The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

EXPAT ART AS THERAPY: A new series based on Alain de Botton’s strange and wonderful notions

expat_art_as_therapy introGreetings, Displaced Nationers. While countries in Asia are celebrating harvest and moon festivals, we are marking the occasion with the start of a new series: EXPAT ART AS THERAPY. The series owes its provenance to the fertile and somewhat loony imagination of the young Swiss-English philosopher Alain de Botton. Today and over the next few months, we’ll cover some of the same ground as de Botton in his “Art as Therapy” lecture, in which he demonstrates how art can shed light on life’s big themes.

Except our topic will be the work of international creatives, a subset of artists more generally. Can the art people produce as a result of living among cultures in other parts of the world—and feeling, at times, displaced—shed light on life’s big questions?

Haven’t yet heard of de Botton? Here is (more than) you need to know:

  • Having grown up in both Switzerland and the UK, he’s an Adult Third Culture Kid who comes across as European, English, both and neither.
  • He’s a prolific pop philosopher, with a shelf-full of books and two very popular TED talks to his name.
  • He also has his critics, who call him a “high-brow self-help guru.”
  • Regardless, he hasn’t looked back since his 1997 essay titled How Proust Can Change Your Life became an unlikely blockbuster in the “self-help” category.
  • As explained in a recent Displaced Dispatch—what, not a subscriber yet? get on with it!—de Botton has set up a cultural enterprise in Bloomsbury, London, called The School of Life, which aims to “teach ideas to live by” and “inspire people to change their lives through culture.”

Returning to the aforementioned “art as therapy” lecture, De Botton lists six ways that art can respond to human needs, and in this series I’ll be attempting to apply this scheme to the works of international creatives. Does the art produced by expats, rexpats, TCKS, ATCKs repats, and other international creatives have something to contribute to the good of humanity at large and if so, in what ways?

It all sounds rather grand, doesn’t it—or would grandiose be more accurate? In any event, not to worry, you won’t remember any of this by the time the column starts up properly next month.

That said, perhaps it would help if I left you with a couple of examples of the kinds of questions we’ll be examining, enough to whet your appetite for more.

Here goes:

1) How does it benefit the world that Alan Parker has written a best-selling indie book about what it’s like to be a Brit man trying to raise alpacas in Spain? I’ll warrant that many of us, myself included, have no wish to live in Spain or raise alpacas—yet I did feel moved by the account of his adventures as reported on this blog, and presume that others have as well. What are we all getting out of it?

2) Likewise, are there pleasures for all to be reaped from long-term expat Kathleen Saville’s description of the acacia trees on the island in Zamalek, Gezira Island, where she lives in Cairo? (NOTE: Saville, who blogs at Water Meditations, is a contender for a September Alice Award, which you’d know if you read our most recent Dispatch.) Take me for example. The thought of living in Egypt scares me, and I’ve been avoiding most trees ever since Hurricane Sandy, but after reading Saville’s description of Egyptian acacias—

I see folds and twists in the trunks like nothing I have ever seen in another tree. Each tree looks like a long thin body or leg covered with support hose. It’s odd because the appearance is almost human like.

—I was blown away. Why, and would others with no special interest in Egypt feel the same?

* * *

At this point I hope I’ve said enough for you to make a mental note about checking out next month’s column!

In closing, please join me in a resounding chorus of “Shine on, shine on harvest moon/Up in the sky…” (Click here if you don’t know what I’m talking about or can’t remember the words.) Yes, I know it’s not high art; it’s a Tin Pan Alley stuff. But it’s seasonal and makes me smile—and our mentor, Alain de Botton, would give me a pat on the back for that!

STAY TUNED for Beth Green’s book review column.

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 Alice nominations, book giveaways, and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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A spoonful of imagination helps the expat life go down: In tribute to our 7 columnists

Sugar spoon by jppi (Morguefiles); jet painting by Prawny (Morguefiles).

Sugar spoon by jppi (Morguefiles); jet painting by Prawny (Morguefiles).

Here in the Northern Hemisphere, as summer draws to its inevitable close, I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the talented individuals who write columns for us from an expat or otherwise displaced perspective.

Curiouser and curiouser! If it weren’t for them, we’d know a great deal less about the contours of the kind of creative life that is lived across two or more distinct cultures.

Fiction, fantasy, food, photos, theatre—oh my! Our columnists also serve as the Wizards who can help the rest of us transform our travels into a trip down the Yellow Brick Road.

(Yes, Dorothy has now joined Alice as a Displaced Nation heroine.)

Without further ado, they are, in alphabetical order:

1) Andrew Couch

COLUMN: Here Be Dragons
INTERESTING FACT ABOUT ANDREW: He spent this summer developing the Peanut Butter Bar WordPress app, which allows you to attach sticky bars to the roof of your site that stay visible no matter how far a user scrolls. (“Smooth” is free. “Chunky,” which has more features, costs $15.)
COLUMN PURPOSE: Andrew demonstrates, through snippets of his own writing, the possibility of collecting materials for a fantasy novel from a life of international travel.
MOST POPULAR POST: Andrew’s first, “The expat life as fuel for fantasy writing,” perhaps because his concept is a little fantastical.
WHY YOU SHOULD FOLLOW: You will never look at your displaced life in quite the same way again but will see yourself as the protagonist in your own Alice or Dorothy story, a story you’re not only living but could (should?) be writing…

2) Beth Green

COLUMN: Booklust, Wanderlust
INTERESTING FACT ABOUT BETH: She grew up on a sailboat and, though now a landlubber, still enjoys a peripatetic life.
COLUMN PURPOSE: Beth selects books with particular appeal to international creatives.
MOST POPULAR POST: Her first, about the Dublin Murder Squad series by ATCK writer Tana French, perhaps reflecting Beth’s own passion for mystery (she is also a member of the Sisters in Crime mystery writers’ association, another interesting fact about Beth).
WHY YOU SHOULD FOLLOW: The peripatetic Beth has a correspondingly eclectic taste in books, sampling everything from psychological mystery to journalistic memoirs of China to biographies of eccentric female travelers of the past century.

3) Elizabeth Liang

COLUMN: TCK Talent
INTERESTING FACT ABOUT LISA: Lisa spent part of the summer in Iceland, putting on her one-woman autobiographical show about growing up as a TCK, Citizen Alien.
COLUMN PURPOSE: Lisa profiles Adult Third Culture Kids with unusual talents. Perhaps not surprisingly, many of them find success as actors, just as Lisa has.
MOST POPULAR POST: Lisa’s interview with Laura Piquado, an actress in New York City who grew up all over the world and told Lisa she is now

dyak and atheist, Muslim, Christian, Bahá’í, Jain, Egyptian, Italian, Canadian—there is nowhere in the world that has ever felt foreign to me.

WHY YOU SHOULD FOLLOW: Because they weren’t originally expats by choice, adult TCKs can teach the rest of us a lot about the glories as well as the challenges of leading a displaced life. Plus Lisa’s gutsiness in developing her own TCK show gives her creds. She and the show are terrific! I know because I’ve met her and seen it.

4) Meagan Adele Lopez

COLUMN TITLE: The Lady Who Writes
INTERESTING FACT ABOUT MAL: Meagan Adele Lopez (nicknamed MAL) is both Anglophile and Francophile (she once lived in Paris). Talk about open-mindedness!
COLUMN PURPOSE: MAL writes about what she wished she’d known before setting out to write and self-publish her first novel, Three Questions, based on a romantic adventure that started at the end of her first expat stint in the UK (in Bristol).
MOST POPULAR POST: MAL’s first, suggesting that expats may easily be able to find a novel in their novel lives. Note: MAL has just wrapped up her six-post series for us.
WHY YOU SHOULD READ: Rather like Dickens, MAL calls on elements from her thespian background (she used to be an actor in Hollywood, no less) for writing a novel. Her characters are real: she imagines “dining out” with them!

5) James King

COLUMN TITLE: A Picture Says…
INTERESTING FACT ABOUT JAMES: James now lives in Thailand but during his previous expat stint, in South Africa, he ended up settling in Capetown, where he still has a house he’s renting out but would like to sell. Anybody interested?!
COLUMN PURPOSE: James tries to coax expats and other displaced types for whom photography is a creative outlet to tell the stories behind their favorite photos.
MOST POPULAR POST: James’s interview with Irish “ruin hunter” and photographer Ed Mooney, which generated a whopping 32 comments.
WHY YOU SHOULD READ: Why people feel compelled to take photos and what their favorite subjects are turns out to be a great window into the displaced mindset. Kudos to James for developing the series in this new direction.

6) JJ Marsh

COLUMN TITLE: Location, Locution
INTERESTING FACT ABOUT JJ: She plans to attend the Chorleywood LitFest on November 16th, 2014, wearing a toga. Hey, carpe diem and all that!
COLUMN PURPOSE: JJ interviews well-known authors who are expats and/or set their books in far-off lands about the role of place (location) in their imagination and subsequent writings (locution).
MOST POPULAR POST: JJ’s interview with Amanda Hodgkinson, who finished her first two novels, 22 Britannia Road and Spilt Milk, after relocating with her family to southwest France.
WHY YOU SHOULD READ: JJ commands respect in the writing world for her own achievement in crafting a European crime series featuring detective inspector Beatrice Stubbs, in which place plays a major role (she thinks of it as a “character,” she says). This must be why so many other authors are willing to share with her the techniques they use to transport readers to other, more remote parts of the world. Her columns are invariably illuminating.

7) Joanna Masters-Maggs

COLUMN TITLE: Global Food Gossip
INTERESTING FACT ABOUT JOANNA: She is a school friend of Displaced Nation founder Kate Allison. Want another one? She is half Irish and half English, which surely qualifies her as a TCK?
COLUMN PURPOSE: Joanna provides the inside story on food that comes from having lived as a trailing spouse in eight very different countries for more than 16 years.
MOST POPULAR POST: “There’s no taste like home,” in which Joanna confesses that she’s been so busy trying to cook the local food for her four kids that she neglected to introduce them to traditional English dishes.
WHY YOU SHOULD READ: Her repeat expat life has turned her into a creative chef extraordinaire. She knows how to make her own clotted cream (and provides a recipe) should homesickness strike, but is equally adept at Texas Barbecue Brisket.

* * *

In other news…

Have you checked out our Pinterest pins lately? We’ve quite the collection of displaced reads, movies and people, eg:

We can take you on a trip out of this displaced world should you wish to be further displaced; or for those who prefer a fantasy metaphor for their escapist tendencies, check out our Alice in Wonderland and Follow the Yellow Brick Road boards.

IT’S FOOD! is one of our most popular boards (natch!), as is World Parties, Holidays & Celebrations (hooray!). We also have two boards that celebrate the spirit of two previous blogs by me and another Displaced Nation founder, Kate Allison:

Speaking of Kate, you may have noticed that after producing episodes of her novel Libby’s Life on a regular basis for a couple of years (90 episodes, can you imagine?!), she is now updating the story on her author blog and aggregating those posts every so often for the Displaced Nation audience.

Last but not least, if you haven’t caught up with our Displaced Dispatch lately, take another look. Besides links to the latest posts, we have ORIGINAL contents by yours truly, exclusive giveaways (there’s one on now!) and candidates for the monthly Alice Awards.

Yes, we are still doing our Alice Awards and have now added an occasional Wizard of Oz column about repatriation: “Emerald City to Kansas”. We’re a busy (dis)place!

STAY TUNED for the announcement of August Alices.

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 original contents, book giveaways, and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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10 summer hacks picked up from an expat (& repat) life spanning Japan, the UK and the US

summerhacks_US

The summer ideal, so rarely achieved (apart from the cocktail), Public Domain CC0 via Pixar.

New York City, where I now live after years of being an expat on two small islands, the UK and Japan, had a particularly brutal winter in 2014. You would think I’d now be in the mood for summer.

But no. It hasn’t worked that way.

The moment the temperature and humidity levels skyrocketed here in the city, I realized my feelings about summer haven’t changed. Basically, and as expressed in this space before, I can’t stand it. Or, in the somewhat more poetic words of Swedish black metal trio Woods of Infinity:

Summer is not my friend. Satan, let it end.
Sunshine, hurting my eyes. Making my skin look like…argh.

Which brings me to today’s topic: summer hacks. What hacks have I picked up from the three countries where I’ve lived—Japan, the US and the UK—that can help me through summer’s doggiest days?

FROM JAPAN:

1) Avoid the sun at all costs.

Japanese women seem to have been the first to get the memo about avoiding sun damage. During the summer, which in Tokyo can be particularly brutal, most would not venture out in the heat of the day without a hat or a UV parasol, sometimes both. (Note: A regular umbrella will do in lieu a proper parasol.)

2) Carry a fan and a handkerchief.

If the heat becomes unbearably hot, say, when standing on the subway platform or getting into a car, one of the easiest ways to get cool is via a simple fan, either the kind that folds or an uchiwa. And if you find yourself perspiring profusely in a public place, try dabbing your face and neck with a handkerchief folded into a neat square. (When living in Japan, I used to find it entertaining to go into a department store and look at the vast array of handkerchiefs on display in the ground floor accessories. Every major Western designer has done one, meaning they’ve all had to struggle with translating their unique look into a small square of cloth. Who knew?)

3) Eat sparingly (cold soba) or else for energy (grilled eel).

On a hot and humid day, one of the healthiest meals is the simplest: a plate of cold buckwheat noodles, or soba, which have been cooked al dente. The noodles are dipped into a cup containing a special sauce (consisting of dashi, sweetened soy sauce and mirin), to which has been added fresh wasabi and sliced spring onions. Alternatively, if your body feels depleted during a heat wave, you can go to the other extreme and have a meal of unagi kabayaki, freshwater eel that has been glaze-grilled: it is served over white rice, typically with a cold beer to accompany. (By tradition, Japanese favor this meal from mid-July through early August, to counteract the lethargy and debilitation that occurs mid-way through their blistering summers.)

4) Drink plenty of cold tea and, for short bursts of energy, iced coffee with milk and a shot of gum syrup.

In Japan you can buy, at every convenience store, huge plastic bottles of green tea or oolong cha (my fave) to refrigerate so that cold tea (most people don’t ice it) is always on hand. You can also make mugicha: a caffeine-free barley infusion, said to be the “flavor of summer” in Japan and always served a room temperature. Before moving to Japan, I had never before tried iced coffee , where apparently the Japanese have been drinking it since the 1920s. Usually, it’s served in a glass to accompany or finish a restaurant meal—not in a plastic disposable cup (it’s impolite to eat and drink on the streets in that part of the world). Although hesitant at first, I became an immediate fan and was pleased to see it had caught on in the West by the time I returned. Now you can even get iced coffee in Dunkin’ Donuts. And, whereas I don’t usually add sugar to coffee, I will sometimes add to the iced version as I find my body needs that extra bit of energy to get from A to B. (In Japan, one always adds gum syrup, which dissolves much better than sugar, but it’s hard to find that here.)

FROM THE US:

5) If you can’t stand the heat, move to a cold dark box, aka a movie theatre.

Maybe it’s a New York City thing, but I’m thinking of Michael Maslin’s New Yorker cartoon showing a movie theatre with a marquee that says:

AIR
CONDITIONING

and a movie

6) Eat ice cream.

One or two scoops of freshly made ice cream in a dish or a regular sugar cone (nothing heavier or fancier) is one of life’s simple pleasures. Many people die in heat waves (no joke), so this is one to have, and keep, on your bucket list.

7) Seek invites to places where you can swim—in a pool, a lake, the ocean.

Nothing is more refreshing on a hot day than plunging into some cool water. Another tip is to put on a shirt or dress that is slightly damp—it will be dry by the time you reach the subway.

8) No opportunity to escape to a house in the Hamptons or equivalent? Have a cocktail.

See my still-relevant post of three summers ago on cocktails as mini-summer escapes to exotic locales, entitled Some enchanted drinking…

FROM THE U.K.:

9) Seize the moment and go crazy.

British summer tends to be short and sweet—and blissful (not too humid). Should you have a day where the heat breaks and temperatures and humidity levels are bearable, EMBRACE SUMMER AS YOUR FRIEND. Now, British people go to extremes by stripping down, as noted in this recent post by Annabel Kantaria in her Telegraph Expat blog, hence risking sunburn and melanoma. (As an aside: Did you know we once did an interview with Annabel? Check it out if you haven’t seen it.) At the very least, perhaps you could pull off an impromptu picnic or bike ride, or else try to score an outdoor table at a popular restaurant or pub.

10) Have a cuppa.

Contrary to the Japanese and American customs, tea is drunk hot in Britain because it makes you sweat and therefore cool down. This hack is one of the more practical legacies from the days when the Brits occupied India. To this day, I will sometimes make a cuppa when I’m boiling hot. Think the science sounds dubious? Listen to this NPR story. In any event, tea is an important summer drink in all three cultures, for good reason. It sustains you. See my post on the virtues of tea-drinking.

* * *

Readers, it’s your turn. What can you add to my list before that Woods of Infinity song starts haunting me again:

Awake at night again. No tears to weep and too restless to sleep. Thinking of all and nothing and got stuck in between.

Hurry, please! Any foods, drinks, rituals, Bacchanalian festivities or other hacks you’ve picked up from your lives of displacement? How about current films you’d recommend? SOS, I’m melting over here…

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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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Soccer players for sure, but shouldn’t Germany also be loaning us words? With cherries! say British expat comedy writing duo (huh?)

Denglish 3 Collage

Adam Fletcher (bald) and Paul Hawkins at a book fair, in a screenshot from their Denglish video; Paul atop his Batman car in Prague. All photos supplied by Paul Hawkins.

Like other U.S.-based World Cup fans, I’ve been thinking a lot about Germany lately. The nation certainly has been generous in loaning the U.S. national team all kinds of soccer coaching and playing talent. Coach Jürgen Klinsmann is a German soccer legend, and five players on the U.S. squad spent most of their lives in Germany, including one of the team’s star players, Jermaine Jones (his father, an African American U.S. army soldier, met his German mother while stationed in West Germany; they later divorced).

But is it possible Germany should be offering us even more, as in new words and language possibilities? The answer to this question will require the help of today’s guest, Paul Hawkins, a young British expat in Berlin. With his writing partner and fellow British expat, Adam Fletcher, Paul recently produced Denglish for Better Knowers, an illustrated book of German words and sayings that, in the view of this comedy duo, ought to be imported into the English language.

(German, really? Doesn’t it have lots of rules and too much grammar??)

AND WE ARE GIVING AWAY A SIGNED (PAPERBACK) COPY! Just leave a comical comment on this post, to be eligible.

Paul and Adam may be expats but they are tapping into the long and great British tradition of finding comedy in the quirkiness of everyday life, something I came to value during my expat years in the UK (and still miss). What’s unusual about this pair, however, is that they aren’t afraid to dig for material in a country that has long been reviled by the English (see my recent post on the World Cup). It helps, no doubt, that they’re Millennials. But has their creativity also been sparked by the sheer act of being displaced, of having to navigate another cultural and linguistic tradition? Let’s hear what Paul has to say.

* * *

HowtobeGerman_cover_ds

The book was published in German and English, each language beginning at either side of the book, by C H Beck.

Hi, Paul, and welcome to the Displaced Nation. Before you and Adam came out with Denglish for Better Knowers, Adam produced an earlier work, How to Be German in 50 Easy Steps. What exactly was the impetus for this series?
Well, How to be German was sort of this big, happy accident of Adam’s, where he poked and prodded the various eccentricities of his long-suffering German girlfriend, Annett, and then extrapolated his findings to about 80 million people. But to be fair, he’d also lived in Berlin for seven or so years, during which time he’d had lots of humorous experiences with the curious creatures known as Germans. In fact, the book grew out of an article of the same name Adam wrote, full of his observations about what makes Germans German, from their love for sparkling apple juice to collecting insurance contracts and tilting their windows. His post struck a massive nerve and went viral. Adam describes the book as a “love letter to the German people,” who had somehow adopted him for having such profound insights into their national character. Thanks to him, they were no longer being portrayed as eating sausages, drinking beer, and wearing leather shorts…

Is your German not the yellow from the egg?

And Denglish?
Denglisch for Better Knowers is a follow-up of sorts, a kind of “love letter to the German language,” where we get to celebrate and poke fun at Deutsch (even as we struggle to learn it!), in hopefully a way that only dumb aliens to the language could. Oh, and although I’d assisted Adam with the first book, this time around he roped me into being a co-author. I don’t remember why, but I think it might because I have hair.

And the pair of you also run an online business of sorts, called The Hipstery. In fact, that’s how I first discovered you. How does your entrepreneurial venture fit in with the book writing projects?
Adam and I are creative, but we don’t have very long attention spans.The Hipstery has proved the perfect way to exploit these independently useless character traits. It’s a kind of long-running shambles of a gift business. In fact, it’s been a few different things at a few different times, depending mostly on mismanaged excitement, deluded whims, and confused expectations—perhaps the least impressive of which was an actual shop in Berlin, which, by the end of its short, lazy lifespan was only open for about two hours a week, on a Thursday afternoon, sometimes, maybe. We would get excited, make a little product (a poster, a T-shirt, a game, for example) and quickly release it, after which we got bored and moved on to the next thing.

denglishforbetterknowers_cover_ds

Published in German and English, each language beginning at either side of the book, by Ullstein Verlag.

And at some point the “next thing” became Denglisch for Better Knowers?
In fact, the book began its life as a nice design on a poster, and then one day we saw a lot more humorous potential in the concept.

Let’s talk about Denglisch the word. What does it mean exactly?
Denglisch refers to the increasing amount of English words sneaking into the German language, in place of working, pre-existing German alternatives. It gets used a lot in the German media and tends to consist of ‘”cool”, buzzy, international, marketing-type words such as upgedated, downgeloadet, outgesourcet… Well, our idea was that German has so many great and often humorously unique words that English doesn’t, it should lend us some words, too. In the book, we make a case for our favorite “German” ways to enrich the English language.

With the German language is very good cherry eating

I visited the picture gallery of ten colorful German expressions, watched the promotional video, and even took the Denglish Quiz (got 70%) on the book site. Of all the German words and expressions that appear in your work, which are your top three faves and why?
I guess my three personal favorites would be:
1) Ear worm (Ohrwurm)—describes the phenomenon of getting a song stuck in your head. It’s such a simple, perfect word, it’s amazing English has nothing like it.
2) Hand shoes (Handschuhe)—German for gloves. It’s so lovely. I know this flies in the face of everything I just said about German words that English doesn’t have, but I don’t care. I want it!
3) Is it art, or can I chuck it? (Ist das Kunst, oder kann das weg?)—a wonderful idiom and great example of German humor. I don’t think it needs explaining. It just needs using. It becomes especially useful whenever the British artist Tracey Emin is selling something…

Hmmm… Were there any German words or expressions that didn’t make the book, as the concepts they express are too foreign to be used in English?
There’s quite a lot which didn’t make the book, but I have the time-bothered memory of a deranged old lunatic, so I can’t think of that many examples now. Oh, there was that expression Himmel, Arsch und Zwirn!, which we didn’t include for some reason. It translates literally as “Sky, Arse, and Thread!” and serves as an exclamation of annoyance, like shouting “Damn!” or “Blast!” or “Bollocks!” (if you’re English). It’s pure nonsense (or “nonsense, with sauce,” as you’d say in German), and I guess that’s why we couldn’t include it. You can’t fight fire with fire, and you can’t write nonsense with nonsense, because galactic haircut trouser squabbling. Indeed.

OooKay! Probably I need to read the book to interpret that last statement. I’m curious, how did you and Adam meet, and was it “collaboration” at first sight?
Despite us both being English and both living in Berlin, in fact we first met in the Czech Republic. Basically, I flew out to Prague on a whim in 2012 because friends of mine were driving a convertible painted like Superman there as part of a car rally, after which they planned to dump it. I told them to give it to me. I didn’t have any plans or ideas what to do with the car… all I knew was that if you can get a Superman convertible for free in Prague, you’d be an damned fool/respectable citizen not to do so. Not long after my arrival in the Czech Republic capital, I posted a message on CouchSurfing…something like, “Hello, I’m an idiot who came to Prague, and I don’t know any one, and I’m bored, and do you want to meet for a coffee or a beer?” Well, Adam, who was also in Prague with a friend, replied to my message, and we met up. We soon got talking about what we did: writing, well, actually comedy writing…actually, fairly absurd comedy writing. And upon realizing we were pretty much writing the same kinds of stuff, in the same kind of style, with the same kind of humor, it wasn’t long before we decided to try something together. Pretty weird, right?

Um, what’s the best and worst part of working as a team?
Writing as a team is mostly very fun. The best part is getting to make and hear jokes all day—as opposed to sitting alone, typing gibberish, and always wondering: “Is this funny…? Maybe it’s funny… I don’t know…” The worst part, however, is when you come up with a hilarious punchline like “Congratulations, Binky!”, only to find Adam wont let you use it for some boring reason like: “It doesn’t make any sense.” Which might be true, of course, but let’s not take Adam’s side here.

Is your English all under the pig?

Which part of the UK do you and Adam come from?
I come from London, or North London, or North of London, or Broxbourne, depending on whether I think you know where it is. Adam is from a different place, most notable for it being totally unmemorable. I guess he’s told me about forty times where he’s from, and the only thing I can tell you about it for sure is it has a dreadful school and might be vaguely near Norwich.

And how did you end up choosing to live in Berlin?
Adam moved to Leipzig for a job around seven years ago and then to Berlin about two years later when he became self-employed. I moved here a year and a half ago, for similar reasons. It’s a great place to live and roam free amongst all the freelancers. We call it the Mecca of Delayed Responsibility.

Do you think you will ever repatriate back to the UK?
I don’t think Adam will repatriate because he was never a big fan of England (small talk, weather, having to think before speaking, etc.) and because he’s increasingly becoming somewhat of a reluctant, and highly unqualified, pundit of German culture—something he’s trying to correct throughout his next book, Make Me German. As for me, I could still imagine living in London, just as soon as I become a mega rich oil-baron oligarch with unlimited Oyster card funding. One key difference between me and Adam is the amount of German we’ve learned. The more time you’ve invested in the language, the less you can bear the thought of wasting it by leaving! He’s a lot more invested than I am…

You said that Adam is working on another book. How about you: any more creative projects in the pipeline?
Yes, Adam is hard at work on his next book, Make Me German, which entails undertaking a series of amusing challenges in pursuit of finally learning enough about Germans and Germany to justify his nonsensical position as a spokesperson for their sense of humor. He was last seen trying to write a Schlager song and Nordic-walking in the most German place of all German places, Majorca. As for me, I’ve just finished a book, which comes out in Germany at the end of August, called How to Operate a Human (Gebrauchsanleitung Mensch, in German!) It’s a fun little book rather like an iPhone manual (except for people), which I won’t be able to read.

What do you mean you won’t be able to read it? How is your German coming along these days?
Mein Deutsch hat sich verbessert, aber ich kann meinen eigenen Unsinn immer noch nicht lesen.

Which leaves me with only one thing left to say: Alles klar!

* * *

So, readers, any COMMENTS or QUESTIONS for Paul? Or do you find yourself nonplussed, without words, for what you’ve just heard? In case his rants have made you curious, be sure to:

YOU CAN ALSO LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW to be eligible to win your own free copy!

Can’t wait to order the book? Paul suggests doing so from the Hipstery site, which offers worldwide shipping.

Finally, should you wish to follow Paul’s brilliant career, he can be found at his author site, Hencewise, on Twitter and on Facebook.

To reiterate, alles klar!

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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From soccer hater to World Cup fanatic: A most peculiar expat tale

FIFA World Cup Collage

The Brazilian player Edmilson Santos, by AK Bijuraj; CocaCola FIFA World Cup Soccer, by Mike Mozart; FIFA World Cup trophy, by Warrenski (all CC).

To mark the start of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, I have updated a post I wrote four years ago, in time for 2010 World Cup, in South Africa. I wrote it for the now-defunct Pond Parleys, the brainchild of esteemed writers Toni Hargis (a British expat in the US, with an American husband) and Mike Harling (an American expat in the UK, with an English wife).

In America, of course, we call it soccer. But I am content to say “football.” If there’s one thing I learned from living in England for nearly ten years, it’s to use the English language with precision (in which case, shouldn’t it be “foot-and-head ball”?).

So, herewith, an attempt to tell the rather twisted tale of my conversion to football fandom, though part of me will always wonder: is my story more typical than one imagines? Surely, a taste for football isn’t easily acquired by those who don’t have it in their national DNA?

PART I: Why I Never Liked Football Whilst Living in England

This little tale of mine begins on a dark and stormy night in the latter years of the 20th century. I am living in football-mad England but am rapidly developing an aversion to the sport, squandering my first real opportunity to see it played at a professional level.

Chalk it up to my contrarian nature. I’m not one to throw myself into chanting, banner waving, and other tribal behaviors before I’ve had a chance to study what’s going on and make a full appraisal. And it did not take me long to find things I was less than enamored of, including:

1) The game itself—the endless running up and down the pitch with hardly any scoring. The few times I watched a football match, I inevitably got up to make a cup of tea, or dozed off, just as the one goal of the match was being made.

2) The fans—mostly male, many of them yobbos (some of whom are now chavs?). But even if we leave social class out of the equation, a good number of the UK’s football fans appeared to be hooligans, not exactly the most appealing lot—especially to a grad student like me, whose images of England had been formed from a steady diet of Jane Austen novels and Merchant-Ivory period movies. Occasionally violent male bonding rituals weren’t on the agenda. (I’m sure it didn’t help that my arrival in England coincided with football hooliganism reaching new levels of hysteria.)

3) The jingoistic tabloid coverage—which reaches its height whenever England plays Germany. I happened to be living in London in 2006, when the semifinals of the European finals, between England and Germany, took place at Wembley Stadium. What a palaver! The British mass-circulation paper The Daily Mirror ran a front-page headline “Achtung! Surrender!” over a photo of two England stars wearing World War II helmets. Years later, when England met Germany in the 2010 World Cup, held in South Africa, John F. Burns contributed an article to the New York Times contending that such “rib-poking” has provided catharsis for England and Germany over the years. Who am I to contradict Burns, the Times‘s London bureau chief and an expert on interpreting his native culture? Still, I couldn’t help but think of the late American historian Howard Zinn‘s warning that harmless pride can become an “arrogant nationalism dangerous to others and to ourselves.” Red card!

It’s perhaps worth noting that of all the reasons I came up with not to like football, none of them included the argument that occasionally surfaces in right-wing circles in the United States, which is that football is collectivist and carries the threat of “socializing” Americans’ taste in sports.

As an expat, I had a choice: keep skating along the surface and pretend football doesn’t exist, or else try and go closer to the beating heart of my adopted culture and see what makes it tick.

So I gave football a miss and moved back to pursuing a life of cream teas, theatre performances, cricket…wait did I just say “cricket”? I must be getting batty… (hahaha)

PART II: How I Came to Change My Mind About Football, or At Least the World Cup

Am I looking forward to this year’s World Cup championship games in Brazil? Why soitenly! Numbskull that I am, I’ve finally gotten with the program!!

Herewith, the second part of my most peculiar tale. As explained in Part I, I never paid much attention to the sport despite nearly a decade of exposure; on the contrary, I developed an abhorrence for it.

But four years ago all of that changed. Having settled back in the United States, I found myself powerfully drawn to the championship that took place in South Africa, and I expect it will be no different this time around, with the World Cup being hosted by Brazil. (While I’m sad that Paul the Octopus is no longer with us, I take comfort in the thought of Nelly the Elephant taking his place—her punditry is apparently on a similar level.)

I can’t pinpoint the precise moment when my conversion happened, especially as football still has all the same drawbacks I’d once noted: goals are few and far between, the fans are predominantly male, and jingoism reigns, particularly between the English and the Germans.

All I know is that it wasn’t until I was back in my own culture that I felt comfortable giving the sport a chance. Yes, I know this is ironic considering that the UK is considered to be the cradle of the game (the English have been kicking balls competitively since at least 1314), whereas we Yanks still aren’t quite there.

My top three reasons for fanning football are:

1) It’s the World Cup, stupid. Living in England, I couldn’t see the World Cup forest from the local English football club trees. But when watching the very best players in the world compete, even a hardened skeptic like me can start to appreciate why they call it The Beautiful Game. Those feet of theirs—they are using them like hands! That Messi fellow: it looks as though the ball is glued to his feet; how extraordinary! Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta: it’s incredible how they can pass the ball through the midfields! And let’s not forget Yaya Touré and the way he switches gears. Robin van Persie has a left foot to die for! And so on…

2) It’s a much-needed distraction from other kinds of world events. There’s nothing quite like a soaring soccer ball to lift the spirits, not to mention the vicarious pleasure of seeing a team, and a nation, carry off the trophy. I can still recall the thrill of watching the first European team win outside Europe, at the tournament in South Africa. ‪Viva España!‬

3) It’s on a par with, or perhaps even better than, the Olympics. Ironically, even though there is nothing quite like football to arouse nationalistic urges, the World Cup is, as the name suggests, a world competition, with 32 nations competing. (Compare that to America’s World Series—now that’s a misnomer!) Repeat expats like me, who are a hybrid of nationalities, are the ideal supporters of such sporting events. I think it also helps that I don’t really have a dog in the race. Though America competes, we aren’t yet a serious contender for the cup. This leaves me free to throw my support behind almost any athlete or team that I think are the world’s best. The Olympics of course provide many such opportunities; but that’s the problem: there’s too much choice. What I love about the FIFA World Cup is that it’s a singular occasion. There can be no bigger stage, literally as well as figuratively, than the vast pitch on which this ultimate sporting drama takes

*  *  *

It’s time to hear from you, dear reader. Is my conversion complete, or should I be bending the case for football still more, by stressing its potential for opening up intergalactic communication and fostering truly universal harmony? And even if you don’t share this new-found enthusiasm of mine, can you at least relate to the experience of getting to know and love a sport outside the ones you grew up playing and watching? Do tell!

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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Some funny things happened on the way to paradise, as recorded in this brilliant new expat memoir

Paradise Imperfect Collage

Clockwise from top left, surrounding Margot Page’s author photo (center): Monteverde waterfall; the family’s front yard; Margot, her husband,and their three kids; sunset; their youngest child, Ivy, on the vine outside their house; first day of school. All photos courtesy of Margot Page.

Before introducing today’s guest, Margot Page, I’d like to make one thing clear. When I first read of her decision to uproot herself, her husband and three young kids from their comfortable life in Seattle to spend a year in Costa Rica, I thought it made perfect sense.

In fact, it reminded me of my initial decision to try living abroad. While I wasn’t married with kids, nor was I looking to land in paradise, I sensed that I needed to get a wider perspective on my own country. It was before the era of the dot com boom and crazy Wall Street wealth, but even then, we Americans were becoming a pretty spoiled and entitled lot. I almost couldn’t bear to watch it and wondered: would my life be enriched if I tried living with less?

Now that I’ve made that clear, let’s return to Margot’s story. As she notes toward the beginning of her wonderful memoir, Paradise Imperfect, Seattle in 2003 could drive a person crazy:

It was an environment that made a person constantly aware of how rich other people are.

Thanks to all the overnight Microsoft millionaires, her family often felt “downright poor,” she says, despite enjoying a high standard of living and a reasonable amount of money.

Margot missed out on her opportunity to go abroad while still single—to “confront her privilege,” as she might say. But she is feisty enough to think that she need not forgo the expat experience of her dreams. A dozen years into her marriage, she finagles it so that she and her husband, Anthony, could quit their jobs, rent out their house, and head off with their three children, 4, 9 and 12, into the mountains of Central America, for a year.

The family settles down in the cloud forest of Monteverde, where the kids attend a “school in the clouds” with many Tico classmates and the entire family works hard on mastering Spanish. While it is enjoyable to read about their adventures in that part of the world—which at one point include a trip to Nicaragua, where they received a “full-on truth assault” about what poverty really is and hence their “own, unimaginable wealth”—there are plenty of other reasons to read the book as well, not least of which is that Margot is a gifted writer possessed of a self-deprecating sense of humor (always a huge plus at the Displaced Nation). She is, in short, jolly good company, as we shall see in the interview that follows. NOTE: Margot has generously offered to GIVE AWAY ONE FREE COPY to the person who leaves the most compelling comment about why they’d like to read her book.

* * *

PI_FrontCoverMargot, pura vida! Welcome to the Displaced Nation. Many people may not realize that you waited ten years before writing a memoir about the year you and your family spent in Costa Rica. Why was that?
Actually, I did try to write the book when we first got back—I just couldn’t get it done! But the great thing about that initial effort is that I wrote down a lot of the events when they were still fresh. Then, when I was actually ready to write the book, I was able take those stories and stand back from them, and see the picture they formed. You might liken it to an impressionist painting. Up close, I could have looked at an event from that year and said “Hmm, nice dot.” But with the distance of time, I could see that all the dots made a picture, with form and theme and sense. Had I managed to get it written right away, Paradise Imperfect would have been a completely different book.

Did you ever think of writing a novel instead?
More than one publisher suggested I turn Paradise Imperfect into a novel. Fictionalizing your story really lets you pile on the crises. Memoir only has a chance with the big publishing houses these days if you’re either already a celebrity (Tina Fey, Hillary), or if something truly hideous happened to you. If I’d had to saw off my arm or a couple of the kids were on meth, the big houses would have been all over me. As it was, they were very “Ooooh, we love your writing! Can you turn it into a novel?” Because then of course I could introduce some addictions or incest or something—you know, the stuff that really makes a story pop.

You went from a harried existence with very little work-life balance in Seattle, to a carefree, pura vida existence in Monteverde. Looking back, what do you think was your strongest impetus for packing it all in like that?
I think my impetus was about the same as anyone’s who’s living a busy, full life and has one of those days where you just feel like you’re running the whole time. The only difference is that a lot of people take a bubble bath at the end of that day, maybe pour a glass of wine—whereas I rented out the house and bought airplane tickets. It’s still not entirely clear to me what made that night different from a bubble bath night. Although clearly, the bubbles weren’t doing it for me anymore.

From reading the book, I know that even though you didn’t work in Costa Rica, you were far from idle. You applied yourself to learning Spanish and also did some volunteering—which had the added benefit of helping you practice your Spanish.
Yes, I went from working more than full time to volunteering a few hours each week at an amazing art gallery/studio; one of the owners painted me the piece of a woman in a hammock, stretching her toes to heaven, which became the cover of Paradise Imperfect. So while the kids did their homework, I would work on my Spanish, or practice painting assignments.

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven…”

No doubt you’re familiar with the expression “Be careful what you wish for”. Was all the family togetherness as wonderful as you were hoping?
The initial period, when it was just the five of us, on top of each other all the time—that was a real challenge. It’s a good thing to have done, but it wasn’t so delightful in the doing. Of course, as we grew into our lives there, other people got incorporated, which was great. Kids would go off with friends, people would come over. And, as time passed and we adjusted to the conditions, we found all kinds of goofy things to do with ourselves. We had dance parties in the living room, just the five of us. We’d walk several kilometers just to get a milkshake and go to the library. There was much flopping around in hammocks with books and conversation. And with no sports practices to work around, dinner was a nightly togetherness event, with kids helping cook and clean the kitchen.

When I saw the title to your book, I was thinking of Milton’s Paradise Lost. In your case, paradise was imperfect. Why is that?
Paradise is imperfect because people are. We just ARE, and putting us in front of a really pretty waterfall just means you have flawed, funny people in front of a really pretty waterfall. In Costa Rica, we were strangers in a strange land together, and that made us incredibly close—which was wonderful, but you know, the closer you are, the more blemishes you can see. Wherever we go in the world, we take our human frailties with us.

You were the one with the original idea to take your family to Costa Rica. Were there any moments for you personally when you could say that you felt displaced and had made a mistake? 
Honestly, I never had that moment. At Christmas during our Costa Rica year—I put this in the book—the kids were lonely, and the possibility hit me hard that maybe the whole escapade was just a tremendously selfish act, bringing the kids on this adventure that was really for ME. But I never once felt like it was the wrong thing for me.

Here at the Displaced Nation, we call that your “pool of tears” moment.

“Sweet is the breath of morn…/With charm of earliest birds…/fragrant the fertile earth/After soft showers”

Was there a particular moment when you felt you were born to be Costa Rican rather than American? Having read the book, I can think of quite a few: when visiting your children’s “school in the sky,” when coming across new flora & fauna, or when tasting the fried chicken from El Super Pollo in Monteverde.
I had those moments almost every day, that Costa Rica was exactly where I belonged. But I think it was usually tinged with “I am exactly where I belong right now.” And although it was hard to leave, coming back to the States felt right, too. One of the fun things about that year, paradoxically, was that it gave me the chance to fall back in love with being an American. Back home, I’d been pretty upset with the political landscape. But when you travel, you get a different perspective on what truly corrupt government can look like, and you think “You know, we all wish Congress would do their jobs, but it appears that not having your shit together is not, in fact, the very worst crime a government can perpetrate on its people.”

You say you were happy to get back to Seattle, but did you miss Costa Rica once you returned? 
We definitely missed Costa Rica, and the way we got to live there. My son, Harry, spent a semester in Monteverde a few years after our family returned. When he got home, he smelled fried chicken and had this super strong sense memory of Super Pollo in Monteverde. He said:

I love it there so much. And I love Seattle so much. And it’s great, having two places to love. But it also means that, no matter where I am, I’m always just a little bit homesick.

Unlike many of our readers who are long-term expats, you stayed abroad only for a year. But the impact appears to have been lasting.
All our kids are travelers, now. And I can’t see a freighter without wanting to jump on it. My husband, Anthony, seems to have the travel bug the least, but that is not surprising. As I mention in the book, he’s a congenitally satisfied person :)

“Thou shalt possess a Paradise within thee, happier far.”

When you got back to Seattle, was it back to the grind for you and your husband, or was your outlook somehow different?
The hours went back to being a similar breakdown to what we had before, though there was much less parental shuttling as our kids had become brilliant walkers and public-transit-takers. 
But the most important change was internal: We knew in a much clearer way that we had made a choice to live in this way. And our family also had a core togetherness as a result of that year in Costa Rica. Even when we’re geographically scattered, we feel together in a way I didn’t feel before. I attribute it to our common challenge of spending a year figuring out a new language and culture. Think about it: When do parents and kids ever have the opportunity to learn something so fundamental as how to speak, all at the same time?

And one more repat question: Did your family retain its social conscience, developed over the course of that year of learning to live with less?
I think we’ve kept an in-our-bones awareness of the fact of our own, sheer luck. I used to tell myself “I’ve worked really hard for what we have,” which is true! But you know what else is true? A lot of people work just as hard, and don’t have any cushion, and never will. That year in Costa Rica also developed us as people who will keep getting out there. Our son, Harry, was recently in South America, and while many of his peers tend to backpack and look at things until their parents’ money gives out, he got a job waiting tables. Our older daughter, Hannah, recently graduated college and moved to a new city; she hasn’t asked for a dime to help get started, and the housing she can afford is frankly a little appalling—but she is so spunky and awesome about it! And Ivy, the youngest, is currently back in Costa Rica, where she goes to school and helps out in the small hotel that her family runs.

Treading the publishing path

Moving back to the book: what was the most difficult part of the writing process?
Finding the discipline to cut was just excruciating. There are so many fun little stories that didn’t make it into the book. Stories I slaved over! Sentences I loved! But the difference between writing a legit book and just publishing your journal all cleaned up is that you really do have to kill your darlings, as Faulkner or whoever said. At the time I was finalizing, I thought I had cut absolutely down to the bone. But now, looking back—I think I could have killed more darlings.

Why did you publish with a small press?
That decision was made on the advice of my agent. As already mentioned, the big publishing houses told me I needed more crisis, but my agent loved the book and wanted me to be true to my experience. I simply don’t grant that there isn’t interest and beauty in true stories of normal people. You have to tell them well, of course.

What audience did you have in mind for the book?
My ideas about audience went from something pretty specific to something much more general. People always think we’re this crazy alt family that’s always up to wild shenanigans. Or else they think we’re obscenely wealthy, and had no economic issue in quitting our jobs. But we’re actually so mainstream! So I wanted to show regular people: “If we could do this, you totally could.”

But it quickly became clear the audience is basically everyone who likes a good story. Men, women, people with kids, people without kids, people with grown kids—the different populations that have responded has been really lovely. Some people are planning a big adventure and are actively looking for inspiration, but the vast majority just love the people they meet and the events that unfold in the book.

The most fun for me is when women say “I got your book but I haven’t read it yet, because my husband is totally hogging it!” I can’t say why it’s so rewarding for me that Paradise isn’t just a chick book, but it really, really is.

What’s next for the indefatigable Margot—more books? Other creative projects?
I write for magazines about topics that interest me. Although I’m not Catholic, I’m nuts about the head of their church—I call him Pope Frantastic. And in the next year, I’m going to seriously embark on the novel that’s been in my head. I’m trying very hard to be a Twitter user, but really? I find the whole idea enormously intimidating.

How’s your Spanish these days, your art?
My Spanish and art—ack. Let’s just say I really hit my zenith during that year away.

10 Questions for Margot Page

Finally, I’d like to ask a series of questions that I’ve asked some of our other featured authors, about your reading and writing habits:
1. Last truly great book you read: Wow, that is a hard question! It’s the “truly” that’s stressing me out. I’m going with Fidelity, a five-story collection by Wendell Berry. It is the most beautiful arrangement of sentences ever organized about how to be a person.
2. Favorite literary genre: Any book that someone in my family read and then gave it to me saying: “You HAVE to read this; you will love it so much.”
3. Reading habits on a plane: I’m actually really smug about what a light traveler I am, so my reading usually tends to be any book I’ve been meaning to read that I won’t mind leaving behind. Or airport magazines (Harper’s, The Atlantic). I try to read trashy magazines because it seems like that’s what you’re supposed to do, but honestly I just can’t bring myself to give money to the people who are putting this crap in the world.
4. The one book you’d require President Obama to read, and why: The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson. I just don’t trust anyone to run the country who doesn’t love Calvin. That’s my litmus test, right there.
5. Favorite books as a child: Mandy, by Julie Edwards. I must have read that book a hundred times. It’s about a girl who finds a garden and makes it hers. It’s like The Secret Garden but has a lot more soul and a lot fewer sideshows. It’s just a beautiful story of a lonely girl who sets out to heal her own little heart, and in the process finds people to help. And Julie Edwards (who, amazingly enough, is also the actress Julie Andrews) wrote it because she lost a bet about swearing to her daughter. I have a lot of respect for that whole situation.
6. Favorite heroine: Claudia from From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E.L. Konigsburg. I love Claudia. I never was her, as a kid—I was much more like her reckless little brother, Jamie. But as an adult and a parent, I relate to Claudia much more. She went to the museum for reasons not unlike the ones that took me to Costa Rica. She had to go get a piece of her self back, a piece she had lost to her role as responsible big sister. Mine was as responsible mama and breadwinner, but those roles are not so dissimilar. Claudia’s cooler than I am, though, just by nature of being 12. And in New York.
7. The writer, alive or dead, you’d most like to meet: The thing is, my fantasies around meeting writers all revolve around how incredible it will be that this amazing, brilliant human is interested in ME. But writers are total crazed narcissists! Have you noticed? So my scenario is unlikely. That said, I think Donald Barthelme and I could have a pretty good time, if he’d just stop being dead for a minute. He wouldn’t be interested in what I had to say and I wouldn’t really care. I’d just listen to what he said and then we’d have pie.
8. Your reading habits: I read every single day on the bus to and from the office. This makes going to an office infinitely more tolerable.
9. The book you’d most like to see made as a film: I gotta be honest here. Paradise Imperfect.
10. The book you plan to read next: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan. I’m traveling right now, and it’s next to me on the seat.

* * *

So, readers, any COMMENTS or QUESTIONS for Margot? Do you admire her decision to trade in her family’s packed schedules for a life of monkeys and footpaths, which is almost paradise? Or do you think she was crazy? Do you identify with any of her motives or epiphanies, thinking (as I do) that extended trips overseas should be encouraged for Americans?

Don’t forget, there’s a FREE digital copy on offer that will go to the best commenter…

And if you can’t wait to read the book or don’t win, Paradise Imperfect is available from Amazon (among other venues). Peruse the many five-star reviews, and be sure to grab a copy! You can also visit the book’s companion site (where you can read about Margot’s other writings, including a Modern Love column for the New York Times), like its Facebook page +/or follow Margot on Twitter, where she’s now testing her wings.

STAY TUNED for more fab posts!

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Why did the chicken cross an international border? Because this expat told it to!

sharon lorimer chicken hat

Sharon Lorimer graces the cover of Coop du Monde sporting a chicken hat; photo credit: Kim Khan.

Sharon Lorimer is joining us again today. Last time she and I met, she had on her entrepreneurial hat to tell me about the ingredients she used to start up her company, doshebu. We discussed the company’s mission of helping overseas employees become versed in the “art” of being an expat—her knowledge of which is based, in no small part, on her own experience of being a Scottish expat in New York City and of her husband’s experience as an American ATCK (he has lived in London and Singapore).

This time around, however, Sharon is sporting a chicken hat. Why is that, you may wonder? For the simple reason that she has her eggs in more than one basket. She may be a businesswoman but she also loves cooking. She self-published a photo cookbook named Coop Du Monde at the end of last year, which offers suggestions for jazzing up your basic roast chicken recipe ranging from Pilgrim’s Fowl to Nippon Coop to Mi Amore Coop.

And just now she put out The Seasoner’s Handbook, a companion to her very first cookbook, From the Global Scottish Kitchen, in which she reinvented dishes from her native Scotland by adding flavors picked up from her “gastronomic journey.”

Cock a’ Leekie Udon, anyone?

Sharon’s culinary creativity will be our topic today. She tells me that she has always enjoyed experimenting with food, but by now it should be clear that flying the Scottish coop has pushed her in some new directions.

* * *

CoopduMonde_cover_dropshadowHi, Sharon. Welcome back to the Displaced Nation! Tell me, why did you decide to write a book about roast chicken?
I think it grew out of my fondness for the Sunday Roast ritual in the UK. Even when I was growing up in Scotland, I always preferred to spice it up. But since coming to the United States and leading a more international life, I’ve taken these experiments up a level.

But why chicken? When I lived in Britain, I remember having a lot of lamb and beef.
Well, chicken is probably the most popular for the home cook and besides, it’s eaten all over the world.

I’ve had a look at your book and I’m impressed that it offers a step-by-step guide to roasting a chicken and then suggesting a number of variations.
In fact, the point of the book is not so much to give people recipes as to help them be creative when they cook. I explain the process of blending spices and herbs together and choosing vegetables so that you can invent your own Coop du Monde.
TheSeasoner'sHandbook_cover_dropshadow

Which came first, spices or travels?

You seem to be obsessed with spices. In your newest book, The Seasoner’s Handbook, you explain how to use chili peppers, pomegranate seeds, saffron, mole, truffles…
These are some of the flavors I’ve picked up on my gastronomic journey. Take the pomegranate seed, for instance. I first had a dish seasoned with this fruit in London. As I explain in the book, I hadn’t tasted it before but it made the meal so enjoyable that I thought about how I could use it in other dishes. It has a mellow flavor that combines well with stronger and more subtle flavors.

Your Scottish cookbook, to which this book is a companion, reinterprets your native cuisine in light of what you have learned about the cuisines of the US, Mexico, France, Japan and Greece. In a post discussing the book on your blog, you say:

If I had created a cookbook that represented my travels, the contents would be traditional dishes made authentically. Thinking globally about taste lets you use different aspects of cuisines to develop new ideas.

It sounds as though you’re making a case for fusion cuisine, but is that right?
Cuisines are identified by nationality, and fusion means blending two national cuisines. I want people to understand that it’s less about replicating other people’s cuisines, or competing to be the best at a style of cuisine, and more about exploring what you like. Lots of us expats want to find ways of expressing all the influences we’ve picked up on our travels. What better way to blend them than in cooking?

“Ain’t nobody here but us chickens” – Louis Jordan

How big a role does cooking play in your everyday life?
My husband and I make very simple food during the week. He is a good cook, too, and we take turns cooking for each other. One thing that makes it on to the table every month is Anthony Bourdain’s recipe for whole roasted fish Tuscan style, which essentially means baking it in salt. Bourdain just talks about it in his book Kitchen Confidential. We tried replicating it from the description. It’s really easy. You just stuff herbs, garlic and lemon it to the belly of the fish. Pour olive oil on the fish and encrust in lots of Kosher salt and bake for 45-60 minutes at 375°F.

Mmmm…sounds good. Fish has been one of my staples ever since I lived in Japan.
Well, don’t overlook the beauty of chicken. My new favorite easy meal is a Cook Yourself Thin recipe for butterflied chicken breast marinated in olive oil, rosemary and lemon juice. It only takes 30 minutes to marinate and 10 minutes on the grill. Delicious.

Struttin’ her stuff on Blurb

Moving back to the two books: Why did you choose to publish them on Blurb?
Blurb makes self-publishing easy, and it’s ideal for coffee-table-style books that feature photography.

Yes, I know you’re a keen photographer, but was there a learning curve for taking photos of food?
I’m a professional photographer, but there’s a learning curve with any new project. The most important thing to remember when you start to make books is that printers need higher-resolution shots than websites. You have to print a hard copy with Blurb, even if you don’t want to sell it. Make the shots good enough so that you can display it in your home or give it to family and friends. The other thing I had to learn is that I have to shoot with the book in mind. I had some old chicken shots I wanted to use for the Coop du Monde, but the resolution was wrong and they looked out of place. In the end we had to work from the concept to create a cohesive book. In fact, my husband shot the front and back covers.

I see you’re getting into video more and more these days, and that Coop du Monde includes a teaching video.
I always find it easier to replicate a recipe if I have watched someone else do it first, don’t you? Yes, the video is embedded in the ebook.

What’s the biggest challenge in putting together a cookbook?
My biggest challenge is writing down recipes. I cooked for years without documenting any of it and even today, I still forget to write down what I’ve done. I have an app but it hasn’t really helped me solve the problem. I never cook to a recipe and I don’t really want to. It spoils the experience for me.

What audience do you have in mind for your photo cookbooks, and are they reaching those people?
The most popular post ever on the Art of the Expat blog is “Indian Meat and Potatoes” (it centers on a keema recipe that’s from From the Global Scottish Kitchen, which, believe it or not given that keema is Indian, includes pomegranates!). Food tends to be more accessible than other topics. People are always looking for ways to incorporate and understand other nations’ cuisines, especially ones they usually can’t have unless they eat out. I thought the Brits would like Coop du Monde because of their love of roast chicken, but most visitors to my blog are Americans. More recently, we’ve had a lot of Swedish visitors…but presumably they are also fans of chicken.

What’s next—more cookbooks? Other creative projects?
My husband and I are planning lots more live broadcasts at doshebu.tv focusing on news events and expat topics. On the creative side, I’ve started to write another screenplay. I think this will give me the outlet for creativity that I need when I get depressed about troubleshooting code!

* * *

Thank you, Sharon! Readers, don’t be too chicken to leave questions or comments for Sharon. Or perhaps you’d like to suggest a roast chicken recipe that you’ve enhanced with spices or other exotic ingredients? Just think, if Sharon were to include it in her next Blurb book, what a coup it would be…

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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Live your life, take chances—raise alpacas? A curious expat tale that has yielded a book-worthy yarn

Seriously Mum Collage

(Clockwise from top) Alan Parks with a friend’s alpaca; the converted olive mill where he and his partner, Lorna, now live; Brighton Pier, scene of their former abode (photo credit: Photo Monkey via Flickr Creative Commons).

The most amazing thing about the expat memoir penned by my guest today, Alan Parks, is not simply its title, though Seriously Mum, What’s an Alpaca? is quite a doozy.

It’s not even the zaniness of the alpacas that appear throughout the narrative: Bermuda, Cassandra, Lily, Baby Rafa… BTW, they are just a few among many animals Alan and his partner, Lorna Penfold, keep. (There’s a tally of how many and what kinds at the start of each chapter.)

No, the most amazing thing about Alan Parks’s memoir is that fellow expats, particularly fellow Brits (but also one German), are the villains of the piece—the least trustworthy of all the people he and Lorna have encountered on their madcap adventure. I say “madcap” as I think the decision the couple made, six years ago, to abandon their home in Brighton (in their native UK) for a renovated olive mill near Montoro in Spain’s Córdoba Province, which is within the autonomous territory of Andalusia, to raise alpacas justifies my choice of that adjective.

From the book’s beginning, Alan’s instinct is not to stick with the expat community—as he puts it:

I don’t think we would have mixed with many of these people at home, so we should not feel forced to by circumstances.

And boy does that instinct prove right! While the Spanish merely think he and Lorna are crazy (so far as they’re concerned, the British pair may as well be raising giraffes!), their fellow Brits are out to take advantage of them in all kinds of ways. And despite Alan’s better instincts, his limited Spanish at times gives him little choice but to get involved with some pretty unscrupulous characters.

Mind you, the Spanish don’t always come off well either, especially when it comes to their treatment of animals. In light of Mahatma Gandhi’s proclamation—

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

—it would not be too far fetched to say that the animals are the book’s true heroes. They are what keep Alan and Lorna going in face of a seemingly unending series of challenges. In tribute, Alan gives various pets a voice at the end of occasional chapters. (It’s sad when they lose them, though.)

But the reason we are assembled here today to give Alan himself a voice in telling us about his book, which I urge you to read if you haven’t already. It’s done super well on Amazon for a reason: it’s terrific! And please LEAVE A COMMENT at the end of this post to be eligible to win a FREE COPY. (Alan has kindly agreed to give one of his books away: your choice of alpacas or donkeys! And there may also be prizes for runners-up!!!)

* * *

SeriouslyMumAlpaca_bookcover_dropshadowWelcome to the Displaced Nation, Alan! Between you and your partner, Lorna Penfold, you have produced three memoirs about your life in Spain. There’s the book we’re featuring today: Seriously Mum, What’s an Alpaca?. There’s also the sequel: Seriously Mum, Where’s That Donkey? And Lorna has just now published From Sequins to Sunshine: Year One. Tell me, what has made the pair of you so prolific?
The books were never planned. Two years ago, after being told many times that I should write a book about our adventures, I decided to give it a go. Seriously Mum, What’s an Alpaca? was the result. It started out being called Bloody Hell, What’s an Alpaca?—an exact quote for how Lorna’s daughter, Frankie, responded when we told her about our plans. But the use of the word “hell” hindered sales in the US. After I released the sequel, we thought people might like to read Lorna’s point of view. She had started a blog when we first moved here, so we turned her posts from the first year into an e-book. So far the reaction has been good.

What was the impulse that led to your packing it all in and moving to the South of Spain?
Lorna was a dance teacher in the UK and I used to work in retail. Lorna developed a condition called sarcoidosis, which made working difficult. One day we were talking about the possibility of her giving up work, and I suggested moving to Florida, but that was too far away. I blurted out “What about Spain?” Crazy really, as I had never ever been here.

Hey, craziness is what makes the world round! And how about this idea of raising alpacas, where did that come from?
We had heard about alpacas in the UK and thought that would be a good business for us to get in to (it wasn’t).

Okay, seeing as I know nothing about the alpaca business, what makes it so challenging?
An alpaca is not a cheap animal, yet you can’t eat it, and it doesn’t produce milk to drink. You make money by selling them to other breeders. But sales, and the selling price, have gone down since the world financial crisis.

What about their wool?
We try to sell as much of our alpacas’ wool as possible to local people who spin, knit and use it for crafting, but the market here in Spain is miniscule and postage costs prohibitive.

Do Spanish people think you and Lorna are crazy for your devotion to these animals?
People in Spain have never heard of alpacas. To a Spaniard, a goat is a much more useful animal.

Why do you still keep your alpacas if you’re not making any money on them?
For one there is no one to sell them to, and for two, they are part of our family and we love them. We also like it when people come and stay at our farm and can experience walking and feeding the alpacas. And finally, if there were no alpacas, there would be no books.

Ah, yes, the books. We’ll get to that, but first let me ask another alpaca question. The New York Times had an article last year talking about llamas being good pets. I think the alpaca is meant to be the llama’s quirky cousin. So is the same true of them?
It depends….they are no good if you want an animal to pet and stroke. But if you have an acre of land and you need the grass kept short, they could be good. Bear in mind, though, that they need to be kept in groups of at least three!

Out of the grey skies of England and into the frying pan of Spain

Moving right along to the weather: having been an expat in Britain myself, I can imagine you were keen to leave behind its grey skies and unpredictable climate. But were you aware that the interior of Andalusia, where you were headed, is the hottest area in all of Europe?
We didn’t find out about this area being called “The Frying Pan of Spain” until much further down the line. We were sorting some paperwork at the Spanish Embassy in London, and a lady said to us, “You do know they call it the Frying Pan of Spain, don’t you?” In the summer it can easily hit 45 degrees during the day. Siestas are a necessity.

Can you give us some sense of how you spend a typical day in your new life versus when you lived in Brighton?
In Brighton I was often out the door at 7:30 a.m. and got back home about 7:00 p.m. Lorna worked in the evenings, often not returning home until 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. Also, she had to work a lot of Sundays, so we never got to see each other. In Spain our life is much more relaxed. We spend our days looking after the animals and maintaining the house, and we are now together 24/7. You could say we went from one extreme to another.

I understand you met Lorna on the Internet. How long had you known each other before hatching this plan to live in Spain?
We had been together for four years and living together for three before we made the move, so we at least knew we could live together.

Did starting up a totally new life in a foreign land put a strain on your relationship or draw you closer?
I wouldn’t say our relationship has ever been strained, although as you can read in our books, we have been through some tough times together.

Be careful what you wish for…

Having read your book, I know there were quite a few moments in Spain when you felt like a bit like aliens, but which moment stands out as your most displaced, when you wondered if you’d made a mistake?
I think our “What are we doing here?” moment came after about 18 months. We had spent all our money with an English builder renovating our new house in the sun, and we experienced the worst Spanish winter rains for a hundred years. It turned out the builder was a conman and all the roofs he’d built started leaking. On top of that two of our alpacas died in the months before. I remember us standing in our kitchen as water cascaded from the ceiling. We were both in tears.

Wow, a literal “pool of tears” moment! But I know you also have things you love about your new life. Can you tell us about your least displaced moment, when you felt you were born to be in Spain’s Frying Pan rather than your native UK?
Andalucia feels like home to us now, although it is difficult to pinpoint the exact moment when we turned the corner. I think we are most aware of it when we are sitting outside having something to eat and drink with friends at 2:00 a.m. in the middle of August, wearing only a t-shirt. That is what life is about, not whether or not you can afford the latest version of the iPad!

Would you say you’ve assimilated to the point where returning to the UK gives you counter culture shock?
Lorna visits the UK regularly as she now has three grandchildren that weren’t even thought about when we first moved here. I have not been back for five years but will head back for a weekend in June to visit my relatives and attend a diamond wedding celebration for my grandparents. In all honesty, I am a bit nervous about it, I am not looking forward to being in crowds. Here in Spain we live in the countryside outside a small town and some days we do not see a single person. Plus in June, I only ever wear shorts and a t-shirt, but in the UK I may need jumpers (sweaters) and trousers.

An Amazon bestseller in Travel with Pets and Travel in Europe

Moving on to your e-books: why did you decide to self-publish?
I wrote my first book just as self-publishing was really taking off. I submitted the manuscript to one publishing house, got a thanks-but-no-thanks letter back, so decided to publish it myself.

Are there any drawbacks to self-publishing?
As a self-publisher, the hardest part is clicking the button to publish. A traditionally published author has that taken away from them, and even if they get mixed reviews they have the backing of the publishing house. We are responsible for everything, from cover, to content, to editing mistakes. If there are problems, or mistakes in the manuscript, that is our fault.

What audience did you have in mind for the book, and has it been reaching those people?
Initially I thought it would appeal mainly to other alpaca breeders, but I have had emails from readers all over the world who say they’ve enjoyed reading about our Spanish adventure. In fact, I was so overwhelmed by the response to Seriously Mum, What’s an Alpaca? I just had to write the sequel, Seriously Mum, Where’s that Donkey?

Your book has done very well on Amazon. Do you do a lot to promote it?
I run a FB group called We Love Memoirs, which has over a thousand members, all of whom enjoy books like mine. The best way to promote is by word of mouth. If somebody recommends your book to their friend, nothing beats that. As a self publisher I am actually against the Amazon Select program, where you make your book available exclusively on Kindle. My books are available on Amazon but also everywhere else: iTunes, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and even smaller retailers.

What’s next—more books?
I would like to release a third book this year, and Lorna has years 2 and 3 in her From Sequins to Sunshine series to work on.

How are the alpacas doing?
The alpacas are good, and if all is well, we may have some babies at the end of the year.

SONY DSC10 Questions for Alan Parks & Lorna Penfold

Finally, I know that both you and Lorna have become avid readers while living in Spain, so I’m curious to hear both of you answer a series of questions that I’ve asked some of our other featured authors, about your reading and writing habits:
1. Last truly great book you read: Alan: I’m not sure I have ever read a truly great book. The books I read tend not to get put in that category. Lorna: A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini. Alan: I also have read A Thousand Splendid Suns, but I didn’t have the same reaction Lorna did.
2. Favorite literary genre: Alan: Comedy memoir. Lorna: Everything except horror.
3. Reading habits on a plane: Alan: I haven’t been on a plane for six years. Before it would have been an old fashioned book, but now I would read on a kindle app on my phone. Lorna: Always a paperback (whatever I happen to be reading).
4. The one book you’d require PM Cameron to read: Alan: Mine, of course! I think it would do him the world of good to find out that people can be happy living a more simple life, with less materialistic ideals in life! Lorna: Mine of course, just to give him a look at a day to day life of a “normal” working class person.
5. Favorite books as a child: Alan: The “Adventure” Series, by Willard Price.
6. Favorite hero/heroine in fiction: Alan: Jack West Junior, who appears in a book series by Australian author Matthew Reilly. Lorna: Mariam from A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini.
7. The writer, alive or dead, you’d most like to meet: Alan: Peter Mayle. Lorna: Khaled Hosseini.
8. Your reading habits: Alan: I read in bed at night, and a lot in the summer. Lorna: I read lots in summer as we do not watch television at all then. Plus other times of course.
9. The book you’d most like to see made as a film: Alan: Anything by Matthew Reilly, it would be like Indiana Jones on speed. And my own book of course. Lorna: My partner’s book Seriously Mum, what’s an Alpaca?
10. The book you plan to read next: Alan: Escape to Mulberry Cottage by Victoria Connelly. Lorna: The next on the shelf, whatever it is!

* * *

So, readers, any COMMENTS or QUESTIONS for Alan? Hey, it’s not every day you get to discuss the world’s most captivating camelids! And don’t forget, there’s a free digital copy on offer…

And if you can’t wait to read the book or don’t win, Seriously, Mum, What’s an Alpaca? is available from Amazon(among other venues). Be sure to grab a copy! You can also visit its companion site, like the book’s Facebook page (and be treated to lots of cute alpaca pix!) +/or follow Alan on Twitter.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!<!–tomorrow’s post, when our fictional expat heroine, Libby, returns to the Displaced Nation to update us on her many adventures. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)–>

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4 observations after 3 years of holding up a mirror to expat (& repat) life

Las Meninas, by Diego Velázquez [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Las Meninas, by Diego Velázquez [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this month, I wrote a post in celebration of the Displaced Nation’s third birthday, which occurred on April 1st.

For three years we’ve held up a mirror, as it were, to what we’ve been calling the displaced life, writing and commissioning posts on what motivates people to venture across borders to travel and live.

During the past three years, here’s what our looking-glass has revealed:

1) We aspire to be the fairest of them all.

If our site stats are anything to go by, the Fountain of Youth myth is still alive and well. We may not be searching for water with restorative powers on our travels, but we never tire of reading about Jennifer Scott’s top 20 lessons she learned from Madame Chic while living in Paris, TCK Marie Jhin’s advice on Asian beauty secrets, or my post summarizing beauty tips I picked up on two small islands, England and Japan (three of our most popular posts to date). Heck, even 5 tips on how to look good when you backpack still gets plenty of hits.

2) We mostly just want to have fun.

The popularity of two of Tony James’s Slater’s posts—one listing his five favorite parties around the world and other other telling the tale of his attempt to overcome language barriers in pursuit of an Ecuadorian woman—suggest that good times and love still rank high on the list of reasons why people opt for the road much less traveled. That said, some of us worry about going too far with the latter, if the enduring popularity of my post four reasons to think twice before embarking on cross-cultural marriage is anything to go by.

3) But we love hearing stories about international travelers with a higher purpose.

Most of us do not venture overseas in hopes of changing the world, but we are inspired by tales of those who once did—how else to explain the golden oldie status of 7 extraordinary women with a passion to save souls? And our fascination with the international do-gooder of course continues to the present. Kate Allison’s interview with Robin Wiszowaty, who serves as Kenya Program Director for the Canadian charity Free the Children, still gets lots of hits, as does my post about Richard Branson and other global nomads who delve into global misery. Perhaps we like to bask in reflected glory?!

4) Last but not least, we think we know things other people don’t.

Indeed, the most common phenomenon that has occurred when holding up our mirror to international adventurers is to find our mirror reflected in theirs, and theirs reflected in the lives of people they depict, ad infinitum, in a manner not unlike a Diego Velázquez painting (see above). In my view, this mise en abyme owes to the conviction among (particularly long-term) expats that in venturing so far afield, they have uncovered things about our planet that are worth examining, reporting, and creating something with, be it a memoir of what they’ve experienced (think Jack Scott’s Perking the Pansies: Jack and Liam Move to Turkey, Janet Brown’s Tone Deaf in Bangkok, or Jennifer Eremeeva’s soon-to-be featured Lenin Lives Next Door: Marriage, Martinis, and Mayhem in Moscow), a novel based on their overseas adventures (think Kate Allison’s Libby’s Life or Cinda MacKinnon’s A Place in the World), and/or an art work that springs from what they saw and felt when living in other cultures (eg, Elizabeth Liang’s one-woman show about growing up a TCK).

In short, although many of us can relate to Alice’s feeling of having stepped through the looking glass, we also aren’t afraid to hold up a looking glass to that experience. I often think of Janet Brown telling us she almost went home “a gibbering mess” upon discovering that her Thai landlord was spreading salacious rumors about her, but the point is, she survived to tell us about the experience in her gem of a book. Surely, that’s the kind of hero/ine Linda Janssen has in mind for her self-help book The Emotionally Resilient Expat?

* * *

No doubt there are even more insights our three years of running the Displaced Nation have revealed, but I’ll stop here to see what you make of this list of traits. Does it strike you as being accurate, or perhaps a bit distorted? (Hmmm… Given this site’s proclivity for humor and sending things up, how can you be sure this isn’t a funhouse mirror and I’m not pulling your leg? Har har hardy har har.)

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

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EMERALD CITY TO “KANSAS”: Amy Rogerson on seeing the Wizard of Expat Life and returning home (for just six months)

Amy Rogerson wrapping up warm in the UK at Christmas (her own photo); the Ruby Slippers (CC); corn path (Morguefiles).

Amy Rogerson wrapping up warm in the UK at Christmas (her own photo); the Ruby Slippers (CC); corn path (Morguefiles).

Welcome to “Emerald City to ‘Kansas,'” a series in which we focus on expatriate-into-repatriate stories. This month our subject is Amy Rogerson, an Englishwoman who blogs at The Tide That Left about trailing her husband (aka “Mr Tide”), at breathless pace, all around the globe. The couple now live in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, but in the past four years have also made homes in South Africa, Angola, Qatar, Russia, and Libya. As we catch up with Amy, she is back to the UK (as of April 7th) for a six-month stay. What is it like going “home” again after such a life of adventure? Without further ado, let’s dig into a slice of Amy’s “back to Kansas” story.

—ML Awanohara

To Oz? To Oz!

I didn’t really choose expat life. Rather, it chose me when I fell head over heels in love with a nomadic man. I met my husband five years ago in his final weeks in the UK before he moved to Libya. We continued our relationship long distance for a year, but eventually knew that one of us had to move. I was in a job that made me miserable, whilst he was welcoming new opportunities at work, so it seemed for the best that I move to Benghazi to be with him.

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

Moving to Libya was so far beyond my comfort zone that I shocked both myself and those who loved me most. All I knew is that I wanted to be with the man I loved. I never expected my life to become that of a serial expat. As well as living in Libya, we’ve also lived in Russia, Qatar, Angola, South Africa and Tanzania together. In fact, my home is still in Tanzania; repatriation to the UK is just a temporary move for a project I am working on, and I fully intend to return to Dar es Salaam and my wonderful husband in just under six months from now.

We’ve been gone such a long time…

I’m surprised at how much I’ve grown to love my new lifestyle. I’d never wanted to travel or live abroad before I met my husband, but now I struggle with the idea of ever “going back to Kansas” permanently (not that I don’t think I will one day!). I’ve discovered that life can be different from what I was brought up to believe. If choosing the expat life has meant I’ve had to say goodbye to any dreams I had of the picket fence, the family home, the stable job—that isn’t going to happen, at least not for a while—it isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

What have you learned, Dorothy?

Living in six countries in four years, I’ve learned to adapt to change. Nothing stays the same, and I’ve had to be flexible. That flexibility doesn’t just apply to where we live and work, or what our holiday plans are. I’ve also had to learn that there is not just one way of doing something, especially once I started working for a South American company in the Middle East and now in Africa. I’ve had no choice but to get my head round different ways of doing things that I used to believe we do best “at home”. As a Brit working with people from different parts of the world, I’ve often felt as though my colleagues and I weren’t talking the same language when it came to business practices and relationships. But I’ve come to see that instead of believing the British way is right, it helps if I can open my mind to other approaches, some of which may work if you’re willing to give them a try. With time I’ve been able to overcome the differences and pick up skills that will no doubt help me in future.

No place like home?!

Repatriation is bitter-sweet for me. I didn’t really want to return to the UK right now, but circumstances have dictated otherwise. Having been gone from the UK for four years I’m really struggling with settling back in. Much of what I knew before now seems unfamiliar. My time abroad has coloured my behaviour and expectations. In a sense, I’m having to relearn some of that most basic stuff that I found so hard to let go of when I became an expat.

Oh dear! I keep forgetting I’m not in Kansas!

I once thought huge shopping centres where I could buy everything I needed in one go were the perfect solution to hectic British life. Now I find myself shying away from the crowds of people, the flashy goods, and the elevated prices for things with a short shelf life. During my life abroad, I often missed the choices that were available to me in the UK, be it in the supermarket, on the high street, even on the television, but now I just feel overwhelmed and a tad spoilt by all the options. In adapting to new ways of living and thinking abroad, I no longer completely fit in the country I was born and raised in. Perhaps I need to look at this six-month repatriation like a new expat assignment and approach it like I would any other move. I need to be open to adapting. I need to forgive myself for not “feeling at home” immediately when I wouldn’t ask that of myself anywhere else. I’m incredibly lucky to have so many wonderful connections here in the UK. I expect it won’t be long before I feel more settled at home than I do after a few weeks. One thing I do know: the call of expat life hasn’t quietened yet.

* * *

Thank you, Amy, for such an honest, heart-felt account about what it feels like to go home again, if only for half a year. It’s interesting that you’re now having to apply the adaptability you learned from expat life to feeling more at home in your native UK. Readers, can you relate to what Amy says?

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s fab post!

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