I'm finally starting to feel a bit more like a local! I think I will always feel like a foriegner since the second I open my mouth I get the comment returned 'You're American?'. Not like I can hide my flat manner of speech. It's so funny after living my entire life thinking of other people having accents, that now the tables are turned and people are constantly commenting on my accent. I used the term 'word on the street' in a business meeting last week and the agency rep across the table from me grinned and said 'That's so very American, I think I'm going to knick that for my own presentations.' My company is definitely exploiting me being American and I'll be hosting a round-table at an industry conference in a few weeks where the subject is 'Hot Topics for US Mail Order.' In all of my meetings everyone is so interested to hear what the US marketers are doing. I suppose because the UK market is about 10% of what the American market is (gotta love that good ole American consumerism), they're always looking to the States for innovations and insights. The dinner that follows that evening is a black tie affair. None of our business conferences in the states included men wearing tuxedos and women wearing ball gowns - so had to go shopping. I bought a dress I will likely never wear again so bought it on deep discount so I won't feel guilty while it withers away in my closet.
I have spent the past week getting ready to move into my more permanent flat. Against all good judgement, I decided to rent a flat on a high street that was un-furnished. For those of you that are not familiar with the concept of the 'high street' it basically means the main street with all the shops and resteraunts for each area or town. There is typically one long street running through each town where all the activity is centered. Being on the high street will allow me easy access to the markets and pubs which will be a great improvement to my current flat which is about a mile walk away from the high street in Hampton Hill where I can do grocery shopping and get a coffee. My new flat will be adjacent to everything I might need to grab on my way home. There is also a famers market on Saturday mornings just behind me and I'm only a 5 minute walk to the fast train to central London or to the River Thames in the opposite direction.
Twickenham High Street - My new home
IKEA has become my best friend. Cheap furniture to fill up my new flat. Everything comes in a box (including the sofa) so I will likely spend the next month building furniture from the flat packs I'll have delivered this weekend. Customer service here isn't really what it is in the States. Customer service people seem to move at their own pace here and there really isn't any rush to get back to you with information or go above and beyond it seems. I think you just have to roll with the punches and take it in stride and realise (the proper english spelling of the word) that it's just the way it is here. Often people seem a little bothered if you ask too many questions or ask for something to be rushed a bit. I would say this trend is across the board, from bank tellers to waiters to bartenders to IKEA delivery men.
It could be due in part to the fact that the labour laws here are such that it is very difficult to fire someone. You really have to document over a period of time if there is a deficiency in performance and give the employee every opportunity to correct it. In the States, it's far easier to let someone go if they are defaulting in their job responsibilities. Other employee protections include not being able to take a benefit away that an employee was offered when they started their employment. Benefits can be made better but cannot be taken away or decreased which seems common place with employers in the States. Other benefits include gaurunteed 25 days of vacation which is in addition to the bank holidays and a full year's maternity leave. Only six months of the maternity leave is paid by the company and after that they go on a nomial pay from the government but the company is still obligated to have their job available when they decide to return to work a year later. Not a bad place to be a new mother! Taxes do seem to be higher here to pay for all these additional services but I can't really work out if the savings I get from social healthcare, etc. ends up washing out for the higher rate of tax. I guess it's neither here nor there.
Wish me luck on all of my home moving / furniture building this week. I'm going to need all the help I can get. I foresee flying tools in my future due to the frustration that will inevitably come.
Church Street - Across from my flat