Checking in again after another month as an expat. I have gotten far too wordy in my recent blogs, so I will try to make this one short enough that you only doze once.
This month brought a lot of experiences that confirmed my foreigner status, no matter which country's borders I was currently within. As it is most relevant to this series, I will start with Northern Ireland and touch on the four countries I visited:
There is a lot of confusion over whether Northern Ireland is, in fact, its own country because it is a part of the sovereign state of the United Kingdom. However, with the extremely significant vote on Scottish independence looming, I will continue to refer to this portion of the Emerald Isle as a country of the UK, but I promise I am not doing so as an expression of political opinion.
Now is your time to jump on my coattails, as my daughters started nursery school where much of the "Game of Thrones" crew drop off their children. While I enjoyed hearing that they had as much trouble making simple payments as I did, I was even more excited to realize that I will inevitably have famous friends. That's how it works, right? No? Anyway, my wife and I took advantage of a nursery day and bank holiday weekend to take the Famous Black Cab Tour of the political murals and sites from "The Troubles" of Belfast. I highly suggest you take this tour when you visit here. I chose to attach the photo here because it stood out as a memorable story of the Red Hand of Ulster in which a potential king severed his hand and threw it to shore to win a boat race and inherit the throne, but it is one of many beautiful murals.
Life here continues to feel more normal, but there are always little reminders that I am not in my home country. For instance:
- In Rapid7's current office building [counting down the days...], there is a deposit of £20 to get a temporary badge when you forget yours at home and a personal charge of £50 if you lose yours. Meanwhile, in my twenty years working in various US office buildings, I have never heard a dollar figure announced because, even in small quantities, they cost $0.40 or less to print.
- Meanwhile, rather than enabling chronic-couponers here, every shop has a bevy of 3-for-£2 and 2-for-1 deals. I never really thought about it until my wife was only charged for a single child when she brought twins to a toddler music class. I doubt a coupon would offer that deal stateside.
- Finding a gym here was an experience. I visited all four of them in the city and they range from "old school boxing gym" to "24-hour cattle round-up". I guess the US craze of keeping too many gyms in business by signing a 2-year contract and never showing your face hasn't caught on. At least my heavy bacon intake is keeping me scrawny while I slowly make a decision.
- A rough lesson: August is not summer. I know the scientific impossibility of that statement, but I also lived here through August and there is no way that was summer weather. I already posted pictures here of the beautiful weather in June and July, and September seems very comfortable, but August was some sort of summer climate anomaly filled with coats and umbrellas.
- I am curious why no one told me what a Common House Spider looks like in the UK. Hopefully, this photo of one mysteriously found under my shoe does justice to its terrifying nature.
Republic of Ireland
A couple of months ago, my family and I spent a long weekend in the town of Kilkenny, southwest of Dublin, and pronouncing the name always makes me hear Kyle Broflovsky yelling "You bastards!" because I have watched far too much television. Well, in addition to the Black Cab Tour, the UK Summer Bank Holiday weekend took us to Letterkenny in the Non-"Northern Ireland" portion of Northern "Ireland" less confusingly known as County Donegal. The hotel replicated two of our previous observations: (1) Ireland hotels offer extensive, delicious breakfasts on plates that will melt an oven mitt and (2) everyone needs to wear caps at the swimming pool. My fragile cubicle-worker hand won't let me forget the first lesson.
While in County Donegal, we spent roughly 48 hours exploring an incredibly beautiful and very non-emerald shade of the island. My wife said it best when we were driving from Letterkenny through the Glenveagh National Park, on our way to the coast: "This landscape is gorgeous, but could very well be another planet." The unique shade of brown mountain ranges and the beach with (literally) no name that I am guessing sat on Ballyness Bay, but will never know for certain because both Google and the maps we found at the hotel mention nothing of it. We came back to visit the National Park, and to our surprise, had chosen to visit on Heritage Day, when the bus to the beautiful castle grounds was free, and the mass of frugal visitors clearly showed that we were the only uninformed ones. Oh, and in case you were wondering, the Guinness on draft in these remote parts of the island was still absolutely delightful. Priorities.
The photo on the right is meant to show the extent of my OCD. Many of you have no idea that I cannot read an article or even jog to a restaurant named "Brewery Bar" that served no local beer (but the Guinness on draft was delicious) without noticing spelling and grammatical errors. Would you have noticed the typo and looked to see that it was repeated on another sign?
After an unplanned nine-hour visit to the British Airways lounge, I visited the other Rapid7 UK office in Reading, England. This was my first ever visit to this lovely country [no more discussion] from which a good deal of my ancestors departed for America. I really doubt that a 26-hour work visit does it justice, but other than watching our world-renowned Rapid7 footballers play a game and a half of 5-a-side [that's 5-on-5 soccer], I:
- spent 3 hours in London and learned just how far it is to Reading, while we enjoyed a train full of teenagers that were off to celebrate the completion of their A-levels with a relaxing weekend at the Reading Music Festival.
- learned that handing over legal tender is not as simple in every country, when multiple cashiers had to ask a manager if they could accept £20 notes from Bank of Ireland.
- found out that the only reason that UK countries, commonwealths, and other territories formerly under rule of the monarchy drive on the left-hand side of the road is because there were so many right-handed people on horseback that they rode on the left to shake hands or use a weapon with their right. Seriously, look it up.
On our first family return trip to the US, I learned just how quickly you can feel like a visitor in extremely familiar places. Our entire vacation was spent in the Northeast, where I resided for the first 99% of my life, but it was the first time I have departed Newark Liberty International airport with a rental car and witnessed just how poor a first impression this give international tourists. If your first experience of the US was EWR and you still chose to live in the US, I am impressed by your perseverance.
While in Connecticut, I met an Irish-American who, despite living in the US for more than a decade, still seemed more bothered than anyone I have met on the island by the 6 Northern Ireland counties being separated from the other 26. We only stayed in our hometown in MA for one day, but finding out that USPS randomly decided not to deliver some of our mail there made sure that we felt out of place. Finally, in New Hampshire for a wedding, we stayed in "The Oldest Summer Resort Town in America" and I immediately exposed myself as an outsider by ordering a "takeaway" coffee and then ate some burnt-to-a-crisp bacon that made me miss my Northern Ireland home.
No quiz on 6-8 legged creatures or porcelain products this month, but I would suggest that you all keep an eye out for exciting Rapid7 announcements over the next month regarding the Belfast office. The team here is already getting famous for winning hackathons.