Friday, April 22, 2011


I am not going to lie. Doing a PhD in a foreign country is stressful. Stressful enough that I didn't feel like I could even write about it until it was a little under control. Contrary to popular belief there are foreign customs and a different language here. I understand that maybe next to Canada, the U.K. is probably the most similar culturally wise but that is part of the problem. It's not so different that I can switch between worlds, so the false confidence that I know what to expect keeps getting derailed constantly and every time it does my stress level goes up.
Then there is the normal stress that I was expecting which is the uncertainty of a PhD. Of course long hours, daily commute, and no money are normal for a PhD so these are actually cause of the least stress.
The biggest cause of stress that caught me out of left field is being cut off from family and friends. I foresaw being lonely a problem so I made sure to build up a large group of people to hang out with here so that is a non-issue. It was that as soon as I was out of the picture in the U.S. some friends just cut me out completely like I no longer existed so dealing with that has added much non-needed stress.
I used to think that all I needed to do to keep my body healthy was to exercise regularly, take my vitamins, and eat right. Up until now that has worked great. Now I see if I don't monitor my stress level it will shut my system down just as fast as any sickness. Monitoring one more thing to keep it in check has, you guessed it, added to my stress level.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

American Grocery Store

I feel so dirty. I broke down and went to an American grocery store. I have been happy I have not had any cravings for food that I couldn't cook myself. At least until now that it has got warmer. Now we have had a few barbeques and fires in the fire pit of course the talk comes to roasting marshmallows, and for me, s'mores. The funny thing I didn't realize is that graham crackers are only an American thing, so by extension so are s'mores. Graham crackers are not something that I really wanted to try making either. I had looked up a few grocery stores that sold American food before I moved here, and looking up the list there was one only a block away from where I was. I guess there is a large number of Americans that live in the neighborhood so they stock some stuff. They had a small shelf hidden away in the back (like the adult section at the video store) with all the stuff that Americans can't get in London. It was rather embarrassing seeing all the "American" food because it was mostly junk food and candy. I talked with some British women in the store and she was overjoyed there was just somewhere in London that she could get Reese's peanut butter cups.
I got my graham crackers and introduced all my friends to s'mores. Apart from graham crackers being close to digestives (a wafer eaten with tea here) everyone enjoyed them hugely and we went through both bags of American marshmallows by the end of the night. (British marshmallows are smaller and come in pink and white for some reason. They also have something called mallows here that are the same size as American marshmallows but they are twisted rainbow colored things that have more sugar in them and I'm not sure how they would fair roasting over a fire.)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Stranger in a strange land

It is weird living in another country. There, I said it. There are so many things you take for granted just knowing the culture and such. The other day I saw some teenagers being questioned and searched by police and it made me realize I don't know the laws here. Do I have the right to remain silent or to an attorney (barrister)? Because I keep up on the field of computers I know that the law here is that if you have your computer searched and you refuse to give a password then you can be arrested but what about other stuff? This has created a strong desire to stay under the radar even when I'm innocent. Basically I can understand the extra stress that immigrants feel in the U.S. Whereas a citizen gets a fine would I be sent home, wasting all the money I've put into living here? I can see how easy this could be abused by people in power. Police could cross the line and I'd never know it so wouldn't report it.
The other thing I'm trying to get used to is the culture of interaction. One thing that British people hate about American culture is the fake politeness. Especially telling people to have "Have a good day" that you don't know, or sharing personal information to soon. Also, shaking hands at the end of a conversation and not the start. Frankly no one touches anyone here when talking to them. I think I've freaked a few people out just by touching them on the arm.
The one good thing is that I think that I finally understand British humor. There is still a lot more formal traits in the culture here, and the desire to keep them in the culture. So not knowing the proper thing to do leads to awkwardness. British humor is to introduce these situations and then revel in the awkwardness.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Trip to the Dentist

So as part of living here in the U.K. I need to do all the mundane things like going to the dentist. It had been six months since I had the root canal so it's not like it was something that I could put off either. Whether I liked it or not I would need another interaction with the U.K. medical system.
Making the appointment was easy. I had heard the stereotypical finding a dentist would be hard so I had asked the local dentist months ago, and they just looked at me weird. I only needed to request an appointment a few days in advance. From what I have talked to with my British friends the dental system has changed a lot in the last 10 years so all the stereotypes of British teeth being bad from not being able to find a dentist are no longer true. And, since everyone is covered there was no reams of insurance papers to fill out or make sure this dentist accepts my insurance.
The actual visit was different from what I am used to, but fine. Instead of the normal eight x-rays I only got four, but the dentist poked and prodded all my teeth, was happy with everything and seemed a little shocked that I said I flossed every day. (I have never had a checkup in the U.S. where the dentist didn't chastise me for not doing something better.) There was no polishing but I've never been sure if that was necessary or not. And the final thing was the request that I come back in 9 months instead of 6.
I felt like the dentist did their job but there were a lot of little things that were missing from the same exam from the U.S. Admittedly I don't know if it is because the national health care system does not cover as much or if the litigious U.S. society causes more checks then are really needed, or if dentists in the U.S. are doing everything they can charge the insurance for. Total cost for the x-rays and checkup: £17.00.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

British Isles: The safest place on earth

I was walking from the tube station with some friends and the conversation turned to if we were in Australia we would need vary our path from day to day so crocodiles wouldn't learn our habits. (My friend, from Australia, says this is true for some parts of the country.) So we each related what we were taught as kids. I learned it was fine to chase coyotes back up into the hills as long as you didn't corner them; and what the sound of a rattle snake meant. My Polish friend related how to avoid wolves then the three of us looked at the British guy who had a confused look on his face. There are no dangerous animals here. Anything big enough was hunted to death long ago. There are no poisonous snakes or spiders either.
So then I started talking about the other stuff I learned in school like earthquake and flood drills. The U.K. doesn't really flood, has never had an earthquake, hurricane, tornado, or anything else really. And that is when it hit me - The whole "pub culture" makes sense. It is totally fine to pass out on the way home because you wouldn't be carried away by a pack of wild dogs or washed away in a flood. In other places the culture would develop to look down on getting that drunk because there would be a chance that a snake would bite you while passed out in the field. I'm sure there are some other reasons in there too, but it made for a good laugh before we got to "uni".