This shouldn't have surprised me as it's actually fairly common in Europe, but it's frustrating nonetheless. There are, as I understand it, historical reasons for this, but those reasons are gradually fading away. First, I'm told that it used to be rather uncommon for people to live in the city center, so there wasn't as much call for shops to be here. Second, the male traditionally worked while the female did the housework. Thus, she had plenty of time (ha!) to go out and shop during the day. The shopkeepers, too, wanted to go home in the evening and this arrangement worked out well for all concerned. (Please chime in if you have a better knowledge of the background here.)
Since shops on the periphery of Nottingham are often open later, I'm in the awkward situation of busing out to them, shopping, and busing back home. That is why I say "Thank God For Tesco!" Tesco, for you American folks, is a large supermarket chain over here. There's one a few minutes away in the Victoria Centre and it stays open until 8:00 PM. This makes me squeal with glee but then I look around quickly to make sure no one saw me.
Were it not for Tesco, I imagine that I'd be eating at restaurants every night and frankly, I'm down to my last £200 in cash. Next I'll have to start drawing on my US bank account and the exchange rate is killing me.
Speaking of money, I've pretty much stopped converting pounds to dollars. The exchange rate is too depressing. If I think in terms of dollars, everything is hideously expensive. If I think in terms of pounds, prices are quite reasonable here. Since I'll be paid in pounds, not dollars, this is a very important switch for me to make. The taxes turn out to not be as bad as one would think (more on that in a later post when I have a better grasp of it) and I think I'll be doing nicely here. Of course, "doing nicely" means that another mental shift must happen: this is not an adventure.
That's something that tripped me up when I moved to Amsterdam. It's not some wildly cool adventure with exotic women, rugged men, charming accents and theme music in the background. Though I suspect that everyone would deny having such thoughts about an international move, I also suspect that everyone secretly harbors them. In reality, it's just like any other move to a new city except that you can't figure out how to use the phone and the shopkeepers pretend to be patient while you struggle with the weird-looking coins in the palm of your hand.
Thus, instead of thinking of this as an adventure, I knew that this would be just another move and this time, I'd have to focus on building up a social circle and getting integrated into daily life. In this case, daily life for me means trips to Victoria Centre to worship at Tesco.
The Victoria Centre, in case you're wondering, is a shopping mall. Nothing more; nothing less. A couple of months ago I was walking through a US mall with a friend and she commented how much she hated malls. Jokingly, I replied, "yeah, but would you think it's cool if they all had British accents?" She smiled and said "yes".
No, it's not cool if they have British accents. When I landed in Dublin, the first thing that I noticed was that Irish people actually look human. In fact, up until they open their mouths to say something, you wouldn't know the difference. Not so at the Vicoria Centre. Don't get me wrong, you have your fair share of exotic women and rugged men, but you also have chavs. The name's different, but I'm sure you recognize the type. Baseball cap on backwards, gold chains, tracksuits, and -- if he owns a car -- a stereo cranked up loudly. He probably works as a fry-cook, if he works.
Now I realize that even though much of the aforementioned is intended to be tongue-in-cheek, it also sounds a bit classist. Well, to be frank, while I realize this is a different country and I could easily be reading cultural cues wrong, I don't think I'm too far off. Back in the states, I hear people in clubs -- sometimes friends of mine -- talking about getting into fights or just "talking macho" and it saddens me. People usually choose to be in situations where things like that can happen. Hang out with shady people and shady things happen. It's not rocket science. Nottingham has a lot of crime and if I want to skip that part of the culture, not walking up to the chav's and saying "whassup, homey?" is probably a good start.
Regarding the chavs (is this term considered derogatory? I suspect so but I don't know of a nicer one), everything I've read about them tends to reinforce my suspicions. They tend to have lower education levels are high unemployment and this, not surprisingly, is correlated with higher crime rates. Place a few of them in any "nice" area in the US and folks will be wary, so it's not unlike home. So I guess the age-old question fits here: has society let them down or have they let society down. The answer, I suspect, is a bit of both.
In other news, today I will be meeting Greg and Lynne, a brother and sister who life in Staffordshire, about an hour away from here. I've never met them before, so this should be interesting. Lynne, as I may have mentioned before, is about three weeks younger than I am. I'm sure my father might be a bit embarrassed by that, but Lynne and I actually find it quite amusing.
And speaking of my father: I won't be visiting him soon. Seems he's in Dubai for a few weeks and then, if I recall correctly, heading off to Turkey. Busy man.