Banking in the UK is killing me! Or: Where did I leave my chequebook?

Everyone seems to rant about banks these days, so let me join the ranks. But while I don’t really mind German financial institutions (I even used to work for one a long time ago), banking in the UK is just a nightmare for me.

Let’s start from the beginning (where else?). You move to the UK. You want to open an account. Easy when you have a banking history here. Which of course I didn’t. The next best thing to have is an address. Now that I had but how to prove it? Where I come from, we move house, we go and register with the local registry office, and the new address is put onto our identity cards. End of story. From this moment on, whenever anyone asks us for our address, we just produce our ID cards. Simples.

Not so in the UK. In the country of the island monkeys, you prove where you live with a utility bill. Well, I had moved in with my husband and guess what, all the utility bills were in his name. Go figure. I’m sure eon has heard the request before but I felt decidedly weird calling them up to ask that my name be put onto my husband’s account as well. And then you wait. For the next bill. Half a year later, if you’re lucky. You might get a utility bill a bit quicker if you decide it was time to change to a cheaper energy supplier anyway. Just make sure that they get your post code right, otherwise your new bill will be of no use when trying to open said bank account.

Well then, alternatively you can also get us your tenancy agreement – as long as it is printed on letterheaded paper. Are you deaf?! I moved in with my husband and it’s his flat. No such thing as a tenancy agreement, sorry. Ah, but there is always the council tax bill. Except, this is only ever in one occupier’s name, and all the other liable people in the household appear on the side. Which, of course, is not enough and won’t be accepted as proof of address by your friendly bank. Grrrrrrr!!!

Hand inflammation? Cheque!

Hand inflammation? Cheque! (image: Wikipedia)

Well, finally, your name is on some bill, the post code is correct too, so you get the account. Yay! And a big wad of … nah, not banknotes, cheques! What am I supposed to do with these? In Germany I haven’t used a cheque for, I don’t know, 15 years? Take them, you’ll see, you’ll need them. OK.

And indeed, a lot of the bills you get you can only pay cash or by cheque. Weird! Whatever happened to the good, old bank transfer? What?! People don’t want to put their bank details on the invoices they write because they are afraid of identity theft??!! Oh yeah, because in Germany, everyone who has his bank details on every business letter he writes (i.e. everyone), had his identity stolen at least 3 or 4 times already, right!

Never mind, let’s use cheques and kill some more trees then, shall we? Monthly nursery fees for the little one? Cheque! Private doctors’ bills? Cheque! You seriously have to stuff a cheque into an envelope and mail it off! And I don’t even want to think about the amount of administrative hassles that this medieval practice causes the receiver. Or the bank.

By the way, as unpopular as bank transfers are on this island, direct debit seems to be even worse. On a par with selling your soul to the devil. No wonder that companies like our new energy supplier will give you huge discounts for the privilege to relieve you of the tedious obligation to effect the monthly payments – by whichever method.

OK, maybe it is not THIS bad, but you get the drift

OK, maybe it is not THIS bad, but you get the drift (image: Wikipedia)

I have a theory. I firmly believe that one of the reasons why people here don’t mind having to pay their bills by cheque or cash is that the average island monkey loves queueing. Must be so because I have never seen a single cash machine in this country that didn’t have a long queue of people waiting to draw money in front of it. 24/7.

PS: Sometimes you are lucky enough to be able to settle a bill by credit card. Which takes me to a whole new topic. One day I will rant about credit cards in this country, promise.

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I see red!!! reloaded

Red pedestrian light

It says 'Wait for signal', morons!

OK, first I want to put one thing straight: I am no law-and-order nazi. Yes, I might be German but I do break rules. Sometimes.

I am also in a hurry quite often. 24 hours in a day is just not enough for all the things to do. And frankly, red traffic lights suck. So I cross the road. On red. Uh-oh!

My husband gives me grief, in the nicest possible way of course, for not doing it all the time. Because that’s what the island monkeys do. For you guys, pedestrian lights are not just a nuisance or a recommendation, they are in fact non-existent. No matter what, as long as there is the slightest gap in traffic, you cross. It’s not even rare, especially on our High Street, that cars have to jam on their brakes because some old fuddy-duddy with a walking stick decides he can’t wait his turn. Or a cyclist has to swerve dangerously because some numbnut couldn’t hear any cars coming and didn’t bother to use his eyes to double-check before walking across.

But the main reason for me to complain about people brainlessly crossing on red is my little monster. He is 2 1/2 now, which puts him into a very impressionable age bracket. And, to teach him from a young age how to cross a road safely, I make a point of going only on green when he is with me. Unfortunately, no-one else in this country gives a monkey’s (pun intended!) about a stranger’s kid’s safety.

I taught my son this little German rhyme: “Bei Rot bleibe steh’n, bei Grün darfst du geh’n.” (At red stay put, at green you can go.) He loves pushing the demand button and is acutely excited when the light eventually turns green and he can shout “Grüüüüüüün!!!”, closely followed by “Schnelllllll!!!” (=quick), and break into a run. Until recently, he didn’t even seem to notice that other pedestrians weren’t quite as thrilled to wait for the right signal. Those times are over.

The other day a lady with a 6-year old girl walked up to the traffic light we were waiting at, checked traffic quickly and, pulling her daughter with her, ran across just before a car. My little one’s reaction was to shout “Rot!!!” (=red), and for the rest of the way he kept indignantly saying something along the lines of “Must not go on red (vigorous shaking of the head), must wait for green (vigorous nodding)!” I can only hope that he will not one fine day be distracted, as kids tend to be at times, and just thoughtlessly follow one of these dimwits that call themselves parents.

Dear island monkeys, I know, it is not against the law in the UK for pedestrians to cross on red. However, small children CANNOT judge traffic speed and distances as well as you. Actually, they can’t judge them at all. And because I for one prefer my offspring to reach legal age without me having to hold his hand until this date I’d rather he follow the suggestion of the traffic light and only walk on green for the time being. And I would be much obliged if you wouldn’t be such crappy role models for him. So please, try not to cross on red when kids are around. It’s inconsiderate, dangerous and stupid.

Apart from that I keep wondering why there are pedestrian lights installed in certain places at all. Common sense dictates they’re there for a reason. I wonder what that could be.

Oh, and don’t you just love it too when you are in a car and have to stop for no reason because the demand button had been pressed by a pedestrian who then couldn’t be asked to stay and wait until his light went green. Arrrrghhhh!!!

Clothes make the man…

… so if the clothing shows a disturbed sense of reality, what does that say about the wearer?

OK, I get it, England has got the gulf stream, so it’s never cold. Right? Except when November arrives and with it some nasty autumn weather. Or would you call maximum day temperatures of 4°C, in conjunction with some chilling winds, warm? Me neither.

So what does the sensible soul do to stay cosy? That’s right, where I come from, we dress warmly.

Not so the island monkeys. Well, quite a few of them anyway.

I have seen this countless times now, but I still doubt the information my optic nerves conduct to my brain every time I see someone wearing shorts and/or a short-sleeved shirt in weather like this! After the chill running down my spine has reached my coccyx and then calmed down a bit that is. This can’t be healthy!

I could probably work up some understanding if it would be some cyclist working up a sweat pedalling around our little town and its quite steep hills. But no, just a “normal” guy walking down the street with a severe scantiness of fabric on his body and not even particularly hairy arms and legs. Or that chick on her way home from last night’s party in nothing more than a skimpy top and a rather wide belt. Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!

Do you know some Jedi mind trick to prevent yourself from feeling the frightfully freezing frostiness?

I can understand that you don’t want to expose your fair, freckled English skin to the fiery rays of summer sun. But please, don’t try to make up for it by getting into the nude as soon as summer is over.

But it would be only half bad if you wouldn’t try to train your children in your inappropriate dressing habits too! What did I see the other day? Kid in a buggy, and not only no blanket but also NO SOCKS despite temperatures well south of 15°C?! Is that really necessary?
Warmly dressed = happy (Image via Wikipedia)

Warmly dressed = happy (Image via Wikipedia)

Or this one here: Baby under 1 with no hair worth mentioning to keep the ears or even the scalp warm and of course no hat to protect him from an overcast, drizzly and wind-chilled 5°C impertinence of a day. I was going to call child protection services but my frozen fingers wouldn’t hit the right keys on my mobile! Seriously, that extra layer of blubber on your obese child is not an excuse for not putting adequate-for-the-weather clothes on him!

PS: I have little fights with my 2-year old all the time about literally everything. Except wearing a hat. Absolutely no objections there. He likes having warm ears!

I see red!

Poppy on a car grill

Poppy on a car grill

Actually I meant to start the blog with a more light-hearted, less political post. But it bugs me to see red literally everywhere I look these days. What’s the deal with poppy mania?!

To make it totally clear, I don’t mind Remembrance Day per se or people showing solidarity with the families of soldiers killed in service. What I do mind is the omnipresence of poppies. Seems like the majority of people I see on the street at the moment wear a poppy! I am woken up by the BBC in the morning and the first thing I see when I open my eyes are the poppies on the presenters’ lapels. I grab a newspaper, the front page is adorned by a poppy. Walking through our little town last Sunday, I counted as many as seven (7!) volunteer couples selling them on street corners. Don’t dare to imagine how many I might have missed.

Frankly, I feel like an outcast NOT wearing one. I have a hard time going out these days because I am constantly afraid someone will shout at me for not sporting a damn poppy! Am I even allowed to get onto a bus with a poppy on the grill if I’m not member of the holy poppy brotherhood?

Apparently, my fear isn’t entirely unsubstantiated. Check out the ongoing debate about Channel 4 News anchor Jon Snow. Looks like there are people insisting every TV presenter wear one. Why???!!!

Now, I don’t want to question people’s motives for wearing one. Could be anything from actually mourning a fallen friend, showing support for the troops overseas (what business do they have there anyway, but I guess that’s a topic for another day) to wanting to financially support the charities that sell them. But why is it that seemingly most of the people I see wearing them are commuters from London in their suits (not last Sunday obviously). Is there something to the views of Robert Fisk that “all kinds of people […] were now ostentatiously wearing a poppy for social or work-related reasons, to look patriotic when it suited them”?

Oh, and get the public outcry because the FIFA dared to ban the English football team from having a poppy on their jerseys in their match against Spain this weekend (it is FIFA policy not to allow ANY statements, political or otherwise, on the shirts). Thank god, following personal intervention of charming Prince William, they now got their way and can wear poppies on armbands this Saturday. I’m sure each and every player on the team will be absolutely delighted!

Incidentally, has anyone ever calculated the environmental impact of gazillions of poppies sold and discarded later? Think about it.

Gee, yet another blog!

Blogging is fashionable. So fashionable, in fact, that I am afraid it will be out of fashion really soon. Oh well, I was never an early adopter of innovative technologies or new ideas.

I am aware that the net is full of blogs and no-one really has the time to read yet another one. So what. I know of at least one person who will be grateful for it: my husband. Why? Well, that way he gets a break from having to listen to my rants which usually include variations of “where I come from…”

Which brings me to the reason why I am writing this: I am an alien. A German in the UK. A big-city girl in a backwater town. In Essex, of all places. I am trying to make the best of it. Which is hard.

Mainly because Brits are weird.

Weird beyond their strange insistence on driving on the wrong side of the road. Or maintaining an expansive Royal Family which has no real job other than supporting poor tabloid journalists in making a living.

The other day, after one of my tirades, my dad asked me the German equivalent of “Is there actually anything that you like about living in England?” “Apart from being able to be with my husband?” I replied. “Sure.” And it’s true, there are things that I positively miss when I’m in Germany. Rhubarb crumble. British comedy. Hedges of fuchsia (hence my photograph in the header). Bed linen that costs only a fraction of what one would have to fork out in Germany (It can’t be the sheep, can it? After all, it’s not New Zealand!).

But then there are so many things that drive me nuts on a daily basis. No examples given here now. If you’re curious, you’ll have to follow my blog. Or pop in again at a later point. I can promise you it will be ugly. Nasty. Vicious. In real life I am trying to steer clear of swearwords for the temporary benefit of my 2-year old son. I might not be equally G-rated here. It’s just so bad!

There, that’s my justification for boring you, who intentionally or unwittingly stumbled across my blog, with my insights. Which leaves only two questions to be answered.

  1. Why on earth would a German blog in English? Well, that’s easy. I am not just a nagging bitch, I do care about the Brits. And how are they supposed to see the errs of their ways if they couldn’t understand a word of my constructive criticism?
  2. What the heck is an island monkey? It’s the literal translation of the German word Inselaffe which is one of the nicknames we call the Brits by. And I would like to make it clear that it is a term of endearment. Really. A bit like they like to call us Krauts. All very innocent. Would I call myself an immigrant island monkey otherwise?

Oh, one more thing: Along the way I might even get a chance to refute the common misconception that Germans don’t have a sense of humour. Let me know how I’m doing.