Thursday, August 15, 2013

Expat Q&A (Basics)

When I first moved to London (for the second time) in June 2010, this blog focused on the day to day of being an expat - cultural differences, practical misunderstandings, the language barrier, you name it. But I assimilated after the first year or so and those nuts and bolts posts sort of disappeared.  You can only write about missing an American-style tumbledryer so many times before you just have to get on with life, you know?  Even so, I had moments of "holy [expletive], I live in another country" up until the day I moved back to DC - and then I experienced reverse culture shock for most of summer 2012, most often when grocery shopping and cooking.  I still sometimes get frustrated at Giant or Safeway here when I can't find a British product that I prefer to its American counterpart.

So I was thrilled to see Belinda and Bailie's questions for this month's Expat Q&A series - they're totally relevant!  Here goes:

preparing for a garden party with my then-flatmate (and always friend!) Christine
London, summer 2009

1. What is your favorite food store in your city and why?
When I was feeling flush, I'd do my grocery shopping at Waitrose, one of the best (and most expensive) grocery stores in England.   I picked M&S for ready meals when I'd forgotten to bring my lunch to work; Jon swears by Morrison's for this sort of thing because there's one down the street from his office, but I've actually never been.  He lives near a huge Tesco, which I liked well enough though the layout still doesn't make sense to me, and I lived near the big Sainsbury's in Clapham - that was my favorite.  I actually saw a woman in DC a few weeks ago with a reusable Sainsbury's bag and had a little freakout to myself.

2. For your answer to number 1 is it ok to buy the store brand items or do you pay extra for a name brand?
I got very into price comparisons when I lived in London.  Because I cook so much even just for myself and I love entertaining, it is very easy for me to spend way more than I can afford on a grocery store trip.  Sometimes this means store brand items and sometimes other brands had deals - I go with the cheapest unless I'd tried it before and hated it!

3. What do you think is the best way to get about your city? i.e. bus, bike, car, etc
If you're in central London, walk!  No question.  Walk.  Everything's much closer in Zone 1 than the Tube map makes it seem.  (The Leicester Square and Covent Garden stops are 0.16 miles apart and it's a 180m walk from Charing Cross to Embankment - but you'd never know that by looking at the map!)  But if you live outside of Zone 1, like I did, the Tube is often your best bet for convenience.  That being said, I loved taking the bus everywhere because it meant you got to see the city, and the cyclists I know in London swear by their bikes!  Everyone agrees, though, that it's absurd to have a car in London.

4. Which store do you turn to for basics like toilet paper or cleaning supplies?
The huge Tesco Extras are basically like Costco!  I didn't live near a massive one, though, so I'd just shop at my Sainsbury's.  They have in-store value brands that are totally serviceable and economical.

5. Where do you think is the best place in your city to get a cup of coffee (or beverage you prefer) and catch up with friends?
My favorite local coffee place is The Black Lab in Clapham - they've got free wifi, so I could sit there alone for hours with my laptop and a London Fog and work or blog!  But I also love Bea's of Bloomsbury for cream tea with friends.  It feels luxurious and comfortable there at the same time.  (They have a couple of branches but I prefer the new one at St. Paul's.)  Beyond that, my favorite pubs for long catch-ups are The Cittie of Yorke near Chancery Lane and The Windsor Castle in Notting Hill, which has the best garden in town!

Jon manning the grill at the same garden party in 2009. Don't you dare compliment his hair.

24 comments:

  1. Oh I will compliment his hair. It looks so good. SO GOOD.

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  2. I love Waitrose too! but I basically lived off 3 pound meal deal from Tesco when I was living in London, I love their sandwiches and chili chips! I wish they had something like that in the states!

    A Golden State of Mind

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  3. Waitrose is amazing. I also love M&S. We go every week because I am particular about certain things I like to eat. Poor husband, but he does enjoy teasing me about being "posh".

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  4. oh man those meal deals are classic! I actually came to like tuna and sweetcorn...

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  5. When we "splurge" Sam and I go to Waitrose.... I think that's the most middleclass thing i've ever said....

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  6. We had Morrisons but no Waitrose in Wimbledon, and I hated it. We shopped at a small Sainsburys, or I did home delivery from Waitrose or Sainsburys, and when we would rent a car we drive to the big Tesco and spend way too much money because it was just an American grocery store :)

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  7. Thank you so much for linking up and I agree shopping at Waitrose feels so fancy!

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  8. Ohh thanks for those suggestions in number 5. I'm pinning them and adding to my list of places to check out when I move back. I always need new suggestions for good coffee in London other than the few I know of near Trafalgar's Square. Where I'm moving I won't be too far from Clapham....well I'll be south of London anyways...

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  9. When in London have you been to the Whole Foods in Kensington High Street? Super fancypants. I feel in love.

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  10. Yes! There's a Whole Foods by my old house in Clapham as well! But since I grew up with Whole Foods in America it doesn't seem as "special" for some reason. I still LOVE going there for salsa and soy icecream though! xx

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  11. I absolutely love the salsa. Introduced my British friends to it there. But since it is so American, doesn't always carry all the British goods...even being *in* England. Lame.

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  12. I do love wandering around the Whole Foods in Kensington (never been to the one in Clapham Junction) but I refuse to buy anything there - except once cheese when I was desperate and hungry - because it's SO unbelievably expensive that I really think they're just mocking Americans. not fair!

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  13. Clapham is IN London! SOUTH OF THE RIVER STILL COUNTS AS LONDON. I feel very strongly about this :P

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  14. Haha yes, but I'll be in Blackheath/Sidcup, which being Southeast London, I didn't feel like I was *quite* near Clapham in the Southwest. That'd be southwest right? Or is it just South London? As a former New Cross Gate resident, I support you in your passion about still being considered in London!

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  15. Can I mention that I burst out laughing over Jon's hair? But then I also was just perusing college pics and laughed at Paul's, so you know.
    And I proudly use my Tesco reusable bags all over the place here- they're bigger, stronger, and they have a ladybug on them. And I have a ladybug on me. So we match.
    Our closest full-supermarket (not an express or local) was a still-small Sainsbury's, or driving through the WORST traffic in Harrogate (no matter the time or day- I tried several) to get to where Morrison's and big Sainsbury's were around the corner from each other. Oh, there was a Waitrose in town, but even though they had a car park I still didn't go there often. We mostly got our stuff from our farm delivery or local farm shops, though. But Waitrose was nice and shiny... Paul liked Morrison's breads best, and Sainsbury's carried the frozen mozzarella-stuffed veggie burgers I liked, so really we just went to all of them. And I went to M&S food for treats, fun tins (for gifts), and for fancy bits when we wanted picnic foods. MMMM-MMMMM.


    Sigh. I miss the supermarkets. But I miss my farm delivery most.

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  16. Hello from the expat link-up!


    I love Waitrose but do not have one near me anymore but when I lived in London I was surrounded by grocery stores! I miss going on London buses as they were such a big part of my life (getting me to and from school, then uni, then work). Good way to see London too!

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  17. I wish I could afford to shop at Waitrose. The one in Canary Wharf is like a luxury holiday to me - I go once a fortnight for two teeny tiny Waitrose value steaks, because I don't like any other shop brand steak!

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  18. Georgia ChristakisAugust 15, 2013 at 7:41 PM

    Peter worked at Waitrose growing up (:

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  19. I'm headed to London in October, so excited! I haven't been in over a decade eek!!!

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  20. Oh my goodness do i miss Waitrose and M&S ready meals! nothing like it here in canada. I think I'd freak out at seeing a Sainsbury's bag too! I saw your comment earlier btw and tetra pak are the cartons that orange juice comes in! ;-)

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  21. Ah Waitrose, I do love it so. I get most of my food at the big Morrison's near us but I would definitely always shop at Waitrose if budget allowed! I went to the St Paul's Beas of Bloomsbury a few months ago for afternoon tea! I loved it. I miss a good Target though, and flavoured coffee creamers!!

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  22. Your comment about Tesco's layout is so true. And, funnily enough, they have completely re-done the layout in all of the Tescos near us within the past month! (Maybe you aren't the only one who has commented on it in recent years!) However, I was used to the old layout, so I cannot find anything when we go grocery shopping now. I had to ask someone which aisle the salt was in today!

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I love reading your thoughts and suggestions! Please do leave a comment so we can get to know each other better.