There is something about me and writing blog posts while sitting in airport lounges around the globe, or at the very least in New York and Paris…
Four years and change after I announced my first move I’m moving again, though this time the jump is significantly shorter, and even the downsizing is downsized, particularly as the plug I’d be using is the same. You could say this is a bold move, particularly with the ghost of Brexit floating above us as a semi-transparent Damocle’s Sword, but it’s a decision I made, not over night, but through many months of deliberation and a good number of arguments back and forth. And I decided this before the hilarious hung parlament results.
So, why am I doing this move, and what does it actually include? I’m staying at the same company, in the same role and in a team not really far away (on a management, if not service, chain) from the one I was at before. What really matters in all of this is the place I live in, rather than the work I’m doing. Work provided an excuse and a spark for me to make the jump, simply because my previous team has been folded into another.
When I flew onto Dublin, for the second time after the interview, four years ago, I knew next to nothing about Ireland, except for the stereotypes and the worrying stories of the Troubles. I effectively knew only one person in the country, and I was fairly scared about the whole process, which went significantly smoother than I would have expected. As a friend of mine told me before I left, Dublin is the capital that still feels like a little town, and I can definitely see that.
I grew up in a relatively small town, with next to no public transport, but a significant amount of malls and stores, and a stupid but functional airport nearby. Dublin beat that significantly, except for the lack of malls, and the fact that unless you have a car to go outside the city centre, it is likely that whatever you need you’ll order on Amazon anyway. Except there is no Amazon Ireland, so you’ll be looking at either Amazon UK, Italy, Germany or (if you can manage) France. Because the prices will be different all over, and some of the Amazon stores will refuse to send things to you in Ireland, and you have to use one of the many services that provide you with an UK address, and then reships the parcel to you (most of which use addresses in Northern Ireland, because it’s close enough, and counts as UK for most of those limitation).
But it also has limitations that a small provincial town has, and I’m not talking about the song from Beauty and the Beast, though it does come close. At least for the native Irish, the stereotypes is that they all know each other. It is not true of course, as it’s a stereotype, but it comes awfully close. In particular, according to a former manager, Irish people make friends in two phases in life: during school and during their kids’ school years. If you happen to get to Ireland when you’re clearly too old to be a student, but single, with no kids (and no intention to have any), making friends is not quite easy.
I have tried, maybe not with just as much energy as others have, but still tried. Unfortunately, almost the full set of social gatherings in Ireland involve pubs. I don’t drink alcohol, alcohol could kill me, and definitely makes me mean. But I could go to a pub and not drink of course. I did that in Italy, where the pub favourite by my group of friends offered as many pages of menu to coffee, chocolate, the and infusions drinks as of beers, plus a good selection of other desserts. That is not the case in Ireland. Effectively, the only non-alcoholic drinks you find at the pub are there to not live thirsty the designated drivers, and they are bloody expensive. €5 for a 150ml bottle of Diet Coke! — I’m told that Coca Cola by the pint is cheaper, unfortunately because of diabetes that would be almost as bad as alcohol. I know at least one pub in which I can order a pot of tea, and not get the stink eye by the waiters, but that’s about it.
For the first couple of years I didn’t really feel this being a big problem: for the first few months, Enrico (from #gentoo-it) was around as well, before moving on with his life in a different country, I made a number of friends at the office, and a few people who I knew before, such as Stefano from automake, came to Dublin. Then something happened, that made me question the idea of mixing colleagues and friends. Nothing Earth-shattering, but enough of a demonstration for me that I started isolating myself from most of the people at the office: rejected invitations for social events, mass de-friended people from Facebook, and so on. You may think this sounds a bit extreme, but I have my reasons.
I turned again to trying to find interesting groups of people in Ireland, and that’s where the introvert and awkward part of me just gave up and filled me with dread: I’m not particularly good with meeting people already, but it just felt too much work to join an established group of people who all know each other without even having one person you know to introduce you. I had better luck on that with meeting people at Eastercon and Nine Worlds, thanks to Gianni. And all the groups I could find in Dublin that didn’t have to do with “going out for pints”, were effectively groups of people who have known each other for years. They may be friendly but not easy to make friends, at least not for me.
Of course there is a group of people that I knew already, and I considered: the people who left the office! Unfortunately, almost the full amount of people who I knew that stayed in Ireland did so because they have a family there. They are in a different “time of life” than me, and that makes for an awkward time — most wouldn’t be interested in meeting to go to a geek store on the weekend, or a Comicon or similar venue. You can go and see them at home (depending on how friendly the terms you’re in are), and see the kids. Heh, no thanks.
So after four years, a lot of the people I knew and was/am friend with leaving Ireland for other countries, offices or jobs, I found myself lonely, and with a need to move somewhere else. And just to be clear, loneliness is not just about being single. That is obviously a part of it, but it’s in general the inability to say to any group of friends “Let’s meet tonight for movies, boardgames or a match of Street Fighter” (or whatever beat ‘em up the cool kids play nowadays). I could do that in Italy, I even still managed to do that in Italy last time I flew in, with some of my best friends now living together and expecting a baby. But I can’t do that in Dublin because there are very few people with who this proposition is not totally awkward.
Heck, I can do that in Paris! I have friends in France who I just had to say “There is this concert at this date, want to go?” and six months later I’m flying a DUB-CDG/CDG-YUL/YUL-DUB ticket to see Joe Hisaishi at Le Palais des Congrés. (Montréal is for a conference, it was the week after so it was easy to just go from one to the other without passing by Dublin.)
But most of this awkwardness is on me, so why do I expect things to be any different in London? Well, to begin with I know more people there (outside of work) than I did in Dublin, or that I even do now. A friend of mine from junior high moved to London last year with her boyfriend, so at the last I know them, and we’re close enough that the similar proposition of spending an evening in playing Scrabble is totally feasible (actually, we did just that when I went to see them last year). And these are people who can make the general awkwardness of entering a new group of people easier for me.
Most importantly, though, I think London has a different structure that should make it possible for me to end up meeting people even randomly. Because though I am clearly awkward and scared of joining big groups that already know each other, I don’t mind the random words with a stranger in the queue for a flight or while waiting for coffee. After all that’s give or take how I end up meeting people at conferences. In London there are just too many people for them to all know each other. And in particular, there are the places where these things can happen.
Part of the reason why almost all the social gatherings in Dublin revolve around pubs is that they are the only venue you can go to spend some time on “neutral grounds” (i.e. not in someone’s home, not at an office). I don’t know of a coffee shop in Dublin that is open after 1900 on a weekday, except for the Starbucks in front of St Stephen Green and a few Insomnias that are embedded within 24hrs convenience stores. London has plenty, although they are not all in the most convenient of places, if anything you can find a Nero open until 2200 almost every other corner. No, Nero does not stay open that much in Dublin either.
There is more. If you’re a geek you probably have at least heard of Forbidden Planet. It’s a megastore of comics, manga, books, and anything geek effectively. It’s very commercial and mainstream, but it’s also big and they run book signings there, which makes it an interesting place to go just to see if something may be going on. It’s effectively in the centre of life if London, effectively in SoHo, and if you meet there with friends you can geek out with friends on their latest purchases in one of the many cafes around the area. Or browse, buy something and go to dinner.
There is a Forbidden Planet in Dublin which is not as big but it still has a decent selection. Unfortunately all the venues around it are effectively pubs, as you’re on the verge of Temple Bar, which appears to be the Irish national treasure. Unless you manage to get out well before 5pm and get coffee to the shop just behind it, which of course closes at 5pm all week long. And even to be fair and consider Sub City comics which in my opinion is usually better stocked, it’s all pubs around it except for Bewley’s and Krüst down the street in front of it… which requires you to cross one of the most trafficked streets in Dublin city centre.
I’m not saying that there is an absolute certainty that I will meet people in London, I’m just saying that there are a few things that are not stacked against me, like they are in Dublin. And I really need to make some change that I don’t feel full of dread every time I come back to my apartment after weeks travelling, like I did coming back from my recent trip across Asia, when all of the four people I hang out with at all were not in town.
Nothing else really changes even, but you may notice that the targets of my rants will change from Ireland to UK, and possibly to the process of actually moving, filing taxes and so on. Actually, I know you’ll get at least another post on payment cards because I started looking into them and it looks like the foreign transaction fees in the UK are really bad.