Sunday, April 26, 2009

Belfast vs. San Francisco

I thought I'd post a Belfastian's impression of San Francisco. One of his biker forum friends asked about San Fran upon return: What do you have to do to stay over there? Marry/have pre-planned work, what? Looks a lovely part of the world. Is it expensive?

Below is Craig's response:

Yes you can marry and move there on a fiancee visa but that requires proof of an ongoing relationship. Phone records, photographs, emails and and an affidavit of support from an American citizen most likely your partner. Not sure how the work thing works. You need skills that are considered in demand in the country. Think it's based on a points system.

San Francisco is an expensive city to live in but there are plenty of cheaper surrounding areas like Oakland, Berkeley and El Cerrito that are across the bay. Getting into the city from these surrounding parts is quite easy as the public transport in the Bay Area is fantastic and fairly cheap. A Muni ticket is $1.50 (£1 currently). That usually lasts for 3 hours so you can jump on as many buses and street cars as you like within that time and get to pretty much any part of the city easily. They also have BART. Bay Area Rapid Transit. It's the system the DART was copied from in Dublin. The price of that is distance dependant but it's still fairly cheap. min ticket price is $1.75 i think and that'll get you 5 or 6 stops. It's mostly under the city but it also goes under the bay and comes out in Oakland and serves the East Bay like Berkeley and further.

It's a beautiful city. There are so many different areas to it. Belfast has the city center and that's about it, but SF has lots of distinct areas all with their own look and feel. Downtown where Union Sq is, is very touristy and also has the big stores like Macys and Tiffanys and so on. A few blocks north is China Town. Beyond that is Northbeach which is Italian and Marina District, Pacific Heights, Russian Hill, The Presidio. In the middle is The Mission which is Spanish. To the west you have The Sunset which is Irish/Chinese, The Richmond which is Chinese/Russian and above that is Golden Gate park which is pretty big. That's where the California Academy of Sciences is and lots of other stuff like the Conservatory of Flowers, and the De Young Museum.

I've been there 3 or 4 times now and I've still got lots to see. Madlyne was born and grew up in SF so I am getting around a lot more than a tourist would and usually places that tourists wouldn't go. Places locals hang out.

It's an amazing place. There's a vibe in the streets. A real atmosphere. It's the kind of place you go to, and when you come back to Belfast you realize how truly backward this place is. I hate putting Belfast and Northern Ireland down and I know I do it all the time which I'm sure people are tired of hearing, but we're not living here, merely existing.

I used to have a pretty bad opinion of Americans based on what I see on the news or seen in movies and little else. I made the mistake of equating the American people in with their Politicians and was always very cynical of the over the top 'have a nice day' crap. You get the impression they're running around shooting each other on the streets constantly (unless you're in Oakland), but in all the time I've been there I haven't seen so much as an argument between 2 people. Even the homeless are polite to you on the street.

My opinion of Americans, or at least Californians is that they are the most friendly and approachable people I have ever met even more so than Toronto when I lived there a few years back. Strangers will just randomly start having a completely friendly conversation with you.

Every store you walk into, the first thing you hear as you enter is, hey guys how are you, or welcome. Sure they're being paid to be nice and they want your custom, but it makes you feel good and generally spreads a friendly atmosphere. Nothing wrong with that. Their customer service is first class. Not like here. You walk into a shop or cafe here and you're generally ignored for the first 5 minutes. I've been in cafes here and been made to feel like I'm being a pain in the ass if I call the waitress for something and interrupt her chat with the other waitress about her recent holiday to Tenerife.

Sure it has it's problems like anywhere else, but people are generally nice and just do their own thing. No one stares at you or shouts stupid remarks if you wear something that's not the 'norm' or whatever. A lot of people in NI seem to think you're interested in their opinion of what you're wearing or doing and take great pleasure in sharing it with you.

It's easy to forget when you live here that this isn't a normal society we live in. No society that has the kind of segregation and 30 odd years of the kind of violence we've had here can be normal. That shit affects people and places.

I've only ever had a problem with one person in San Francisco and guess what, he was from Dundalk. Madlyne and I met him in an Irish bar where some traditional music was being played that Maddy wanted to hear. He came over to us and was nice as pie telling us he'd been out there since 1990 and owned his own construction business and so on. Then after a few drinks he totally changed, became a nasty bitter bastard and started arguing with me over nothing. He followed me into the toilets and grabbed my shoulder so I punched him and left the bar. Totally ruined our night.

The main difference between here and somewhere like San Francisco is that the culture doesn't revolve around drink. In fact, if you get drunk there, people treat you like you're stupid. To go out on a Friday and saturday night and drink until you can't stand and fall down in the street and start fights and throw up all over the place isn't acceptable behaviour like it is here. If you do that over there, you have a drink problem. Here, that's just another weekend for most people.

So aye back to rainy Belfast. Went off on a rant there. LOL!


Mícheál said...

Belfast is shite. No comparison. Send me a one way ticket to San Francisco any day.

Joanne said...

Everything Craig said about Belfast is the exact same way that I feel about Manchester. I haven't experienced the fighting other than the kids beating each other up, pensioners and anyone they fancy but everything else is spot on. You guys have to make it up to my end one of these days.

Anonymous said...

Hey Joanne. How's things? Where's your end?

Anonymous said...

He has a naive and simplified view of the US. Visiting is different from living.

I lived in San Francisco for 2 years and the city is disgusting. It smells like urine everywhere, the traffic sucks, it's a concrete jungle. I never felt safe walking the streets there at night. I bet if he step foot in the tenderloin, he would change his mind.

Anonymous said...

First time i ever went to San Francisco, my hotel was slap bang in the middle of the Tenderloin.
I did say everywhere has it's problems.
I've walked the streets plenty at night and yes i'm always aware that it's a big city and has big city problems, especially at night and when people approach you asking for money.
As for the smell, the only part i found that was smelly was Haight street.
Yeah the traffic is pretty shitty as i found when we rode back from Monterey and had to come into the city on a motorcycle. But the public transport is fantastic in my opinion. And i've used it quite a bit.
I don't think my view is naive. I come from Belfast remember. People have been getting shot and blown up here for years.
I think saying the city is disgusting is a little strong. Ok you can't eat your dinner off the ground, but i've seen places that are a lot worse not 5 minutes from my house.
I'm not exactly a tourist hanging around Union Sq and riding the cable cars. My fiancee was born there and has taken me to a lot of different parts of the city that tourist simply wouldn't go to because it's not on the tourist maps.
I try to take the positives out of every place while always being aware of the negatives. Maybe you're the opposite.
I don't know anyone feels truely safe walking the streets of any city at night. I think you're naive if you expect that.
I don't walk the streets of Belfast at night and rarely walk around the area i live in at night because i'm aware of the kind of people that are hanging around the street corners.
I don't come from Disney World ya know.
I was comparing San Francisco to Belfast. I'd be interested to know where you're comparing it to.
The only thing i'd say in favor of Belfast is apart from the shootings and bombings, regular crime like muggings and so on is very low compared to places like SF, but that's only because most of the ordinary criminals for want of a better word have all been sucked into the various paramilitary groups and have to follow their rules.
The only thing that really bothers me about SF is having to literally ignore homeless people in the street.
I was brought up not to treat people like they don't exist so i'll atleast look at them and say sorry or something simply to acknowledge their existance. It does bother me though. Belfast doesn't really have a homeless problem. There are a handful of people on the streets but there is honestly no reason for them to be there. They get the same benefits i'd get if i were unemployed including a place to live and money to live on.
I'll agree with 1 thing you said. Visiting is different from living. Wow, ya don't say. I think everyone is aware of that.
I'll assume you've never been to Belfast so i'll simply take your comment as uneducated in this matter.
Come here and live for 2 years. Lets see how you enjoy the drunks in the streets on a friday and saturday night and the general inconvenience that is our public transport and store opening hours. Oh and lets not forget the paramilitarys controling pretty much most parts of the city unless you can afford to live in a million pound house in the rich parts.
You people really have no idea how good you have it.

Joanne said...

My neck of the woods is Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo county. It's a 3hr drive south from Frisco. Good response btw. Definately pro's and con's to both worlds, you just have to pick what's right for you as an individual. I could go on and on about things that drive me mad about the US but when it gets down to the nitty gritty of it, you just can't beat the lifestyle, imho of course.

Flippin' Yank said...


I haven't taken him to Bay View/Hunter's Point or East Oakland yet...we'll see.

The Tenderloin is a walk in the park compared to those neighborhoods.

Anonymous said...

You have it wrong. we northern ireland people are great its a quiet country i think you have an attitude problem show some respect!!

Flippin' Yank said...


"its a quiet country"

A 'Quiet Riot'?

iheartnyc said...

i have lived in san fran for 6 years in every neighborhood.

reasons to hate SF:

1. talk like liberals, live like republicans.
2. driving their range rover to yoga class is 'spiritual'
3. ugly undercurrent of racism and segregation in a city that pats itself on the back for its progressive attitude
4. ugly neglect of homeless
5. lack of effective public transportation renders city more of a car culture than it wants to admit
6. absurd self delusion that SF is the best city in the world or comparable to world class cities like NYC or London when it's more like Dever.
7. People's irritatingly paranoid demeanor towards strangers.
8. hipper than thou attitude with no substance (how many bands come from SF? that make it big)
9. way overpriced rents and BART is out of control and inefficient.
10. Boring
11. It's 50 degrees and foggy all the time, and rains too much
12. annoying milking of the 60's legacy
13. boring half empty downtown
14. cokehead, fluffy playboy mayor

Anonymous said...

My Answers to the above.

1. More so than anywhere else?
2. You could say that of any city. People here do that also.
3. Yeah probably.
4. San Francisco is not the only city with a serious homeless problem.
5. Couldn't disagree with you more. I've found the PT to be fantastic.
6. Never been to Denver. London? London is a shithole.
7. People have been generally friendly to me so far.
8. Probably true.
9. Agree with the first point. Disagree with the second.
10. Maybe you're boring.
11. Rains too much? You wanna visit here in the summer.
12. That's just the tourism industry.
13. Would you rather have downtown like Tokyo where you can't move?
14. Never met the guy.

iheartnyc said...

San Francisco is the most absurdly overrated and crappy city in the United States bar none. I made the mistake of going to grad school there and couldn't wait to leave. The best description of that city i've heard is "Denver by the bay", although it might have been evern more aptly described by one person who called it a "club med for 30 something yuppies".

That city blows. It's racist (how many non-whites reside in the wealthy parts of the city), boring as hell (half empty restaurants, a general feeling of lethargy), impossible to meet anyone when you go out because nobody socializes--either they're too stoned, have nothing to say, or both.

The thing that most gets me about it is the fake atmostphere of openness and tolerance about the place, underscored by brutal classism and segregation. revolution basically consists of smoking a bunch of weed, putting on a che guevara t shirt, and paying 150 a month for a yoga class that you drive your range rover too.

the other galling thing is that people there have the nerve to compare san francisco to NY. San Francisco is not even in the same league as New York, it would constitute maybe, say, a boring part of Queens like Fresh Meadows or Kew Gardens or something like that. People from San Fran look down on L.A. and N.Y. people, probably because people from those cities are open about their crass materialism while people from san fran fake like their a little bit above it. All from their 2000 a month digs, of course, but that's different.

Also, people in NY are just as open about things like being gay, leftist politics, etc. etc., they just dont need to interject it in your face at all hours or make themselves into 24 hour a day walking billboards of themselves. they live their lives and its enough. I went to a dinner party once--a DINNER PARTY--and there were two lesbian women making out the whole time as if they were teens in a movie theatre. Except they were forty something.

SF is a joke, sorry.

BelfastGurl said...

I love Belfast , I wouldn't wanna live anywhere else . It's great to travel , but it's great to get home again too . You're making it sound like a shithole when it really isn't . We've just been voted the friendliest place to visit in the UK . Try going to St Helens , that's a hole . You forgot hun for protestant and rebel for catholic .

dogramado said...

Hey here is the low down...You re totally friggin right, American can be a scary place - our friends the Italians had an expression for it back in the early 20th "L'America e dura" (the hard America) s a contienental nation, a nation ll get knifed by sickoes but then again, I was once a nice Parisian kid from the 8 eme arrondissemnent and have cruised NYC and assorted ghetos, Phoenix, LA and yes San Fran, and you gotta be street smart - Now I know w/out ever having been there that down in Manchesters or Belfast, if I m not a local, I could get into some serious shit...'cause back in the old countries, well, we been there for eons...That s why they call it the New World, and this forces a certain openess or at the very least, "you earn it, you re welcome"...and I can also say same shit in South America, where I lived in Brazil as a teenager...

Moral of the story - watch your back wherever the fuck you are "mate".

Lovely women though in your neck of the woods - Belfast.

Adios muchachos