Happy Thanksgiving. (Thank you.)

Last year, Thanksgiving was easy. My friend A & his wife R had an impromptu Thanksgiving dinner at their house.

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(My apologies for falling off with posting. Things have been really busy at work this month and likely won’t slow down unless/until I go home for Xmas.)

Last year, Thanksgiving was easy. My friend A & his wife R had an impromptu Thanksgiving dinner at their house. R cooks so damn good that I took pictures of her food & e-mailed them home, and a few people back home were jealous! 🙂 It was nice to be around expatriates who understood how important it is to keep a few American traditions. Unfortunately for me, A & R moved back to the States earlier this year, so I’m missing R’s delicious cooking and – of course – A & R’s warm & genuine presence.

In spite of wishing that I was home for it today (if possible, I may go home for Thanksgiving next year just to have R’s food), I’m thankful for 1 thing in particular. It’s something that I’ve meant to write about since the beginning of the month, but I didn’t have time until now (for just a few minutes). I’m thankful for you. Yes, you.

When I began this blog 13 months ago, I began it to document my experiences – the good, the bad & the ugly – of living in another country, mostly for my nephews’ (and my 2 godsons) benefits. I want them to read this one day and see that just like their aunt (and godmother), they can see different parts of the world without anyone or anything holding them back. I want them to branch outside of their neighborhoods, states & countries to discover a world outside of themselves. In small part, I also started this blog because a few of my Twitter followers – those few whom I know in real life – expressed interest in reading about my experiences here. But I never thought that anyone else would read this blog. That’s a bit of my own issues speaking, but it’s true – I thought to myself, “No one is gonna read this shit. My life is not that exciting.”

But you’ve proven me wrong. As of today, I have over 20 followers who receive my updates in some form or another. I know that more popular travel and/or expatriate bloggers (hell, bloggers in general) have way more followers than that, but for someone who wasn’t expecting anyone (other than those whom I mentioned) to pay any attention to my ramblings & musings, this means a lot to me. So this post is well overdue:

On this Thanksgiving Day 2011, I’m thankful for you. I thank you for reading me, even if it’s every once in a while. I hope that I bring something to your days when you read this, whether it’s a laugh, a sigh, food for thought or inspiration to see the world. I’m honored to have you as my reader, and I hope that you stick around.

Enjoy today, and please gorge yourselves for me. Bless.

Happy Thanksgiving. (Thank you.)

10 Things I Like About You.

Since I shared my hate list (which is by no means finished), next up is my list of 10 things that I like about this country.

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If you check(ed) out my last 2 posts (here & here), you’ll see that I reached 1 year since my move here. Looking back at the past year is amazing because it went by so fast. I’m taking a little time to think about my overall experience here, then put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). Please bear with me, as it may take at least 2 posts for me to get through this. Since I shared my hate list (by no means exhaustive), next up is my list of 10 things that I like about this country.

Taxes
In my “10 Things I Hate About You” post, I complained about the heavy taxation imposed on everyone, including myself as a foreign citizen legally working here. It annoys the hell out of me for a few reasons, but like many things in life, it’s a double-edged sword. With heavy taxes come universal health care, extremely low prescription medication costs, and things as miniscule as almost commercial-free TV programming. Speaking of which…..

Television

I don’t watch much television but when I do, I appreciate the fact that there are very few commercials (if any) during TV programs. See, since people here have to pay for a television license once per year (TV licenses in the United Kingdom), the funds from the licenses go towards TV programming. Therefore, we don’t have to sit through tons of commercials because of corporate sponsorship like back home. As a matter-of-fact, the only shows here on which I’ve seen heavy commercial presence are on American shows. Any other shows – very few commercials, if any at all. It’s nice to watch a TV show straight through to the end, all because we the people fund it and, therefore, don’t have much need for corporate sponsorship (which can control what people see on television, instead of people controlling what’s on television).

Universal health care

What more is there to explain? Universal health care over here in the United Kingdom is alright by me. So far, I’ve not had to pay for anything except prescriptions, and all prescriptions come with one flat (and cheap) fee. My colleague’s husband had surgery and didn’t have to pay a dime. The NHS is far from perfect (the same goes for universal health care in general), but I think that the positives outweigh the negatives.

Diversity

Living here reminds me of home in terms of cultural diversity. My downstairs neighbors are Scottish; my acquaintance/friend J (featured in this link & that link) has Indian roots but was born/raised in Mauritius as a Muslim (and still practices Islam); there are Indian & Nepalese & Nigerian & Italian & French (and other) restaurants within a 5-mile radius; there’s a Islamic center across the street from a Seventh-day Adventist church; and the list goes on & on. I always appreciated the diversity back home & appreciate it here also.

Class (ism)

This looks strange but hear me out.

Coming from one of the most racist/race-conscious countries in the world, it was nice to get here & meet people who don’t care what a person is in terms of race/ethnicity/skin color. That does not mean that racism doesn’t exist here, nor does it mean that I’m naive about it. (My parents, especially my father, made sure that I learned this early on.) But to make acquaintances with people no matter their race/ethnicity/skin color was like an extra burden lifted from me. I’ve not had to worry much about ulterior motives with people who I’ve dealt with so far….. well, with the non-Americans. The Americans (save for a very small handful) are a different story but I digress.

Anyway, it’s been nice to be free from some of that. But another issue comes into effect here: class(ism). Anywhere one goes in the United Kingdom, it’s a matter of haves vs. have-nots. Does it lessen the possible effects of race/ethnicity/skin color? Probably not. Does it bring different people together to fight against the many austerity measures coming down on us? Probably. And while all or most isms are negative, I prefer this particular ism over racism/prejudice. That’s very sad yet true (for me).

Proximity

The United Kingdom is just a quick plane/car/train ride away – hop skip jump – from the mainland. As an example, I got to Italy in about 2 hours via plane. Belgium & France are 2-5 hours away via train (depending on where one goes within those countries), probably shorter by plane. There are also ferries that go to a few nearby countries. The Isle of Wight, Isle of Man, Channel Islands, and the English Riviera are just a hop, skip & jump away. It’s also a decent distance away from a few African countries, the Middle East, etc. While I can’t afford to travel as much as I’d like, at least the options are there….. and many of them are pretty damn cheap. I hope to take advantage of at least 1 more before 2011 is over.

Fresh food

No longer do I have to worry about turning into a mutant radioactive half-woman half-dugong….. well, not as much as I used to since I grew up in the States with its chemical & preservative-filled foods. Genetically modified (GM) foods, 22 pesticides, bovine growth hormone (rBGH), chlorinated chicken(s), Stevia natural sweetener, and synthetic food colors are banned in the European Union (EU) (see this link). Food contact chemicals, such as phthalates & bisphenols (chemistry & definition[s]), are under stringent regulations in the EU, and any chemical suppliers must prove their additives safe or they’re banned. (Source: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/04/7-foods-banned-europe-available-us.php#ch05) Much, if not all, of the reason this happened in the United Kingdom (and the rest of the EU) is because people protested like hell about these things. And speaking of which…..

Fighting spirit

Since moving here, I appreciate the protests & riots that happen. Folks will mobilize for all kinds of things. A recent example is the march against public service cuts, where about 500,000 people marched in central London (pictures). That night, some troublemakers (probably anarchists) rioted, causing damage to some businesses (and to a small extent, ruining what was a peaceful protest). Luckily, 98% of the day was peaceful & successful, with no incidents aside from what happened later that night.

I wish that my fellow countrymen (and countrywomen) had the fighting spirit that the citizens of the United Kingdom have. With so many inexcusable things happening back home, including the impending budget default, I’d love to see the country stand up for what they believe in like the state of Wisconsin (and New York to a smaller extent).

Religious tolerance

It’s great living somewhere that doesn’t insist on people being part of a religion (especially in my “community”).  While England is a Christian nation via its constitution, most people practice whatever (if any) religion with no communal or societal pressure.  While I’m not atheist, this link from the Friendly Atheist is pretty spot on about religion (or lack thereof) in the United Kingdom.  Having been here for over a year now, I can confirm that the person who wrote the Friendly Atheist post is spot on.

Things to do

The list of things to do here seems endless.  Pubs, movies, restaurants, clubs, lounges, architecture, museums, travel within & outside of the country, country dwelling, city hopping, theatre, arts, concerts, nature preserves, civic action, volunteering, shopping, history… Too much to list here.  I hope to see all or most of it in my lifetime.

Bonus like: vacation time (known as annual leave in the United Kingdom).  Europeans take their vacation time very seriously.  France has the highest amount of vacation time with an average of 35 days per year.  The average minimum in the United Kingdom is 20 days, including part-time workers.  The 20 days don’t include the average 8-9 bank holidays per year.  Believe it or not (viewing this with an American lens), the United Kingdom’s allotment is (considered) the worst in the European Union!  Oh dear adopted country of mine, if only you knew how bad it is back home.  Depending on a few factors, the most in the United Kingdom can go as high as France’s average.  Here’s a BBC account from an American expatriate living in the United Kingdom, and here’s a 2007 link for EU countries that’s still pretty accurate.

This list isn’t by any means exhaustive.  Are there any expatriates that can relate & have a top 10 likes for your current location?