The Expat Curve, and a few Rants

I guess it’s been a while since we’ve blogged. We’ve been rather busy, actually. Not with fun “experiencing history and culture” stuff, but with the icky stuff that comes with moving into a house and dealing with landlords and property management. Our landlords, as it turns out, couldn’t be lovelier and have invited us to spend some time with them in Greenwich, where they currently live. Martin, the owner, said that their Greenwich place is just next to the Cutty Sark and the Royal Maritime Museum, so you can bet we’ll take them up on their kind offer!

Our property management company is a totally different story. They are somewhat useless, actually, and one of the agents is also somewhat unpleasant as a person, so we have been frustrated and disappointed on that front. Don’t misunderstand –we really do love this house, and are immensely glad to have found it. And most importantly, it is working well for us and we all like living here! But, the conditions we found when we moved in were a bit surprising. It wasn’t a really a big deal, but then the way things were handled (or rather, NOT handled), was quite frustrating.

First of all, we walked into the house and noticed that the garbage can (rubbish bin) was overflowing and left in the street. It was not garbage day. It would not be garbage day for a week. So, we’d inherited the previous several holiday renters’ trash. Great. Well, the property management company kept trying to tell US what we might do with it, and we kept trying to express to them that it wasn’t our trash and it shouldn’t be our problem, and when they finally got the hint, instead of dealing with it themselves (they had no idea what to do with it), they passed the buck on to the owners. The owners, of course, were rightly miffed as they are paying this agency a fee in order to “manage” the property. Not so much managing going on. The trash is still here. Thankfully, it’s garbage collection day, so we’re hoping it will be gone soon. Sigh.

Second, while the house was generally tidy, and the carpets had been washed, whoever had been in to “clean” after the last holiday renter had done a HORRIBLE job. There were huge smears of nasty powdery detergent all over the kitchen counters(the kind that my kindergarten desks and sinks were cleaned with-yish) and they had not bothered to actually wipe UNDER anything that was sitting on the counter, and they certainly had not given the cabinets any treatment for months. They were disgusting!!!! The mirrors were all so cloudy you couldn’t see your reflection, the bathtub had sand and hair in it, and while the toilets had been scrubbed on the inside, the outsides left a lot to be desired. The agent who let us in to the house and brought the lease for signing noticed some of this and commented on it. But did she do anything about it? No, she called the owner to let her know, made it their fault and left it up to her to deal with it from London. Not so great for us, who are actually LIVING with the problem. Well, the owner asked someone she knows to come in and clean. This person was very nice, although a bit “bumbling” (the owner’s words). I told her to clean out the fridge (totally gross), which she did, but proceeded to break the shelf on the inside of the door. I told her to give the cabinet doors a good scrub and the insides of the cabinets a wipe-down. I think she must have forgotten about the insides altogether. Not sure what she thought she was doing on the outsides, but they weren’t any better after she was done. So I started doing the cleaning myself. I did express my dissatisfaction to the agency, and promptly got a call from the owner (not the agency) who apologized profusely and expressed her great frustration at how she’s expected to take care of these details from far away when it would be much easier for the agency to deal with them from here. She was perfectly lovely, and asked if she could meet me for coffee to introduce me to some locals when she’s next in town. She also offered to pay for an additional three hours of cleaning by someone who the agency feels is “foolproof”. It was a nice gesture, but I’ve done all the cleaning now, so its kind of a moot point. Sigh.

Third, when we signed the lease last Monday morning (have we really already been here for a week??), we were told that the owner was going to meet with us then and explain the phone line situation–something that no one else seems to know anything about, including his wife. Well, someone didn’t have their information right, and he wasn’t here. So we couldn’t start the very long and annoyingly difficult process of getting our broadband service set up. (We tried to set it up before the move, but the property management folks had faulty information about the state of the phone line in the house and we were told to wait until we met the owner.) This issue is very important to us as Brad does his work while online, and is planning to do most of his work from home while we’re here, plus we blog and email and find information on the Internet, watch some television (haven’t watched a real TV in years), and now it’s very important for us to be able to use Skype for video chatting with friends and family in the States. So right now we’re limping along with only a 3G connection for our iPad, and no real keyboard on which to type. Not impossible, but somewhat frustrating, and Brad certainly can’t do his work. He’ll be going into his office a few days this week…..where he is right now, in fact. We can’t upload photos or download anything of any size.

Fourth, I tried to use the oven (you know, one of those things one uses on a daily basis) and discovered that ALL of the labeling on the knobs had been completely wiped off. There were no indicators left of what the knobs did, where the different temps were, which one was the grill, which controlled the convection fan, etc. We sort of puzzled some of it out, but I’m still basically flying by the seat of my pants when I try to bake or roast anything. Sigh.

Well, after all these things happened, and we finally got through to Martin (the owner), he decided to drive down from London and help us out. He came on Friday morning, and couldn’t have been nicer or more helpful. We feel so lucky to have such WONDERFUL landlords!!!!! It’s just sad that the property management agency can’t get their act together. Sigh.

Anyway, Martin came, spent a couple of hours showing us the particulars of the house, suggesting local eateries, mentioning who the neighbors were and talking through phone and broadband issues with Brad. He was lovely.

Brad started the process of getting our broadband service set up. Thought we were golden. Then we bought a cheap used phone (from a charity shop, of course) to use in the house to make some calls. We plugged it in the socket…….nothing. Have no idea if the phone line is active and it just doesn’t work where we plugged it in, or if there’s a problem with the line. Brad’s planning to call BT from the office this morning to find out. Sigh.

We’ve also had massive problems with our mobile phones over the week, trying to top them up online. LONG story, EXTREMELY annoying, and not our fault. LONG conversation with the customer service call center in India. Should be back on track. Things just work so…………………… differently here. Sigh

Finally, we had purchased a membership to the National Trust on Brad’s birthday. Got a letter in the post this week telling me that they couldn’t activate our membership until I called them to clarify some information. Fine. I paid the money to call their number. Totally ridiculous experience. They just wanted to confirm all the info they already had (from the form we filled-out in the sop with the sales clerk), and confirm that our payment had actually gone through at our bank. Um WHAT? You don’t know if I’ve paid you? After I paid with a debit card, generated a receipt, and ha e it on my online bank statement? Well, so far I’ve had go call three times, used up all my credit on the mobile phone and couldn’t call them again until I topped up……finally managed to get our phone issues straightened out and the phone topped up, and i just haven’t worked up the patience yet to call one more time and get the issue resolved. How quaint. Sigh.

Okay, so there were a lot of difficulties this week. And a lot of frustrations. But I think it could have been much worse, and we’re figuring things out, slowly but surely.

Here’s the other news of the week:

Charlie is trying to figure out how to use the potty. He’s only interested because whenever he actually successfully makes a deposit, we let him watch “Cars”, which we saved for just such a use. AND, we told him that once he can reliably use the potty and stop wearing diapers, we’d take him on a real steam train, which is pretty exciting for him! (There are lots of old steam trains still operating around these here parts). So, he sits on the potty for hours at a time, quite willing,y, but still can’t predict when he’s going to pee or poo. It always catches him by surprise, and he tells us after he does it. Sigh.

Brad had to have a root canal on Tuesday, which seems to have gone well, and he really liked the dentist. However, as we all know, dental work doesn’t come cheap, so our budget is blown for the month. AND, he’s having trouble with his feet, which we think is plantar fasciitis, but we’re not sure. He’s been spending lots of time at home, staying off his feet, and it seems to be getting a bit better, but he’s still in pain. It’s a major bummer because we’d like to be seeing places and doing lots of walking. Poor guy.

On a positive note, my arthritis has not appeared much at all, and I’m walking more than I have since college at least. I’m thankful for that!!! Allergies, though, are another story. I am starting to notice some hayfever symptoms and remember back to the years when I lived in Europe as a teenager. My allergies got SO bad then!!! Thankfully, I brought a good supply of claritin, so I think I’ll be okay, even if it sets in hard over the coming weeks.

I’ll close with a thought about this thing that I’d like to call the “expat curve”. I found a brilliant illustration of this phenomenon at this wonderful expat blog: Betsy Transatlantically. Here’s a link to the graph she made, illustrating the curve: expat curve. The gist: there’s an up-and-down emotional ride that we experience when adjusting to a foreign culture and beginning to integrate. When one first arrives, we feel this euphoria of being in a new place, discovering things, marveling at the food/history/cultural quirks. Then, one slowly descends into the “wait, what am I doing here?” phase, before evening out and realizing that one can survive and even fit-in (at least to a point).

I think we’re on the downward slope at the moment, but am confident that we will even our keel. It can’t ALL be summer pudding and days at the beach. After all, we’re LIVING here, it’s not just a vacation.

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2 Responses to The Expat Curve, and a few Rants

  1. kathleen scott says:

    wow….so exhuasting learning to work “the system”. It will get better..and as your motors slow down a bit (from Vashon Island?….maybe not) you probably won’t be as frustrated. Hope you meet some nice local people, and people sho share similar values. This last item was key when we were so alone in Nova Scotia. Good luck, my dear. Cheering you on.

    • boazrichards says:

      Thanks, Kathleen!!! You’re exactly right, and the need to meet people is hitting now. I plan to take the kids to a couple of weekly playgroups, and maybe enroll them in a dance class, maybe a French class. I’m still trying to figure out how I’m going to meet adults with similar interests without working (I can’t, legally). I think you learn so much about yourself in this situation. It definitely reminds one of one’s needs!!!

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