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Thursday, January 27, 2005

Reacclimating to Belfast.....

I am back in Belfast again, and it will take several days to readjust and catch up (with sleep, among other things). Came back to new computer (XP operating system to replace the Win98 I had -- and which took none of the programs I wanted to use), and today I moved across the hall to another office that has more space and a (partial) view of the hills to the west of Belfast (as well as the Institute parking lot; I gave up a front office view of University Square, but seeing outside from my desk was a neck stretching exercise). Now it is time to get back to work.

But first I have to reacclimate myself to the basic rules for an American living in Northern Ireland. Three of the rules (1-3) apply to anyone living in the UK; two of the rules to anywhere on the isle of Ireland (1 and 3) (rule 2 is applicable, modified only by the exchange rate difference for the Euro); and rule four to Northern Ireland in particular.

Rule one: Remember to look right, drive left. I rarely drive here, so it is really the "look right" rule that is most important. This is more than a matter of the Brits and Irish driving on the left. There is also the lack of crosswalks accompanied by the fact that, except at the designated crossing areas (termed "zebra zones" for obvious reasons; if you want a picture of one, take a look at that old Abbey Road album cover... c'mon, you know the one -- everyone has a copy of that!), cars have the right of way up to the two lines that are literally located at the cross street intersection. So look right and expect no vehicle to give you the right of way -- you have to walk around them to make the crossing.... Yelling and cursing will get you “nowhere, man”! (Which is a title of a song on a different album, so don’t bother – especially if all these music references make no sense to you….)

Rule two: When reading menu prices (or any other price list), remember to multiply by two plus or minus .35. This has only partially to do with the exchange rate, which is now hanging tough around $1.85US = £1 (or GBP or Quid -- whichever you prefer). There is also the fact that there is a 17% VAT (a “value added tax” if you must know) built into all prices AND things are just so much more expense here (make that plus or minus .50). (By the way, the prices for take out are cheaper than the prices for eating in, so beware of price differences in those fast food places – its that pesky VAT again….)

Rule three: When looking at the clock and thinking of home, or when setting up conference calls with colleagues in the US, learn to subtract 5 (or 6 or 7 or 8 depending on where you come from).

Rule four: When listening to the weather for England on the BBC, assume that the opposite is true in Northern Ireland. Sunny forecast for England means rainy for NI; rainy for London, sunny for Belfast. Complementing this is rule 4.5: never trust your visual sense of the weather -- if you look out and it is sunny, take the umbrella. Raining outside, take the umbrella....

OK -- now you are ready to hit the streets....

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