Utilityariansim

After maybe one power cut of more than five minutes that I can recall while living in the UK and Ireland for thirteen years, I’ve had two in just over three weeks of living in Westport.

To be sure, the vehemence of the storms has been impressive….at least, that’s what my wife tells me, as I’ve slept through both of them.  (Imagine my consternation at being awoken from a late afternoon nap with the wife shaking me, shouting “Quick!  There’s a tornado outside!  Come with me!”)

But given the volume of broken tree limbs and downed power lines, it’s clear that this wasn’t a run of the mill bit of thunder’n’lightning that happens maybe once or twice a year in Britain.  No, here in America, we make our storms like we make our cars: big, noisy, and apt to cause a lot of damage.

All of which leads one to wonder why they don’t put the bloody power lines under ground rather then suspending them precariously from pole to pole. Could it be the level of the water table?  Unlikely.  The UK and Ireland are both islands, after all, and I don’t recall seeing above ground power lines every which way you look.

To be sure, this manner of distributing power is the norm in Japan.  But then again, they have the odd earthquake or two round there, which makes keeping the lines below ground a bit more problematic.  I’m assuming that the real answer is “that’s the way we’ve always done it”, and that given current population levels the cost of sinking power lines would just be too prohibitive.  Ugh.

In fairness, the electric company did have guys working round the clock to repair downed lines.  I know this because some 32 hours after the power first went out, we had a crew chainsawing tree branches and using noisy machinery outside our bedroom window at 3 am.

Hard to imagine Southern Electric or EDF doing that.

Sadly, our phone lines are still screwed up.  Oh, we can make outgoing calls just fine.  But try to ring our house, and you get cut off before you’re connected.  You’d think that AT&T would be able to fix this reasonably promptly…but oh no.  They’re strictly a 9-5, 5 days a week crowd round there.

Particularly galling when I rang to report the problem is that they start telling me how much it would cost to fix…$85 for the first half hour, $50 per half hour thereafter.  WTF?!?!  One might have reasonably thought that repairing a dodgy line two weeks after connection might be a basic tenet of the service, but I am swiftly learning that nothing is free in America.

It’s almost enough to make me miss those lovable rogues at BT….

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Back!

At long last, the Impatriate is back in action.

The last few weeks have been wrought with anxiety, as I’ve closed on my new Connecticut house/brought the wife and kids over for good/tried to kit out a completely empty house/tried to do my job/negotiated the minefield of “service” providers/followed the World Cup, among other things.

Any of these things could (and, in some cases, no doubt will) make up a post in their entirety.  Frankly, I’m just glad to be back online chez moi, as I’ve learned the hard way that AT&T appears to stand for “Arseholes Taking Their Time.”  OK, strictly speaking, that’s one “t” too many, but we’ll pretend that the ampersand represents that third t, now won’t we?

I was fortunate to acquire AT&T as a service provider, thanks to a “bundle” arrangement with Directv.  UK customers of Sky will be familiar with the pitch: you buy your TV, internet, and telecoms services from one provider, and you get some marginal savings (though perhaps not optimal service) from buying them a la carte.

Now, television is not something I ordinarily care too much about.  I’ve never owned more than one, and it took until about 18 months ago to join the flatscreen “revolution” (which revolution, in the short product cycle of technology these days, took placer closer in time to the discovery of the wheel than it did the modern era of LED/3D etc.)

But with the small matter of the World Cup going on and two footy-mad sons pitching up from (the disgracefully disappointing) England knowing basically nobody, sorting them out with a means of watching the tournament was a high priority.  I had it all mapped out, too, with Baldrick-like cunning:

* Thursday, July 1, at 10 am, I close on the house

* July 1, 11 am, I purchase a new television, take it to the house, and unpack it

* July 1, 3 pm, I greet the wife and kids in the USA

*July 2, 8 am, they decamp to the new house from their hotel

* July 2, 12 pm, the Directv geezers come and install the satellite just like the Sky geezers do in the UK.

The plan went swimmingly until the last bit.  I knocked off work early to get back to the house for the technicians’ arrival (oh, and the arrival of a bunch of furniture that I’d purchased at great expense unseen by the wife.   What can I say?  I take risk for a living.)

I should have sensed that things were going too smoothly during the drive home.  For it was then that I received a phone call informing me that I had successfully cancelled the installation.  No, no! I cried, then furiously attempted to ring them back.   Fortunately, the paramount disorganization of the subcontractor extended as far as the installation crew, who never got word that I had “cancelled” the engagement.

Unfortunately, the paramount disorganization of the subcontractor extended as far as the installation crew, for the two chaps turned up sans either of the satellite receiver boxes that  I’d ordered.  Wonderful.  After an hour of standing around doing nothing much (they’d obviously recently completed a career switch from the road construction industry), they reported that they could now begin to install the satellite, even if there were no receiver boxes to attach.

The first port of call, however, was to stick my existing wiring into a little black box and see what happened.  As it turns out, a little green light blinked.  The first time this happened, the technician turned round and shot me a knowing look.  I hadn’t a Scooby what it was he knew (and that I so clearly didn’t), nor whether it was for good or ill.   He then moved to a different socket in a separate room and attempted the same maneuver.  The same green blinking light appeared.

He shook his head.  Evidently this was bad news.  As it turns out, his prior job was not in the construction business, after all.   Apparently, he used to be a London Underground driver….for I was cursed to have the “wrong kind of cable” in my house.   This immediately slotted into the same section of the mental Rolodex as “leaves on the track”, “wrong kind of snow”, and other limp excuses offered up by the drivers of rail-based public transport in the United Kingdom.

So, as it turns out, the idea of getting Directv was far from Direct.  As it turns out, a subsequent visit from an electrician resulted in a hands-in-the-air, “I can’t do it” response to my problem….so it looks like I’m stuck with cable.  (Not yet, however.  So the family watched the World Cup final in a bar filled with Spanish high school exchange students, which was actually pretty close to the ideal atmosphere.)

But now I’m stuck with AT&T, who, after more than a week, finally managed to get my phone and internet service up and running.  But now, of course, I no longer have the bundle and the associated cost savings…indeed, the cable company offers a similar, rival service.  So tomorrow I get to explore the option of canceling my AT&T service less than a week after getting up and running.  Somehow I think they’ll take more than their time when I ask about the cost of breaking the service off….

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So long, farewell, auf wiedersehn, goodnight

My radio silence over the past couple of weeks has been a function of three things:

a) I’ve been back in the UK visiting my family before the final, big move

b) My parents are also visiting, which means even less free time with which to write

c) the World Cup.

(To put the latter in perspective, today is my younger son’s 7th birthday.   It is also the day of England’s make-or-break final match in the group stage.   When pressed about which he was more excited about, he unhesitatingly responded”England!”)

In addition to the footy match and my son’s birthday, today also marks my last full day as any sort of resident in the UK.  Tomorrow I’ll get on that big silver bird, and for the first time there will be no concrete plans to come back.

While I’ve got plenty more thoughts on the differences between my own home and my new, for now I am just bidding adieu to England…..(while rooting like mad, if silently, for the USA today!)

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Cars (part III)

Having discussed automobiles and the men who sell them in my last couple of posts, I suppose that I ought to say a few words about the drivers in my new home as well.  Actually, I only need one word, because only one word comes to mind when I think of the drivers here: arseholes. (In point of fact, another word does spring to mind, a word much beloved by the late Peter Cook.  But it’s rather a naughty word, so in the interest of decency it’s best left interred with Mr. Cook.)

In my sixteen years of living and travelling all over the world, I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen such consistently selfish, reckless, and just plain stupid driving as I’ve observed in my three weeks in the great eastern Megalopolis.

Now, I don’t necessarily want to tarnish all of America with the same brush.  Even as a youthful South Carolinian I can recall stories of the aggression and selfishness of the New York driver.  On the basis of my experiences thus far, the reputation that drivers around here have “earned” is richly rewarded.

Perhaps I am simply scarred from doing a disproportionate amount of my driving thus far on I-95.  This, for the uninitiated, is the interstate highway that snakes along the eastern United States from Maine to Florida.  It passes through New York City and, more locally, offers an ostensibly convenient linkage between the coastal towns of Fairfield County from Greenwich to Bridgeport.  In practice, it offers a direct route to Satan’s demesne, for it truly is a Highway to Hell.

Picture, if you will, a three-lane exhibition of Brownian motion, a road where safety is for suckers, a highway where the milk of human kindness has curdled.  Then maybe, just maybe, you’ll scratch the surface of what it’s like to drive on 95.  Perhaps the most apt description of the drivers on 95 is that appear, en masse, to utterly disbelieve in the existence of all other vehicles on the road.

How else to explain the high-speed tailgating at what can only be characterized as “lethal” distances?  The constant changing from lane to lane, regardless of whether there’s another car in the way or not?  The  complete inability to let anyone in or in any other fashion concede one’s place?  The utter refusal of anyone in the left-hand lane (formerly known as the “passing lane”) to pull to the right to allow faster traffic to pass?  And of course, the universally-held view that each driver is “too good” to wait, and is thus permitted to commit all manner of driving offences (including, but not limited to, high-speed driving on the hard shoulder, cutting across multiple lanes to take an already-occupied exit, and a profound ignorance of the rules on right-of-way.)

With driving this bad, accidents and congestion are unfortunately a way of life.   And because of these, the people of the Northeast apparently feel compelled to drive even more recklessly, which then causes more accidents and congestion. …

Yesterday I was caught in a massive snarl-up on 95 and tried to take the first exit.  The cretins who comprised my fellow drivers attempted something that I have never seen before: cars going four abreast in a single exit lane because no one was willing to, and I cannot believe I am using this quintessential Anglicism, “form an orderly queue.”  It was breath-takingly dreadful stuff.  UPDATE:  As it turns out, there was a story behind the awful traffic…a must-read story.   Says it all, really…..

But to ascribe the poor driving simply to 95 would be to miss a larger point.  People really do drive as if they are unaware of a wider world extending more than six inches in front of their nose.  There is an apparently universal belief that each driver has the right to do anything, regardless of the obligation that this imposes upon other drivers on the road.  The “right turn on red” phenomenon is a perfect example.  The law, as written, permits drivers to turn right on a red light if there is no oncoming traffic.   The rule, as interpreted, allows the red-light turnee to turn whenever he damn well pleases, oncoming traffic be damned!  That’s why they put brakes in cars, isn’t it?

The chronic conflation of right with right-of-way is merely a symptom of a larger issue, namely the belief that people can do whatever they want, regardless of the consequences.  It’s an expression of the same trait that produced the housing bubble and subsequent crisis, and also of the military projection that has made America such an unpopular country throughout the rest of the world.

And it leaves me wondering what is wrong with the American psyche.  The country is capable of great things, clearly.    But on several measures of living standards, it’s an emerging market country.  Infant mortality?  It’s between New Caledonia and Croatia.  Income inequality?  It’s between Cote d’Ivoire and Uruguay, according to the CIA.  Traffic fatalities?  It’s between Jamaica and Bangladesh. (Britain, by contrast, is among the very safest  countries.)

Last week, after another aggravating episode behind the wheel, I started to get a nagging feeling, the sensation of a burgeoning thought not yet fully-formed.  Over the last few days it’s gotten stronger, elbowing its way forward into my consciousness.   Today, the epiphany came.  There is another way to describe the drivers here, one that captures their ethos and behaviour perfectly.

Drives too fast?  Check.

Tailgates? Check.

Weaves in and out, regardless of potential damage to other vehicles?  Check.

Thinks they can stop wherever they want, and the rest of the world can jolly well wait or go around them?  Check.

Yep, it hit me like a thunderbolt.  Maybe Connecticut and Britain aren’t so different after all.   Because everyone, and I mean everyone, drives in a way familiar to all Britons.  My new life…my new home….is in a place where everyone behaves just like a white van driver.

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Cars (part II)

Unless you’re the sort of chap that buys yachts, private jets, or Impressionists, your car is likely to be the most expensive thing that you purchase outside of your house. (Divorcees can keep their “wedding ring” jokes to themselves.)  And while both America and Britain have a love affair with cars, their attitude to the automobile is very, very different.

After all, the UK, with a population one-sixth that of the United States, has not one but two popular prime-time television shows dedicated to cars and motoring.  The US, as far as I know, has none.  Read a car review in the British press and you’ll find discussions of things like handling, acceleration, and build quality.  An overview of the same car in America, meanwhile, is more likely to comment on the cup-holders than the cornering.  That, it seems to me, is a pretty succinct summary of everything that’s wrong about the automobile industry in the United States today.

Now, I’ll fully concede that I may have been at least partially brainwashed by the anti-American car rants of the hopelessly biased Jeremy Clarkson, but I’ll also say that his criticisms of American build quality and drivability fully match my experience with GM’s “finest” in the 1980’s.   And it seems stunning that nearly 40 years after the first oil crisis, Detroit’s engineers still seem fixated on top-line power readings rather than extracting maximum power from the smallest (i.e., least thirsty) engine possible.

Upon visiting a suburban (let alone urban) setting, one of the first things that you notice (or at least, that I noticed) is just how many crap cars there are.  No, I’m not talking about new Chevy Tampons or Buick Coffins.  No, the thing that strikes someone coming from Europe is how many old, battered, rusted-out hulks still rumble across the roads in America.  In the UK and Europe, a twenty-five year old car is a collector’s item, an antique.   In the US, it’s a poor person’s car.

This, it seems to me, is a natural outcome of the American system.  It is a great irony of modern America that it has the greatest income inequality of any developed economy (which, combined with its large population, gives it far and away the largest economic underclass among industrialized nations), and yet outside of a few select metropolitan areas, there’s not much cheap public transport to speak of.  OK, there are buses…but they tend to have a fairly limited radius.  How many cost-effective urban train systems can you name?

And so, to get to work, to go to the store, to get anywhere, really….you need a car.  Even if you haven’t got much dough to buy or run one.  And so what happens is that cars of sufficient age and/or decrepitude that  they’d get scrapped in most rich countries get recycled down the economic strata until you’re left driving behind an ’87 Ford Taurus held together with rust, duct tape, and two packs of used Juicy Fruit.

Now, it hardly needs to be said that it costs more to run a car per annum than it does to take a good public transport system in an urban area.  So it is difficult to conclude that the current system is anywhere close to optimal.  Indeed, the battered hulks almost certainly represent negative economic value- not only on a cash flow basis to their current owners, but also in terms of the damage that the drivers (who couldn’t give a crap if they get another dent in their fender, and who are not obligated to carry insurance) might inflict on other, less structurally-compromised vehicles.

Unfortunately, it may be too late to re-engineer the American urban and suburban landscape.  Not only has the urban sprawl in, say, LA or Atlanta reached unmanageable proportions, but there’s the small matter of lack of funds to change things.

Perhaps, then, that explains the perverse incentives confronting Detroit in their home market.  In most of the world, cars are judged by their build quality, fuel efficiency, and driving experience.   In America, cars are made not only for their initial buyer but also subsequent ownership generations.  So inexpensive bodies and cheap interiors are preferred, as long as the drive train is fairly simple and reasonably durable.  After all, it’s not like your average car owner is going out for a spin on a windy B-road for kicks, is he?

None of this, of course, explains the American predilection for “decorating” their cars with all manner of stickers and decals, which can range from the patriotic (“My Grandson is a Marine”) to the political (faded bumper stickers promoting the long-ago candidacies of faded politicians) to the mid-bogglingly vapid ( “I Love My Maltese”.)  You can call the American public a lot of things, but “understated” and “reserved” ain’t among them.

So while the motoring experience in America is substantially cheaper than it is in Europe, to a large degree you get what you pay for.  Crap cars that drive like crap that run on crap fuel. (“Regular” unleaded fuel in the UK has a higher octane rating than “Super-Premium” here in the US, which is a little-discussed explanation for the magnitude of the fuel price gap.)  Maybe there’s something in the air.  After all, I had a Golf for ten years in the UK and Ireland, and nothing ever fell off it (except when some bastard plowed into my wing mirror.)  I had my new GTI for six days here in Connecticut…and the side skirting fell off!  And I haven’t even been hit (yet) by a knackered ’83 K-Car…..

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Cars (part I)

Are there any professions that enjoy a consistently worse reputation than car salesman?  A few, perhaps:  politicians, ambulance-chasing lawyers, and, in this modern age of financial crisis and enormous public bail-outs, perhaps we can add bankers.

Mafiosi?  Surely not: consider the attention lavished upon organized crime by both Hollywood and Guy Ritchie.  Then consider the portrayal of car salesman in the movies.   Off the top of my head, I can only think of two: the faux secret agent played by Bill Paxton (or is it Bill Pullman?) who ends up wetting himself in True Lies, and the bumbling would-be criminal mastermind Jerry Lundegaard in Fargo. While the mid-90’s may have been the glory years for car salesmen in the movies, they nevertheless came across as little more than spineless weasels.

Sounds about right, eh?

And so it was with trepidation that the missus and I took on the mantle of dealing with auto salesmen in both our old and new homelands: the wife is trying to sell our Audi back to the dealership we bought it from five months ago, while I have been conducting a long-distance transaction with a car dealer in Philly, from whom I bought a new Golf GTI over the internet.

Where, oh where, to begin?  My initial experience was a decent one.  The company with whom I’ve maintained a US credit card (but not, alas, a US credit history!) during my sixteen year foreign odyssey offers a car-buying service.  You spec out the car that you want, plug in your zip code, and dealers will offer you quotes that they are obligated to honour.  That sounds fair enough.   So I duly plug in what I’m after (a high-spec GTI), press enter…and then in a minute or so I get three quotes from dealers as close as Fairfield County and as distant as Philly.

OK, fine.   The Philly guy’s the cheapest by some distance…but then again his location’s the furthest by a similar margin.   I’ll contact the Connecticut guy first.  I send him an email….and he duly replies, saying “oh, we haven’t got the car that you asked for, we’ll have to order it, it’ll take a few months.”  A quick check of his online inventory confirms that he doesn’t have the car….which raises the thorny question of why he bothered quoting me on it to begin with.

Still, at least he had the decency to respond, which is more than can be said for the guy in Westchester County.   Perhaps he likes a challenge, and customers emailing him about buying a car is an affront to his sales skills.  Would fishing be so popular if the bass simply jumped into the boat?  Perhaps he was busy and my email slid off the front page of his Outlook; I know when that happens to me, important emails sometimes get missed.   Or maybe, just maybe, he’s the archetypal car salesman, who’s too thick and lazy to do a proper bit of work.

Alas, we’ll never know.  For the guy from Philly also emailed back, echoing his Connecticut comrade that he didn’t have the car to hand.   This time, however, a check of his online inventory suggested that he did indeed have a car with everything I wanted (and actually, a bit more) on the lot.   So I fire an email back, asking “what about car X”, to which he sheepishly replies “oh…err…yeah, that’s a demo model we have, I suppose I could sell you that.”   Funny, I thought that was his job…..

Anyhow, this is where the stupidity ends and the dissimulation begins.  When I ask how many miles it has on the clock, he replies “about 8000.”   Really, I say, well in that case it’s not so much of a demo as a used car, so we’ll need to negotiate a pretty tasty discount from what you’ve quoted me.

“Ah,” he replies, “it’s actually only got 2000 miles on the odometer.”  Actually, perhaps I was wrong.  Maybe stupidity was still in the ascendance at this juncture, for how else could he say it’s got 8000 miles on the odometer when it’s actually only got 2000?  (The answer, of course, is that you get your service guys to wind the clock back, which I suppose would be possible if this chap were clever enough to think of such a ploy.  I’m not sure he was.  Eventually, the figure was revised back up to 2800.)

So I knock him down from his original quoted price by another $500 or so; at $1700 below invoice, I think I’m getting a pretty good deal.  A few hours later after we agree a price and do a virtual handshake, he emails back saying that he needs to increase the price by a hundred and ten bucks.  Now in the context of the price of the car, that’s not a load of money.  But after spending the better part of a day haggling back and forth and finally agreeing a price, why does he then need to come back and change it?  (As it turns out, he’d forgotten to add in some mandatory fee from the state of Pennsylvania; perhaps we’re still in the realm of stupidity at this juncture.)

All of this took place several weeks ago, while I was still in the UK.   Before yesterday’s scheduled pick-up, I duly got the car insured, though my salesman provided the vehicle identification number (a prerequisite for insurance, evidently) only grudgingly.   The impression I got was that he couldn’t be arsed to type the 20 or so characters of the VIN into an email.

Now, I’ve always paid cash for my cars, and in the UK it couldn’t have been easier.   On the day of the sale, you give the salesman your debit card, the bank has a word to make sure it’s you, and it’s job done.  Surely America, land of the free and home of the customer-friendly service industry, would be the same?

Uh-unh.  On Friday afternoon, the sales guy emails me to ask if I have got my cashier’s check (i.e., a banker’s draft) ready and if my license has been registered to a Connecticut address.  Ummmmm…..no.  Wouldn’t that information have been fairly useful before 1.30 pm the day before I’m supposed to pick up the car?

Thus started one of the more surreal hours of my life.

I call the salesman.   A familiar voice answers “XXX Motors”, but when I ask for the salesman by name, I get told “Oh, he’s out on the floor with another customer.  Can I take your name and have him call you back?”  When I tell him my name and say that a return call is extremely urgent, he says “Oh, hi Impatriate, it’s me. “ (What kind of salesman screens his calls?!?!)  “I thought you were the mortgage guy after me.” (Ah…..the kind in some sort of personal financial trouble.  Splendid!)

When I explain that I haven’t got a bank account yet (another story for another day), let alone a cashier’s check, he says “Hmmm….well we’re going to have a problem.   We can only take cashier’s checks, not cards or personal checks.   Let me talk to my finance guy and get back to you.”

Errrkk!!  This is trouble.  Not only do I not have the acceptable form of payment for my new car, but I am supposed to drop off my rental in Philly at the same time.   Sans new car, I’ve got no way to get back.

Fortunately, my colleagues overhear my side of the conversation and offer to help.  I can write them a personal check for the amount, and we’ll go to the bank together and get a cashier’s check for the relevant amount.  Problem sorted, right?

Well, maybe not.  After half a dozen unanswered phone calls to the sales guy, he finally picks up again.  When I explain that I can give him a cashier’s check from someone else’s account, he sounds dubious.   A check with his finance guy appears to confirm that a check from someone else will not suffice.  (At this point we are seriously considering withdrawing $30k in cash and paying with Benjamins.  Not an ideal solution, to be sure!)

Radio silence from the sales guy again.  An email marked “urgent” goes unanswered.    Finally, he rings back (the first time has ever managed to successfully phone me, despite having had my number for the past month- both in the UK and US.)

“No, “ he says, ”it cannot be a check with his address on it.”

Now hold on, I say.  A cashier’s check is from a bank.  Your counterparty is the bank, not me or my colleague.  “Really?” he says.  Yes, I reply.  You don’t get a cashier’s check without giving the bank the money first.  “Oh.” he says. “I’ll call you back.”

Slowly, it dawns on me.   Despite demanding a cashier’s check, this guy doesn’t actually know what a cashier’s check is. Un-bee-lievable.

So eventually he calls back and the crisis is averted.  Yes, they can accept a cashier’s check if the money came from someone else.  (In the end, we actually sorted it so it had my name on it.  And unbelievably,  I’ve actually omitted a few details, such as my attempt to send funds to them from my brokerage account.)

So finally, I drove to Philly yesterday.  The final transaction was relatively painless; the most notable feature of my time there was a receptionist who didn’t know where the nearest petrol station was (3 blocks down the street, as it turned out) and a 300 lb salesman with enough oil in his hair to stir-fry an ostrich…and no front teeth.  Oh, and the fact that I could have put it all on a card in the first place.

If my car-buying experience in the US has been a monument to stupidity, the ongoing car-selling saga in the UK has been an exercise in cupidity.   The tale is short and, as of this writing, sadly unresolved.  We purchased our Audi from the local dealer at the turn of the year and figured it would be a snip to sell it back to them at a modest loss.  If only…

We started calling the dealer three weeks ago and were told we had to get in touch with “the buyer.”  A message was duly left.  With no response forthcoming, a second attempt was made, and a second message left.  What followed was two solid weeks of calling the dealer (and its sister dealership a few miles further afield) every three days and leaving messages for a chap more difficult to locate than Lord Lucan or Osama bin Laden.  We never did manage to track him down before I left the UK.

Finally, the wife has enough a writes an exceptionally stroppy letter to the president of Epsom Audi.  Miraculously, a few days later she manages to get ahold of the elusive buyer.  Now, when we bought the car we didn’t get a particularly great price, due largely in part to the absolute shortage of available cars in our desired spec (an A6 Avant with an engine bigger than the 2.0 liter TDI.)

So I wasn’t expecting to fare particularly well in the transaction.   But even with those low expectations, I was flabbergasted when the wife rang up to say that the dealer’s bid was a full 30% below our purchase price a mere five months after we bought the car.   It’s not even like we needed to wear the “new car” depreciation; it was a year old and had done 7000 miles when we bought it.

Now, I am not a particular expert on the depreciation dynamics of 2.7l Audi A6 estate cars, but  I was born with an ounce of common sense, as was the missus.   And a 30% hit on five months of ownership (with no damage whatsoever incurred to the car, which still has <10,000 miles on it!) is just wrong, wrong, wrong.

At least the strange absence of the buyer in previous weeks made sense now.  Clearly, he was in Mexico stocking up on sombreros and bullet holders from the Pancho Villa Department Store.  Naturally, we told him to get stuffed; given her success with the president of the dealership earlier, the missus is going to inquire of him to explain his buyer’s bid/ask spread.

In the meantime, potential customers of Epsom Audi, be warned:  you had better be a big fan of Hotel California if you buy a car there.  And if any UK-based readers are interested in a slightly used, high spec Audi A6 estate, by all means get in touch with the Impatriate.

So there you go: stupidity and cupidity, a tale of two countries.   My expectations going in were pretty low, and yet for different reasons car dealers on both sides of the Atlantic managed to undershoot them.   On the basis of my experience, I’ve got to say that the reputation of car salesman (and their portrayal in the movies) looks pretty accurate to me.

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The first morning (barely)

OK, well the die has been cast.

I’m sitting here in the United States on my first morning as in impatriate.  The birds are singing and it looks like it’s going to be a great day.  (I’m half-expecting a bunch of animated woodland creatures to come in and make my breakfast for me, a la some Disney film.)  I’ve been up for a couple of hours already.  It’s half past nine in the morning.

UK time.

Man, I just love jetlag.

Now, I know that my brief introduction foreswore all mention of markets and macro.  That’s a promise I intend to keep.  But while you can take the (macro) man out of the financial blog, it’s a bit trickier to take the financial blogger out of the man.

And so as I endured the seemingly interminable security queue at Terminal 5, I found myself ruminating on free markets and dirigeism, as any traveler is wont to do in such circumstances.  You see, there are something like 15 security scanners in that part of Heathrow.   When I made the same trip with Mrs. Macro and the Macro Boys last month, we were afforded the luxury of choosing which scanner queue to enter.  Unsurprisingly,  we chose the shortest queue, as did everyone else, and the wait was thankfully short.

Not so yesterday, where each scanner queue but one was roped off and administered by a Right Bolshy Cow, who, once the line was sufficiently backlogged, would then arbitrarily open fresh queues in senseless locations.  Woe betide the enterprising traveler (such as, ahem, your author) who slipped beneath the rope at an opportune place to join a short queue!  The reward was a public bollocking from the  R.B.C.  and a slope-shouldered return to one’s previous place on the road to nowhere.

Seriously, it was like a school project from the Soviet Institute of Management and Personal Magnetism.  Hmm….perhaps public sector workers are just bitter that their sugar-daddy’s been chucked out of office, and are taking it out on a hapless public?  Maybe they were just having a bit of fun before Ushite grounds BA flights for the better part of a month?  Who knows.

Regardless, whatever sour taste my experience with centrally-planned security queues had left swiftly morphed into the sweet sensation of satisfaction when I was approached by a chap with a clipboard, who proved to be from the Office for National Statistics.   He wanted to know where I was going, and why.

When I told him “New York, emigration”, his eyes lit up.   “Ooooh, why are you going?” he asked.   “Are you a student who’s finished your studies?” (Readers of the impatriate’s original blog may recall that he took issue with the credibility of ONS statistics from time to time.   If all of their agents can confuse a graying 39 year old with a college student, then the statistical foibles of UK data are a bit more understandable.)

“No, it’s employment-related,” I responded.  “I’m changing jobs.”

“And why is that?” asked our intrepid surveyor.

At last!  Here was the moment I had been waiting on for thirteen years!   Denied the right to vote, forced to suffer the indignities of regular trips to Lunacy House in Croydon, I finally had the chance to say my piece!  It was all I could do not to hop onto a soapbox and declaim for forty minutes.

“Well, I’m a fund manager,” I said, keeping my voice admirably level in the circumstances.  “The tax and regulatory regime has made it difficult to do business in this country….so I’m off!”

Now, I’m under no illusions that my response will be sent anywhere but the bottom of a very large drawer filled with immigration data.  But still, I was pleased to have the satisfaction of saying my piece to an official organ of the UK government, no matter how far down the food chain.

And maybe…just maybe…if you hear Vince Cable or Adair Turner mention how the UK tax regime is “driving out the ‘parasites’”….well, you’ll know where they got their information.

Posted in UK | 5 Comments

A Brief Introduction

Hola, and welcome.

If you are reading this, you may know me from my previous literary incarnation as a financial blogger, now retired.  Those of you who read my final (actually, my penultimate) post at my old site will be familiar with the circumstances of my literary retirement: namely, a change in employment and a move from the United Kingdom to the United States.

By way of introduction, I am an American who left the States on his 23rd birthday and is moving back a few days after his 39th.  When I left, I didn’t have an email address and Netscape hadn’t even issued a press release, let alone a web browser.  Friends had yet to debut on network television.

Bill Clinton was less than halfway through his first term of office and the Republicans had yet to control Congress.   Francois Mitterand was president of France, and John  Major still had three years to go as PM of the UK.

Over the last 16 years, I have lived in France, Switzerland, and Singapore, but spent most of my time in Ireland and particularly the UK.  I got my South Carolina driver’s license when I was 15 years old….but I’ve still spent more of my life driving on the left side of the road than on the right.

In short, though I am ostensibly going “home”, I’m really moving to a foreign country.  I am hardly becoming an expatriate- after all, my US passport is the only one that I possess.  Nor am I a repatriate- the US is not the same country that I left, and I am not the same individual who moved away all those years ago.

No, I think of myself as an “impatriate”…an imported expatriate, if you will, and one who’s more foreign than not.  This site will, I hope, chronicle some of my (mis)adventures in re-assimilating into the U.S. of A. along with my decidedly foreign family.

I’ve no idea how often I’ll post, though I know it’ll be a heck of a lot less often than at my old site.   I must also stress that I will not be talking about financial markets or the day job at all; Macro Man retired for a reason, and I’m afraid that he must stay retired.

But if you enjoyed his sense of humour, his frequent bemusement, or even (God forbid) his poetry, check this place out every so often.   If this Diary achieves even a fraction of the success that my old site had, we’ll all have a lot of fun.

Cheers!

Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments