IBIT post: anatomy of an airfare.

Check out this blog post from I’m Black & I Travel. Here’s an excerpt:

Why does international air travel cost so much? A breakdown of a single transcontinental flight reveals just how much you pay in taxes and fees — and why.

Read more here >>> Airlines: Anatomy Of An Airfare http://imblacknitravel.com/airlines-airfares/

Take off.
Take off.

Spinster.

spin·ster (spnstr)
n.
1. A woman who has remained single beyond the conventional age for marrying.
2. A single woman.

Wikipedia definition: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spinster

– Paying extra taxes [don’t forget to file yours (!)].

– Paying extra for travel insurance.

– Paying extra for auto insurance.

– Paying expensive single supplements on my travels & accommodation.

– Being a minus 1 at almost all events.

– “You’re in this country all by yourself?” questions.

– “Why do you live alone? Don’t you get lonely?” questions.

– “Why are you single?” questions.

– “When are you gonna have a baby/some babies?” questions.

– Buying in bulk, with things spoiling, because there’s too much food for 1 person.

The word spinster was originally coined as a negative term for unmarried women of a certain age. I call myself a spinster because the absurd notion behind the word is funny enough for me to take back the word, in a sense, and call myself a spinster in a positive way.

I can testify to the great things about being a spinster/single/solo. I can do whatever I want without worrying about the needs of others all the time. As a single introvert, I can spend time alone without feeling bad or weird about it. I can dedicate my time to whatever I want – travelling, volunteering, work, attending theatre, sleeping, drinking tea, etc. I can focus on paying down my debt without worrying about who else it’ll impact. I can explore the world when I want, however I want. And let’s face it – while being in a good relationship is a bonus, being single and “doing bad all by myself” is definitely a stress reducer in a world where the good pickings are slim.

But the things I mentioned earlier… those things are the typical nuisances that come with the spinster/single/solo territory. And some of those things are costly. For example, when I went to Portugal last year with one of my Meetup groups, one could get one’s own room… for a price. Single supplements are often at least £70.00. That’s the only reason why I opted not to get a single room. (Luckily, my sharing arrangement worked out well.) There are many other trips I’d love to take, but the single supplement alone holds me back sometimes, whether I’m in the United States or the United Kingdom.

And don’t get me started on the social implications. Travelling solo is cool for exploring however one wants to and meeting people… until they start asking “why are you all alone?” or “without your family?” or “without your man/partner?”. (And I just “love” the “I couldn’t travel by myself.” comments [and other variations]). Then come the explanations & justifications, since sometimes a one-sentence answer isn’t enough for some people. (The same happens even when not travelling.)

And small rant do you know how many loaves of bread I’ve bought here, only for them to go bad a couple of days later? Yes… it’s a small gripe, but a gripe nonetheless.

While singles are nowhere near a marginalised group in the grand scheme of things, it’d be helpful for others to realise that being single ≠ rich, wealthy, care-free, or expendable income. We have bills to pay just like non-singles. We pay extra taxes, with no tax breaks at all, unlike non-singles. We have to survive & (try to) thrive, just like non-singles. I hope that the needs of solo travellers & solo expatriates come to the forefront sooner rather than later because damn it, I need a tax break and some extra discounts too.
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Links:

Onely: Single and Happy http://onely.org/

Onely guest post in Psychology Today http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/living-single/201006/can-you-name-the-1138-federal-hat-tips-marriage-guest-post-onely

The High Price of Being Single in America http://www.theatlantic.com/sexes/archive/2013/01/the-high-price-of-being-single-in-america/267043/

Singled Out (for the Single Supplement) http://travel.nytimes.com/2013/03/10/travel/singled-out-for-the-single-supplement.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&

The truth about taxes: Uncoupled singles always pay a penalty http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bella-depaulo/the-truth-about-taxes-unc_b_537861.html

1,138 hat tips (PDF report included) http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-04-353R

When ‘Married’ Is No Longer the Norm http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eleanore-s-wells/when-married-is-no-longer-norm_b_2864140.html

Expatriates! File your taxes with Derren Joseph, CPA.

It’s annoying enough to file taxes in the United States. State taxes, federal taxes, city taxes, oh my. But moving to another country as a U.S. citizen makes filing taxes even more annoying. So when I happened upon someone’s profile on Meetup in February, offering help to U.S. expatriates who need to navigate the murky sea of tax filing, I contacted him via e-mail as soon as possible to enquire further.

Derren Joseph responded immediately and worked with me every step of the way, even when I asked stupid questions & forgot deadlines. He was even patient with me when, in the midst of life happening, I forgot to keep him posted with my progress; he’d often contact me to see how I was doing with the paperwork. His patience, work ethic & gift of deciphering numbers are such that I wanted to share the wealth (pun intended) with other expatriates, and this blog is a good way to get the word out.

Mr. Joseph is a certified public accountant in the United States & the United Kingdom – a bonus for those of us who can’t understand either system. I highly recommend him and hope that you benefit from his services as much as I have. Contact him (see below).

Derren Joseph
E-mail
: Derren@htjosephcpa.com
Phone: United Kingdom 07554905143, U.S. 305-651-5580 (international dialling codes)
Web: http://www.htjosephcpa.com

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?

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.

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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.
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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.
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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.