Saturday, October 18, 2008

Two Months

Today marks an official two months since we arrived to live in the UK. Today we also took our second trip to Costco and it seemed to go much smoother than our first visit there, about 1 1/2 months ago. I reflected on the happening and it is pretty well on par with how things are going after two months here. We are adjusting. Scott, of course, was able to jump right into work and hit the ground running while I have been more focused on all of the little things that help make living someplace easier and actually feasible. 

On our first trip to Costco, we were just excited to see a big store. Everything here in England is smaller. The houses, the appliances, the cars, the grocery stores, and more importantly the size of the products sold in the grocery (again, note the size of our fridge). It makes sense that everything is made to scale, since houses are smaller, space is at a premium, etc. However, in a household of just two people, I am at the grocery store every or every other day just to replenish the basics - milk, orange juice, and other such staples. I cannot imagine what other households with large families must do.  So when we walked into Costco on our first trip there, it felt like America. Although most products were UK based goods, in larger quantities, we did encounter a few American products and we felt like we could have been just roaming through the Lincoln Park Coscto in Chicago. Even though we did not buy many items in bulk that day (again due to space constraints), it did feel "normal" to us to be in such an environment, even for just a short while. 

Unfortunately, our first UK trip to Costco was not all smooth sailing. We were quickly reminded at the checkout station that we did not quite belong here yet. Another former expat (back living in Chicago now) told me before we arrived, that I may feel a bit like a polish immigrant upon arrival in the UK. I listened to her comment, but figured we had Scott's company behind us, good heads on our shoulders, and people actually spoke (a form of) English in the UK, so I wasn't quite sure we would encounter such situations. After this incident, I understood what she meant. 

At the checkout counter, I presented my Costco membership card and the cashier took it and then began scanning our items. After scanning our items, Scott went to pay for our goods with his American Express card (one of the few forms of payment Costco in the US accepts). In slightly difficult-to-understand English accent, the cashier said we could not use our AMEX as Costco did not accept any credit cards. He said we could use a debit mastercard or cash. Ok, so we decided to pay with our US based debit card. As we were waiting for the cash register to process the card, a supervisor was called over to our till, and then ultimately also a manager of the store. We were then told, no, sorry, the US debit card will not work because there was no chip in the card. We could only pay with a UK mastercard debit card (which has this "chip" in it) or cash. We tried to explain we also had a debit mastercard, but the store would not allow it. Of course during this drawn out meeting of the managers and our cashier, a long line had formed behind our till and we had annoyed customers wishing they had chosen another line. 

As someone who takes great pride in maintaining fiscal responsibility and good credit, I was now embarrassed and I am sure the people in line behind us were thinking to themselves "These stupid Americans." How were we going to pay for our items after we had called a forum over to this specific till? We only had 25 pounds in cash, and our total due was nearly double that amount. Luckily, the manager directed Scott to an ATM outside of the area and allowed him to leave the line in order to take pounds out of our US account so we could ultimately pay cash for the items. We ended up leaving Costco with our goods after the long debacle but clearly felt like outsiders who did not know the rules of how things work here. 

Now, two months later, we do have a UK bank account and so we were armed with our UK debit mastercard for this visit to Costco. Our visit was much smoother this time around and we purchased our goods with no issues or managers called to our attention. Other things are starting settle as well. We are (slowly) learning the local lingo and are learning how to respond to greetings such as "You'r all right?" (translation in American English: "HI, How are you?") and today, took a big step in committing to our new life here by joining a golf and health club. Other things, such as my constant apprehension of being a front seat passenger in the car while Scott drives around the narrow, winding country roads near by, will probably take a few more months to still adjust.....

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