For most of us, even the thought of travelling to another country always gives goosebumps and excitement. COVID restrictions and fear had put in breaks to this excitement for the past two years. Though some degree of fear still existed, my family and I had to take a much-needed trip to the UK last month, which I never tried to avoid even once. I had an excellent excuse, let us all go to the UK to drop off my daughter, who has joined a medicine course at the University of Buckingham.
The entire trip duration was around three weeks, and I loved every minute of it. Surprisingly, we did not notice this fear once we reached the UK, which was refreshing. The best part of the trip was the freezing weather dipping to -4 degrees most of the mornings. As a writer, how could I stop observing the surroundings, noticing conversations and picking incidents? As expected, I did the same. I would love to serve those moments to you after cooking from masalas of my perspective in a while. I hope not to disappoint you.
I started planning for this trip in September last year, as the admission process, visa formalities, hostel arrangements and travel arrangements were all an uphill task and needed a lot of coordination. From admission confirmation from the university to finalizing travel dates, tickets, visa, travel insurance, rental car, hotel booking, baggage weight – though standard chores in any air travel, there were many additional hurdles on the way this time. These hurdles included pre-travel PCR tests in Qatar, post-travel PCR tests in the UK, hotel/home quarantine, passenger locator forms, return PCR test in the UK, return PCR in Qatar, Ehteraz pre-approval, vaccination certificates…oooff! Everything was like fighting a tiny battle.
Fortunately, a friend referred and added me to a WhatsApp group of parents whose kids are studying in the UK, which came in handy. Many parents came forward and promptly assisted me in resolving queries, incredibly when I was filling out visa forms. Thanks to one of the parents who shared templates of various declarations to be submitted along with visa application, which was extremely useful. Not sure if the UK embassy knows it, but filling online visa form itself is a huge challenge. You certainly need a crash course for learning how to fill and submit an online UK visa. There are so many details to enter, including every travel date/country during the last ten years and attaching so many documents, where even a single error is enough to turn down or delay the application. During my visa application, I learned that banks in Qatar (at least my bank, which is one of the largest banks in Qatar) do not offer statements for your local fixed deposits. When I carried the printed report via online banking, the bank refused to sign or stamp it as it was an outside document. Anyhow, I submitted the printed statement without a bank stamp along with the visa application, and thankfully it was accepted. Ah! What a huge relief when I saw an email from VFS regarding our visa approval. I would love to write a separate article on the UK visa process alone…next time for sure.
It was early morning when we reached Hamad airport to board the flight, and so good to see immigration almost empty. However, there was a good crowd after we cleared the immigration, mainly of transit passengers. As usual, the airport lounge was practically full, but we could grab a comfortable seating area. My daughter felt a little offended when I told her that one of the service staff referred her as a baby customer to his colleague (not knowing I was standing nearby). I told her to, in fact, be happy as she was considered relatively young. Thanks to Qatar airways, we all had had a comfortable flight. Though it took time for us to locate the service desk of SIXT rent-a-car company, I could get Peugeot 3008, a fantastic car that was almost new. The cottage at ‘The Cowley Farm’ we booked near the university had an attached kitchen and was extremely comfortable.
Coming back to lessons learnt during this trip, let me brief these as below:
1. Respect – Being a developed country, UK drivers have this unique culture of respecting pedestrians. On-road crossings, I always noticed careful driving by motorists. If they see any pedestrian on any side of the road waiting to cross, they would compulsorily stop their vehicle from giving way for them to pass by first. In my college law class, I read about a clause of the Motor vehicle act which mentioned pedestrians have the 1st right to cross the road. I was astonished that bigger and costlier vehicle drivers believe they have the 1st right to cross the road in many parts of the world. Next, I saw local authorities earmarked sure parking lots closer to the entrance gate of malls to the vehicle of disabled and senior citizens and that too without any parking fee. The only condition is to display their special disability card on their dashboard. This aspect relates to respecting a section of society less privileged and those senior citizens who worked hard to shape our future. Any society or community should always care about this section of people and perhaps may reach out to them for their advice, based on their rich experience, when required.
2. Quality over Quantity – I noticed service counters at local stores make sure the customer goes back happy – received his meal or grocery, got his receipt, and left the counter satisfied. As long as they are at the counter (counting the change or calling someone), the teller or counter service staff will not move to the next customer. This may be valid for the UK when supermarkets may have limited customers. Still, other countries having huge population, this concept may not fly as there may be an overflow of customers and pressure to serve as many customers as possible. Still if the concept is implemented, at least most of the customers are satisfied and come back to the same store.
3. Customer care/attention – Whenever I was in any shop or supermarket, I often came across the staff asking me if I was ok and needed any assistance. They would be highly courteous and give full attention. I liked this pro-activeness of staff when supermarkets showed how they care for us. This is relevant in every sphere of our life. If we genuinely care or have respect for someone or something, why not speak-up, show that care or respect. How would the other person understand our feelings, emotions, or thoughts without any exchange of words? This aspect is directly related to effective communication, where we need to make sure it’s two-way communication.
4. Voice your rights – I have always noticed that people in the UK are well aware of their rights, and if anything is bothering them, they would always immediately raise their concerns. Something I liked and highly appreciated. I wish people everywhere should be educated and confident to stand up for their rights and voice wherever there is injustice or any wrongdoing. There is an old saying, ‘person who watches crime silently is equally responsible as the person who commits a crime’. So in life, whenever we see anything that doesn’t seem right, we need to come out, speak-up and take appropriate action. This makes us responsible residents/citizens of any country. Many countries have this concept of ‘society vigilante’ where neighbours are always proactive and encouraged to participate in each other’s safety and security.
5. Plan ahead – I learnt that drivers in the UK appreciate and are careful about turning on their vehicle’s indicator at least 1-2 km early if they need to take a left or right turn. This is relevant not only while we drive. This concept is valid for anything we do in life, either professionally or socially. We need to plan and organize ourselves to effectively deal with any detours or anything unexpected. We always should have a plan B ready, just in case the original plan fails. The earlier in life we learn this concept, the better we can plan our future or the future of those depending on us.
Girish Jain is a fellow Chartered Accountant from India and works for a Volkswagen group company as CFO. He is a long time resident of Qatar, happily married and has two talented kids—daughter, a medical student in UK and son a Grade 9 student.
Last year, he added a new feather in his cap as a proud author of International bestseller book ‘Decoding Communication’.
Friends, I have always believed in learning from our surroundings and sharing that knowledge for the general benefit of society. I hope my above observations will be helpful for others. I am always eager to hear your views on my articles; please reach out to me anytime at [email protected]