Bom dia: Lisbon, Portugal – day 1.

This was the day. I’d been excited about it for a while. I don’t know about any of you, but when a trip is coming up, I don’t get excited about it until the last minute.

Rate this:

Advertisements

https://twitter.com/#!/spinstercompass/status/192316251643707392

04.06.2012

This was the day. I’d been excited about it for a while. I don’t know about any of you, but when a trip is coming up, I don’t get excited about it until the last minute. I might have fleeting moments of excitement in the days or weeks beforehand, but the excitement always grows at the last minute. It’s surreal – I know that I’m going somewhere but it doesn’t feel real until I land in my destination.

I made sure to get enough sleep to manage the trip on public transportation the next morning. I didn’t feel like paying for a cab this time around, at least for the trip to the airport. It went well overall; it took 90 minutes to get there, which isn’t too bad for a major world airport like Heathrow and on a holiday weekend. The only thing that annoyed the hell out of me was the price for the Heathrow Express – £19.00 one way.

I got to the airport before the rest of the group. Oh, I forgot to mention the group…

I joined Meetup about 3 months ago as a way to get out a bit more, as a challenge to myself for 2012 and beyond. (I may write a post or two about how that’s going in the future.) Among other things, I looked for traveler groups and sure enough, I found one that caught my eye: Solo Travelers. As someone who likes traveling solo, this group and its description sounded perfect. This group already planned its 2012 trips, and while I’d love to go on each one of their trips, I’m not rich. But there were a few that appealed to me, and Lisbon caught my eye first – affordable, 2 hour plane ride, long weekend (I hate very short trips). A few days after joining the group, I paid a deposit and secured my spot. While I prefer traveling solo, traveling with other solo travelers made sense to me for a couple of reasons:

1. While we arrived & departed together from each airport, staying together was optional. If we didn’t vibe together, or wanted to do our own things, we could always split up.

2. This was another way to challenge myself to more & make new potential connections.

So there you have it – I traveled with other solo travelers. How did that go, you ask? Stay tuned.

The group went to the wrong gate because of a mix-up, so the group leader sent a text message on my way to the airport and I met the group at the correct gate instead. They arrived 10 minutes later, and the group leader introduced himself & the other group members. We checked in, got our boarding passes & went through security together, but split up until we got on the plane. While we were split up, I tried getting some cash out of my account, but the ATM declined my card . No sweat, though… I’d try when we arrived, and at least I had enough elsewhere.

I should have sat next to a group member, with whom my intuition sensed good vibes, but she was gracious enough to allow a couple to sit together. That was very nice of her… but not for me because the woman in the couple was so annoying that I wanted to punch her in her jackass face & throat. 😐 Lucky for me that I usually fall asleep on flights because I slept for at least half of the flight… which meant that she annoyed me only half as much as she would have if I was awake for the full flight.

When we landed, it was a nice surprise to disembark to nice weather since the weather authority predicted rain in Lisbon for most of the weekend.

Not too bad.
Not too bad.

Before we took our taxis to the hotel, I told the group leader about my ATM issue and he said “No problem, I’ll cover you until you get access to your account. These things happen.” Quite embarrassed – it’s my issue and I take ownership of it – but relieved that it wouldn’t be a huge issue. Our hotel was a short distance from the airport, and the taxi fare was pretty cheap for European standards – well less than €10.00 for each taxi.

We arrived at the hotel, and I was quite impressed. I should have shared a room with an older British woman, but she must have made a good connection with another group member because upon hotel check-in, she said that I was sharing with someone else instead. (That turned out to be a good thing. Stay tuned.) New roommate & I went to our hotel room; were we impressed again. I forgot to take a photo of the outside & our room, but check out the view from our window:

Taken as soon as we got into the room.
Taken as soon as we got into the room.

We settled in, chose our beds, got some help with our TV & internet settings from hotel staff, and relaxed (except for contacting my U.S. bank) until it was time for dinner. For the first night, we all dined together. We weren’t sure where to eat, but at least there were options within walking distance of the hotel. We walked a bit and I spotted an ATM – perfect time to give the group leader his money back. I inserted my card, figuring that there was something wrong with the ATM at Heathrow since the bank didn’t see anything wrong with my card during our phone call.

Of course it was my card. Cash machines in Portugal are pretty damn good because unlike at Heathrow, the ATM flashed the following words on the screen:

Your ATM card has expired.

FUUUUUUCK. 😐

Sure enough, I checked the card and it’d expired 6 days before the trip. I was even more embarrassed. I told the group leader and he was fine with it. He asked if I was alright for dinner and I assured him that I was. Unlike a few years ago, I didn’t throw a temper tantrum or cry or hide away in my room for the night. I just kept calm and thought about what to do next.

We decided on a restaurant across the street from the hotel; unlike a few of the other restaurants in the vicinity, this one was more affordable and there were locals eating there, which signaled to us that the food was probably decent.

Sete Mares.
Sete Mares.

Since my money was funny, I ate within my budget.

Cheese omelet with chips (French fries) & salad.
Cheese omelet with chips (French fries) & salad.

It was very good – no need for condiments or seasonings, it tasted good as shown in the photo. The restaurant specializes in seafood, though.

Yes, they're live.
Yes, they're live.

Some of the group members liked their food, while others could have taken or left it. The main complaint for those who could have taken or left it – the food was too oily. Thank goodness that mine was good.

We stayed for 2-3 hours, and some of us were tired so we went back to the hotel afterwards to get some rest for the next day. I called my family to tell them about the money situation, and my aunt said that she’d wire money the next afternoon. That was fine with me, as I wouldn’t be spending much money anyway, even after getting her money. It was quite annoying to know that I had money that was inaccessible, but it wasn’t worth turning the trip into doom & gloom. Thank goodness for age, wisdom, growth, and back-up plans. New roommate & I chatted a bit, then watched some TV and settled in for the night.

Stay tuned, everyone.

Boa noite.
Boa noite.

Day 2 ahead…

Customer service.

One of the best inventions known to man is online grocery shopping. As someone who has a hectic job, no car (yet) or energy sometimes, this is a (lazy/tired/exhausted/working) woman’s dream come true. So once I got settled into my own flat, I took full advantage. I pick up items from the big-box versions of (online & non-online) stores when basic items run out or I need something quick, but most is online.

Most people in the United Kingdom get paid only once per month, so we’re careful with grocery shopping. While I don’t have a family to feed, I make sure that I have enough cash to buy food along with paying annoying bills. So I was quite annoyed a few months ago when I missed my grocery delivery from a certain store because of its terrible customer service.

I’d just been paid and, as usual, placed my grocery order. I thought that everything was fine until I received a text message from the grocery store (something to the effect of)

Please contact customer service as soon as possible at (phone number), otherwise today’s order is canceled.

Again, I don’t have a family to feed, but I have to eat just like everyone else. So even though I was on public transportation and hate talking on the phone in public, food is important so I called back. The customer service representation, a woman, said “We’re having trouble getting your payment for your order.” I said

Alright. I’m on my way to work, so I’ll go to the bank and see what’s going on because I know that the money is there. I’ll call back afterwards; maybe there’s an issue at the bank.

So instead of going to the office, I went to the bank first. After waiting in the queue for a few minutes (rare), the bank teller (known as “cashier” in the United Kingdom) was ready for me. I explained the situation, she checked my account and said

Everything’s fine. You have more than enough to cover the order.

I said

Would you mind if I called (grocery store) in front of you to see what happens? For some reason, my order isn’t going through.

There were very few people in the bank (rare) so she let me go ahead.

I called customer service & spoke with a different representative. I explained the situation, requesting that he attempt the order again. He tried it and the order didn’t go through. He said (something to the effect of)

It’s isn’t going through. You don’t have enough money, so you need to go to your bank and see what’s going on.

I said

Sir, I’m in the bank now standing in front of a cashier who already checked my account, and there’s more than enough to cover the order. Please try again.

He tried again and said

It’s not going through. You don’t have enough money. It’s not a problem on (grocery store’s) end.

I repeated myself again and added

It has to be on your end. I’m telling you, the cashier is showing me the computer screen with my account information as we speak and there is more than enough to cover it. You can even speak to her if you’d like.

(By this time, she was speaking loud enough for him to hear that the account is fine and that it has to be on [grocery store’s] end and not the bank’s end.)

He stated that it wasn’t necessary because it was the bank’s fault and “the bank needs to fix the problem, not (grocery store).” I asked to speak with a manager or supervisor, and he said that no one was available (liar).

By this time I was late for work, annoyed & hungry since I didn’t have breakfast, and pissed that I wouldn’t have groceries because my refrigerator was close to bare. I also had a strict exercise schedule after work so if I had to go to the store myself, it threw a wrench into my after-work plans. So I let him have it nice & loud. (That’s also the day that I realized the strength of my New York City accent and boy, did it come out that day.) I can’t remember every word, but it went something like this:

I’ve lived here for a year. I’ve ordered groceries from this store ever since I moved here. I’ve given you my business each month without fail, and this is how you wanna treat me? I told you for the hundredth time that I’m in the bank in front of a cashier and the money is there, I asked you to let me speak with a supervisor and you said no, and you refuse to bend. You refuse to consider that (grocery store) have the issue, not me. So you know what? Cancel my order and my account. I’ve had it. You’ve lost another customer.

He said “Okay.” and I hung up on him. Friggin’ jerk.

I thanked the teller, apologized for being loud in the bank (she understood), and went to work. I told my co-workers what happened and while they found it amusing, they also found it annoying. I didn’t know that customer service in this country was so… lacking.

Coming from the United States, I’m used to better customer service overall; some representatives even brown-nose when it’s unnecessary. I salute good customer service representatives because I know the nonsense they have to deal with – rude & downright disgusting customers, terrible pay, sometimes no health or vacation benefits & terrible bosses/employers. I’ve worked in customer service as a teller & in other capacities and know how bad it is. I’ve walked away from a few customers in the past – didn’t wanna catch a case. 😐

So, I “get” it. Customer service isn’t the best job to work in. Been there, done that, the customer is not always right. I also understand, having been to European countries, that Europe’s overall culture isn’t into customer service that brown-noses like the U.S. But no matter the country, representatives should offer a level of service such that the customer is helped as much as possible. That level of service is lacking here overall; even native Britons complain about it. (I’ve heard that France is worse.)

I doubt that it’ll ever change and that’s fine. I don’t have to like it but I’m used to it. I’ve written this rant for wanna-be expatriates and/or travelers: no country is perfect, including so-called First World countries. You’ll run into annoyances like this sometimes. You don’t have to totally assimilate into the adopted country’s culture, but understand that some things are standard & may never change. Figure out ways to deal or return to your home country.

Epilogue: I e-mailed a complaint to the store. A woman e-mailed me and her response was utter garbage – no apology for her colleague, no request to stay with the store, no offers to make me reconsider leaving the store – nothing. That evening, I skipped the gym and went food shopping at another store. I order online from the new store instead & haven’t had any issues since. I also found out that the former store is a Wal-Mart affiliate. Now it all makes sense. 😐

Does anyone have any annoying customer service stories? What’s customer service like in your adopted country? Do you prefer customer service in your home country, or is it better in your adopted country?

10 Things I Hate About You.

I’ll begin with a list of 10 things that I hate about this country. I’d rather start with the bad so as not to give anyone any illusions about being an expatriate.

Rate this:

http://twitter.com/#!/spinstercompass/status/89382432050118657

If you check(ed) out my last written post, 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.  I’ll begin with a list of 10 things that I hate about this country.  I’d rather start with the bad so as not to give anyone any illusions about being an expatriate.  I’ve always said from the start that I’d share the full experience, not just the roses & daisies.
________________________________
Rude people. 
After my confrontation on the road a few weeks ago, I’m more firm in the belief that this country has some of the rudest people on the planet.  It’s funny because many people back home see this country as prim & proper, uppity & snobbish.  I can say with certainty that that’s not the case.  There are people here who have no scruples, no sense of respect or decency, and they come in all colors & shades & races & ethnicities.  People here will rush past you, bump you & damn near push you to the ground without uttering one “Sorry” or “Excuse me”.  The men have no sense of chivalry – no holding doors, no giving up seats on public transportation, no helping those who are less able (elderly, pregnant, etc.) – and it’s a wonder that women flock to them so much.  What kills me the most about these rude people is their sense of entitlement.  But that’s another rant for another day.
Banking.
I was supposed to open an account with one particular bank before moving.  Because I was so busy with the move, I couldn’t do that until I got here.  (My American colleagues processed their paperwork before moving and they still had problems with the length of time it took to open their accounts.)  This particular bank gave me so much trouble that not only couldn’t I withdraw money when necessary, I had to put my money into someone else’s account until I got my own.  It’s a real pain in the ass to bother someone to withdraw another’s money from one’s own bank account almost every day, especially since the first few weeks had lots of unexpected expenses come up out of nowhere.  I opened an account with a different bank instead; that was also a pain in the ass, but not as bad as the original bank.  Bank processing also takes too long; an account debit can take anywhere from 5-7 business days to clear, possibly longer, and even cash can take a while to clear (unless one goes to the bank face-to-face).  This can make bill paying a real pain in the ass.  This isn’t something I’ll ever get used to.
Taxes
Seriously?  Almost 25% taxes out of people’s paychecks, sometimes more?  Come on now.  (There’s a plus side to this, which I’ll discuss in my next post.)
Driving
Driving on the wrong….. oh sorry, left side of the road is a bit annoying and, at first, nerve-wracking.  One of my American colleagues let me drive her car once.  It was the perfect driving lesson because it was after-work rush hour & getting to her house is like driving through a maze.  But I was so nervous that not only was I gripping the steering wheel, I also don’t remember breathing until we reached her house & got a headache.  Having such narrow roads doesn’t help either because they make me feel claustrophobic.  When it comes to driving, I prefer home, where everything is bigger.
Police
After my confrontation on the road a few weeks ago, I’m more firm in the belief that the police in this country = toy cops.  Rather than rehash my story, I’ll briefly mention a couple of incidents that happened to my colleagues:
– 1 colleague got punched in the face for no reason by a drunkard in broad daylight.  What’d the police do?  Give him a self-defense packet that, aside from a noise-making device, had nothing in it that could help with self-defense.  The man was never caught despite having CCTV almost everywhere country-wide.
– 1 colleague, while waiting for a night bus, saw a man expose himself; there were others at the bus stop (including a child).  I think the man used some racial slurs along with whatever else he said while exposing himself.  The colleague called the police, but nothing happened.
Most of the police force don’t use guns.  I don’t like that.  Which brings me to the next thing…..
Criminal justice system
While the U.S. criminal justice system is by no means perfect, I appreciate it more since moving here.  I prefer law enforcement officers with guns, I prefer stiff penalties for harsh crimes, and I prefer the death penalty for those who truly deserve it.  Here, if a person commits a crime and goes to jail/prison, that person is eligible for parole at or before half of the time finishes.  That’s right… only 1/2.  It’s bad enough that court-imposed time isn’t much anyway, but to only serve 1/2 or less is, in my opinion, a slap in the face for victims & their families.  Here’s a mild example; the harsher examples are. in my opinion, too outrageous to share here.  Only a convicted murderer can get a mandatory life sentence.  And there’s no death penalty.  For more information, HM Prison Service.
Red tape
 Everything here is covered in red tape, better known as bureaucracy.  This form must be filled out & signed, but first you need to fill out & sign that form so that you can fill out & sign the 1st form.  But wait, you have to sign Master Form 1.23456789 & Master Form Part A-2.34567890 to sign those other forms!  Then, when all the forms are signed, it takes damn near forever to get your product or service or etc.  As an example, my laptop crashed 1 month after I bought it.  I brought it back to the store since it was under 1 year warranty, and it took 1 month for it to be fixed & returned.
Social services
Since I work in social services and don’t want to jeopardize my job, I won’t elaborate much on this point.  All I’ll say is that the social service system in this country need to be overhauled & modernized.  In addition, social work here focuses on child protection… but not much else.  This contrasts with the United States, where social work classes/study courses & potential career paths are varied (here’s 1 example).
Benefits
This is what’s called welfare back home, and I’ll use both interchangeably here.  While it’s nice to live in a country that is somewhat socialist (a plus side that I’ll discuss in my next post), the grass isn’t much greener on the other side.  There are some on welfare/benefits who misuse the system with no penalties or fear of punishment, and in my opinion (and the opinions of my diverse colleagues), the United Kingdom government has enabled a sense of self-entitlement & laziness in these people.  {Please note that unlike home, where people of color are (often mistakenly) seen as the culprits in misusing benefits, the culprits here come in all colors & shades & races & ethnicities.  I can’t find a statistics breakdown for this country; I could be searching incorrectly.}  It annoys me even further because I pay heavy taxes here, yet I can’t access any recourse to public funds.  In other words, if I’m injured and can’t work for a period of time, I can’t access unemployment insurance or other benefits since I’m not a United Kingdom citizen even though I pay heavy taxes.  But without using any names, I know someone who is an able-bodied United Kingdom citizen, just had a 2nd child, and refuses to work because benefits take care of everything.  (There are also many European Union citizens who come here & access United Kingdom benefits.)  So basically, I bust my ass working to barely make ends meet, yet my taxes are paying for this person to sit around for most of the day.

Public transportation
 I hate the Tube and avoid it as much as possible.  It’s overcrowded (especially with tourists) & filled with stifling heat.  The buses are annoying sometimes because baby carriages (known here as prams) take up space & contain crying/whining/screaming/hollering babies/infants/toddlers/children-who-are-too-big-to-be-in-carriages.  I’ve turned up my music to drown out noise on many occasions yet still hear crying/whining/screaming/hollering.  And oftentimes, the older children/teenagers & adults are even louder & more obnoxious than the babies/infants/toddlers.  And how could I forget the all-too-common smell that wafts throughout the bus & tells on the many people who haven’t used soap & water every day?  Thank goodness for different over-ground trains (like this & that & these & those) and knowing how to drive.
________________________________
There’s more but that’s it for now.  Are there any expatriates that can relate & have a top 10 hates for your current location?
Next post will focus on my top 10 favorite likes about living/working here. Stay tuned.