The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

Repatriating from paradise — and breaking all the rules

One of our earliest Random Nomads, Jack Scott, drank deeply of the cup of expat life. He and his civil partner, Liam, moved to their version of paradise: Bodrum, Turkey. This decision enabled Jack to become a writer, parlaying his popular blog, Perking the Pansies, into a book, which was published about a year ago and reviewed on this blog. After so much success, why have the pair traded in Bodrum for Norwich, in East Anglia? Yes, that’s right, they’ve repatriated!

In the beginning there was work and work was God. After 35 years in the business, the endless predictability made me question the Faith.

I wrote those words on the 8th October 2010 — the opening sentence of my debut post on a brand new blog, Perking the Pansies, about a couple of silly, cynical old queens who decided to jump the good ship Blighty and wade ashore to Asia Minor.

For a minority report, the blog’s done rather well. Then there was a book. That’s done rather well too. Remarkable. Both crept up behind me unexpectedly, without hint or herald. Sometimes I wonder if we should have listened to the early advice from our playground peers; maybe we should have kept our backs to the wall. Too late now.

At the time, we had a plan — well, a plan of sorts. We would stay in Turkey for a good few years, slowly descend into memory loss and erectile dysfunction (both disguised by a haze of alcohol) and eventually paddle back to Blighty for the liver transplant and the Grim Reaper’s call.

It was not to be. I wanted to do author things and keep the pennies (and believe me I do mean pennies) rolling in. I could do neither in Turkey. Added to this, serious family issues beckoned us back from paradise and we wanted to do our bit.

Decision #1: Leaving Bodrum

When we first announced our intention to up sticks and become “repats,” we were taken aback by the reaction in our little corner of expatland.

There was a strong sense that some gang members felt badly let down, betrayed even. It was as if our decision to leave reflected badly on their decision to stay.

Some even suggested that we’d soon be back, presumably with our tail between our legs and begging to re-join the fold.

You see, our particular expat ghetto was meant to be the final destination, a place to retire and expire. We were breaking the unspoken rules.

Ironically, when we first left Blighty for our place in the sun, our friends and family, the people with whom we have the deepest roots, simply wished us well and promised to visit.

Decision #2: Picking Norwich

So, the first big decision was to leave. The second was where next to lay our hatboxes. We were adamant that we wouldn’t revert to the world of coffees-on-the-run, nose-to-nipple commutes, kiss-my-arse bosses and treadmill mortgages. So, London was off the agenda.

After much heated debate and pins on maps, we settled on Norwich, a small cathedral city in Eastern England, a two hour drive northeast of the Smoke. Our choice was met with a wall of incredulity, both at home and away. To be fair, all I really knew of Norwich was the classic seventies game show “Sale of the Century”, Bernard Matthews gobbling turkeys at his farm in Norfolk, and the acronym (k)Nickers Off Ready When I Come Home, first used in the BBC Radio show “Just a Minute” in 1979. (I’ve often used the latter in text messages to Liam, but that’s another story…)

By common consent, the former Anglo-Saxon kingdom of East Anglia is full of inbreds fiddling with their siblings and marrying their cousins. That’s the myth peddled by the urban pretentious. In reality, Norwich is a sparkling jewel hidden in the rural flatlands of England’s gobbling breadbasket with more art houses, wines bars and fancy restaurants than you could shake a stick at. As the most complete medieval city in England and home to a thriving university, Norwich is where the old and the young are blended in perfect harmony.

We were delighted to join the north folk of Norfolk as neo-Norwichians (not to be confused with Norwegians who, as Vikings, did a bit of raping and pillaging in this flat part of our Sceptred Isle).

No regrets…

Our time in the sun was a magical experience. We don’t regret a single second, not even those cold winter days huddled under a duvet and fighting over the hot water bottle as torrential rain battered the house. Thank you, Turkey. Thank you for breaking the umbilical cord between wages and lifestyle, and teaching us to make do with less. Thank you, for giving me the time and space to write. Thank you, for handing me a story on a plate. One day, we may return. But, for now, there will be no going back on going back.

* * *

Readers, any thoughts on, reactions to Jack Scott’s rule-breaking move back home? Can you relate at all?

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s episode in the life of our fictional expat heroine, Libby. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Images (clockwise from left): Jack Scott; Bodrum, Turkey, courtesy Yilmaz Ovunc (Flickr) Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0; Perking the Pansies book cover; Norwich, England, courtesy Roger Wollstadt (Flickr) Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0.

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11 responses to “Repatriating from paradise — and breaking all the rules

  1. ML Awanohara September 6, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    @Jack
    Obviously, I can relate to your story! I am wondering whether, as a writer, you found that not being able to operate fully in Turkish was more than a little frustrating — and if so, did this feed into your decision to repatriate? In my own case, it was certainly a factor. I was okay in Britain, where I enjoyed mastering new words and communication styles — it was all in the service of extending my range in my native tongue. But when I went to Japan and was faced with a language that requires seven years of full-time study (and isn’t fully master-able after a certain age), I didn’t like the feeling that I was missing out on stuff. Also, not being full functional in the language of where one lives means that many of your conversations are either in broken English or else with the other English-speaking expats and travelers you bump into, who may or may not share your interests or speak English at the same level. After I repatriated, first to the UK and now the US, I devoured the newspapers, the TV, the theatre, etc. — making up for all that lost time, I guess!

    • Jack Scott September 7, 2012 at 12:35 pm

      It wasn’t an obstacle to writing but it did get in the way of engaging with our host society. We were lucky because we lived in a tourist town where English is widely spoken and where there is a well-established international expat community. Day-to-day, our poor Turkish didn’t present a problem and if we needed help (for official business, for example) we knew people who would lend a hand. However, we lived of kind of semi-detached existence which became less and less satisfying the longer we stayed. We knew that we would never fully integrate, not just because of the language barrier but also because we’re a gay couple. The success of the book and some pressing family issues made us repatriate sooner than anticipated but coming home was always on the cards anyway. It’s fascinating what you have said about re-immersing yourself in your own home culture. We’re doing exactly the same thing.

      • ML Awanohara September 7, 2012 at 12:55 pm

        You know, I was thinking about it some more today and I think another reason that went into my decision, closely related to language, was my interest in politics. I didn’t like being removed from the political process, living in countries where I couldn’t vote and so on. This feeling of powerlessness can be liberating at first — contributing to the fantasy that the expat life frees one from becoming involved in politics, that you are now above (or at least removed) from all that. But after a while I couldn’t sustain that particular fantasy. Especially in Japan. And especially after Japan experienced two major domestic events in rapid succession: a sarin gas attack on the subway system and a major earthquake in Kobe. I can remember wondering if the Japanese authorities and the police really knew what they were doing. I felt terribly vulnerable. (Of course, my feelings were as nothing compared to those of foreigners living in Japan a year-and-a-half ago, when the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami occurred. It sounds selfish, but my very first thought, upon hearing the news of that disaster, was: I’m so glad I’m not there!)

        Also upon returning to my native United States, I’ve become a major consumer of news on national and city politics. I can’t get enough of it! (Even though much of it depresses me…)

        • Jack Scott September 11, 2012 at 6:34 am

          We too felt powerless. Politics is a serious (and sometimes deadly) business in Turkey and the more we learned, the less we liked. Press freedom is constantly under attack and censorship is becoming more draconian. My own blog was caught up in a censorship net and banned (not because of anything I had written but as a consequence of lazy censorship). We had red lights flashing away our brains.

  2. Anastasia M. Ashman (@AnastasiaAshman) September 8, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    The expat ghetto sure is tough to break out of. As a foreign partner I only straddled that experience of Turkey and Malaysia so never felt the full embrace of it, nor the full brunt if and when I might have broken rank.

    There was a particular neighborhood in Istanbul I heard people refer to as “the vortex” because a certain kind of expat disappeared into it with its cozy expectations you were on-board with a particular attitude and behavior — and then discovered they couldn’t get out. Or, at least they couldn’t get out and stay in Istanbul.

    As you observed here, Jack, I’ve found that any time you pick up and go it seems the people you leave behind feel that somehow you are making a statement about their decision to stay. Doesn’t matter where you are to start, or where you’re going, or why. It simply brings up the question for others, and they may not be prepared or pleased to suddenly wrangle with it.

    • ML Awanohara September 9, 2012 at 12:47 am

      @Anastasia
      From the way you describe it, the decision to repatriate can be likened to a decision to get a divorce — the impact, or ripple effect, can end up unsettling an entire circle of friends. Other people — the ones who are staying in the country/marriage — take it very personally, I guess because it triggers their own insecurities? In any case, I often think that how people react to news of this kind says more about them than it does about the person who has opted for change…

    • Jack Scott September 11, 2012 at 6:47 am

      Love the ‘vortex’ description. In our little corner of expatland, many people are stuck because they’ve burned too many bridges and spent too much money. Moving on is not a option. There are worse places to be stuck but it can be an embittering experience.

  3. louloufrance September 10, 2012 at 11:32 am

    When it ceases to be “paradise,” then it’s time to move on. Life is never stagnant and situations, opinions and needs change. I’m happy to read that you’ve found a wonderful new home!

    • Jack Scott September 11, 2012 at 6:39 am

      Thank you. We’ll always have fond memories of our temporary foster home. Our lives and aspirations have been transformed by the experience is a very positive way. But, yes, it was time to move on.

  4. julia2002 October 7, 2012 at 5:51 am

    And I am stuck in that Vortex:( desperate to leave but without the ability to do so

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