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A Study in Contrasts

That’s what Belfast is.  Now, this may be true of all modern European and British cities, but Belfast is the one I know well, having walked her streets (we don’t have a car) for the past 4 years.  (Actually, Belfast is the really the only one I know at all. Well, I’ve been to London twice.  But I have never been on The Continent.  That will change when I get to go to Tuscany in September for Simon’s Sister’s Wedding.)

Belfast has been around since the Bronze Age.  That’s a long friggin’ time.  And parts of it are very old worldy, with narrow winding streets and buildings made of stone.  Other parts of it are very new worldy, with wide boulevards and buildings made of metal and glass.

Then there are the streets that are both.  Where we currently live, there is a church that was built in 1844.  And a block of flats that were completed about 6 months ago.  They are building ‘Belfast’s Tallest Building’ (which we locals joke will be 4 storeys) next to Queen’s Bridge, built in 1849 (named for Queen Victoria, BTW).

Everywhere you go there is a mix of the old and the new.  The current and the past.  And quite a lot of the future, as construction cranes go up all over town.

I, as an American who grew up in a town where I think the oldest structure was from the 1950s, find this fascinating.  I love old architecture and marvel at it. I marvel at the fact that our local Marks and Spencer is in a building that, in the US, would hold a bank, and would have been built to look that old.  I marvel at the fact that our local Tesco is in the former home of Allied Irish Banks and has the most amazing arts and crafts style ceiling.  You should see this thing, you’d be amazed that you are in a supermarket when you look up.

So Belfast is a study in contrasts.  And I love (nearly) every minute of it.

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Perspective

I had a really weird experience on the bus home from work the other day.

I was, as I always am, reading a book as we are heading towards City Centre from work when I glanced up to see how far we were. I said, in my head ‘ah, Queen’s Bridge’ and started to turn back to my book. When the Belfast Wheel caught my eye. Now you can see this thing from far and wide around Belfast. But if I was on Queen’s Bridge, the wheel was in the wrong place. “Had they moved it?” I seriously thought. “I mean, if the bus is just crossing Queen’s Bridge, which I know we are, then the Wheel should be to my left. So why is it on my right?”

I seriously sat there and thought about this for about a minute. Until we made a right hand turn and were *actually* on Queen’s Bridge, and not the Syndenham Bypass we were actually on and the wheel ‘moved’ to where it should be.

If someone had held a gun to my head right then and said “Where is the Bus?” I would have told them, no doubts, that we were on Queen’s Bridge and they must have moved the Belfast Wheel during the day.

Perspective. Its a weird thing.

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The Hussies

The Hussies are my group of internet friends.

There are 16 of us, 15 women and one man. We met, gosh, must be nearly 4 years ago now, on a now defunct Etiquette Board, which shall remain nameless. We named ourselves The Hussies after it was posted on the Board, by who the hell remembers, that anyone who a.) lived with their partner before marriage and/or b.) wore a strapless wedding dress, was a Hussy. We were all (or mostly all) in the chat for the board that night discussing this and realized we were all hussies (I didn’t wear a strapless wedding dress, but I sure did live with Simon before we were married!).

We’ve since opened our own Etiquette Board (Modern Etiquette and Manners) and spend a lot of time chatting and being friends. We don’t always agree, but we are always friends.

We live in the US. And Canada. And Prague. And England. And Northern Ireland.

We are Lawyers. And Personal Assistants. And Stay at Home Moms. And Librarians. And IT people. And Shop Assistants. And PhD candidates. And Personal Trainers.

We knit. We embroider. We cross stitch. We make clothes by hand.

We have kids. We are childfree. We are trying to have kids.

We are the Hussies. Forever and ever. Amen.

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The Saga of the Flat

So Simon and I are getting ready to move.  We’ve been looking for a 3 bedroom flat in Belfast, to upgrade from our tiny little 2 bed.

Just before Christmas a few flats came up on Propertynews  and we figured no one would look at them before Christmas, so we waited and called as soon as we got home from our Christmas at Simon’s parents.

We went to see one flat, number 604.  Only when we got there, 604’s keys were not with the estate agent, so we saw 606 instead, which was ‘exactly the same’, but already had a let agreed.  We loved it.  3 big bedrooms, large lounge, the kitchen I practically dream of, DISHWASHER!!!  So when can we see 604?  Monday.  Great, here’s our application and fee.  So I tell boss I’ll be in late Monday so I can see flat.

Get there Monday, still don’t have the keys for 604, do you want to see 606 again? Sure.  So we saw it again, with another bloke who was interested in it, only he needed to bring his partner back to see it also.  So when can we see 604? Tuesday.  For sure? We’ll call you to confirm, but pretty much yes.

I get to work, tell boss I need to be in late again Tuesday.

Tuesday, we’re waiting for the Estate Agent when he calls Simon to tell him he still doesn’t have the keys to 604.  We’ll call you.

Robyn has a hissy fit in the middle of the street.  Just *so* typically Belfast.

Thursday, Simon gets a call.  Application has been accepted, only landlady has decided to let flat to her brother.  But 606 is *still* available.

We go see it again.  We still love it.  We wrote them a cheque.

We move in 2nd February 2008.

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What an American thinks about Belfast…

Overall, I really really like it.

I’ve pretty much liked it from the moment I moved here, with a few exceptions. I am totally *not* enamoured of the lack of customer service (although that is getting better), especially compared to what I was used to in the US. I can understand the apathy, based on Belfast’s history. There was so much tension for so very long, its hard to be cheery to customers, I guess. And I am not really asking for cheery. I am asking for (and this just happened about 2 weeks ago) the tills to be ready to accept payment 45 minutes after the store opened (although that might have been because of the snow we got) and someone available to take my payment at the tills (which happens *all the time*).  Grant the ‘finding someone at the tills’ thing happens in the US.  But I don’t get a face made at me when I ask for help in the US.  Well, not usually.

I think another part of it is that people don’t expect it.  They have received bad service for so long, they just go along with it. And until people complain, nothing will change.

I do really like the people here.  Bus drivers call you love.  People really do say ‘crikey’ and (and this is *very* Irish) ask you what the craic is.

Sometimes you have to watch what you say.  If someone is going to England for something, they will usually say they are leaving the country, even though, technically, they aren’t.  And please please please please make sure you call it Northern Ireland.  Ireland, or the Republic of Ireland, or the Republic, or ROI, is a totally different country to the south.  Some people are still hoping for a united Ireland, but I doubt it will ever happen.  And at least we seem to be past blowing each other up over it.  For the time being, at least.

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So…

How does an American get to Belfast? Practice! (and if you get that joke, you may just be even older than I am)

Seriously, I got to Belfast because my wonderful husband Simon is a native of Northern Ireland. He was born in Coleraine, raised in Castle Rock, lives now in Belfast (obviously, since we live together. Soon to be in a NEW FLAT!! (more on that in the coming weeks)).

So how did I meet this Northern Irish man of mine? On the world wide web, of course. No, not a dating site. Actually a site about the Joss Whedon TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer…….(I’m waiting for the laughing to die down)…..(done yet?)…..

So, anyway, we started ‘chatting’ on the posting board.  Then we started chatting in IM.  Then 9/11 happened.  And Simon ran to the message board and posted a message that calmed everyone down.  About how it happens, how its been happening in his home country for 30 years.  And they had survived and so would the US.  And I fell in love.

3 years later I moved to Belfast. A year after that we were married, in City Hall.

And that’s how an American gets to Belfast.  And lots and lots of practice. 🙂

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::hangs new curtains::

So, this is my blog.

My first real blog. I have had a LiveJournal for about a cabillion (it is too a number) years (RLeyser)(Yes, it is in my maiden name. Deal with it). And I imagine I’ll keep LJ for awhile as it is good for friends only ranting.

But this, this will be my true blog. My blog about being an American in Belfast.

Now, I’ve been an American in Belfast for over 4 years now. But I still have moments of OMG I’M AN AMERICAN IN BELFAST!! So I’ll write about those. And about anything that strikes my fancy.

I rant a lot in my head. Maybe its time to rant about it on the web!