Monday, September 26

No excuses

Oh, it's late and I'm giving up on trying to figure out my new bank account, my loan repayments, and how the heck to order myself a proper cell phone.

I miss places like this.

London is very busy. It's not easy adjusting to it, or adjusting to being in an office 50 hours every week. I get sleepy and grumpy and frazzled because there's hardly enough time to figure out boring details like bank accounts, much less time to be social. And forget about sleeping for nine consecutive hours.

As I often say to others, I now say to myself: get some real problems. 

I still have much to learn about balance and prioritizing and letting things go. This weekend I identified things I'm gonna try to avoid compromising:

Go to the gym... no excuses.
Don't complain... no excuses.
Put other people before yourself... no excuses.

Exercise, a positive attitude, and selflessness are all very, very important to me. And lately I'm no good at any of them. But I shan't give up!

While avoiding the gym and whining about corporate life and English weather, I've managed to have some good times. Last week I went to a house group dinner/Bible study with people from Church on the Corner. I made some orange cookies because I had two old wrinkly oranges that I didn't want to throw away (the cookies were so yummy). Friday, we watched the 1952 movie The African Queen in a big outdoor amphitheater at the foot of Tower Bridge. On Saturday, some interns and I took the train to Brighton, a town on the southern coast. And yesterday I gave up my no-caffeine diet and made my first at-home cup of coffee since arriving in England. Thinking about it almost makes me look forward to seven am...


Sunday, September 18

Open House London

It was sunny today! So Dave and I wandered around Islington (our borough, or neighborhood) for awhile...  This weekend was Open House London, a kind of celebration of London's architecture by opening up unique homes and buildings to the public, and we visited an architectural photographer's home. It was pretty cool. Along the way, we stopped for ginger beer and lollipops and later for fresh corn, peppers, and potatoes at Chapel Street's Sunday market.

Wednesday, September 14

Stage 2 rage

You might like to check out this article about Americans' "residential mobility" driving their desire for familiar, national brands.

On a related note, I've been thinking about the stages people go through after moving to a new place. In stage 1, you romanticize everything (see Jolly good! and the fourth paragraph in this post). Even the weird stuff is new and exciting (oh look! the hot and cold water flow separately out of separate faucets! how quaint!) But then you enter stage 2, angrily replacing your rose-colored glasses with I-hate-everything glasses (I hate separate faucets! I always freeze or burn my hands!).

Another example.

On Saturday, I walked half a mile to Angel to shop for new trainers (= UK English for running shoes. I hate the word trainers. See what I mean?). My knees started aching halfway there and I angrily thought 'WHY DO I HAVE TO WALK EVERYWHERE? I MISS MY CAR.' I didn't find any shoe stores in the area and I angrily thought 'WHY CAN'T I DO ALL MY SHOPPING AT ONCE INSTEAD OF WALKING MILES AND MILES TO INDIVIDUAL STORES?' The grocery store was completely out of salmon fillets, so naturally I thought, 'UK GROCERY STORES ARE DUMB. THEY'RE ALWAYS OUT OF EVERYTHING.' On the way home, I stopped at Boots to buy deodorant and the grand finale of Saturday's stage 2 rage descended upon me when I rediscovered that Brits don't use stick deodorant. All deodorants, besides one or two overpriced speciality brands, are spray-on or liquid roll-on. Infuriating. I HATE LIQUID DEODORANT.

And so forth.

I pride myself in being positive and adaptable in new places, but sometimes I too am irritated by the unfamiliar. Sometimes I just want to get in my car and drive to Wal-Mart where I'm certain to find my favorite, non-liquid deodorant. Confession. 

Monday, September 12

Deficit & bluegrass

Today I made a lot of mistakes, but just when I thought I was on top of things, I misspelled the word "deficit" in an email to our London and New York teams. I consider language my strength, particularly when I'm in a roomful of bankers...


But the sun was out! I basked in its glory for ten minutes during lunch. And tonight, Dave introduced me to a little corner pub called The Hemmingford where a handful of old timers were pickin' and grinnin'. There was even a banjo. Apparently the pub has live bluegrassy music every week.

All things considered, not a bad Monday.

Saturday, September 10

Z is for zed

Yesterday someone asked me what code was invalid. The invalid code was 3TZ and normally I would've said, 'Three, tee, zee.' This time, however, I paused, then replied: 'Three, tee, zed.'

Z is pronounced zed here. I don't know why, and I don't like it. Having lived in the UK before, zed isn't new. But my willingness to conform is. At least when it comes to work speak. Goal 1: sound like I know what I'm talking about (fake it til I make, say zed like the locals, etc.). Goal 2: know what I'm talking about (this is harder). Ultimate goal: be an autonomous, competent part of our team. WHOA DREAM BIG.

On Thursday, some intern girls and I headed to Bond Street after work for Vogue's Fashion Night Out, hoping to run into Gwyneth Paltrow and score some bargains. I was tired and starving, as I am every weeknight these days, and to our pleasant surprise we discovered many designer stores were serving free champagne (the nice stuff I can't afford!), cocktails, and delicious finger foods. I enjoyed nonchalantly walking through a couple boutiques, sipping my champagne, pretending I could afford £800 coats. But for the most part, I sort of felt like Anne Hathoway in The Devil Wears Prada - everyone was skinny and impossibly well-groomed and -dressed, and I hadn't shaved my legs in a few days and was wearing flip flops. 

London is new and I feel like I'm playing a part in a play. Sometimes it's stressful. Like at work when everyone's joking around and I need to ask a question but don't want to feel stupid or interrupt the jokes. Or when I'm walking down the street and the wind's blowing and my hair is frizzy and all in my face and I'm fumbling with my purse and umbrella and Oyster card and I feel clumsy and Anne-Hathoway-in-Devil-Wears-Pradaesque. But it can be inspiring, too. It's like a new school year, except even newer, and I have these first few months to build a different life.

I love weekends. Enjoy yours!

Monday, September 5

Try new things: investment banking

Today I finished day 4 of my investment banking career. I've learned a lot. That being said…

"Pure arbitrage involves buying cheap securities and selling rich securities (or derivatives on those securities) in such a fashion that the two positions are perfect offsets for one another. This may involve buying a coupon Treasury and selling a strip of Treasury zeros."


I'm looking at two graphics that apparently illuminate this point.

Not helping.

You'll be happy to know, however, that I do have a basic understanding of what my department does on a day-to-day basis. We're in prime brokerage and alongside risk management, we deal with hedge funds. Hedge funds are really big, sometimes risky investments, and clients borrow money from us in order to fund them. Our risk management team issues each client a margin, kind of like insurance for us in case the client goes under, based on a variety of factors related to the client's stability and the nature of their portfolio. The margin increases or decreases daily, depending on the fluctuating value of the client's portfolio. In prime brokerage, our job is to monitor the margin calls - who owes us what - and ensure that clients pay us before the close of business in London. We work closely with teams in Hong Kong, New York, and South Africa, too. So when I take over accounts, I'll be like, "You haven't sent us the 130 mil to meet your margin. Are there any problems?" And they'll be like, "Sending $140 million to account xyz now, thanks."

No big deal.

Right now, I'm harassing IT for access to the billion computer programs and shared folders I'll eventually need and learning some dull but essential (or so they tell me) daily tasks that I'll take over next week.

I like everyone on my team. They're friendly and aware that I come from a finance-free (and mostly number-free) academic background. Many of them did, too, and apparently I'll learn everything I need to know in the coming months. But if anyone can explain "going long" and "going short" and short versus long positions, please email me. Three guys have explained it already - it seems like a very basic investment idea - but I just don't get it.

Least favorite thing: professional footwear. I've been wearing bandaids since I started.

Favorite thing: lunchtime. Working all day makes me hungry. Last week I had lunch with fellow employees and interns every day… meat pies and Krispy Kreme, paninis and coffee, Japanese noodles and salmon rolls.


Unfortunately, this week, I've started to bring my lunch. Today was peanut butter and jelly. (Excuse me - jam, not jelly. Jelly is jello here.) Meh. I'll have to get more creative if I'm going to resist all the amazing ethnic restaurants 30 seconds from my office.


Culture shock notes.

One, English pb&js don't taste like American pb&js and two, London has been true to its stereotype thus far: cold and gray. I'm trying to cheerfully adjust, but geeze, it's September! I shouldn't need a trench coat!