Hugs and kisses

1

I’ve been in London since Feb 2nd – almost for a month. Most of my time I spent looking for a home and looking for work.

I got half of my money back from the shady Turk but to this day haven’t received the rest. The life lesson is simple: never trust Turks. You might say that I shouldn’t put them all into one pot, but I’m not that nice. The other lesson is that you shouldn’t pay for anything in advance when dealing with cash. Trust is a beautiful thing but it’s also very fragile.

On a happier note… I’ve found a new home. I’m being cheap and sharing a room with a Spanish man. I believe about 8 people live in the house but they all keep themselves to themselves. So I don’t see them that often. Pretty much everyone here is older than me – except one toddler, who’s probably 2 years old. Most of the people here are native Spanish speakers, there’s a woman from Greece and another one from Bulgaria.

My room is quite large, nice and clean. The place isn’t too far from the city center and it’s very close to supermarkets and the tube. I’m pretty happy with it at the moment.

Work. I’ve been actively looking for work and have had 4 interviews. I’ve got a good feeling I will land a job soon. My last 2 interviews went very well. Fingers crossed.

hugs_and_kisses

Today I met with Caroline – a friend from Australia. I was really looking forward to meeting her. So I took the tube to her place, she opened the door with her huge smile and went for a kiss on the cheek. I don’t do that so that didn’t happen… just a quick awkward hug.

She’s French and it’s how they greet. I’m Estonian and for us anything from a nod or handshake is too much. It’s too close and quite uncomfortable for me.

I took my shoes off and 3 holes in my socks greeted Caroline. Hello! Hi! Bonjour! 😀 If you’re reading this, please send me socks.

We discussed the weather to honor the British surroundings. We talked some more. One thing led to another and somehow we got back to the kiss on the cheek greeting and cultural differences. We’re such intellectuals!!!

From what I remember she said a hug is more intimate than a kiss on the cheek. I completely disagree. To me a hug is the world’s most innocent thing imaginable (next to a nod from a far far away distance of course).

I also blush. Sometimes I get all red and awkward… the worst thing is I have absolutely no control over it. And I did. Today. That’s probably the biggest reason why I’m not OK with the kiss on the cheek thing.

So, here’s the problem – France prefers kisses to hugs, Estonia prefers hugs to kisses. The result is awkwardness.

I take great pride in the fact that I have successfully created a pseudo issue, although it was good to see you Caroline.

XOXO

Ivar the Anthropologist

Fifty Shades of Stupid

2

Before I get to explain my utter stupidity, I need to close a chapter in my life. I was alone in Christchurch and I wanted to stay there for about 10 days. More than a month ago I bought a flight ticket to London. First I needed to catch a flight from Christchurch to  Auckland and then Auckland-Sydney-Dubai-London.

In the meantime I didn’t want to feel so lonely and wanted to meet some locals. I couchsurfed. One of my hosts took me hiking to Mount Hutt. It was quite interesting actually. We got lost and had to make our own way through a thick bush. Later we criss-crossed a river many many times as we walked along it. I’ve never had to get my feet wet on a hiking track. I also managed to clock in some morning exercise with my host. He was into running and I joined him. Otherwise I’ve been doing very little training in New Zealand.

My second CS host was very busy and we didn’t really do much together.

My last hosts Grace and Nick were awesome. We had so much in common. I will cherish the memories of playing the guitar and singing with Nick. Wow! That man can sing! Good food, good wine, good company. I had an excellent time. Even the cat seemed to like me 😀 Meeeeooowww!!!

I discovered that Christchurch had several Latin dancing schools and they had some socials. So I went to practice my awesome moves and I really loved it. It wasn’t as busy as in Auckland or Brisbane but I managed to have lots of fun. I think the zouk party they had was the best social I’ve ever been to – partly I think it’s because I got to dance with many advanced girls. They bend and twist and turn in very very very cool ways.

This is how I almost dance (in a few months I could do all the moves):

It was a bit sad to board that plane and leave Christchuch. It’s sort of an underdog city. It’s been beat up by some earthquakes but the community is strong, the people seemed happy, helpful and nice. I will miss Christchurch.

I landed in Auckland and had to stay there for 4 days. I knew Taimi (the Estonian girl I met in Paihia) was in the city so I got in touch with her. She had another friend from Estonia – Anngret – who was also living in Auckland. We decided to have a little Estonian reunion. We had some drinks and shared stories about our travels.

Anngret used to live in London and had some contacts there. She offered to help me if I needed anything in London. She kept her word and right now I’m writing this post at the family’s house where she used to do au pair work. This place is a castle!!! Thanks Anngret.

OK. This post is getting long I’ll get to London. My first task was to find a new home. I thought I found one but this story is not that simple… In fact I’ve made stupid decisions one after the other.

I tend to trust people. Even strangers. I generally think that people are good and have good intentions. So I give them the benefit of a doubt. But sometimes people take advantage of that. Here’s what happened:

I found a room to rent in London. I contacted the guy and we met at his apartment. I took a look at the room and everything seemed ok – except that the guy was from Turkey. I don’t really trust Turks – they’re dodgy.

Stupidity level 1. I was tired of looking around for rentals so I gave the guy the security deposit (one month’s rent) to lock in my room. He said a French girl was still living there and I could move in in 5 days on Monday. I never saw the French girl, but he pointed at the two suitcases which he claimed were her’s.

Safety first I thought and I asked the guy for some ID. He gave me his UK driver’s license and I took a photo of it with my fancy phone. I also asked him to give me a receipt for the deposit which he promptly wrote on a piece of paper. We dated and signed it. Having that piece of paper gave me a bit of a boost in confidence – I thought I could trust this guy.

I didn’t pay the whole security deposit. I paid 200GBP because I couldn’t get any more cash out of the Bank of Santander ATM with my Australian CBA card. I said I’d pay the rest of the deposit the next day.

In the mean time I checked my online banking statement which said I lost about 36AUD on that transaction. I wasn’t very happy about that and started to look into ways to minimize my transaction costs.

Stupidity level 2. Next day I met with Turkey. He had “great” news. He said he saw an oven which was for sale for 200GBP and said it would be perfect for the apartment. I like cooking and baking so I liked the idea of having an oven in the flat. He didn’t want this deal to disappear and needed cash quickly. He asked me if I could give him the first month’s rent as well. Earlier we agreed that I’d pay it on the day I move in. I thought it was best to withdraw larger amounts of cash from the ATM to minimize transaction costs so I decided to trust the guy. I gave him another 200GBP in cash. This time I got no receipt.

Turkey also offered to help me with some other things. I needed to open a UK bank account and he joined me to the bank. We spent some time at Lloyd’s bank but were not successful. I needed proof of address (such as a utility bill to my name with my address) to open a bank account. I went to 2 other banks – HSBC and NatWest – and they said the same thing.

I thought there’s one more thing I need – a National Insurance number. We walked to a Jobcentre Plus to book an appointment. The staff wasn’t very helpful. They gave me a phone number to call. Turkey offered to help and said he could do the talking on the phone. I said “sure”. After the phone call he said that they asked him some tricky questions about working in the UK. It seemed like the government doesn’t hand out NI numbers very easily. I got an appointment for Feb 21st. Yes, they don’t just give you a number, you need to pass an interview first.

Stupidity level 3. On day 3 Turkey called and asked if I could wire him 160 GBP because he wanted to do some paintwork in the room and it’s good to do that when I was out of the room. He said everything would be ready once I moved in. Again I believed the guy. This time I didn’t exactly pay in cash. I went to a bank, handed the teller the cash and said I needed it to go to this-and-this account. I thought it’s a safe way of transferring money because a bank is involved.

Turkey also said he spoke to his electricity provider and said he could add my name to the bill. He needed a copy of my passport for that. I emailed it.

Stupidity level 4. Saturday evening I got a text saying that his mother has some sort of medical emergency and needs to stay at his flat for 4 nights. He mentioned his mother earlier and said he’s had to host her before as well. The hospital is very close to his flat.

This time I had had enough. I said I don’t believe him and his taking advantage of me. He called me and we spoke on the phone for 15 minutes. I called him a scammer and he got very upset about that – what a drama queen. He offered to pay for my hostel for those 4 nights and not take any rent for one week’s time. He wanted me to ‘relax’ and ‘not worry about it’. I agreed to his offer. What else could I do?

So tomorrow I’m going to meet Turkey again and hope that he’ll give me some money for the hostel which I already booked. If he doesn’t show up and avoids my phone calls I will go to a police station and seek legal help.

I feel very stupid at the moment. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

Stupid.

I’ve done lots of homework on Google about rental scams and none of them are similar to my story. Usually in a scam you would never see the property, nor meet the scammer in person. You also wouldn’t get to take a picture of the scammer’s driving license and they don’t walk around with you helping with opening bank accounts, getting NI numbers and obtaining proof of address documents. But the fact is I’m out of 560GBP and have nothing to show for it.

I hope all’s legit but I’m worried. Very very worried.

Ivar the Worrier