I know there are people who go to other countries and complain about everything they find there.  And I know people who go to other countries and complain about everything they left behind.  I don’t belong to either camp but I have a little of both.  I think it’s good to have both perspectives.

I can’t really compare the UK and US in terms of good and bad, but rather more like they are different.  A couple of recent comments from colleagues have made me aware of these differences.  The first comment was: “I would never live in America.  I could never live in a country where people won’t walk or cycle to work.”  The second was: “I couldn’t live in Canada.  It’s too backwards.”  Canada is not the US, but in terms of “backwardness”, I don’t think Europeans discriminate between the two.

There’s a misconception amongst my English colleagues that there are no sidewalks in America.  That’s why it discourages people from walking.  I’d like to point out that there were plenty of sidewalks in various places I lived.  I will say that “in the sticks”, you might not find them easily, but the same can be said in the UK.

I agree most people don’t walk or cycle to work in the US, because most of us don’t or can’t live near work.  However, road access is much easier, so you can afford to live further out and still get to work.  In bigger cities, such as NYC, you see crowds walking to work or taking public transport.  I won’t deny some drive, but they would be insane to do so in such places unless they have to.

The comments certainly point to differences in one’s priorities.

I didn’t mind driving to work if I could live in a nice, quiet neighbourhood where I didn’t need to worry as much about my kid’s health and safety.  Of course, my colleague is more concerned about the environment.  I must say that people in the UK and Europe are much more aware, or much more concerned, about environmental issues that the US.  I’ve known tree-huggers in the States, but the proportion of tree-huggers to gas-guzzler owners is quite minuscule.

As for backwardness, I don’t know what to say.  My husband did point out there are certain things that the British would consider backwards in the States.  First of all, wireless.  Practically all of the UK is wired for mobile phone and internet access.  That being said, not all of the UK has high-speed access, yet.  Of course, the US is huge compared to the UK, so there’s a lot more work that needs to be done in order to reach the same level of access.  There are areas of the US that are quite remote and isolated, in terms of community and technology, and it’s questionable whether they will ever be taken forward.  But, then again, if you were to move to another country, would you choose to move into the back woods?  Probably not, since there wouldn’t be anything there in terms of work or play.

We use the internet a lot and some areas of the States were difficult with high-speed access, but we got by.  We didn’t care too much about cell phones and if we had a dropped line, we lived with it.  Most cell phone use was not emergency and I find that people tend to use it so indiscriminately, it becomes annoying.  We thought it was silly that everyone had a cell phone in the US, but it’s even worse in the UK.  I suppose it’s backwards of me to think that we can live without a mobile, especially in an age where public phone access is being phased out.

Speaking of phones, I find that many businesses in the UK don’t even have 0800 numbers.  They usually have 0845 or 0844 numbers, which is cheaper, but not free.  Most businesses in the States have toll-free 800 numbers to call when you have a question.  It really discourages people to call if they have to pay for it.  You are not allowed to use the work phone to make calls for anything outside of work.  It is fraudulent, because local calls are not free.  (That’s why everyone has a mobile.)  Recently, we had to call an airline in an urgent matter at work, and the only number, which we received through the airport, was a premium number, charged at 65p per minute.  That is the height of ridiculousness.

The person making the comment about backwardness also mentioned New Zealand as being backwards, living in the 50s, with small shops, etc.  I find it very funny, then, to hear that Canada was just as backwards.  Canada, being very similar to the US, does not conjure up images of small shops for me.  England was supposedly the nation of shop-keepers.  Though it no longer is a nation of shopkeepers, it was the quaintness of small shops in England that I found charming.  It’s perhaps not the most convenient way to shop, but to me, representative of a bygone era.

I found the US to be much more convenient than the UK in terms of living.  Towns were bigger.  You could usually live, work and play in the same town (I say “usually” because it depends where you live in the States).  Here, we live in one town, the kids go to school in another, extracurricular activities in a third, and I work in a fourth.  It’s not London, but we’re not exactly in the villages either. 

It was easier to get around by car in the US; though I don’t mind the public transport in the UK.  The only problem with public transport is relying on their schedule, which is affected by adverse weather.  I have not been too inconvenienced by it, but to hear the natives complain…well, there’s still work to be done in that department.

As I said, you can’t really say one is better than the other.  The US and the UK are different.  We’ve discussed staying vs. going back and can’t decide because it’s not about one being better.  It’s about priorities and mentality.

I never intended for this blog to be a rant.  But, sometimes, circumstances beyond my control have me going out of my mind, and if I can’t vent it, I take out the stress on my family.  And right now, I’m in panic mode.

I have two weeks until I start work.  I have not actually received the contract to sign (may be a result of the postal strikes), but the verbal agreement is still binding.  (Just received it by post after I wrote this.)

We have not yet moved to a new house.  Our lease expires the first week of October.  I told the agent that it was highly unlikely that we would be renewing.  At the time, I had just received my registration and started applying for jobs.  Of course, that was in an email.  No response.  This was at a time when the agent was trying to renegotiate the terms of the lease to decrease the amount we were paying for electricity.  We had complained that our electric bill was too high.  In all that mess, we finally got the landlord to admit that the meter at his house measured not only our house, but several other buildings.  And it was that meter that was read by the electric company.  We have not paid our last bill because there is a dispute about how much we are responsible.  Obviously, he owes us some money and the electric company is siding with us on this.  Given his record on promises, we are not about to turn over money, waiting forever to be reimbursed.  Besides this, the house is in disrepair and he has done nothing.  I thought, they really believed we would renew?  The agent said they would discuss issues with the landlord and come up with some solution.  After not hearing from them for a month, I emailed them to find out what was going on, only to be told that the agent we have been dealing with was leaving (fired? quit? who knows.).  She forwarded everything to two colleagues.

Next thing we hear is that we have to give 30-days written notice.  So, I responded with the above.  Seeing that my language might not have been strong enough, I said we were not renewing (not “highly unlikely”, but “no, we are not renewing”).  I asked if they wanted an actual written letter rather than an email.  Still no response.  Emailed again yesterday.  Still no response.  Are they dragging it out to force us to stay an extra month?

In the meantime, we do have to move.  Not just because the house is falling apart around us, but because I need to be closer to work.  We have been duped into paying out more than we needed to in this past year, so we have run down our savings to almost nothing.  We have not resorted to government benefits.  Yet because we have not worked in the past 6 months, some of these letting agents refused to rent to us unless we put up 6-months rent as a deposit.  What?!!  If someone was coming off unemployment and they didn’t have that amount saved up, how can they ever get a leg up?  Luckily, not all agents are like that, but you do have to be very careful.  One agent actually took the deposit off someone, ran a check, then declined them because they didn’t make enough money.  They use some formula, like you have to make three times the rent to qualify.  Why weren’t they upfront with the person to begin with?  And, of course, there is no appeal with these guys, and the money is nonrefundable.

My situation is that I can’t sign any leases until I get my contract all sorted out.  Also, I do not want to be paying rent on two properties at the same time.  Lastly, we will need to transfer money from our US account into our UK account in order to make all this happen.  Our US bank said we could initiate the transfer from this end, but the banks on this end said that was impossible.  It seems like we keep hitting one brick wall after another.  I will be so relieved when all this is settled, if ever.

Sunday on the farm was sheep-shearing day.  It was rather comical.  Forget what you might have seen at agricultural shows and demonstrations.  This was the actual daily grind sheep-shearing.

Not all the sheep were shorn that day, but those destined for a haircut were rounded up into a pen.  The farmer drags one by the chest, protesting with a “Baa!” while her colleagues return in kind, front legs up in the air, hind legs dragging on the ground (kind of reminds me of me pulling the older kid when she refuses to be moved).  The razors go on – ziiiiiiiiiip! ziiiiiiiiiiiiiip! ziiiiiiiiiiiip!  All done in a few seconds, before she can let out another “Baa!”.  The farmer’s son balls up the wool and throws it into the pile with the rest.  From far away, I initially thought he had lifted up the shorn sheep and tossed it over the fence (an amazing feat for such a small one) until I later saw him handle a ball of wool.

Without their wool, these ewes look like little goats.  They also appear somewhat scrawny, but maybe that’s because I’m seeing lines where the razors had left some wool behind and it looks like ribs sticking out.

Moving to another country is always full of stress.  One of the biggest hassles is the actual transport of personal property.  It would be great if you could just pack your suitcases and go.  But, for most of us, we are moving our entire lives.  Finding the right moving company will determine whether the move is a “piece of cake” or a living nightmare.

Let me start by saying that ours was closer to the nightmare.  Because of that, we decided to cool off before we go into some nasty tirade against the movers.  After all, we want to sound objective.  That is why I’ve decided that now is the time to discuss international moving.  I may actually have several blogs to write about regarding this.

We’ve had no experience with international moves until now.  We did not do our research as we should have, because we were not aware of all the pitfalls.  We looked for international moving companies and only one was persistent enough to get our business.  But let me warn my colleagues out there that they should beware of IntlMove.  I don’t know how many of you have ever used them, but they definitely belong to the “rogue” category.

From what I can gather on the internet, IntlMove was doing very well until 2008.  If you look on their website and see all the testimonials, they were all dated from December 2007 and beyond.  If you want to find complaints, most occurred last year.  What went wrong?  I don’t know but I will share some of our experiences here and write some advice on subsequent blogs.

Another reason I would like to write about this now is because we might have to consider returning to the US.  If we do, we will not be using IntlMove.  I hope that some of my colleagues might be able to give me advice on companies they have used and trusted.

One of the most frustrating things about IntlMove is that there is no personal service.  Everything is done via email.  The representative does call you up, but once you’ve agreed to go with them, they will not discuss anything on the phone.  They claim that email provides a “paper trail” against “he said/she said” issues.  Fair enough, but that didn’t help us in the end.  They contract with other moving companies to pick up your goods and deliver them.  Once they have it in their hands, you are at their mercy.  They tried to hold our shipment hostage, demanding more money, claiming that we went over our weight limit and that the moving company had to do additional packaging.  I will admit that we went over the weight limit.  We know because we personally weighed everything and overestimated.  But we did not go over by the amount they claimed.  We, however, cannot prove our point on that score because they used their own scales.  But we had proof that there was no additional packaging, attested to by the moving company that delivered the goods.  But they ignored our complaints, denying that anyone had any knowledge of this.

We’ve already reported them to the BBB and the FMC.  We have still to contact the Bureau of Enforcement.  We’ve also reported them to MovingScams.com, a forum for people making moves.  Unfortunately, there are still people being scammed by IntlMove right now.

It’s all over the headlines.  You can’t turn around anywhere without hearing about the swine flu epidemic.  Will it turn pandemic, do you think?  The number of suspected as well as confirmed cases have risen.  How scared are you that it will become a serious crisis?

Some people were speculating that the swine flu is really just another “wag the dog” to get us off the topic of the economy and global recession.  However, the swine flu is worsening the recession by hurting the travel industry.

Maybe I’m a little complacent about this epidemic right now because of my location.  We live out in the villages, away from densely-populated city centers, so the risk is rather low.  No one around us has been on holiday in Mexico and if they had, we hardly come into contact with anyone except through school and the gym.  Am I reasonable or is this just a false sense of security?

I’d like to know how my colleagues out there feel about this epidemic.