The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

DIARY OF AN EXPAT WRITER: The highs, but also the lows, of the writing life

Diary of an Expat Writer
American expat in Hong Kong Shannon Young quit her day job a year ago to become a full-time writer. Here’s the latest entry in her expat writer’s diary.

Dear Displaced Diary,

As you’ve no doubt noticed over these many months, most of my entries have focused on the good things happening in my life as a writer. I prefer to take an optimistic view of my progress. But there are hard days, too—when I don’t see the results I’d like or accomplish as much as I want. On such days, uncertainty and frustration overwhelm the logic telling me I’m on the right track. Yesterday was an especially low day, so this month I want to share with you a sense of the ups and downs of the expat writer’s day-to-day existence—take you on a kind of roller coaster ride.

One of the worst lows: Comparisonitis

I try not to obsess over how other people’s books are selling (except for research purposes), but the desire to look at a comparable book’s sales rank and wonder why mine isn’t doing as well can creep in like an evil sprite. That can lead to insecurity and jealousy over things that are 100% out of my control.

That way lies madness!

The flip side of comparisonitis is reading a great book and feeling like I’ll never be able to write something as good. I’ll say to myself: “Of course they’re selling better than I am! Their book is gripping and sexy and funny and I can’t put it down! Why can’t I do that!”

Borders in Ann Arbor, by Joanna Poe via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Borders in Ann Arbor, by Joanna Poe via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

How I deal with it: The old adage about the overnight success that takes ten years is absolutely true. Behind every book that takes off like a shot there’s a writer who has put in the time, sweat, and tears to get to that tipping point. I have to remind myself, sometimes on a daily basis, that I’m putting in the work now that will hopefully pay off in a big way later (both from a sales perspective and a skill perspective). This is a craft, and I am still an apprentice in many ways. I also need to remind myself to focus exclusively on the things I can control, such as writing the best books I possibly can—and occasionally stepping away from the Internet.

One of the best highs: Fans!

Yes, I officially have fans. This month I received my first fan letter for the Jordan Rivet books from someone who is in no way connected with me or anyone I know. She wrote me again this week to tell me that she finished Burnt Sea and loved it!

While I was in Arizona, I also got to meet up with two different readers who are friends with my mom (one read Seabound before I ever met her, the second I’ve known for many years). One told me she felt star struck to be having coffee with me. The other had highlighted her favorite passages from Burnt Sea and shared them over Chipotle. To hear that she enjoyed these sentences I’d been poring over for months was incredibly gratifying. Both women made me feel great about my work—and that kind of encouragement can’t be understated, especially on the low days.

Jodan Rivet fans

Stateside Jordan Rivet fans Trine and Julie (photos supplied).

Another low: Rejection

I’ve chosen the indie-publishing road for my Jordan Rivet books, and it comes with its own share of rejection. There are a few promotion sites that are real heavy hitters. I’ve been accepted by some of the big ones, but rejected by the biggest of all (Bookbub). Sometimes this is just a matter of scheduling, but it still stings.

Much of my work as Shannon Young is not self-published, though. I’ve been waiting for a response on a particular piece for six months. This week I finally got an answer: no. It’s time to reassess and decide whether I want to release this particular work as is or develop it into a longer project.

Rejection Mug

Photo credit: “Journal of Universal Rejection” coffee mug, by Tilemahos Efthimiadis via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

How I deal with it: Even though six months have elapsed since I submitted the piece, I’m realizing I may need to step away from it a bit longer before I can make a clear-eyed decision. There are a lot of emotions tied up in rejection, and I need to make an intelligent decision about whether to move on, keep trying, or do something differently. That takes time and perspective.

A kind of high: Not reading reviews!

This high isn’t what you might guess. The reviews for my work have generally been positive, but for me the real triumph is that I’ve finally gotten to a place where I no longer read my reviews. I’ve come to realize that, at the end of the day, reviews exist for readers, not for writers. They are there to help other people decide whether or not they’ll like a book and to give the reviewers a chance to express their thoughts about it. None of that has anything to do with the author.

If I do read my reviews—including positive ones—here’s what happens: I fixate on the critiques. I can’t help it. I’m an optimistic person, possibly confident to a fault, yet it’s always the critiques I remember. And you know what, diary? There’s absolutely nothing I can do to fix things at that point. The book is done and dusted. I can’t change it. So why obsess over the one thing that didn’t work for a reader who enjoyed the book as a whole?

(Note: I follow my writers’ groups’ critiques like gospel. I’m always trying to improve my work, but when a book is finished and published that no longer applies.)

Thus reading reviews is a recipe for utterly futile stress. So while I am incredibly thankful for people who take the time to write reviews (and they’re essential for the success of a book), I won’t read them. Instead, I’ll focus on making every book better than the last.

Yet another low: Missed deadlines

I’ve mentioned before that I like to make checklists and to-do lists for myself. Crossing off items on time or early never fails to make me happy. On the other hand, if I miss my deadlines it can be equally frustrating.

Case in point: my new part-time teaching job starts on October 5th. The timing of the classes means I’ll have to rework my writing schedule to stay productive. I wanted to finish the final book in the Seabound Chronicles before then. My goal was to finish the current draft on Friday. Well, on Monday the book was 80,000 words. By Friday, it had grown to 86,000 words, but I had only reached the 51,000-word mark in my edit. Adding all those scenes took a lot more time and thought than anticipated, so now I probably won’t finish the draft until Thursday at the earliest. This leaves me with less buffer time than I had hoped before the Great Schedule Shuffle begins.

Photo credit: Pixabay.

Photo credit: Pixabay.

How I deal with it: Like always, I need to glue myself to my chair and just get on with it! The book will be finished when it’s finished, and I’m not going to put out a half-baked project (or even 80% baked). The worst thing I could do would be to let frustration or impatience paralyze me.

The knack of staying on an even keel

This emotional rollercoaster is normal for a full-time writer. It’s important not to let either extreme get in the way of my work. The key is to accept the reality of the lows and to figure out ways to deal with them so as not to become derailed.

Thank you, Displaced Diary, for giving me a chance to process. Sometimes that’s all it takes to get the day turned around and become productive.


Shannon Young
AKA Jordan Rivet

* * *

Shannon, thank you for giving us such a clear window onto the highs and lows you’ve experienced as a full-time writer. TBH, it brings me back to the days when I was a graduate student in the UK and how frustrated I felt on the days when my thesis-writing wasn’t going well (or at all). When you have to keep producing page after page, you can become very isolated, and you’re already feeling somewhat isolated to begin with as an expat. It’s great you have found such a supportive writers’ community in Hong Kong. You also seem to have a much better ability than I did at the same age, to trust in the process! Readers who are also writers, can you relate to Shannon’s vacillating emotions? Please share your own experiences in the comments. ~ML

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WORLD OF WORDS: There’s a word for that homesickness that grips expats and overseas travelers, and it’s French!

Marianne Bohr in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris—is she reading or indulging in reveries about words?

Marianne Bohr in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris—is she reading or indulging in reveries about French words?

Columnist Marianne Bohr, whose first book, Gap Year Girl, came out at the start of this month with She Writes Press, recounts a time during her travels in France when she and her husband felt suddenly out of place and full of longing for home. Ironically, however, the most apt expression she could think of to describe this feeling was French!

They’re inevitable. Those days that occasionally, and sometimes from out of nowhere, invade the life of a long-term international traveler or expat. You miss home, you’re a stranger in an alien place, you’re gripped by le cafard.

While French has an expression for homesickness (mal du pays), I prefer the other term, le cafard, to describe this dark visitor. It literally means “the cockroach”.


Photo credits: Alone In The Dark, Nobody Waiting, by Môsieur J.; (inset) Gaspard le cafard, by InOutPeaceProject. Both images via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

The creepy cockroach of homesickness

Seven weeks into our year of living in Europe, homesickness hit and hit hard. My husband, Joe, and I were in southwestern France. The fall weather had turned decidedly cold under steely gray skies and thick cloud cover—never good for lifting one’s spirits. Though we never imagined our adventure abroad would be daily champagne and constant merriment, we didn’t expect the blues to make their appearance so soon.

Exploring endless desolate, medieval stone hamlets had darkened our mood. Everything had been touched not only by the savagery of the Hundred Years’ War between the French and English in the 14th and 15th centuries but also by the 13th-century Cathar Crusade.

Prior to leaving for Europe, I’d read extensively about the Cathars and decided that we had to visit the region in which this shameful yet fascinating period of history took place.

The bloodthirsty military campaign of the pope, ironically named Innocent III, to eliminate the dualist offshoot of Catholicism in Languedoc-Roussillon was conducted with abandon against the heretics. No one was spared—men, women, children, and the elderly were all slaughtered. And when Catholics refused to give up their Cathar neighbors, one religious leader (a monk, no less) famously declared: “Kill them all. God will know his own.”

In a sunnier clime, this history might have been remote and intriguing. But against a backdrop of unrelenting gray with no access to the Internet, it left us feeling fogged in and low. Very low. After visiting so many places that witnessed sieges, starvation, plagues, pestilence, and butchery, even the cheeriest of souls would have succumbed to its grip.

Cathar Crusade

Photo credits (clockwise from top left): Pope Innocent III wearing a Y-shaped pallium, by unknown 13th-century artist; “Saint Dominic presiding over an Auto da fe” (detail), by Pedro Berruguete; Expulsion of the inhabitants from Carcassone in 1209, taken from the manuscript Grandes Chroniques de France. All images via Wikimedia Commons.

It’s a bug that thrives in the dark—and in the Dark Ages!

Melancholia, tinged with some serious mal du pays, reared its ugly head without warning. Perhaps we’d had our fill of cold, antiquated spaces and lonely, abandoned stone villages. Or perhaps the total absence of others to provide even a bit of people-watching diversion had brought us down. But maybe we were just in a trough of the normal vicissitudes of travel.

To put it simply, we missed our children and we missed our country—we’d come down with a serious case of le cafard.

Despite knowing that immersing ourselves in the brutal extinction of the Cathars might not be what we needed to improve our dispositions, we plowed ahead toward our next destination: Caunes-Minervois, just north of Carcassonne. On the way, we stopped and hiked the steep Cathar hill town of Cordes-sur-Ciel, where the region’s alleged heretics had taken refuge, and took a long midday break for a sunny, outdoor lunch in Albi (home of Toulouse-Lautrec), with its austere, imposing redbrick cathedral of Sainte-Cécile, unlike any other church in the world. We noted that the cylindrical exterior of its nave looked like a space shuttle ready for launch. Sainte-Cécile was built after the Cathars were wiped out as a visible reminder to those who might be thinking of defying Rome not to forget who was in charge.

Sainte-Cécile Cathedrale

Photo credit: Cathédrale Sainte-Cécile d’Albi, vue de la rive opposée du Tarn, by Jean-Christophe BENOIST via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Back on the road, we drove farther south into the Montagne Noire to our ultimate destination: the constricted streets of Caunes-Minervois, where our Internet-enabled hotel awaited. It had been over a week since we’d communicated with our children, and we were lost in reverie about what we would learn when we fired up our laptops. Our son had had an interview the last time we spoke. Did he get the job? we wondered. Our daughter was coming down with a cold. Was she feeling better? Did my latest Amex payment process, and was the house we hoped to rent in Spain still available?

Just can’t get rid of it…

Our home for the next three nights was the Hôtel d’Alibert, an age-old townhome in the heart of the medieval quarter. The affable but quirky owner (you cannot arrive at the hotel between 2:00 and 5:00 p.m. because he is napping—it says so right on the door) lets us in through the French doors of the hotel’s restaurant at just after five. (The front portal remained inexplicably locked all day.)

The coda to our arrival in Caunes-Minervois was this: “Yes, the hotel has free Wi-Fi,” the proprietor confirmed, “but I’m afraid it’s not working; there have been problems.”

Wifi problems at Hotel dAlibert

Photo credit: Hôtel d’Alibert à Caunes-Minervois, by Gaël Gendrotvia Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0).

We were enraged and on the verge of tears. Here we were in yet another deserted town with no means to connect. We dragged our devastated spirits up the spiral stone stairway to our room and dropped our luggage. Le cafard attacked with a vengeance. For the rest of the evening, in a fit of pique, we seriously contemplated the possibility of returning home—of giving up on this gap year business—but finally agreed that all would be better in the morning.

After our night of frustration and reflection, the morning light bolstered our resolve to rally.

* * *

Now back stateside, I still refer to a bout with the blues as le cafard. It just seems so perfect a term. How do other languages express this feeling of profound melancholia? Are there expressions in other languages as accurate as the French?

* * *

Thank you, Marianne! How well you’ve described, with the help of that vivid French metaphor, the sense of alienation that at some point or another plagues all of us who venture beyond borders to travel or live. The word we use on this site, “displaced”, simply isn’t strong enough! Readers, do you have any suggestions for words or sayings in other languages that can convey these feelings? Do let us know in the comments!

Marianne C. Bohr is a writer, editor and French teacher whose book, Gap Year Girl: A Baby Boomer Adventure Across 21 Countries, was published in early September (She Writes Press). She married her high school sweetheart and travel partner, and with their two grown children, follows her own advice and travels at every opportunity. Marianne lives in Bethesda, Maryland, where after decades in publishing, she has followed her Francophile muse to teach French. She has an author site where she keeps a blog, and is active on Facebook and Twitter.

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GLOBAL FOOD GOSSIP: Back in Britain, I can’t find a strong cup of black tea to save my constitution

Global Food Gossip 062315
Serial expat—and now repat!—Joanna Masters-Maggs is back with some tasty global food gossip to share, this time about England’s favo(u)rite drink.

“I’m not doing this again if you can’t stop going on about the tea,” declared my husband with a generous dose of irritation.

“But, really, it’s terrible,” I said. I couldn’t stop myself, you see, and his outrage was by now fully stirred.

“Okay, I’m leaving, that’s it.” He got up and headed for the door.

So ended our little tea break experiment.

Now that we have returned to England, my husband is working a great deal at home. It was my idea that, since he is talking to people around the world a lot in the evenings, we take a tea break together during the quieter mornings.

Though we are living in rural South Somerset, there are plenty of places we can choose. Our local pub does morning coffee and afternoon tea, with scones if you please. And there are little tea shops and cafes scattered around neighbouring villages.

I was ready to enjoy myself sampling them all.

Only now it seems I will do so alone, or not at all.

Food, glorious food! Sandwiches, cakes, full breakfasts…

Many of these places are serving wonderful sandwiches on hand sliced granary or flavourful white, chock full of local hams, cheeses, sausages and bacon.

Homemade cakes, too, are the order of the day.

Also noteworthy is how many of our local establishments realizing the potential in serving early breakfasts to those on their way to work. No longer is a “full English” only to be found in hotels or transport cafes, now you can enjoy one on shabby chic china while sitting at a distressed French provençal style table on a Cath Kidston cushion. You find people of all professions—from drivers to office workers, farmers to solicitors.

Breakers sandwiches cakes oh my

Photo credits (clockwise from top left): Georgian Tearoom, Topsham, by BazzaDaRambler via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); All-day yummy English breakfast via Pixabay; High tea for two at Tallula’s Tearooms, by Jessica Spengler via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

It’s a lovely thing, but this brings me back to the tea. Surely, sandwiches, cakes—and now bacon-and-eggs with their many accompaniments—demand hot and strong tea? My husband believes I am the one out of step in being so unhappy with a spineless brew. But I cannot believe, I just cannot. What has happened to my compatriots in the years I have been away? Why are we accepting such mean servings of tea in our pots—and paying for it, too? Where is our backbone, our firm upper lip?

All I want is a good cup of spine-bracing black tea!

Keep calm and drink strong tea

Photo credits: Keep calm and drink tea! by Graham Hills; English Breakfast Tea, by Mark Hillary—both images via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Nowadays, instead of getting a nice pot of tea, we are offered a menu of teas: green ones, black ones, Chinese, Indian… We are told that these are special and tend to feel a little uneasy about demanding a little more of them. Perhaps two teabags in a pot is a little greedy, gross even.

There is, of course, a place for different tea from different places made with different temperatures of water and intended to be less bodied and more fragrant that the black teas I am primarily talking of. And the English are very interested in food and drink from far flung places and get much pleasure from experimenting with it.

But surely that doesn’t mean that we should allow our own food culture to be degraded?!

I’ve been away too long to know when the current tea culture sprung up, but to me it seems a little awkward. Extensive menus with flowery language makes me uncomfortable, and certain paraphernalia seems to try just too hard—muslin muslin tea bag with a stick instead of a string anyone?

Give me loose leaves and a little tea strainer any day! I truly believe, that as free chickens give better eggs, liberated leaves will give us happy tea. Leaves need space to develop. We must take time to give our tea leaves the correct environment to do their work.

Give Me a Tea Strainer Any Day

Photo credit: Straining, by Dave Crosby via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

The Americanization of British tea culture

What bothers me most is the uncomfortable realization that all this fancy talk and tea hides the truth that the American way has for some incomprehensible reason, taken over our own.

How have we fallen for this? America simply is not a tea-drinking culture.

How well I remember my first pot of American university tea. Tea warmed in the coffee maker and a cheap tea bag removed from its individual yellow paper back and hopefully dunked in the water and dangled in the vain hope it would tint and flavour the water.

Except for the presence of a spotty badly dressed student, tea is now made like this worldwide—even in Britain. We, too, are making tea like an 18-year-old American student whose only electrical appliance is a cheap coffee maker.

Interestingly, the only person I knew in my year at college in America did a fine job with a tea bag, but she knew well the need for a quick addition of boiling water. When I discovered her father was from Yorkshire, it all began to make sense—particularly her deft “mashing” technique with the back of a spoon. You see, a tea bag can be rescued if you remain mindful of the important things.

For the record, here’s what works (and why)

For me the recipe for a fine cup of tea was, and still is, a spoonful of tea leaves per person and one for the warmed pot. Onto this would be poured, boiling water, boiling. The pot would be lidded so it could be covered and left for a good five minutes before pouring.

The addition of milk and sugar is a personal thing, but the tea itself has to be strong, with a deep colour—and body.

Aunties Tea Shop Menu

Photo credit: Auntie Eileen’s Tea Shop, by Duncan Hall via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Back here in the England of 2015, cafes and hotels seem to think it elegant to offer our tea in a gimmicky and deconstructed manner. A pot of hot water and a paper-wrapped tea bag on a saucer. But in all that show the importance of boiling water is lost. Bring it quickly to the boil, warm the pot and then use it. Don’t boil and re-boil or boil for protracted period of time—but do make sure it is boiled and recently so.

While I’m in full flow, I’d like to add a quick grumble about the tea bags and strings. Why are these so often twisted around the handle of the pot? First, the leaves are confined to a bag then the bag itself is prevented from moving freely.

How in all of this can the tea properly infuse? It can’t.

A “No More Tea Bags” Manifesto

Since my husband has long since taken refuge from this rant, let me finally call for an end to the tea bag, particularly the irritatingly trendy ones, along with kettles that boil. Let me also call for a generous amount of tea in the pot.

Let’s say goodbye to tea that looks as though it has had a fright and welcome back to the kind of tea you need when you have had a nasty shock or need a comforting and strong arm, which happens to all of us at some point…

Call for an end to teabags

Photo credit: Last of Mom’s Tea, by Alan Levine via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

* * *

Readers, we invite you to continue the food gossip! Can you relate to Joanna’s disappointment at finding England’s tea a shadow of its former self? Be sure to let us know in the comments!

Joanna Masters-Maggs was displaced from her native England 17 years ago, and has since attempted to re-place herself in the USA, Holland, Brazil, Malaysia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and France. She describes herself as a “global food gossip”, saying: “I’ve always enjoyed cooking and trying out new recipes. Overseas, I am curious as to what people buy and from where. What is in the baskets of my fellow shoppers? What do they eat when they go home at night?”

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CULTURE SHOCK TOOLBOX: The 5 top tools for handling the culture shock roller coaster

Photo credits: HE Rybol in Germany; book cover art (both supplied).

Photo credits: HE Rybol in Germany; book cover art (both supplied).

For her column this month, transitions enthusiast H.E. Rybol presents some of the material from her book, Culture Shock: A Practical Guide. For those who are new to her column, H.E. is the product of a German dad and a French mom. She was raised as a Third Culture Kid and has lived in the United States, Luxembourg, England, Spain, Switzerland and Singapore. She currently resides in Luxembourg.

Hello, Displaced Nationers. This month I want to take you into the (sometimes too rapidly beating) heart of culture shock.

As those of you who have experienced it will know, culture shock is about a series of ups and downs. On the down side, a traveler may feel:

  • alienated
  • anxious
  • disconnected
  • nervous
  • vulnerable

On the up side, they may feel:

  • curious
  • excited
  • free
  • happy
  • fully alive

If you are a regular reader of this column, you’ll know that for the past few months I’ve been quizzing expats about their experiences with culture shock so that I can add to, as well as sharpen, the tools for easing the condition that I’ve collected in my so-called culture shock toolbox.

This month I’m going to share a few ideas that you can find in my book, Culture Shock: A Practical Guide; but first let’s do something to put us into a culture-shocked state of mind. To that end, I’ve devised a quiz based on one of my own experiences.

In fact, what happened was that I continued helping until another Singaporean man walked by and said, in a rough tone: “Only a foreigner would do that.” He pressed his palms together, bowed slightly, and thanked me. I could see my helping was making the man with the flyers really uncomfortable, so I stayed just a little longer and then, wishing him good luck and smiling kindly (which he probably didn’t see as he barely looked at me!), left. Later I asked my local friends to help me interpret this rather strange (to me) encounter. They told me Singaporeans are cautious and tend to mind their own business. Is that because of they live in a nanny state? Maybe, maybe not…

Photo credit: Marina Bay Shoppes, Singapore, by David Jones[] via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)[].

Photo credit: Marina Bay Shoppes, Singapore, by David Jones via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Raw…but exhilarating!

When we go into culture shock, we are in free fall. Having exited from our comfort zone, we are stripped straight down to our core. Oftentimes we lose confidence in our ability to meet the most basic needs: What do I eat? Where do I sleep?  Who do I connect with? Where do I belong? Will I be safe?

Cognitive dissonance is a big part of the problem. Our ideas and the reality we find sur place don’t match—which can feel threatening.

But leaving our comfort zone also propels us into a moment of accelerated growth. As we slowly begin to make sense of all the new sights, sounds, smells, tastes, textures—and interactions with others—we expand our minds to incorporate new perspectives. There is potential for us to learn compassion, kindness and gratitude. The experience may feel raw—but it can also be exhilarating.

Photo credit: Roller coaster via Pixabay.

Photo credit: Legoland roller coaster in Denmark,via Pixabay.

Some of you readers should know me well enough by now that you can predict the next step: I can hardly wait to open my toolbox and offer you some tips for achieving this potential for growth.

5 tools for handling the culture shock roller coaster:

1. Consider the benefits: The term “culture shock” often evokes negative connotations. But let’s turn that on its head and pretend for a moment we don’t need a toolbox. Simply ask yourself:

How have challenging cultural transitions positively impacted my life?

2. Use food as an icebreaker: Food is a great way to learn about a new country and connect with people over a shared need. Say, how about getting out those cooking tools? :)

3. Communicate: “Please”, “thank you”, and a smile go a long way in someone else’s culture. Learn some basic phrases in the new language before you take off. For sure, a small phrase book, pocket dictionary or app ought to be in that toolbox. While you won’t end up having an in-depth conversation about political or social issues right away, at least you’ve made a start. Also, given that most communication is nonverbal, don’t be afraid to use your hands and feet—always fun no matter how clumsy it might feel! Find out about body language. What’s the polite way to hail a cab? Beckon someone to come over? Is it rude or polite to look someone directly in the eyes? Observe.

4. Slow down: Treat the fact that you are entering a new culture as an opportunity to slow down and take it easy. Take time to adapt and go of any preconceptions. Think of this tool as a pressure valve: open it up and let go all of that stress and pressure out. Don’t force yourself to visit as many sights as you can—even if you feel obliged to do so. The point is to enjoy yourself, isn’t it? Allow yourself time to fully experience this transition.

5. Practice the art of being grateful: Seeing life from a different perspective is a wonderful way to learn to appreciate what we have been given, on the road as well as in the home we’ve left behind. Here are some of the things I’ve become grateful for while traveling:
• hot water
• clean water
• a bed
• access to fresh food
• restrooms
Mostly, though, I’m grateful for the kindness of strangers, conversations I had with people I met along the way, friends I made, lessons I learned—and the privilege of having had the opportunity to experience all this in the first place. As often as possible, use the tools you have at hand to open your mind to the good things that surround you.

* * *

Readers, I hope this has you “fixed” until next month. Until then. Prost! Santé!

Editor’s Note: The above post was adapted from Chapter 1 of H.E. Rybol’s Culture Shock: A Practical Guide. It is followed by six chapters full of tips:
1. How to deal with craving comfort
2. How to process new information
3. How to cope without autopilot
4. How to deal with difficult situations
5. How to deal with alienation
6. How to unite both worlds within yourself

H.E. Rybol is a TCK and the author of Culture Shock: A Practical Guide and Culture Shock Toolbox. She loves animals, piano, yoga and being outdoors. You can find her on Twitter, Linkedin and Goodreads. She recently launched a new Web site and is now working on her second book.  

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BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST: The story of Jo Parfitt and her expat press, Summertime Publishing


Attention displaced bookworms! As our book review columnist, Beth Green, an American expat in Prague (she is also an Adult Third Culture Kid), is still honeymooning (literally—congratulations, Beth!), we have loaned her space this month to seasoned expat and freelance writer Ana McGinley, who will tell us the story of a well-known international creative in the expat book world: Jo Parfitt, founder of Summertime Publishing.

Hello, readers, and thanks Displaced Nation for this opportunity to talk about Jo Parfitt. A journalist, editor, writer, speaker and teacher, Jo has lived abroad for 26 years—in France, Dubai, Oman, Norway, the Netherlands, Brunei and now Malaysia. She is the founder of Summertime Publishing, which specializes in publishing books by and for people living abroad.

Eighteen years ago, Jo published A Career in Your Suitcase, her guide to creating a portable career. Now in its 4th edition, the book continues to grow in popularity as the number of expat accompanying partners, mostly women, find themselves seeking new mobile careers to replace the jobs and careers relinquished to embark on a global relocation.

Jo Parfitt and A Career in a Suitcase

Jo Parfitt on Bankastraat, Den Haag, Netherlands, one of many former homes; book cover art for her bestseller, A Career in a Suitcase, now in its 4th edition.

Jo’s own career in a suitcase

The success of that book inspired Jo to set up her own business mentoring expats in search of suitable career opportunities. Having written 31 books herself, Jo decided to extend her training to include writing skills guidance for new authors. Several of them have partnered with her to publish their works, and Summertime Publishing—which she’d first set up to publish her cookbook, Dates, written while living in Oman—took off.

After nearly two decades, Summertime has a catalogue of over 100 publications covering many facets of expat life, including:

Summertime Top Five

Jo recruits her dream team…

A year ago, Jo enlisted the help of former Displaced Nation columnist Jack Scott, he of Jack the Hack fame. Jack had published his book, Perking the Pansies (a memoir based on his popular expat blog of that name), with Jo (he now has a sequel out: Turkey Street).

In addition to Jack, Jo has hired Jane Dean (who was Jack’s editor).

Jo, Jane and Jack have British roots, although Jane is now a US citizen, yet all three are based in different global locations: Jo in Kuala Lumpur; Jack in Norwich, UK; and Jane in The Hague, Netherlands. All three have in common the experience of relinquishing previous careers to accompany their partners—and establishing successful portable careers in the publishing world.

(Left to right) Jo Parfitt, Jack Scott and Jane Dean (supplied).

(Left to right) Jo Parfitt, Jack Scott and Jane Dean (supplied).

Today Jo takes care of sales and marketing, business growth, client intake, big-picture edits and manuscript assessment at Summertime Publishing. Jane is the chief editor and production manager, and Jack is responsible for royalties, administration, digitization and social media.

Business is conducted digitally via computer networking and bi-monthly business meetings on Skype—and regular Skype meetings with their team of designers. The three aim to physically meet each year for the company annual general meeting.

Jo says that the recent expansion of her business is directly related to the growth in the globally mobile workforce. As more people relocate to new locations, the thirst for knowledge about expat issues, both unique and common to specific destinations, increases. Expats tend to be well-educated individuals capable of resettling in unfamiliar places and adjusting to new cultures, without losing their own cultural identity. By necessity expat partners often dive deep into the culture of their new destination, interacting with local people and services daily. These accrued experiences, good and bad, can form a strong basis for a good story.

The summertime—& sunshine—of the expat life

Anyone who is familiar with Jo has noticed a theme running through her life and work having to do with summertime and sunshine. Jo says she named her press “Summertime” after the song by Gershwin, which she sees as her theme tune. “I am a positive person and love the optimism and hope in the lyrics,” she says.

Having spent ten years in the intense sunshine of the Middle East, Jo has also published a novel called Sunshine Soup, about expat life in Dubai, and she currently keeps a blog about the life she leads with her husband in Malaysia, called Sunny Interval, because after postings in Europe they get to enjoy the sunshine again.

Photo credit: A Sunny Interval[]

Photo credit: A Sunny Interval.

There is also, of course, Jo’s sunny disposition to consider. “I am an optimist at heart and like to see the good in everyone,” she says, adding that, since setting up her press, “my motto has been Sharing What I Know to Help Others to Grow.”

Further to which, in closing I’d like to share some tips Jo has for expats who dream of writing a book:

• Do your own market research to see whether books covering your topic already exist. Most mainstream bookstores do not have a specified section for expatriate books—so look online.

• Visit Expat Bookshop and Summertime Publishing. (Interested in publishing with us? Send a message via the contact form on the site.)

• Download the free booklets offered by Summertime Publishing:

• Consider the practical aspects of publishing a book. Writers who enter a contract with Summertime Publishing will be offered editing, printing and promoting services tailored to suit their individual needs.

• Most importantly, assess your available time and lifestyle and evaluate the real possibilities of being able to regularly focus on your book project. writing a book demands a high level of focus.

And now for Jo’s parting pearls:

I believe everyone has a story in them. I tell someone that if their story is likely to inspire, support, inform or entertain another person then it is worth telling.

* * *

Thank you, Ana, for introducing us to Jo Parfitt. Her dedication to the cause of publishing expat works, along with her sunny disposition, has extended the feeling of summertime for me a little longer! Readers, how about you? Any questions for Ana +/or Jo?

STAY TUNED for the next fab post!

Born in Australia, Ana McGinley has now lived in seven countries in 15 years, so more than qualifies as a serial expat. She writes, edits, reviews and researches articles for various online publications, including serving as the review coordinator for Summertime Publishing—all of which distracts her from finishing her book about caring for ageing parents from abroad, a topic related to her previous work as a social worker with older people. She currently lives in the Netherlands with her Canadian husband and four children, all born on different continents. To get to know Ana better, please follow her HuffPost column. You can also view her portfolio of published works here.

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LOCATION, LOCUTION: For Stephanie Patterson, the role of expat historical novelist seems to have been predestined

Location Locution
Columnist Lorraine Mace, aka Frances di Plino, is back with her latest interview guest.

Hello again, readers. Last month I introduced you to expat writer Oliver Tidy, who found his calling in writing crime novels set in the UK once he became an expat in Turkey. For my guest this month, Stephanie Patterson, it was the other way around. Stephanie developed an early passion for places other than her home country of Germany, and for the English and Scottish medieval periods. In other words, it seemed almost predestined that she would move to the UK and write historical novels set in these places and times.

Although Stephanie first lived in Kent when she arrived in the UK 18 years ago, she relocated to Aberdeen and then, after a stint in Wales (Cardiff), where she met her British husband, Laurence, has lived in Edinburgh for the past 10 years.

Stephanie Patteson destiny

Photo credits (left): Stephanie Patterson in her beloved Scottish Highlands (supplied); Map of Germany, by Central Intelligence Agency; The main geographical divisions of Scotland, by SFC9394—both images via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Not surprising, given her proclivities, Stephanie believes the key to settling into a new country is total immersion. In her case this technique greatly improved her grasp of the language (she is a certified translator of English to German). It has also enabled her to write romantic suspense and adventure set in Scotland, England and Normandy under the pen name of Cathie Dunn.

In 2011, Stephanie and Laurence set up Crooked Cat Publishing on the model of an independent US publisher. To date, Crooked Cat has published over eighty paperbacks and e-books with authors across the world, several of which have won (or been shortlisted for) prizes. It has quickly developed a reputation for producing quality fiction.

As Cathie Dunn, Stephanie has two historical novels published with Crooked Cat:

  • Highland Arms, a romantic Scottish adventure (originally released through Wild Rose Press), set in Stephanie’s favourite area of the Scottish Highands: Lochaber. It’s the first in her Highland Chronicles series.
  • Dark Deceit, the action of which takes place in 1140s England and Normandy, when a brutal civil war is taking place. It’s the first in her Anarchy Trilogy, set mainly in medieval Normandy.

She has also self-published Silent Deception, a romantic paranormal novella set in Victorian Cornwall.

When she isn’t writing, editing or publishing, Stephanie is visiting castles, towns and cathedrals throughout the UK. A hobby historian, she has taken university modules in Tudor Studies and Scottish Studies. While in Wales, she took part in medieval re-enactment (the medieval and Jacobite eras being her favorites).

Stephanie’s love for medieval Norman history saw her back in Normandy for a holiday in July. Ultimately, she (and her husband) would not rule out moving to France one day, and, yes, she is currently studying French to improve her knowledge of language and culture.

* * *

Welcome, Stephanie, to the Displaced Nation. I think I can guess the answer but I’ll ask you anyway: which comes first, story or location?

Yes, as you probably guessed, I’m usually inspired by location and/or architecture first, which I then combine with potential plot ideas. My Scottish romance, Highland Arms, was born when I travelled through Glencoe and along the dramatic Loch Linnhe in the Scottish Highlands. The forbidding scenery (helped by the adverse weather of sleet, rain and fog) was the perfect setting for an adventure set in the 1720, featuring a smuggler. I always carry a notepad, and on that occasion I found it very useful for jotting down ideas.

Photo credits (clockwise from top left): Highland Arms cover art; A view of Glencoe, by Ronhjones via Wikimedia Commons[] (CC BY-SA 3.0) []. Loch Linnhe, by Moralist via Wikimedia Commons[](CC BY-SA 3.0) [].

Photo credits (clockwise from top left): Highland Arms cover art; A view of Glencoe, by Ronhjones; Loch Linnhe, by Moralist. Both images via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0).

What’s your technique for evoking the atmosphere of a place?

For Highland Arms, I was fortunate enough to find booklets by local historians about the era, which allowed me to paint a more realistic picture. This, in combination with a number of visits during different seasons, allowed me to set the scene quite realistically. I did the same for Dark Deceit, which is partly set in Gloucestershire and partly in Normandy. I took hundreds of photos during a holiday in Normandy and kept going back to my travel diary for pointers. I prefer to write about areas I’ve visited. If I can convey my own feelings and impressions, it helps create the atmosphere.

Is landscape the only feature you look at to create a sense of location? What about culture, or even food?

As I write historical adventures, I tend to focus on history and landscape. I found Normandy hugely inspiring for its medieval history and the buildings that have survived from that era. The castles and cathedrals paint a vivid picture of 12th-century life, and I try my best to capture it and convey it into my stories. As you mentioned, I consider myself a hobby historian and have bookshelves full of history tomes, in English and French. It helps that I love the culture.

Can you give a brief example of your work which illustrates place?

Here is a passage from Highland Arms:

Catriona nodded. “Thank you, Mr MacKinnon. I wasn’t looking forward to scaling those peaks.” Her gaze scanned the shimmering surface high up, so glaringly white against the deep blue morning sky. Hidden under layers of cloud the day before, the steep hillsides now presented themselves in all their dangerous glory. Stunned by the beauty yet relieved she did not have to cross them, Catriona smiled as she gazed across crags as sharp as a dagger’s edge.

Relaxing in the stillness of her surroundings, she was surprised at her own reaction. Instead of the misery that held her in its grasp for the last few weeks, a new sense flowed through her.

A feeling of…belonging?

She shook her head in disbelief. What brought this on? The eerie stillness should unnerve her, but instead it calmed and steadied her. Taking a deep breath, she gave her mare a nudge with her heel. Perhaps this journey was going to be good for her after all. No longer banishment, but rather an escape. Perhaps even a fortunate escape.

By the time they reached a small settlement by the shore of Loch Linnhe, the sun had crossed its zenith. Melted snow, and the footfalls of men and horses, turned the ground into a muddy slush. A handful of cottages stood scattered along the path, their walls covered in a thick layer of mud to repel the winds. Smoke swirled through holes in the roofs, filling the air with the smell of peat.

Catriona took a deep breath, enjoying the dusky scent. While she waited for MacKinnon to return from a cottage he’d entered on their arrival, she nudged her mare to the water’s edge to let her drink. Her gaze roamed over the large loch, to the far shore and back to where a narrow arm of water branched off into Loch Leven, disappearing from sight between high peaks behind her. The rugged beauty pulled her in.

How well do you need to know the place before using it as a setting?

Though not always possible, I find it easier to describe a setting once I’ve visited it for long enough to develop a “feel” for the location. For Dark Deceit, I developed an impression of what life was like in that region during medieval times by exploring the abbeys in Caen and Falaise Castle, among other monuments from that era. The book’s hero is originally from a town called Mortagne, in today’s southern Normandy. During our holiday, we drove down to the town and had a wander through it. I took in the surrounding forests (which haven’t changed too much since the 1100s) and ignored the more modern aspects. I try my best to picture the landscapes as they might have been.

Which writers do you admire for the way they use location?

One of my favourite novels is Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn. The way she describes the desolate landscape, the remoteness of the location, is compelling. You have a real sense of being there. I also enjoy reading MM Kaye’s novels, mostly set in India and Africa. A Third Culture Kid (she was born in Simla and lived all over the world as an adult), Kaye evoked a sense of place that many other authors writing about those areas don’t manage in quite the same way.

Patterson faves

Photo credits: Cover art; insets: Young Daphne du Maurier (about 1930), by The Chichester Partnership via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0); M.M. Kaye via goodreads.

Thanks so much, Stephanie!

* * *

Readers, any questions for the intrepid Stephanie Patterson? Please leave them in the comments below.

And if you’d like to discover more about Stephanie, why not visit her author site. You can also follow her on twitter at @cathiedunn.

Until next month!

Lorraine Mace writes for children with the Vlad the Inhaler books. As Frances di Plino, she writes crime in the D.I. Paolo Storey series. She is a columnist for both of the UK’s top writing magazines, has founded international writing competitions and runs a writing critique service, mentoring authors on three continents.

STAY TUNED for the next fab post!

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Photo credits (top of page): The World Book (1920), by Eric Fischer via Flickr; “Writing? Yeah.” by Caleb Roenigk via Flickr (both CC BY 2.0).



DIARY OF AN EXPAT WRITER: How I spent my summer vacation

Diary of an Expat Writer
American expat in Hong Kong Shannon Young quit her day job a year ago to become a full-time writer. Here’s the latest entry in her expat writer’s diary.

Dear Displaced Diary,

It’s still blazing hot here in Hong Kong, but the kids are heading back to school and expats are returning from home leave visits to their families across the globe.

Speaking of school kids: In the tradition of every good elementary school student, I thought I would report to you on how I spent my summer vacation.

Every July since moving to Asia in 2010, I’ve boarded a plane for the US and headed to Arizona, where my parents and siblings live, or to Oregon, where my grandparents live. From the moment I stepped off the plane, I would enter a whirlwind of visits, barbecues, catch-ups, family dinners, appointments, Five Guys runs, overdue conversations, and late-night chocolate-chip-cookie-baking hangouts.

This year, however, I stayed put in Hong Kong. A friend was visiting during the two weeks when my whole family is normally in Oregon, and I knew I needed to focus on my writing in order to hold to my publication schedule. I was a full-time teacher for five years, but I gave that up a year ago, remember? As a writer, I get to keep working right through the summer!

All work…

I mentioned in my last diary that I’m taking a part-time teaching contract this fall. I don’t yet know exactly how the part-time hours will affect my writing schedule, so I’m buckling down to finish the remaining books in The Seabound Chronicles, a post-apocalyptic adventure series set at sea, as soon as possible, which as you know I write under the name Jordan Rivet. My goal is to have all four books out in time for Christmas. Over the course of the summer I finished, edited, proofread, formatted, and uploaded the full-length prequel Burnt Sea. It officially went live on August 30th!

Burnt Sea_live on Aug 30

I found that despite the stifling conditions of summer in Hong Kong, I wanted to work more and more, including on weekends. I typically write for five hours a day, five days a week, but adding in three hours or so on some Saturdays and Sundays helped to up my game. When it is hot and rainy by turns, installing myself in an air-conditioned coffee shop feels like the sensible thing to do!

Hong Kong summer collage

Photo credits (top to bottom): it’s been a long rainy life, by Jaume Escofet; Big Buddha, Po Lin Monastery on Lantau, Hong Kong, by Robin Zebrowski, and Cafe, SOHO, Hong Kong, by Stephen Kelly; Rainy day in Hong Kong, by Jeremy Thompson. All via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

This summer I also completed two substantial revisions of the final book in the Seabound Chronicles, one in July and one this past week. This included writing the actual ending scenes to the series, which was pretty cool. A few people are reading the draft right now, and I’ll be ready to dive into another round of revisions when I get their feedback in mid-September. The full series is weighing in at 306,000 words!

…and some play

Writing is a lot of fun, but sometimes it’s good to step away from the work to have other kinds of fun. I took a break to show our friend around (although she did some solo sightseeing as well). We got to revisit some of the great Hong Kong sites, fitting in jaunts to Lamma Island, Stanley, the Big Buddha, and other famous Hong Kong attractions–and eateries. I love any excuse to go to Din Tai Fung (a chain that originated in Taiwan, it specializes in soup dumplings).

Through the prompting of some very active friends, we also went hiking (taking one of the toughest walks in Hong Kong on what turned out to be the hottest day in 130 years!) and spent a weekend on Lantau, one of the large outlying islands. We stayed in an old village, very atmospheric, where we trekked through a river to get to a kite-surfing lesson and spent a day enjoying the waves at an out-of-the-way beach.

It was a nice reminder that Hong Kong is home to wonderful natural beauty, and it doesn’t actually take that long to escape the concrete jungle.

Hong Kong Natural Beauty

Photo credits: Kite-surfing beach on Lantau Island and view of the greenery (supplied).

…and some play/work

Another bit of fun was when Kevin Kwon, the author of bestselling novel Crazy Rich Asians, now being made into a film, came to Hong Kong for a Q&A session at the KEE Club. The event was the first weekend in August, and any other summer I would have missed it. Instead, I got my book signed and listened to the charming and unassuming author talk about his work. (The visit was part of his tour for the sequel, China Rich Girlfriend, which, incidentally, was announced in the Displaced Dispatch.) He told us he is working on the next installment in the series.

Kevin Kwan Talk HK

Photo credits: Kevin Kwan book cover art; Kwan at the KEE Club in Hong Kong (supplied).

Which reminds me that in addition to lots of writing, I crammed in time for plenty of reading this summer. Highlights included:

I’ve always read a lot, but I’m finding that it’s more important to carve out time than it was in the days when I had a long commute every day. I believe my upcoming part-time job will involve a fair bit of commuting, so I’m looking forward to having built-in reading time again. I read to learn and I read for enjoyment, and there are never enough hours in the day…

All in all, it has been a successful summer full of literary pursuits and unexpected adventures…

…with a plot twist!

It turns out I’m going back to the US after all! My husband noticed an eye-wateringly affordable Cathay FanFare, so just last week I booked a ticket home. I left on August 30th, so I was actually in the sky when the people who pre-ordered Burnt Sea saw the book pop up on their Kindles.

I’m looking forward to a quick visit that will mostly involve monopolizing the attention of my eight-month-old nephew. I’ll hang out with my siblings, eat a whole bunch of American food, and be ready to dive into the fourth draft of the Seabound finale when I return! I enjoy pushing through the work, but sometimes it’s important to step away and enjoy a bit of downtime, too.

But enough about me! What did you get up to this summer, Displaced Diary? What was your favorite summer read? Do you have any amazing adventures to report?

Shannon Young
AKA Jordan Rivet

* * *

Shannon, I must confess that I never made it all the way through a Tokyo summer, it was just too hot and humid! I’m impressed that you made it until August 30th. Readers, do you have any summer achievements worth sharing on your creative pursuits? Please leave in the comments. ~ML

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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TCK TALENT: Lisa Liang takes her show back on the road; second stop: Cape Town, South Africa (2/2)

TCK Talent columnist Lisa and her husband (and techie), Dan, head to Cape Town. Photo credits: (from left) Alien Citizen poster; Lisa and Dan in front of Little Theatre on University of Cape Town campus (supplied, by Daniel Lawrence); and view of Table Mountain through bus window (supplied, by Lisa Liang).

Having delivered a successful show, TCK Talent columnist Lisa and her husband (and techie), Dan, explore Cape Town. Photo credits: (from left) Alien Citizen poster; Lisa and Dan on the street where they rented a cottage in Woodstock; Lisa in front of the clock tower on the V&A Waterfront. (All photos supplied, taken by either Lisa or her husband, Daniel Lawrence.)

TCK Talent columnist Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang has had an exciting summer, even by her own, well-traveled standards. First she performed her one-woman show about growing up as a mixed-race TCK in Valencia, Spain, after which she headed for Cape Town, South Africa, for another performance, which she told us about in her last post. Today we’ll be treated to Part Two of her South African adventure!

Howzit, dear readers—molweni! Kunjani?

As some of you may recall, in my previous post I described the experience of taking Alien Citizen: an earth odyssey, my one-woman show about growing up as a Third Culture Kid (TCK) of mixed heritage, to the Women Playwrights International Conference, held June 29–July 3 in Cape Town.

This month’s post is about the second half of said trip, during which my husband, Dan, and I explored the city and its surroundings. A travelogue, if you will.

The day after the conference ended, we took an Uber cab to our new digs in Woodstock, about half a mile east of the city centre. (We’re not fans of Uber as a company—but as the Cape Town drivers were excellent and we were on a budget, we compromised.) Our AirBnB guest cottage had an en suite bathroom with a big shower—an upgrade from the dorm life we’d experienced at the conference.

We took it easy that day because I was wiped out from a week of conferencing that had culminated in performing my show. (Dan had played a role in the performance, too, as my techie.) We went grocery shopping in what South Africans call a “lower rent” area, a couple of blocks away. It offered far fewer choices than you would find in the USA or Europe—similar to the shops of my childhood and adolescence, spent in Central America and North Africa. Our most memorable buys were the potato chips or “crisps” and the gingersnap cookies or “biscuits”: both excellent!

Regarding safety in the city: we had read warnings about crime, but we witnessed none. As we walked along the main road, young men shouted at us through the windows of vans speeding by, offering us rides. At first we were intimidated, but by the end of our stay it was so familiar that we would just call back “No thanks!”

On the way home, we stopped at a cafe, the Field Office, where we enjoyed a great lunch and decent WiFi connection.

Dan is a coffee aficionado and I love the way Cape Town serves chai lattes in pretty glass mugs, so we were especially happy hanging out at this cafe, which aspires to be an office-away-from-the-office (hence its name).

When we returned to the cottage, we nearly froze—my teeth literally chattered! As I mentioned last month, most homes in Cape Town don’t have heating or insulation for the colder months. Luckily, our host realized this and loaned us a space heater the next day. (We had foolishly assumed he didn’t have one.)

The next day we went to the V&A Waterfront, which I loved for the clock tower, the public art, the restaurants and shops—and the fact that so many of our fellow tourists were from African countries. It was a pleasure to be among travelers from the African continent for a change. We discovered some fantastic traditional arts-and-crafts shopping at the African Trading Port.

Impilo! (Cheers!)

The following day we took a winelands tour. The countryside was beautiful; we passed a farm that had a zebra, a springbok, an ostrich, and more animals you never see on US farmland. Without having eaten breakfast, we tasted five wines (!) in Paarl valley, which was perhaps not the healthiest way to begin the morning.

Our next stop was charming Franschhoek, where I insisted on getting breakfast—a lovely muffin-like scone with butter/cream/jam coupled with a caffe latte…I felt much better. We also bought chocolate at a pretty chocolate shop because…chocolate!

The second winery was very fancy; then we continued on to Stellenbosch, where we had a tasty lunch. The towns were pretty with Cape Dutch, Georgian, and Victorian architecture.

The final winery on our tour had lots of character in the form of gigantic spider webs hanging by the stained glass windows. It was there we learned that fortified wine is to port what sparkling wine is to champagne. In total that day we tasted 12 wines and three ports fortified wines. We liked the ports fortified wines the best.

A cobwebbed window at one of the wineries; a glass of port, a fortified wine[], by Jon Sullivan via Wikimedia Commons; Lisa at La Motte Winery.

A cobwebbed window at one of the wineries on Lisa and Dan’s tour; a glass of port, a fortified wine, by Jon Sullivan via Wikimedia Commons; Lisa at La Motte Winery.

Benza iKapa (Beautiful Cape Town)

The next day we took a city tour. We were supposed to go to the top of Table Mountain but it was too windy. (We were finally able to reach the top on our second-to-last day. It was so beautiful, I feel enormously lucky and grateful to have experienced it.)
Table Mountain_top
Our guide showed us some of the beaches near the town. The water was such a beautiful shade of light blue—I’ve never seen water like that before! And the view from Signal Hill was spectacular—I can’t use that word enough for the natural beauty surrounding Cape Town.

And on this tour, I finally had the chance to see the outside of all the places that Dan had visited during our first week while I was “conferencing”:

We walked through a small section of the Company’s Garden, a beautiful park with very old trees and Egyptian geese having Make Way for Ducklings moments, to the Iziko South African Museum.

This tour ended with the requisite visit to a diamond shop, which no one in the van was interested in, but we all ultimately decided to go in for the demonstration on how the jewels are made from gems (and, I’ll admit, for the free champagne). There was loads of tanzanite (named for Tanzania, where it was discovered) on display—a good investment, apparently. We didn’t invest.

Legacy of apartheid

While at the South African Museum, it was disturbing to learn that the museum’s first curators had created life-sized models from molds of actual living “Bushmen” (who were never credited) to demonstrate an “authentic, primitive, and it’s being lived today” lifestyle. Since the end of apartheid, the museum has been re-curated from the indigenous perspective.

On our second-to-last day we visited Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 of the 27 years he served behind bars before the fall of apartheid. (The prison is now a museum.) We had a great guide in the bus, who stressed that the prison was not about Nelson Mandela. The prisoners chose Mandela to speak for them, but they told him what to say and asked him to refashion their words because he was so eloquent and was also trained as a lawyer. At the prison itself, we had a former prisoner as our guide, who showed us Mandela’s cell. No white prisoners were held in that prison—only “blacks” and “coloureds,” who were not treated the same (there was worse treatment for blacks).

Mandela’s last prison, Drakenstein Correctional Centre (formerly Victor Verster Prison), which we’d seen during our winery tour (we stopped to take pictures beneath the inspiring Nelson Mandela statue at the entrance). At that prison, he actually lived in a private house inside the compound.

On our last day we went to the District Six Museum, which is a beautifully and intimately designed and curated memorial to the forced movement of 60,000 inhabitants of various races in District Six during 1970s apartheid. My eyes started welling up in the first five minutes. I felt anxious, angry, and moved.

(Top) Robben Island Prison Museum; District Six Museum.

(Top) Robben Island Prison Museum; District Six Museum.

At the conference I had remarked to a young South African theatremaker that I hadn’t perceived any racial tension among the diverse group of actors and directors who staged the play readings; she replied that that was because we were at the university, but things were different off campus. Dan and I were unpleasantly surprised when one of our tour guides, an older white man, stated that “black neighborhood” equaled “ghetto,” and pointed out a section of the city that he considered “awful”—but it looked like any populated section of a city in a developing nation to me.

I grew up mostly in poor countries, so I’m accustomed to the scrappy, grimy, not-at-all-pretty-yet-functional aspect of many an urban area. We actually bought our groceries on the block that the guide was pointing out. It’s all a matter of perspective…

Ubuhle bendalo (Spectacular scenery)

Despite South Africa’s painful history, it’s impossible for the visitor to ignore its spectacular scenery. We went on a tour to the Cape Peninsula, including Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point. Spectacular vistas and beaches—again, I’ve never seen that color of ocean.

We also loved seeing animals that were new to us. We took a boat to see Cape fur seals on Duiker Island. Along the road throughout the day we passed zebras, baboons, bontebok, and ostriches—mostly not penned in—just by the road! And ever so many African penguins on Boulders Beach!

We ended that particular day at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, which were lush and green, and I treated myself to a new mug at the gift shop. (A mug of tea being part of my writing ritual!

South African animals collage

Clockwise, from top left: Ostrich between road and sea; South African farm animals; African penguins at Boulders Beach; the Egyptian geese in Company Gardens.

Glorious food

We had been wanting to try the best Cape Malay food in town. We were told it was at Biesmiellah, so went there for dinner. Best comfort food ever after a day that had run the emotional gamut from a grim yet inspiring prison-turned-museum, to one of the world’s natural wonders with jaw-dropping vistas, to a fantastic restaurant where the cooks are Muslim women who feed you after sunset during Ramadan (so you can only hope they’ve broken their own fasts while taking care of tourists).

We ate wonderfully well in Cape Town. I can also recommend:

Paradoxically, almost every day we were approached by a homeless person, each one of a
different ethnicity/race (white, black, Malaysian, etc.), often young, always deeply courteous, asking for a meal. It finally occurred to me to carry an energy bar in my coat for giving away.

Last but not least…

While at the District Six Museum on our last day, we happened to run into a few WPIC delegates, one of whom complimented my performance of Alien Citizen from the previous week: a great way to cap off our visit.

One of the last things we did was to return to Company’s Park to walk the length of it; there were numerous romantic couples on the grass, which reminded me of Rome’s Villa Borghese Gardens and L.A.’s Griffith Park. We also saw many guinea fowl in and around Cape Town—again, we loved seeing animals we never get to see in the States.

We also visited St. George’s Cathedral, which was lovely and smaller than I had expected. It’s so famous for Desmond Tutu that in my head it was the size of Chartres—until I actually saw it and went inside.

We even took in the South African National Gallery, which had two incredible exhibits by South African artists:

  1. photography and more by Omar Badsha, and
  2. a multimedia-with-moving-sculpture work by William Kentridge called The Refusal of Time.

Hamba kakuhle! (Go well!)

All too soon it was time to wend our way back to L.A. The first leg of our flight was at night. On the British Airways plane back to Heathrow, the flight attendants sprayed something throughout the cabin, saying that it was not toxic but that we should still take our contact lenses out and not lick the mist. Um…

I’ll spare you the details of our layover in Heathrow, but be warned: that airport goes well out of its way to make you miserable. Meanwhile, our flight out of Cape Town left late, so we missed the connection and were rerouted to San Francisco…and our luggage got lost at SFO. It was finally delivered to us four days later—intact! Hooray!

Looking back, I think we were lucky to have mostly clear weather during our time in Cape Town as I was able to take extraordinarily vivid impressions of the majestic Table Mountain, the city and its surroundings, which are still with me…

On another level, I found Cape Town stimulating as an artist. It’s the kind of place that compels you to be brave and keep trying to tell your story truthfully. That’s also what I took away from our trip, along with an abiding gratitude to the WPIC programming committee for choosing Alien Citizen as the closing show—and of course to my generous backers who made the trip possible. Without a doubt, it counts as one of the highlights of my creative international life.

* * *

Thank you, Lisa! I really appreciated hearing about your travels within and around Cape Town from your ATCK perspective: it was fascinating, as well as moving, to take this virtual tour. Readers, please leave questions or comments for Lisa below. —ML Awanohara

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WORLD OF WORDS: How a mysterious passion for learning French has shaped the life of writer Marianne Bohr

Marianne Bohr in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris—is she reading or indulging in reveries about words?

Marianne Bohr in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris—is she reading or indulging in reveries about French words?

New columnist Marianne Bohr, whose first book, Gap Year Girl, is about to come out with She Writes Press, is here with her second post attesting to how a passion for learning languages can engender a passion for travel.

I decided long ago that I was born in the wrong country. There must have been some mistake. But then again, if I’d been born in l’Hexagone, my passion for all things French wouldn’t exist. I’d have been raised with the language’s romantic euphony, and the fluid succession of words would be part of my everyday world. Some other tongue and faraway culture would have caught my fancy—so perhaps, just perhaps, it’s fortuitous my birthplace was Fort Wayne, Indiana, and not Paris.

Passions are essential to a happy life. When we care about something, it shrinks the world to a human scale, breaking it into wieldy pieces to love and nurture. My passion for French shapes my world, yet why I love this lyrical language so dearly is an essential mystery I’ll never fully understand.

In my first post I spoke about the decision my husband, Joe, and I made to do a senior year abroad at age 55. For the final six weeks of our “gap year” traveling through Europe, we settled into Aix-en-Provence, a stylish, sun-kissed university town in the south of France. We delighted in the daily outdoor markets and spent hours in cafes along the Cours Mirabeau, sipping rosé wine and listening to the mellifluous French chatter around us.

Photo credit: Les Deux Garçons, by tpholland via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

I signed up for daily French conversation classes, hoping to further exercise my sometimes-lazy American jaw in preparation for the new career that awaits me back in the States. Over thirty years in book publishing is behind me and armed with the degree I completed before we left for our gap year, I’m ready to embrace being a French teacher, full throttle.

First day of school

I’ve always loved being a student of French, no matter my age, but on the first day of my class at IS Aix-en-Provence (a language institute that specializes in teaching French to adults), I’m predictably nervous, as I’ve been on day one of every school year of my life. I lay out my clothes the night before and imagine first days of school gone by: my freshly ironed plaid uniform, crisp white blouse, just-purchased navy knee socks with tags still attached, and newly polished oxfords. I pack a snack, just as I did in grammar school, and I’m ready to go.

My giddy younger self emerges the moment I cross the classroom threshold, polished floorboards creaking, where I am once again a wide-eyed schoolgirl eagerly poised over a blank composition book, pencil sharpened and my ardor for the subject on my sleeve.

My class of ten includes students from Australia, Finland, the Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden, none of us a youngster and all on an educational vacation in summertime Aix. I introduce myself and stumble on the choice of tense. Do I use the present or the future tense of “to be”? Do I affirm I am a French teacher, or do I demur and say I’ll soon be a French teacher? I opt for the former, Je suis prof de français. It bolsters my confidence with a frisson of pride.

My prof is Céline—gorgeous, funny, and particularly warm. I so wish I could be like her—une jolie française who speaks lovely French. As I walk home from class, it hits me, as it has so often before: yes, I am a newly minted French teacher, but no matter how I try, no matter how I practice, no matter how fiercely I study, I’ll never be French. I’ll never be française. I’ll never sound like Céline. I’ll forever be on the outside looking in, my face and palms pressed against the linguistic glass. I plunge into a microflash of depression. But I proceed across town, under soaring sycamores, content to have a passion I can call my very own.

The French and their apocopes

The French often truncate words by dropping the final syllables and adding an “o.” Apéro, McDo, and resto (aperitif, McDonald’s, and restaurant) have long been staples of my French vocabulary, but thanks to my classes, I add abbreviations to my repertoire:

  • accro hooked on
  • les actus (the news),
  • un ado (an adolescent),
  • bio (organic),
  • un dico (a dictionary),
  • perso (personal), and,
  • (my favorite) Sarko (Nicolas Sarkozy).
Shortened French words

A few examples of the Gallic fondness for apocopes. Photo credits: Apéro au coin du feu, by Sébastien Bertrand via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); English-language dictionary via Pixabay; _EPP Summit, by European People’s Party via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Each week in class, we prepare presentations about les actus, and I do one on social media. Twitter and blogger have now entered the daily lexicon as regular “-er” verbs. We learn the quirky French term for “walkie-talkie” (talkie-walkie), that the expression vachement bien (amazingly good), which was very popular thirty years ago, is much less in vogue nowadays, and that it is très chic to say super (pronounced “sue pair”—accent on the “sue”), especially if you’re a woman.

The café was super-bon; your dress is super-chic; he looks super. I imagine the French language police, the Académie Française, must be super-fâché (very angry) about all the new Franglais.

Why won’t anyone speak French with me?

Indeed, much has changed in France over the past 35 years. There’s a new generation with kinder attitudes, more customer-service orientation, and lots of English spoken, so unlike the France of days gone by. Everyone wants to speak English, but I want to speak French. I’m bolstered by Joe, who always encourages, “Make them speak French, babe,” so we have uneven, lopsided exchanges:

“Good evening, madame.”

“Bonsoir, monsieur.”

“Would you like an aperitif?”

“Oui, je prends un kir, s’il vous plaît.”

“Very good. And you, sir?”

“Un kir aussi, merci.”

It’s initially disconcerting, but they eventually get the point and give us what we want. They speak to us in French! We really do appreciate the attempt to be accommodating and their eagerness to practice our language. If only we Americans would exhibit the same passion for learning new tongues.

* * *

Thank you, Marianne! How about the rest of you out there? Do you have a passion for a foreign language and if so, what kind of lengths have you gone to in its pursuit? Do let us know in the comments!

Marianne C. Bohr is a writer, editor and French teacher whose book, Gap Year Girl: A Baby Boomer Adventure Across 21 Countries, will be published in September 2015 (She Writes Press). She married her high school sweetheart and travel partner, and with their two grown children, follows her own advice and travels at every opportunity. Marianne lives in Bethesda, Maryland, where after decades in publishing, she has followed her Francophile muse to teach French. She has an author site where she keeps a blog, and is active on Facebook and Twitter.

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GLOBAL FOOD GOSSIP: To ease the stress of yet another international move, tea all round and some jammie biscuits?

Global Food Gossip 062315
Serial expat (and soon to be repat!) Joanna Masters-Maggs is back with some tasty global food gossip to share.

As I write this, we are in the middle of packing for our eighth international move.

By the way, I don’t count moves within countries as an actual move. Indeed, when people complain about having to move from one house to another, I have an unpleasant tendency to judge them for being just a little, well, weak.

Call me strange, but I have almost come to enjoy the stress because I know how deeply the memories will be imprinted as a result.

I especially relish the sweaty dirtiness of a move in a hot climate. You look dreadful and just don’t care. The joy of the dirt sloughing off you in the shower at the end of the day, is unspeakably satisfying. As they say, you never appreciate water until you have experienced thirst.

Memories set to the soundtrack of masking tape being torn from the roll and objects being wrapped in rustling paper—I have a few, including:

  • Watching the Malaysian movers slip on and off their shoes as the moved in and out of our house, no matter how heavy their load.
  • Spying the Brazilian workers taking a siesta under the removal van.
  • Above all, enjoying the sight of my children playing for days with empty boxes.

Tea, all round?

Tea all round

Photo credits: (clockwise from top left) “We’re Moving!” by David Goehring via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Moving Day, by via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Allied Movers, allied Moving Truck, by Mike Mozart via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); (overlay) Tea time, by Daniela Vladimirova via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

In England it is customary to offer tea to anyone who comes to work around your house. It politely defines their status as providers of services rather than servants.

I have come to associate removal men with strong, sweetened tea and a biscuit to go with it. No move has ever been complete without these accompaniments—and my biscuit of choice under the circumstances is the Jammie Dodger.

A Jammie Dodger comprises two vanilla biscuits sandwiched together with a red jam and possibly buttercream, too. The upper biscuit boasts a little cut out to reveal a little filling—what a tease!

Jammie Dodgers are freely available in English supermarkets. The store-bought version used to do the trick, but I am afraid I have, like an addict, come to demand something more refined as my drug of choice.

No dodging the Jammie Dodger

Years ago, while living in Virginia as a student, I started to make my own Jammie Dodgers, craving as I did a taste of home. Come on, I had to tolerate Lipton Yellow Label tea, which lacks the body I demand. If I couldn’t magic up a suitable English blend, at least there was something I could do about the biscuit situation.

Jammie Dan[], by Andrea Black via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)[]

Jammie Dan, by Andrea Black via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

I hit on a good combination of a shortbread style biscuit and a good-quality jam. Imagine my surprise on discovering these were so much better than the factory version—so much so that I have never again willingly returned to the supermarket to buy them. I was young, remember. I still am. As the years passed I have tweaked that recipe until nothing surpasses it.

Arriving in France I was astonished discover that there was a chain of French bakeries that came very close to my recipe. What a disaster for my thighs! They could no longer look forward to being given a respite on the days when I don’t have time to bake.

Even the French can’t resist!

Known as sablé (literally, sand) for their sandy, crumbly texture, these confiture-filled delights are uncharacteristically large for a French pâtisserie. I relish the idea that even the French find them difficult to resist despite being a nation of “Oui, mais only one”.

I understand their dilemma. The sablé’s crumbly, buttery, shortbread-like texture offers what food technicians call “mouth fill”.

Talking of fillings, the French version comes generally in raspberry or chocolate as well as the ill-advised Nutella. Hm.. France really ought to give the concept of the Nutella sablé a rethink. This biscuit calls for a contrasting texture, so non merci to Nutella, here at least.

Photo credits: flickr black day[], by Robert Couse-Baker (CC BY 2.0)[] ; nutella cookies[], by Ginny via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)[]

Photo credits: flickr black day, by Robert Couse-Baker (CC BY 2.0); nutella cookies, by Ginny via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Apart from the size, the other difference in a French Jammie dodger is that instead of one hole cut in the upper biscuit to expose the filling there can be as many as three. Alors, the French can actually do vulgar excess it would seem!

Personally, I love the idea of the French ditching the restrained elegance we are so used to seeing from them. I also love that it is a jammie biscuit that drove them to it.

Cate the Cake: She’s the biscuit!

This move is the most special of all my international moves, because this time, my daughter is providing the Jammie Dodgers that fuel us. Since arriving in France, Catherine has developed first an interest in baking and then in patisserie—developments that have made my heart sing a special version of the 1812 Overture.

Instead of the “La Marseillaise” being quieted by the Russian national anthem, we have a case of “God Save the Queen” being, if not crushed by the French anthem, at least over-laid and dusted down with a Gallic flourish.

Cate the Cake (a weak nickname, but I can’t resist) has taken courses in all sorts of things from éclairs to crème brûlée. She has brought a certain French flair to my Jammie Dodger, making them even more irresistible, if that were possible.

Cate the Cake She's the biscuit

Having the patience and perfectionism I so entirely lack, she is willing to stare through the oven door until just the right shade of pale delicacy is reached that ensures the texture is melting, but not cloying. Adhering strictly to butter only, the flavor is delectable and well worth an extra few centimeters to the waistline. These beauties scream for a strong cup of English blend tea made with leaves, not a bag, and steeped a full five minutes.

Talking of which, I think I’ll nip in to the kitchen before the teapot is packed and give the packers a cultural experience to remember. After all, it’s the presence of workmen in the house that provides the impetus (or excuse?) for an extra-special tea-and-biscuits ritual.


Jammy Dodgers/Sablés

• 250g plain flour
• 200g butter, cut into small cubes
• 100g icing sugar
• pinch of salt
• 2 free-range egg yolks
• Raspberry or Strawberry Jam

1. Preheat the oven to 170C/325F
2. Place the flour, butter, icing sugar and salt into a bowl. Using your fingertips, rub the ingredients together until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
3. Add the egg yolks and mix until a dough forms. Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and roll out to a thickness of about 0.5cm. Cut out shapes using a 4cm cutter.
4. Divide the sablés in half. Using a 2cm, fluted cutter, make a hole in the middle of half of the sablé biscuits and discard the dough. Place all the sablés on a baking tray.
5. Liberally dust the tops with icing sugar passed through a fine sieve.
6. Bake the sablés for 10-12 minutes, or until pale golden-brown and crisp. Remove and transfer to a wire rack to cool.
7. Using a teaspoon, place a small dollop of jam on a whole sablé. Place a sablé (with a hole) over the whole sablé biscuit.

* * *

Readers, we invite you to continue the food gossip! Can you relate to Joanna’s instinct for strong tea and Jammie Dodgers? And can you offer any other food tips to alleviate the stress of an international move? Be sure to let us know in the comments!

Joanna Masters-Maggs was displaced from her native England 17 years ago, and has since attempted to re-place herself in the USA, Holland, Brazil, Malaysia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and now France. She describes herself as a “global food gossip”, saying: “I’ve always enjoyed cooking and trying out new recipes. Overseas, I am curious as to what people buy and from where. What is in the baskets of my fellow shoppers? What do they eat when they go home at night?”

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