Moving Chronicles: Seoul to Bristol: Making Adjustments

MrL and MsC in front of the S.S. Great Britain, and, yes, it was cold.

After almost a month in the UK, readers will be relieved to know that MsCaroline is starting to feel less stupid, although it is clear that she still has a significant learning curve ahead of her.

She has learned how to take the bus and the train, can hold her own in a conversation that begins with, 'Alright?' and has (almost) got to the point where she can fill her phone number in on a form without having to look it up (always embarrassing.)  She knows to ask for a 'return' ticket instead of 'round trip,' and as far as money goes, she can now confidently and quickly identify £1, £2, 20p, and 50p coins without having to hold them up to the light and squint at them (she is still working on the others.)

Her daily life has changed in a number of other ways, of course, and - just as it did in Korea - it simply happened, without her giving it much thought, because there really was No Other Option than to Make Adjustments.

MsC, being the lazy reflective type, has given this some thought, and has come up with the following observations about her new reality and daily life in the UK, which should be filed under the heading, Things She Does Differently Now:

She is paranoid extremely cautious when crossing the street:  Not to say that she was ever a careless street crosser, especially in Seoul.  The problem now is that she is never sure where traffic is going to be coming from.  Yes, she looks both ways, but what really messes with her mind is never being able to anticipate what stopped traffic is going to do.  In other countries, one looks at traffic and can anticipate what will happen OK, these cars are able to turn right on red, so they may well turn into me if I step out into the crossing;  or, That is a left turn signal, it means cars will be going away from me, and I can go.  The problem is, having to reverse 30+ years of driving instincts is incredibly difficult, especially for someone like MsC, who always failed the spatial relations parts of IQ tests.  Suddenly having to flip everything around in your mind is bad enough, but the fact that roughly half of the streets in Bristol are One Way means that, even if one remembers that the traffic patterns are reversed, one might need to be looking the other way anyway.  (MsCaroline knows for sure that she is not the only one who struggles with this, and submits as evidence the fact that, on many one-way streets, the words Look Right  or Look Left are painted right onto the asphalt.)  But all of this still means that she goes through a huge number of mental gymnastics, traffic pattern analysis, and a certain amount of anxiety whenever she approaches a zebra (pedestrian) crossing.  For this reason, she strives to walk closely behind groups of confident-looking Britons, who seem to all have  a fine-tuned instinct for where to go (and when) without any hesitation.

She goes shopping  Part of this is the fact that she is living in a serviced apartment without any of her own things, and a minimum of usable cookware (not to mention no cajun seasoning.)  Part of this is that going to the grocery store in the UK is pretty much one of the most pleasurable things she has ever done. Part of this is that she has no car and must carry everything she buys with her.  And of course, part of this is the fact that this has been her entire refrigerator since 2nd January (and will continue to be, until early March:)

Yes, the top shelf is mostly MrL's beer.
Now, MsC totally gets that most Americans are spoiled with lots of space and giant refrigerators, not to mention tons of preservative-laden food that will keep for ages.  She also gets that she could be more efficient in her space management.  But she is still working on her mindset, and it has been a challenge to work with a fridge that is not much bigger than what she would expect to find in a dorm room.  (She should hasten to add that the freezer, which is next to the fridge, is the same size, which would be a definite plus, were she ever thinking ahead at all and buying frozen food.) It should also be pointed out that everything in the grocery stores comes in very compact sizes anyway, since everyone's used to dealing with space restrictions;  everything one buys is the size of what would be found in America in, say, a campground grocery store.  What this means is that, even if MsCaroline were to have an American-sized fridge, she'd have to go to the store every few days anyway to replace everything that was running out.  As evidence, allow her to present her eggs:

MsCaroline has provided this coffee cup for scale;  also because the cup is pretty awesome.

Astute readers will notice immediately that this is not the typical, long, dozen-egg carton that one finds in every grocery store in the US - and no, MsCaroline did not pick up the little box because of her space limitations.  She picked it up (off the shelf, not from the refrigerator case, by the way) because this is the only size you can buy (at least in the stores she has been in.) That's it.  Six at a time, please. And lots of other things are similarly sized for maximum space efficiency. Peanut butter, for example, comes in tiny jars about the size you buy bouillon cubes in in the US; even soy sauce comes in smallish bottles (think aspirin size) instead of the giant Kikkoman vat like MsC is used to having in her cupboard.

Of course, it should also be noted that the eggs, purchased at a corner grocery store (only slightly larger than an average 7-11 in the US) are free-range.  In fact, the only eggs available are free-range.  In the corner grocery store. Pretty amazing, huh?

So, while it has been an adjustment, MsCaroline is not complaining about the sizes of anything.  Not one bit.

She does laundry constantly much more frequently:  Long-time readers may remember that, when MsCaroline first moved to Seoul, she had to make some adjustments to her laundry routine, due to the popularity of the space-saving washer/dryer combo in many Korean apartments.  However, as soon as she moved into a permanent dwelling, this was rectified very quickly by the installation of a heavy-duty, US-style dryer.

This however, is not an option here in England in the serviced apartment where the Asia Vus will be staying for at least the next 6 weeks;  it is also unlikely that a US-sized dryer will be an option in their rental house (yes, they finally found one, and, yes, the dog can come, but they can't move in until early March;  details coming soon.) So, at the moment, MsC is trying to keep up with the laundry using a machine that holds the equivalent of about 4 t-shirts in each load.  And each load, of course, takes about 90 minutes just to wash - and much more than that to dry.

As it turns out, most of the dryers in the UK are not the vented sort of dryer that most Americans are used to;  they are more typically a type of dryer called a 'condensing' dryer, which does not require venting.  This is actually much more practical because many older buildings simply don't have windows in the right places to provide adequate ventilation for a typical vented dryer. Of course, it takes longer to dry things via condensing than it does just by blasting hot air on them, but everyone here is used to this (much as they were in Korea) and takes it in stride. Besides that, many people in the UK (and Europe) prefer to drip-dry or line-dry their clothes, either on a clothesline outdoors, or a drying rack indoors.  This is due to both economical reasons (electricity is expensive,) environmental reasons (less energy) and does, of course, result in less wear-and-tear on the clothes.  So the only people who seem to be struggling with the laundry situation are spoiled North Americans like MsC, who is determined not to whine once she finishes writing this post.

Now MsCaroline loves the environment and economy as much as the next person, and she is getting used to seeing this first thing when she walks in the door of her apartment:

What she is not getting used to is the ironing.  The ironing.

In case you are like MsCaroline did not already know this, she would like to share an important piece of information with you:   when you hang clothes to dry, they mostly dry wrinkly.  

Even if you put them in your condensing dryer and ruin the environment and spend a million dollars on energy let them spin for the several hours longish time it takes for them to get really dry - and you snatch them right out of the dryer while they are still hot - they still do not come out wrinkle-free like one would expect.  (Or, rather, like a person used to doing laundry American-style would expect. )

Oh, MsCaroline trotted herself off to the dry cleaners the first week here (MrL goes through 5 dress shirts a week and she was certainly not planning to iron them all) but they didn't use enough starch (MrL likes them to make a cracking sound when he puts them on) and, frankly, their ironing job wasn't that great, considering the price she paid.  So, she reasoned, since she is unemployed at the moment without a house to take care of, she might as well iron the shirts herself. How long could it take?

Let her tell you:  it can take a long time.  Especially if you have not ironed in a long time.  Even more if you are dumb enough to let the shirts dry completely before you start ironing them.

So MsC is learning.  Learning to take the shirts out and iron them when they are damp.  Learning that it's pointless to put the ironing board away because it will just come right back out within a few hours. Learning that a well-designed ironing board can make a huge difference in the rate at which you iron (and, conversely, that a crap one will make you want to throw the iron across the room.)

But she is definitely not complaining, because every single day, she sees things like this:

Bath Abbey

St. Philip and St. Jacob Church, Bristol

St. Mary Redcliffe church, Bristol

Llandoger Trow pub/restaurant, Bristol

tea in Bath

York Street, Bath

And, surely, that's worth making a few adjustments for.


Nance said…
Good heavens, ironing. And let's just leave it at that.

You are a Quick And Solid Adapter, thank heavens. Watching and learning, that's the key. Good for you.

It's a shame, coming at any point from the USA, and then having to get on with the differences in daily living, I'd imagine. All of my foreign exchange students said the same things about Life In The US:
1. Houses are so huge
2. Stores are so huge
3. There are too many choices
4. Everything is so huge
5. Everything is so easy

So many unflattering conclusions can be drawn from the above, but the students never drew them. They revelled in all of them and went on and on, wide-eyed, for about two weeks. Then, they adapted. ;-)
Glad you are adjusting!
You can get bigger size egg boxes if you go to a big supermarket - but yes, you're right, traditionally British fridges were a lot smaller. Now, however, many people have large American ones (the trend is to big kitchens) so see if you can get one in your rental?

I get my cleaner to do the ironing. There is no way I am doing the shirts. And you can get larger dryers, but only if you have a large utility room (which many places don't). American houses are just designed for these things, with their big basements etc! Good luck with it all....
MsCaroline said…
Nance - yep, the ironing. And honestly, everything being smaller is much more efficient, and (foodwise at least) far less wasteful. And I agree - while I think some of the exchange students I had were a bit shocked and possibly secretly censorious of our wasteful and decadent US lifestyle, they all loved their time in the US and couldn't wait to come back. I, on the other hand, think that, after spending this long living an urban lifestyle, we will never be able to go back to living happily in a typically car-dependent, US suburb. It will be interesting to see where we end up after our gallivanting years are over.
MsCaroline said…
NVG-So funny you posted this - I was just in a Sainsbury's Local yesterday and stumbled across eggs in cartons of a dozen - immediately thought: "Damn! I need to update the blog." But they were still free-range, and that, to me, is so incredible. The fridge we'll have in our rental house is actually much bigger than the one here in the apartment, although it's not quite as enormous as some US ones. It is certainly big enough for me after the last 3.5 years in Korea, and the freezer is (comparatively) enormous. We don't have a whole utility room, but there is enough room for a smallish separate washer and dryer. Not sure about the venting aspect, but even if it's a smaller condensing dryer, the good thing is that it can run at the same time as the washing machine, and - hopefully - help me keep ahead of things- even if the clothes don't come out American-style-dry. I haven't looked into cleaners yet (we don't move until March) but I will definitely make a point to add 'ironing' to the list of desired tasks. So funny, I can remember reading on someone's blog (maybe yours?Maybe Toni's?) about American laundry machines and a very interesting discussion about US vs UK laundry habits, air- versus line drying, etc. - and finding it all mildly amusing but not in any way personally significant to me. How times change, right? ; ) Still, we're loving it - even if I have to change my laundry and egg-buying habits. Small price to pay for getting to live here!
MsCaroline said…
Kai - thanks! I'm glad you're enjoying my adjustment period! ; )

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