cafe. I promptly followed this with a haircut at a gentlemen's barbershop that included a free cappuccino because I am fancy.
A New Office
It is clear that I am the funny-talking foreigner in the office that causes uproarious laughter when he explains that he was helped by an "O2 guru" named "Nee-am" and it turns out that Niamh is actually a common Irish name (meaning "bright" or "radiant") and its accepted pronunciation is a simple "Neeve". Additionally, I was the target of a great deal of confused looks when I mentioned that I saw a car with "a boot" and asked what they call this item. You see, the trunk of a car is a boot, so no one understood to what I was referring until a thorough game of charades caused someone to ask why I would describe a "clamp" in such a way. Additionally, I have asked at least three people in the office to remind me why the terms "custom-built" and "made to order" never appear on signs or menus in the Belfast area because they have all opted to use the alternative "bespoke"; "Bespoke hairdressing" is on my walk (that's right, I get to walk) to work and a newer member of the office recently described the "bespoke integrations" that would be a part of his responsibilities here.
Other than being exhausted by my need for translations, our over-stuffed temporary office has been warm and welcoming. We will have 28 employees in this single room once the placement students (similar to co-ops or interns) start next week and the infamous Andrew Wallace that commented on my last blog has made it his prerogative to make sure we all get to know each other on Friday mornings. Tuesday morning, there is a heated discussion of the latest "Game of Thrones" episode (it plays on Sky Atlantic on Monday nights because we have Sunday night five hours before HBO) and we plan to have our first official "Thirsty Thursday" this week, but we will see if it sticks.
A Juxtaposition of Efficiency Models
In the 0.2% of my life that I have now lived in the city of Belfast, I have found some services embarrassingly more efficient than the same in the US, while other services have me wanting to throw my newly unlocked mobile phone into the Lagan. On the "America should be embarrassed" side:
- I wanted to switch my locked AT&T phone over to the O2 network, so that I could enjoy the benefits of mobile phone services within Europe for less than my monthly salary, I brought it to a tiny, upstairs (slightly shady) 4urPhone shop, paid 20 pounds and my phone was ready for a new SIM card by the time I finished my sausage and champ (and pint of Guinness).
- I called a cab with the easy-to-remember 90 33 33 33 sign all over the city and, after telling them the postcode, received a text message stating "Thank you for using fonaCAB. Your taxi is arriving Ref: Silver HYUNDAI I40 RegNo: [license plate no.] Feel free to respond with service feedback" and my cab arrived two minutes after I initially phoned. If that was not impressive enough, once we were within a thousand feet of my destination, I watched the cab driver touch a button on his "sat nav" to accept a nearby new fare. In contrast, the only improvement I have seen in the US taxi process is Uber, which adds a great deal of transparency, but still frequently requires a phone conversation where you provide the driver with turn-by-turn directions to reach you.
Meanwhile, none of these organizations have any interest in customer service:
- I just went 7 days without any television programming for the first time that I can remember, and our broadband connection was delayed an additional six days because British Telecom (who is not my service provider) cannot be bothered to flip a switch somewhere near my new place.
- The aforementioned prior tenants of my townhouse chose the newly popular pay-as-you-go option with the gas provider (likely for the 5% discount), so I decided to use the same model for simplicity. I quickly learned how stupid that assumption was when I phoned PowerNI to "top-up". Here is the process:
- Enter your 19-digit keypad number (only found on a plastic card)
- Enter your debit card information (no credit cards accepted)
- Verbally say the number of pounds you would like added to your account
- Write down a 20-digit code unique to this "top-up"
- Walk to your keypad (both my main keypad and the "handheld" connected to it by a 6-foot telephone wire are under the same set of stairs)
- Enter the 20-digit code
- Pray that your keypad shows you a new balance (mine didn't even respond to button presses)
- The O2 network that provides my surprisingly affordable mobile service charges me by the minute to call 0800 and 0845 "toll-free" UK numbers because they are not local, so I have to check online for an 028 local number prior to phoning my utility companies.
No board game references this week, but I do need to see if someone is in my head (because he's dreamy) or if you see the same Rapid7 employee's name as I do when you look at the following brand that is strewn about in my new place.