Another month has passed, and so I am once again capturing my experiences as a sarcastic foreigner in a country full of sarcasm. Please accept my apologies for the length, but as the oft-misunderstood Samuel Clemens once wrote: "I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead." Rapid7 officially announced our presence here in Northern Ireland and it feels great that the teams had accomplished so much before the press release even arrived.
I want to start with something I had completely wrong in my Anecdotal Evidence blog: Ulster is not and has never been a county in Ireland or the United Kingdom. This means that my "county-within-a-county" rant was a waste of text, other than showing just how confusing some things are in Northern Ireland. You see: Ulster province was made up of nine counties in the Northeast of Ireland, but does not currently have an official government purpose, given that six of those countries now comprise Northern Ireland. The use of the term Ulster is now used very differently around Belfast, and if you type "ulster" into google.com (as opposed to google.co.uk), it starts to auto-complete with the county in New York, so that is likely how I got down the wrong path. Either that, or I cannot mentally process complex disputes over regions because the borders in my home state of Vermont did not change after it went from being land claimed by both New York and New Hampshire to a tiny Luxembourg-like independent nation to the fourteenth state in the late 18th century.
Anyway, on with the things I learned that are not completely wrong (yet). As I often do, I have a series of small observations and conclusions from my past month as an American on secondment.
Little Differences - There
I spent six days in Boston and Newport and left with a business traveller's view of New England (which is neither a province nor a county). It all started on two United Airlines flights that inexplicably skipped seating rows 13-19 and 13, 15-19 because apparently, in 2014, we are still afraid of the number 13 and an inconsistent number of its ill-hearted teen friends. Those counting errors were sandwiched around a situation where I had only 2 hours to make a connection between United Airlines flights in Newark airport (and it involved some running).
Once safely in New England, I worked from our Boston and Cambridge offices as a visitor and witnessed the kind of traveller's awe in Andrew Wallace that will hopefully kill off some of the heads-down cynicism that I brought on my trips in recent years. I had the pleasure of contrasting a few convenient and friendly UberX drivers with an incompetent, angry taxi driver who not only lied about the functional nature of his built-in credit card terminal, but completed the story with a makeshift sign containing Uber and a cross through it. He is doing Uber a great service.
Another learning experience was trying to find a time of day when I could video chat with my family, given that (a) I was five hours behind them and (b) my children are in bed three hours before I would leave a US office.
The trip back to Belfast was uneventful, except for the fact that a Chicago-area contract worker allegedly set a fire in the FAA's control center and tried to include himself in it. This led to regular TripIt updates telling us that our United plane was not arriving in Boston, so our connection in Newark was at risk (more so than when arson is not involved, at least). So, some Belfast charm from Roy Robinson got us on a direct Aer Lingus flight to Dublin. If you have never flown Aer Lingus, you should know that it is a unique experience: there are a ridiculous number of announcements, including incredible detail around the route over remote parts of Canada, all of which were roughly 300 times louder to those of us using the supplied headphones. they accept both Euro and US cash, and the armrest only lifts 70% of the way up for no understandable reason. At least this itinerary change had a happy ending, thanks to the fastest customs processing in the world in Dublin (where you can use your mobile phone everywhere but at the desk), especially when they hear that you are going to be the UK's problem anyway.
Little Differences - Here
By far, the most common question people have asked me since we moved to Belfast is "What has been the biggest difference?", so rather than continuing to bother everyone with my "not sure" response, I figured that I should use this space to finally answer the question.
- Some quick ones:
- External doors almost always require a push as you enter
- Bars don't really rush you out at closing
- All TV seasons are shorter than "True Detective", so I watched all three seasons of "Luther" in four nights
- All digital clocks operate in 24-hour mode
- Local phone numbers and building floors start with 0, rather than 1
- And some using the four Ps of marketing:
- Milk comes in "whole", "semi-skimmed", and "skimmed" and the colours of the jugs mean totally different things than in the States
- Ireland is known for fantastic butter, but the spreads typically come in a much more convenient package
- No one puts cream in their coffee/tea and if you ask for "half and half", you'll get a loaf of bread
- Place - eggs are not sold in the refrigerated section [am I the only one confused by this?]
- Price - soft drinks (not "soda" here) are nearly as expensive as beer, so...
- Promotion - TV adverts are spaced out differently than in the US, so watching US shows is a constant guessing game as to when to hit FF (plus Fox over here has some sort of lifetime contract with "Cool Water Night Dive" so if I buy you this cologne, I have been brainwashed)
- Wee trips to local sites and events for children are actually catered to the customer: following our free visit to the national park in August, we had free admission to Carrickfergus castle, where toddlers can enjoy moving around giant chess pieces, and completely ignore the rule that a bishop can only move diagonally. Additionally, the local Streamvale farm and petting zoo has a variety of baby animals to pet and a surprisingly delicious lunch for less than £10.
- I have recently gone from appreciating US banking and the ease of acquiring an account to despising its credit card fraud processes that I once worked to disrupt. Since obtaining a World Mastercard with no international fees, I have made thousands of pounds in purchases outside the United States. After purchasing a few hundred dollars in items while on vacation in the states, it now gets unpredictably declined over fraud concerns. Yes, I understand that I need to tell Barclaycard that I am travelling abroad, but why? Every one of the mobile and web logins to my account has been from UK IP addresses and I never needed to tell American Express, yet they accurately detected fraud on my account in New York City while I was living here (and notified me via mobile app, unlike the unpredictable Mastercard method of silently declining without notification).
- I see more world famous people than in Boston, but I think it is purely coincidental. However, seeing Rory McIlroy take photos every 10 feet and running into Peter Dinklage and his daughter on two different Saturdays (while walking my dog and at the local playground) is a pretty significant change from seeing Newton, MA on an episode of "Louie" one time.
- There always seems to be more available space for shops here, which is not odd, except that it seems to happen in every area of the city and even to the "sandwich bar of the year".
- Public transportation is a little different. I previously described the efficiency of the taxi companies, but never mentioned how normal it is for fares [industry speak] to sit in the front seat of a cab, nor did I know that once university students returned, the Munich-like efficiency of the buses would shift to being less reliable than Boston buses, which are consistently three to eight minutes behind schedule. I ride either an 8B or 8C bus to the office and some mornings, nothing comes for 25 minutes, followed by two 8B buses in succession. Apparently, the BusTrak scrolling "next bus" update was rendered meaningless when the union forced Translink NI to remove GPS trackers for fear of actually identifying lousy drivers.
- Driving on the other side of the car, and road, is not nearly as different as you would expect, but adjusting to the change in signs and driving etiquette does take a little time.
- Time zone differences give me roughly five hours to start every day when I can do whatever it is I do, and, well, blog.
- Thanks to laws and rough Saturday nights, Belfast is a ghost town on Sunday mornings. The more ambitious coffee shops open at 10, but some just don't bother with one-seventh of the week.
- Some time in the past two generations (as in my grandparents' generation, not the confusing generation X, Y, millenials, etc. definitions that never help me understand who I am supposed to blame for the unraveling of society because of so many conflicting classifications putting my birth year in X and Y), the way that UK English and US English described clothing went down different paths. I still remember grandmothers referring to the currently-accepted-in-America "jeans", "sneakers", "pants", and "sweaters" as "denims", "trainers", "trousers", and "jumpers" the way everyone here does. I just don't know why the US decided that those words had to go. Additionally, the most important word in the group to avoid is "pants", as everyone will think you are saying that you got food on your underwear. Just a tip.
- As I mentioned once before, the lack of selection of craft beer here has been noticeable. I love the taste of Guinness here, but one of my many neuroses pushes me to always look for a beer I haven't tasted before, and that is proving a challenge only a few months into my time here. The craft beer culture is starting to gain traction, but it still often resembles the kind of "our 5% lager is better than their 5% lager" mentality common to Germany, while brewers in places like the US and Scandinavia ask questions like "what if I use yeast from my beard?" and "what if I put coffee beans from the civet in it?"
So, I guess the biggest difference here has been the change in me. Wow... the five of you that read this far haven't been paying attention if you thought that was serious. It has definitely been living without a credit history. I know. I cheated because it wasn't a bullet point, but there are no rules to this. I am not sure how well you can multiply in your head, but take your US credit score (they range from 300 to 850), multiply it by zero and add 300. That is what your score (using the same scale) will be in any new country. Have an account with a worldwide bank like Barclays? A mortgage with a worldwide bank like Santander? Started getting small loans at 18 to build an amazing score? Good for you, kid. Same math. Enjoy your limited checking account and regularly asking someone to vouch for you.
With that out of the way, I am off to Black Hat Europe to see how the security conferences in Europe differ from the US. I went to Cartes outside Paris once, but that doesn't count, since the French invented smart cards and the US is still fighting against their adoption because they have perfected payment card fraud processes.