Archive | October, 2010

Serviette? Rubbish!

29 Oct

I had a rather awkward conversation with the porter (doorman) yesterday. The first few times I came home he asked which flat I was going to, forgetting that I now live here. Now “Wait, who are you?” seems to be a running joke between us.

He asked me how we were liking the flat. I told him it was great and we were looking forward to receiving the rest of our furniture and belongings.

“Wait, so you have no furniture up there now?” He asked, surprised. “Nope,” I replied. “Just an air mattress.”

“But…what do you sit on?” He asked.

“Um…a box?” I replied.

Yes, for the past few days I have been eating my lunch sitting on top of a cardboard box. The porter could not believe this. He was so shocked I almost thought he was going to send me up with his own chair. Our landlord used to have the place furnished, but removed everything and put it in another one of his apartments. “He could have at least left a chair,” the porter said. Yes, a chair would be nice.

I then asked him the question I’ve been meaning to ask since I moved in. I hesitated not because I was afraid to talk to him, but because I wasn’t quite sure how to phrase the question. I was wondering where we should dispose of our garbage. But in the UK they don’t call it garbage, it’s either rubbish or litter. For some reason, I just couldn’t bring myself to say, “Where can I dispose of my rubbish?” It would be like a British person asking where the elevator is. Brits are not supposed to say elevator and Americans are not supposed to say rubbish.

“I have one more question,” I asked the porter. “Where can we dispose of our …garbage?” I added a quick “rubbish” at the end in case he didn’t know what I was talking about. My use of the foreign word “garbage” did not seem to phase him and he happily told me where to put it.

Now that that’s behind me, I have my next British word challenge: “serviette.” I would really like to just say “napkin.”


You’re a naughty cheeky monkey!

28 Oct

Why don’t Americans use the word “cheeky?” The word is and has been all the rage in the UK, yet it never seemed to make it across the pond.

This past weekend we left the city to hang out at Stephen’s British coworker’s house. He has a 2 ½-year-old son who, for whatever reason, took a liking to me (that’s putting it lightly, the kid was literally attached to me the entire time he was awake). Max liked to talk to me, but because of his age and accent, I only understood about 10 percent of what he said. He was particularly fond of saying two things: “naughty” (“Daddy is naughty!”) and “cheeky monkey” (“You’re a cheeky monkey!”)

“What’s a ‘cheeky monkey?’” I asked his dad. He was thoroughly surprised I had never heard the phrase before. He had a hard time explaining it since the phrase has become such a part of the vernacular. I tried to think of something comparable in American slang and came up with “silly goose,” but maybe they say that here too.

As I’ve always had a soft spot for expletives that involve the word “monkey” (e.g. monkey butt, butt monkey and the one I like to think I coined, monkey pants), I need to find a way to work “cheeky monkey” into my vocabulary. Unless, of course, “cheeky” is one of those words that simply cannot be said with an American accent, like “bloody.”

On a final note, I was at the grocery store a couple weeks ago, waiting in an unusually long line at the self-service checkout. I wasn’t paying close attention, but apparently a machine opened up and two high school-age boys jumped the line and went for it. A middle-age woman started yelling at them, but they quickly rung up their items and left. When she returned to the line she muttered “Cheeky bastards!” I couldn’t help but chuckle.

Trapped in the Bathroom

27 Oct

Last night I locked myself in the bathroom. (Not the crying “I’m not coming out,” way, the “Oh crap, I am stuck and going to die because nobody is going to find me” way).

It started the night before when the door handle broke. I pulled it down and it came right off. So only the handle from inside the bathroom was functioning. Everything was OK as long as we didn’t close the door when no one was inside.

So last night I was inside the bathroom and trying to leave. I pulled the handle and the door didn’t open. “Huh, I don’t remember locking it,” I thought, and fumbled with the lock. But the door wasn’t locked, it was stuck. The mechanics of the handle were not working, rendering it useless.

I stepped back to assess the situation. It was near the time Stephen usually comes home. “He will knock on the door and I will shout that I’m locked in the bathroom,” I thought. “Then he can go get keys from the porter (we only have one set now, which I have) and come in and get me.” It seemed logical, until I remembered I put the chain lock up in a fit of paranoia. There would be no way for him to get in short of breaking the door down.

That’s when I entered survival mode. I shook the handle rapidly until it came off. I then stuck the handle in the hole and pushed it in several directions, hoping something would trigger the latch. I even tried my finger briefly, then had a vision of myself on one side of the bathroom door and my bloody finger on the other, and decided I best stick to tools. I rummaged around the bathroom for anything I could turn into a tool. I tried the face cream bottle and an empty toilet paper roll. Nothing was working. I was trying not to panic, but staying in the bathroom all night was not an option (although of all the rooms to get locked in in the apartment, the bathroom is probably the most useful).

I finally gave up on the door handle and focused on using the end of my toothbrush, which is the cheap clear plastic kind I got on the airplane. I moved it from side to side in the hole, but nothing was happening. Then I remembered the bit of metal that went flying out of the hole when I removed the handle. I examined the handle closely, lining it up with the hole to try to determine how the mechanism worked. Both the handle and the latch had a square-shaped hole. I kept trying to push one of the sides, but what I really needed to do was turn the square. Once I did, using my toothbrush, the latch receded and the door opened.

I was only stuck for around 30 minutes but it seemed much longer. Now I have one more thing to tell the landlord to fix.

I owe a lot to that cheap United toothbrush. Any better one — even one from a dentist — would not have fit, and I’d probably still be stuck in the bathroom.

Butt tattoos and silly umbrellas

26 Oct

We are semi-moved into our flat now, but will be without Internet for at least a week. So yesterday I went to Starbucks to take advantage of their wi-fi. I was sitting at the counter by the window and some British boarding school kids came and sat next to me. They were being very loud and obnoxious and I couldn’t help eavesdropping because they were right there. One of them was going on about how he wanted to get a tattoo of a smiley face on his “arse” but didn’t because it was “40 quid, which is too bloody expensive.” (Nice that it was the price, not the location or design that stopped him). After they left an American guy sat down at the counter and started making phone calls. When he finished he apologized to me for being loud. I said it was nothing compared to the boarding school kids. I think he was an actor because he mentioned phrases like “Here filming” and “Back in New York” during his phone conversation. He also appeared to be reading a script and was wearing sunglasses indoors. I wondered if he was someone famous, but didn’t recognize him when he talked to me.

Today Starbucks was too crowded so I headed to the library. It’s incredibly tiny compared to Chicago’s Harold Washington, but it has free wi-fi and I don’t feel the need to buy an overpriced drink. I’m sitting at a table across from the public computers. I haven’t quite figured out if they are first-come first-serve or if you have to reserve them. Whatever the case, all of them are always occupied. I could tell one lady was hawking them, hovering by the door, walking around and coming back. An older lady got up but left her things. The circling lady grabbed the computer. The old lady who was using it first returned and the drama ensued. “I wasn’t finished, it stopped working so I went to get someone,” she said. “Well, you got up and it logged out,” the other lady defended. Everyone turned to look at the women. “Well, can I at least grab my things?” the first lady asked, wanting to avoid a scene. The women barely moved as the lady grabbed her wet umbrella and folder which had been shoved on the floor. A third women arrived and took the side of the first lady. Another computer opened up and the first lady took it, sitting next to the newcomer third lady. The two of them started to talk about it again, right in front of the computer-stealing lady. “I can’t believe that,” one of them said. “She didn’t have to throw your things aside.” That’s when the computer-stealer chimed in, “What, your silly umbrella?!” She shot back. “It’s not silly, it was wet and you put it on top of my other things.” Then they started fighting about how the other one should be quiet because they are in a library. I think it was at this point that I started laughing. Compared to the boisterous boarding school kids the fighting ladies were nothing. Eventually things simmered down, but every once in awhile the two ladies would make faces behind the computer-stealer’s back.

A group of young girls just walked in and are talking incredibly loudly about shoe size and what books they’ve read. If only those ladies were still around, these girls could use a good scolding about library voices.

Tube of sardines

22 Oct

Yesterday I made the mistake of taking the Tube around 5:15 p.m. Not only was it rush hour, but there was also “engineering” going on which caused delays. I stood patiently at the Bond Street stop, watching the station fill with more and more people waiting for the Jubilee line. After a good 10 to 15 minute wait, they announced a train was approaching. I expected full-on pandemonium as people pushed to get to the front. And then I remembered I wasn’t in China. Instead, everyone approached the yellow line in an orderly fashion, minding the gap and patiently waiting for all the passengers to get off before attempting to board the train. I think part of that was manners, but it was also because the train was so jam-packed that no one could enter if they wanted to unless people got off. Finally we boarded the train. It’s hard to describe the mentality — it wasn’t “I will push you over to get on this train” Chinese mentality, but there was also no “After you, my good sir.” It was a quiet determination. More “I will try my best not to trample or push you, but I am getting on this train.”

We were a few people short of this.

I’ve ridden the red line after a Cubs game, so I know sardine-can trains, but this was still the most crowded train I have ever been on. I stood near the door grasping the upper handle. As we began to move I realized a guy standing back-to-back with me was not holding onto anything. The train was so packed that he was using me as a brace. So whenever the train jerked forward, I had his entire weight pressed against me.

“Oh please do not let this train break down,” the woman across from me said. The woman next to her agreed and we all exchanged that “Can you believe this? It’s so bad it’s almost funny,” look. Thankfully I only had to go a couple stops, but it was the longest most uncomfortable five minutes. And to think people deal with this on a daily basis…

When peacocks fly

18 Oct

I always wondered if peacocks could fly. They always seems to be standing still or just walking around at the zoo. This past weekend we went back to Holland Park where we witnessed peacocks fly-jumping over the fence. Here is some video I shot of one:



The Worst Washing Machine in the World

17 Oct

After being in temporary housing for three weeks, we finally bit the laundry bullet (or, rather, Stephen did. I could go another couple weeks because I packed an obscene amount of clothing in my three suitcases).

Let me pause here and say that when I first discovered most flats have a combo washer/dryer in-unit, I thought it was the greatest thing ever. No more losing quarters to the stupid communal machines. And the fact that one machine could wash AND dry blew my mind. Why are these not more popular in the US?! I wondered. Because, quite frankly, they suck — that’s what I discovered yesterday.

There are two washer/dryer combo units in the basement of our building, so we loaded up one with whites and the other with colors. The machine holds a ridiculously small amount of clothes. I don’t even know if a sheet would fit and a bath towel would probably take up a whole load. We chose the water temperature setting in Celsius, which was a bit odd. Then the “Time until done” clock displayed two hours and 30 minutes.  A normal washing machine takes 35 minutes and a dryer takes an hour. Surely that meant this machine would automatically switch to drying, right?


We came back 2 1/2 hours later to wet clothes. What kind of washing machine takes over two hours?! We switched the machine to dryer mode and set the time to an hour. I went down after 45 minutes to check on the clothes and I could not open the machine door. I pried and pried. I tried turning the machine off and changing the setting. I eventually gave up and came back after 15 minutes. At this point it was after 1 a.m. We started the clothes around 9:30 p.m. not thinking the whole process would take almost four hours. I finally learned that the machine door remains locked for two minutes after it shuts down. (Are they afraid the hot clothes will burn you or something?) After an hour in the dryer the clothes were still damp, but I didn’t care anymore. I was not fighting with this machine any longer.

I really hope our flat’s combo unit is not as bad as this one. If it is, we may be air drying our clothes for the sake of time and the electric bill.

Deep Thought

15 Oct

I interrupt my usual London posts to write about a recent matter of concern… toilet paper.

I’m currently staying at a “serviced apartment”–halfway between a hotel and a flat. The room is serviced once a week. I learned the hard way when I first arrived that once the two rolls of toilet paper they gave me ran out, I’d have to buy my own. So I made my way down to Tesco and bought some genuine British TP (side note: Do the British call it toilet paper?). I had about half a roll left when they came to “service” the room the next week. When I returned to the apartment I noticed my half roll was replaced with a new roll. Which leads me to the pressing question: what do hotels (or serviced apartments) do with all the half-empty rolls?

Surely they don’t throw them out, right? This roll had at least another day or two in it. Do they use the rolls to stock the employee bathrooms? Is the housekeeping staff allowed to take them home as a perk of the job? Do they have a guy whose job is to perfectly combine two half-used rolls into a new one? If they are throwing them out — heaven forbid — someone should collect all the rolls and donate them to a worthy cause.

Yes, I just thought of a toilet paper charity.

Sometimes my “deep thoughts” concern me.

The Worst Microwave in the World

13 Oct

I had some delicious mushroom soup for lunch today, but I almost burned down the building trying to heat it up. That is because this apartment has the worst microwave in the world.

It is a combination microwave and oven. I didn’t know such a thing existed. Then again, before I moved here I had never seen a combination washer/dryer. They seem to be all about the combination appliances over here. I guess you have to when your living spaces are so small.

Anyway, I poured the soup in a bowl and put it in the microwave for three minutes. About halfway through I started hearing weird noises. I lifted up the towels hanging in front of the window to see sparks inside! Since it’s also an oven, there is a baking tray and wire rack inside. It appears you cannot microwave with the wire rack in there or bad things could happen.

But that’s not entirely why it’s the worst microwave in the world. This is:

Tell me, just by looking at these buttons, how you would microwave something for three minutes. That row of buttons is the sole control panel on the appliance. Using just those buttons you can microwave, broil (which they call “grill”), microwave and broil at the same time, bake and fry, as well as change the temperature and amount of cooking time. I laughed at the manual the apartment gave us, but now I rely on it heavily. I finally used the oven the other day, after reading through the instructions three times. Trying to cook something without the instructions is like trying to put together something from IKEA without the instructions, except instead of getting a wobbly table when you mess up, something gets blow up. I can’t figure out why they decided to do away with language on the control panel, perhaps in an effort to make it more international (like IKEA’s pictorial instructions)?

I really hope the microwave at our real apartment isn’t anything like this one.

PS–Why does Europe use military time (or whatever it’s officially called)? No one actually say’s “It’s 14 o’clock.” Maybe someday I will just know that 14:00 is 2 p.m. and 21:00 is 9 p.m., but until then I’ll be frustratingly subtracting 12.

Ketchup, Catalogs and Birds

8 Oct

Alternative title: Things I’ve been meaning to blog about.

As predicted, I’m starting to grow tired of the glorious £2 Tesco sandwich deal. So instead of risking a food aversion, I tried something different the other day. I went to McDonald’s.

It’s definitely not as cheap here. I got the chicken McNuggets value meal (which, note, comes with six nuggets here, and 10 in the US) and it cost me £3.99 (over $6). My drink was a tiny bottle of orange juice. The best part was the ketchup packets:

Much easier for dipping.

It tasted like McDonald’s and gave me that same “Dear god, why do I eat this stuff?” upset stomach feeling afterward. The £2 sandwich deal is looking better.

I finally made it to Argos the other day. The only way to describe Argos is a store that sells EVERYTHING. It’s like IKEA and Wal-Mart combined with the workings of Service Merchandise. The store itself is probably around 800 square feet (there’s a sign that I’ve been looking at too many flats, I’m thinking in square footage.) You pick what you want from a massive catalog, write down the number, and bring the number to the cashier. Your item then arrives on a conveyor belt in the back. The only downside is you can’t see anything before you buy it, but you can return things. I bought towels because the place we’re staying charges if we want our towels changed more than once a week. I accidentally dropped my towel on the wet floor and it started smelling rank.

That's nearly 2,000 pages of crap you can buy! It was a pain in the butt to carry home.

I went back to Kensington Gardens today for a nice walk by Round Pond since it was another rare nice day. The people, dogs and birds were out in full force–emphasis on the birds. I started feeling like I was in “The Birds” as I approached the pond–pigeons, crows, geese, ducks and swans were everywhere.

That kid better watch his banana!

The birds were definitely not people-shy!

It was quite the sight.

I’ll leave you with proof that the sky is occasionally blue in London: