Hopefully, this reads nothing like those awful clip-show highlight episodes which lost all value once you could buy box sets, but my family’s adventure on a portion of the world’s twentieth largest island has ended. I will try not to rehash the many learnings I’ve shared in my previous blogs [which started almost exactly 20 months ago], but rather my many failings and a few final experiences I’ll probably forget if I don’t put them out on the Internet to be thrown back in my face for eternity.
A man and his [many] failings
Throughout the wandering rants of this blog, some of you may have noticed I was mostly discussing things I learned and exposing annoyingly inefficient processes from filing for a UK visa to topping up my gas to almost anything in global airports. Well, now that the secondment is over, I want to go through the many objects and behaviours I never managed to understand. I must be too brainwashed by my American youth.
- It likely seems silly to care so damn much, but everywhere you go on the island, there are sinks with separate taps for hot and cold water. I understand this might have been a limitation of plumbing a hundred years ago, but my gym was built in 2014 and I cannot think of a single time, ever, that I have wanted to burn my left hand as I chill my right. Ever.
- I have ridden the pink bus in Belfast to and from work for eighteen months and every single time, I hear a large majority of passengers thank the bus driver while departing. I understand politeness, but this is a country where you only tip a waiter at lunch for doing an exceptional job, so why thank the seemingly psychotic driver who treats the accelerator and brake pedals like they have binary settings of ‘fully depressed’ and ‘untouched’ while people are still walking to their seats? Is it just an appreciation for removing your appetite?
- Regarding that tip, I failed to ever convince my wife it was appropriate not to tip a server who had been both rude and mostly unavailable. In nineteen months.
- In every UK building I’ve entered, all inside doors are fire doors which snap shut behind you. In offices, this leads to a great deal of slamming doors or fire door violations when doorstops are planted. At home, this leads to fathers taking toddlers to the A&E on a Sunday night because automatically closing doors are insane in a house with children. Can we have a US-UK debate over fire codes? Is slamming doors more important than emergency exit doors opening outward without a panic bar?
- In the US, beer is the highest point in the taxonomy, with ales and lagers being the two classes separated by the type of yeast and its top vs. bottom location of preference for the fermentation process. In the UK, I failed to learn which because it baffles me, but either ‘lager’ or ‘ale’ is a synonym of ‘beer’. I think ale is not beer, but I have no idea why.
- Dual carriageways very closely resemble Dwight D. Eisenhower Interstate Highways in the US, but there is absolutely no rule preventing pedestrians from walking twenty miles along the dual carriageway as large, metal objects pass at 75 miles per hour.
- Why are the zippers on the opposite side of the jacket in the UK from the US? Is this a knight and squire scenario like the right-handed knights causing cars to drive on the left?
- While at the Oddyssey cinema for an absurdly affordable matinee (£1.50 per seat), it took at least twenty minutes to get tickets because they were sold at the concession stand and nowhere else. Why does this make any sense?
- I never learned the Northern Ireland MOT rules, but I don’t think anyone actually has. It’s the only region of the UK in which these tests need to be at a dedicated centre, but you can pay for an “MOT prep” visit to a garage. When we failed ours and brought the car to get the two items fixed, the rear brake light in the window was not even mandatory, so we never fixed it yet passed the second time. Right?
- I never learned the Sunday parking rules. Whenever you drive around Belfast on a Sunday, you witness cars parked on sidewalks, corners, major roads, and basically anywhere, but did I still manage to get two parking tickets on Sundays? Of course I did.
- I am proud to say I never hit anything in a Northern Ireland car park [an Irish stone wall, though…], but I cannot understand why they are all tight enough that the concrete walls are decorated with black smears from hundreds of car bumpers.
- I never learned how an American could actually get a UK driving licence. I am certain it has been done at some point in history, but I cannot imagine trusting my passport through the post for over a month just to validate its authenticity.
- And a non-UK failing: I never did figure out how Newark Liberty airport employees can possibly answer the same questions about where to go thousands of times and still think we are all the stupid ones. Signs and airport layout are important. Come on.
Nineteen canine months in a new country
I haven’t really mentioned my dog here since she had a stress-induced sickness just after we arrived. Well, here’s what she learned on the adventure:
- Scottish terriers represent everything evil and wrong in the world so it is appropriate to point them out to all via loud screeches and growls.
- It rains.
- Carpets are better than hardwood for demonstrating anxiety.
- The more natural play doh in the UK is delicious.
She’s very insightful.
Toddlers and a distorted reality
Having moved to Belfast when our daughters were not yet two and half years old, there has been a dramatic change in them and it’s strange to think they will likely never remember learning to talk while residing in another country. And do they ever talk. But it will only get more confusing for them when we return. No longer will they know when to say “pants” instead of “trousers”. I’m certain they’ll say “hiya” to strangers and ask a few people if they’re “cross”. They’ll probably expect a nativity play next year. Many people may think they’re misspeaking when they call a wet surface “slippy”. I’m sure they’ll remember nothing of this adventure, but at least we have an obscene amount of pictures as evidence it happened. Maybe they’ll stop making us sound wealthy to strangers, as well, once they realise we no longer have “another house in America”.
Rewiring my brain to the new/old “normal”
Having only lived in one tiny region of the world before, it is going to be very strange to regularly come back to The Big Smoke [just learned this nickname] as a visitor, but I probably learned more in these two years than in the previous ten, so at least the close ties and familiarity will make it permanently comforting. Regarding the Rapid7 Belfast office, I don’t anticipate ever working in another that feels so familial. There are a couple of guys in the office who turn into walking advent calendars in December with a different Christmas jumper every day, including one with a light up fireplace and the most popular in Belfast this year: Rudolph with a red-nose pom-pom. We set the standard for future Christmas parties with a private Star Wars: The Force Awakens screening at noon, Swapping Santa with an array of shenanigans and two gifted bottles of Buckfast, then a “casino night” in the office, followed by a three-course Christmas meal at the Ivory. To truly make it my best ever last day in an office, I finally tasted Buckfast [and was both impressed and depressed when it tasted like Coca-Cola and cheap wine], lost my voice from having done the Dublin office party the night before, and received dozens of hugs on a night typically known for coworkers punching each other.
But it was a good time. An Eddie Rockets just opened on Lisburn Road as that entire street has been filled with thriving, new businesses since our arrival, so obviously it needed an American-style fast food joint. So it is time to move away from Una [our original aide in learning the city], Oonagh [my bus stop friend from County Donegal], and Oonagh [my wife’s very close Northern Irish friend] to a place where I know absolutely no one by that name. But just don’t ever ask us if we felt safe while living in Belfast. The forty years of “The Troubles” which are so often seen as a dark and dangerous time in Northern Ireland are in the past and never as frequently involved innocent victims as what I've seen in the reports from The States today. The riots which take place annually are not remotely as damaging as the results of most “celebration” riots when a US city’s professional sports team wins a championship. The rest of the world knows Belfast is much safer than most every US city.
The actual journey home was incredibly less painful than the original trip overseas, thanks mostly to a perfect string of helpful members of the service industry. Our dog travelled with us down to Dublin in Daniel’s full-sized van as the girls left Northern Ireland on a gorgeous, sunny last day of Autumn exactly as they first entered it: sleeping soundly. Niamh [pronounced “Neeve”] from Aer Lingus escorted us from the check-in counter to the oversize baggage weighing counter to the one oversize counter which takes pets to the cargo area to a final ticket desk where one pays one tenth of the fee for bringing the same dog to the rabies-free island. The [happily] uneventful flight arrived early, leading to the anxious thought of the dog underneath us completely unaware of why we were sitting completely still on the runway because air traffic control has still not solved the fragility of its gate-scheduling process. The final taxi van driver dropped us at home and kindly carried our bags onto the porch as we were placing sleeping toddlers on random couches.
Less than an hour later, I was nearly broadsided as I jaywalked while looking the wrong direction.