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DEAR MARY-SUE: Reconnecting with old friends (the year in review)

Mary-Sue Wallace, The Displaced Nation’s agony aunt, is back. Her thoughtful advice eases and soothes any cross-cultural quandary or travel-related confusion you may have. Submit your questions and comments here, or else by emailing her at thedisplacednation@gmail.com

There’s chestnuts roasting on an open fire (well, baking in my Jenn-Air 48″ Pro-Style gas oven) and I’m sipping on a glass of eggnog while listening to Michael Buble’s take on some Christmas classics Yepsiree, it’s a Mary-Sue Christmas!!
Christmas is an important time for the ol’ Wallace homestead. Hubby really goes all out with the Christmas lights and we’re now something of a seasonal event in Tulsa. People come from all over the state to see hubby’s lights. Must say, I’m not happy when I see the electricity bill.
Anyhoo, on with the final column of the year (time hasn’t just flown this year, it’s broke the sound barrier. It’s like that Austrian Lee Majors who fell from space in a Red Bull balloon).
Now, I know from you regular readers that one thing you’re always asking me about is what happened to those who wrote in to me. Did they follow my advice (yes, if they had any sense). Well, as it’s the end of the year, let’s see, shall we?
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First up is Sharon who wrote to me for advice on whether spending time at an ashram in India was necessary for her spiritual enlightenment. (She had just read the book Eat, Pray, Love.) I advised her to go for a hike or take up watercolors (she lives in Texas), or if she just wanted to escape, sure, take a plane trip to India. Here is her story since then:“A lot has happened since I sent you that letter in January of this year. I took your advice and went on a hike rather than going off to an ashram. Unfortunately, during the hike, I got a nasty snake bite. After eight months in a deep coma, I finally woke from it at the end of August. Every day is now a blessing, and I’ve come to the realization of what I want to do in my life. That’s why in the new year, I am off to India where I WILL join an ashram. Why, I figure, let my fear of what other people think get in the way of me living my life.” 
Lot of snakes in India, Sharon … a lot of snakes
* * **********************************************************************************
Another letter that received a lot of votes was the one from Lars in Los Angeles. He couldn’t fathom what it meant when someone in that fair city wished him a Happy Anti Valentines Day. I told him it was a sign he should get the heck out of LA and move to Tulsa. Did he take my advice? Let’s hear his story:

“I did come out and visit Tulsa to see whether I could make a life for myself out there. I had a look round … let’s just say it gave me a whole new perspective on life in LA.”

Your loss, Lars.* * **********************************************************************************
There were also some votes from Patti in Plymouth who wondered what she should do with a gift of a jar of Marmite from her host family. I told her not to worry as it probably wouldn’t make it past customs. But is that what happened?“Actually, I did get past customs with my Marmite jar. And you know something else? Everyone hated it. I however douse it all over philly cheesesteaks.”

They’re going to run you out of town, sweetie.

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That’s it from me this year, dear readers. Here’s hoping your misery and confusion keeps me occupied in 2013 as I was in 2012! God bless us all!
STAY TUNED for next week’s post, some more Random Nomad highlights.

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DEAR MARY-SUE: One expat’s horror story is another’s delight

Mary-Sue Wallace, The Displaced Nation’s agony aunt, is back. Her thoughtful advice eases and soothes any cross-cultural quandary or travel-related confusion you may have. Submit your questions and comments here, or else by emailing her at thedisplacednation@gmail.com

Shoot! Is it October already? I don’t know how the time flies. I don’t know about you, but I’m not a big fan of fall. Who would be living in Tulsa. It just gets grey here, no burnt ochres like in Vermont. In fact, I wouldn’t know a burnt ochre if I saw one. Is it like a vole (please don’t feel the need to write in. I’m not that stupid. I know it’s not a rodent). Anyhoo, on with this month’s questions.

Dear Mary-Sue,

I can’t resist asking you: how does the Wallace household celebrate Halloween? I can imagine it’s quite an occasion!

- Ian (a British fan of yours) in Iowa

Dear Ian,

Well I can tell you that we don’t celebrate Halloween like the Larsons across the street. She gives out fruit to the kids in the neighborhood. Why would you even do that? It’s just cruel, isn’t it?

No, it’s a time of excess over at the Wallace household. That’s why I wake up the day after Halloween and don’t have to worry about finding the trees outside my house covered in toilet paper.

I buy plenty of Reese’s peanut butter cups because who doesn’t love them? I hear in Europe they have what they call food mountains when they have too much of a particular food source, well let me tell you that the Wallace household ends up with a Reese’s peanut butter cup mountain come Halloween.

You should come along and grab yourself a treat.

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Dear Mary-Sue,

My wife and I have lived in the United States since last May, and I must say, she is throwing herself into the life here with considerable vigour. She is now talking about hosting a Halloween party for some of our fellow expats, and inviting a few of our American neighbors. She has suggested that she and I dress up as an Elephant and a Donkey, in celebration of the American election season. No pun intended, but that would make me feel a bit of, well, an ass, to use the local dialect.

I wonder if I could talk her into going as a Milkman and Pregnant Lady instead? At least that would be true to our native (British) culture.

- Stephen in St. Louis

Dear Stephen,

So let me guess this right regarding your Halloween costumes, your wife was to be satirical and you want to be lewd? Gee, what is it with you Brits. You always think your jokes are funny and yet they always just seem to be about sex. Just go as something horror related and stop trying to over think it. If you really want to be true to your native culture why not go as King George III. Bam! Yes, I went there.

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Dear Mary-Sue,

My husband writes mystery books for a living. He and I have decided to live in England for a few years while he does research on his latest story. He insists that we look for an old isolated cottage somewhere deep in the heart of the countryside, where he can be free to write. But I feel certain that those oldy-worldy thatched roof places may be haunted. And what if I have to stay in a house like that on my own, should he be called up to London to meet his agent or give a talk.

Do you think I’m strange to be so afraid of (admittedly English) ghosts?

- Susan of Savannah, Georgia, soon to be of Suffolk, East Anglia

Dear Susan,

If you’re going to be living in East Anglia I’d be more concerned with the living than the dead. They’re a scary in-bred bunch, though coming from Georgia you should be able to handle it. I kid, I kid…well not about East Anglia.

*****
Dear Mary-Sue,

Do Westerners see Western ghosts, Chinese see Chinese ghosts, and Africans see African ghosts, or can we see each other’s?

- Just Curious

And does Just Curious see ghosts of low intelligence?

*****

Dear Mary-Sue,

When I first saw the farmhouse in Tuscany that my husband and I are now renting while we look for a place to live for our retirement, I thought to myself: Frances Mayes, eat your heart out! However, we’ve just now found out from one of our neighbors that a murder took place here about ten years ago — and ever since, the house has always been rented to expats. I’m thinking we should consult with the local Catholic priest about whether he could perform an exorcism — casting out evil spirits and all that. But my husband says, don’t be silly — it just adds to the atmosphere.

What do you advise?

-Victoria of Vulterra (formerly of Wellington, NZ)

Dear Vicky,

First thing I would be doing is renegotiating a lower rental fee and not thinking about calling the local Padre.

*****
Dear Mary-Sue,

In my opinion, Asian ghosts are far freakier — and hence scarier — than Western ones. Especially the Japanese kind. I mean, what’s a vampire compared to a wailing Asian woman with a very pale face and long, jet black hair? Actually, I’m scaring myself even as I write this…

- Ted of Tsukuba (formerly of Texas)

Dear Ted,

Yeah, I mean Casper has nothing on the Krasue from Thai legend. Now that’s freaky. I’d like to see Stephen in St Louis go to his party dressed as that.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s episode in the life of our fictional expat heroine, Libby. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.) If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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DEAR MARY-SUE: Can you tell me how to stomach other countries’ bizarre food obsessions?

Mary-Sue Wallace, The Displaced Nation’s agony aunt, is back. Her thoughtful advice eases and soothes any cross-cultural quandary or travel-related confusion you may have. Submit your questions and comments here, or else by emailing her at thedisplacednation@gmail.com.

Well, this month I’ve been asked to deal with your food-based queries. That’s pretty easy for this gal! I love to chow down. Not in a Paula Deen kinda way, you understand, but I sure do love a refined meal and am pretty well known on the Tulsa culinary scene.

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Dear Mary-Sue,

Fermented salted herring — how does that sound to you as a national dish? [Not great. Think roadkill cooked up in the finest Ozarks tradition sound preferable, if I’m being honest – M-S]  As an American living in Northern Sweden, I have yet to acquire the taste let alone abide the smell. However, a friend at my new church has invited me to a party where they’ll be serving surströmmingsklämma — that’s a sandwich made with slices of surströmming (the name for this fish — quite a mouthful, too, though at least it’s not fermented!) between two pieces of the hard and crispy kind of bread they love so much up here. The bread is buttered and there is a further layer of boiled and sliced or else mashed potatoes.

What to do? Do I accept my friend’s invitation or pretend to be busy “settling in”?

- Mary-Louise from Umeå, Sweden

Dear Mary-Louise,

You don’t have to pretend to be Anthony Bourdain if you don’t want to be. Look at Samantha Brown, she travels all the world and never once leaves her comfort zone or experiences something new.

Also, you’re in Sweden, not some village in the third world where they are honoring you by offering you a slice of roast anteater rump. I’m sure you won’t be insulting anyone by politely declining. Just be graceful and say you’re not big into fish.

Mary-Sue

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Dear Mary-Sue,

I know you’re very pro-USA, but as an English expat who has just spent his first summer in the United States, I haven’t been able to get the hang of some of your summer desserts.

Take, for instance, strawberry shortcake — overly sweetened strawberries on a sweet biscuit, which should actually be called a scone. Whose bright idea was that? I guess that person hadn’t heard of strawberries and cream?

Moving right along to that traditional American Girl Scout favorite, s’mores. The chocolate and graham crackers are fine, but a roasted marshmallow — that’s OTT. Please, sir, can I have no-more?

I could go on about the American obsession with eating ice cream in a wide variety of sickening flavors, when there’s absolutely nothing wrong with chocolate and vanilla (okay, strawberry, too, if you like) — but I’ll stop there.

Here’s the thing, old girl [??????? M-S]. I would love to tell my various American hosts that nothing beats a tall glass of Pimm’s on a summer’s day, and a slice of summer pudding, but I’m guessing that wouldn’t go down too well.

Nigel of Nevada

Dear Nigel,

Old girl??! Why, aren’t you a little slice of honey pie? I’d certainly like to beat you with a tall glass of Pimms. It actually isn’t too difficult to get hold of a Pimms cup here in the land of the free. As for the rest of your letter: yeah, we like our desserts to be sweet. What a surprise!

Mary-Sue

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Dear Mary-Sue,

I’m originally from Winnipeg, in Manitoba, Canada, and am teaching English in Korea. The other day one of my students went so far as to tell me that the reason the Korean economy has gotten strong is because they all eat so much kimchi.

I wanted to tell him that I think there’s something strange about a nation being so obsessed with what is essentially spicy fermented cabbage.

I mean, can’t they think of anything else to brag about?

- Sally from Seoul

Dear Sally,

First Mary-Louise’s problems with fermented fish and now this. I don’t know what it is with foreigners and fermentation — seems crazy to me. The Mary-Sue rule is that unless you’re fermenting something that I can make into a mimosa or margarita, then it’s best not to bother.

My hubby, Jake, is always going off to the Korean barbeque in town. If the owner is sending back all the money he makes off dear ol’ hubby, well, it’s probably that that’s keeping the Korean economy strong.

Mary-Sue

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Dear Mary-Sue,

Oh. My. God. Do people really eat this stuff? I’m an American student staying with a British family as part of a semester abroad, and they SERIOUSLY just offered me the most foul-tasting stuff imaginable on toast. I thought I was going to spit it out. I mean, it was soooo salty! And then they presented the jar to me as a GIFT! What am I supposed to do with it?!?!?!?

- Patti in Plymouth

Dear Patti,

I’m assuming you’re talking about Marmite. I wouldn’t worry too much, it probably won’t make it past customs when you return to the land of milk and honey.

Mary-Sue

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Anyhoo, that’s all from me readers. I’m so keen to hear about your cultural issues and all your juicy problems. Do drop me a line with any problems you have, or if you want to talk smack about Delilah Rene.

Mary-Sue is a retired travel agent who lives in Tulsa with her husband Jake. She is the best-selling author of Traveling Made Easy, Low-Fat Chicken Soup for the Traveler’s Soul, The Art of War: The Authorized Biography of Samantha Brown, and William Shatner’s TekWar: An Unofficial Guide. If you have any questions that you would like Mary-Sue to answer, you can contact her at thedisplacednation@gmail.com, or by adding to the comments below.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post by Jack Scott.

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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EXPAT MOMENTS: Two Englishmen in New York

Following last month’s post on expat moments, we start a new series focusing on little moments of expat experience — moments that at the time seemed pifflingly insignificant. This week involves a celebrity encounter. No prizes for guessing the name of the celeb.

At Columbus Circle, for a fleeting moment, an opportunity presents itself.

A sidewalk collision between two pasty-faced men is avoided as both intuitively, if ungracefully, swerve to avoid bumping into each other. They are both headed towards the same crosswalk where they wait, shoulder-to-shoulder, for the traffic to stop. An observant onlooker might guess — correctly, as it turns out — from their uncoordinated, somewhat flailing gaits that both men are, in fact, English. The onlooker might also note, despite the difference in ages between these two men, that they are dressed similarly; both wear brown brogues, blue jeans, white shirts and blue velvet jackets. However, having established that this onlooker is particularly observant he or she notices more than that; they can see that though they are dressed similarly, the clothes of one of the men — the older man — are expensive and designer label whereas the younger man’s are from a department store.

As these two men wait at the crosswalk the younger man glances at the older and, though he has never before met him, recognizes him immediately. If you were to ask the younger man, he would confirm that he holds very strong views of the older man he is stood next to. If you were to press further, the younger man would admit that he has long judged the moral character of the older man stood next to him. If you were to have asked the younger man only an hour before how he would define “unctuousness,” he would merely would have replied with the name of the older man.

The younger man considers that he could lean in towards the older man and tell him that he thinks he should go “f**k himself.” But the younger man, though he would not admit it, is enthralled enough by the older man’s celebrity that he is striken momentarily dumb.

Instead, the younger man — who in his more vainglorious moments views himself as a modern-day Frank Capra everyman — thinks homicidal thoughts. As they keep on waiting at the crosswalks for the pedestrian light, and car after speeding car passes them, the younger man thinks about how the most … “accidental” … of nudges would send the older man under a New York cab.

And those few seconds, as they wait for the pedestrian light, last for the younger man the thinking and execution of a thousand “accidental” deaths, until finally there is the glow of the pedestrian crossing light and they safely cross the road before separating to go their own ways and the younger man can go back to pretending that he’s at heart a decent chap.

This post was first featured on Culturally Discombobulated

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post.

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Image: MorgueFile

Dear Mary-Sue: Mad Mad Mad expat men & their fashion & beauty quirks

Mary-Sue Wallace, The Displaced Nation’s agony aunt, is back. Her thoughtful advice eases and soothes any cross-cultural quandary or travel-related confusion you may have. With this month’s theme being fashion and Mary-Sue being Tulsa’s answer to Donatella Versace, she’s keen to share her sartorial expertise with Displaced Nation readers. Submit your questions and comments here, or else by emailing her at thedisplacednation@gmail.com.

You Mary-Suers are an insatiable lot, aren’t you? One big helping of my advice wasn’t enough for y’all this month, so after popular demand following my earlier post on fashion, I’ve been asked back. So that’s two lots of Mary-Sue for you this month — or “double the trouble” as Jake (or Mr Mary-Sue Wallace, as my pastor calls him) likes to say. (My how we laugh at that little joke! Well, I do and the pastor does — Jake doesn’t.)

Anyhoo, if my latest mailbag is anything to go by, I’m finding some interesting (or should that be alarming?) insights into my readership. Seems a lot of my readership skews male and weird — story of my life!

Am I right, or am I right?!

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Dear Mary-Sue,

About a year ago, I moved to the United States from the UK and find I’m now in thrall to the Mad Men series, which has just now started up again on AMC.

My obsession has grown to the point where I’m thinking of getting a retro hair style similar to Don Draper’s. I’ve enclosed a photo of myself to get your opinion on whether that would look good or if it might be too natty?

Cheers,

Tim from Tunbridge Wells via Trenton

Dear Tim from Tunbridge Wells (incidentally my cousin Janine visited there last summer – MS),

Hmmm, I’ll be honest, I’m not convinced this Mad Men malarkey is going to last. Sure, it’s the flavor of the month at the moment, but will we still be talking about Don Draper and his style in thirty years’ time in the way we still talk about Magnum P.I.?

I think not!

My advice to you, Tim, is to grow a mustache like Tom Selleck’s. Having seen the photo you’ve enclosed, you’ll still look like a drunk manatee, but at least you’ll look like a drunk manatee with a Tom Selleck mustache. I can’t promise that it’ll make you look good or natty, but you will definitely be a talking point.

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Dear Mary-Sue,

I’m from Germany but am now living in London. At the suggestion of my new English girlfriend, I’ve been browsing this mantyhose site (http://e-mancipate.net/). TBH, I can’t decide among the white, the military green, or the ones with patterns (eg, checkerboard, stars, or stripes). Since I’m a newbie to this trend, I wonder if you could give me your thoughts? (I’ve enclosed photos of myself in the mantyhose.)

Hans from Hamburg via Holland Park

Dear Hans from Hamburg,

Thank you for the photograph you sent me. (I don’t know why everyone is so insistent on sending pictures of themselves to me this week. And not a looker among you. I mean I don’t expect all my male admirers to be Tom Selleck or Richard Chamberlain lookalikes, but when it gets to the point where I’d settle for you being an Al Roker lookalike — well, that’s one slim pickings I’ve got.) More importantly, thank you for including a return address on your envelope, the authorities say that will make it very easy to track you down.

I don’t know why you’d think I’d want to see that. You must have mistaken me for Dear Prudence over on Slate.

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Dear Mary-Sue,

I just moved from Oslo to Oshkosh. I have a suitcase full of trousers in different colors — salmon pink, sky blue, red rose, and kelly green. Back home, these are the latest trend, but looking around here in Wisconsin, I’m afraid I might stand out a little too far in the crowd. Do you think I can get away with wearing them and if so, which color(s)?

Nils from Norway

Dear Nils,

Quite why you’re so bothered with what people from Wisconsin think of your clothes is bizarre to me. Anything other than stretch denim is probably going to draw attention out there.

What I would suggest is that you go with yellow-colored pants. That’ll probably sate your Nordic desire for garish pants. What you can do is claim that they’re your cheese pants and that you’ve picked them out as they’re the same shade of yellow as a fine (though that’s a relative term in this context) Wisconsin cheddar. I’m sure you can convince them that it’s your weird pants-based way of paying tribute to the state’s cheese industry.

Best of luck!

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Anyhoo, that’s all from me readers. I’m so keen to hear about your cultural issues and all your juicy problems. Do drop me a line with any problems you have, or if you want to talk smack about Delilah Rene.

Mary-Sue is a retired travel agent who lives in Tulsa with her husband Jake. She is the best-selling author of Traveling Made Easy, Low-Fat Chicken Soup for the Traveler’s Soul, The Art of War: The Authorized Biography of Samantha Brown, and William Shatner’s TekWar: An Unofficial Guide. If you have any questions that you would like Mary-Sue to answer, you can contact her at thedisplacednation@gmail.com, or by adding to the comments below.

STAY TUNED for Tuesday’s post. Mary-Sue has heard it’s going to be great.

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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Dear Mary-Sue: Fashion tips for the hapless traveler

Mary-Sue Wallace, The Displaced Nation’s agony aunt, is back. Her thoughtful advice eases and soothes any cross-cultural quandary or travel-related confusion you may have. Tulsa’s answer to Donatella Versace this month she shares her sartorial expertise. Submit your questions and comments here, or else by emailing her at thedisplacednation@gmail.com.

Happy March to all you Mary-Suers!! Spring is almost here and in the paradise on earth otherwise known Tulsa the sky is blue, the birds are singing and ABC have debuted GCB. Yes, life is sweet – I’ve even made it a little sweeter by making myself a nice pitcher of iced tea while I sit down on the patio and read through the Tulsa Herald to see if there are any interesting yard or estate sales in town this weekend. Anyhoo on with this month’s theme which is fashion – something little ol’ Mary-Sue knows a thing or two about.

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Dear Mary-Sue,

I’m a serial expat and just now moved to Canada from Mexico. Everyone tells met that sooner or later, I’ll have to invest in one of those ugly puffy coats that make everyone look like the Michelin Man, so as to survive the winters. Can you think of any alternative, or some way to jazz up the look?

Tatiana from Toronto

Dear Tatiana from Toronto,

The first thing you’ll discover is that the wind chill factor is a PAIN!!! Even though some days it’s going to seem clear and crisp, it is going to be FREEZING. When it’s like this, you’re going to have to weigh up which is more important to you – snugness or elegance, drabness or hypothermia.

I’ll let you in on a Mary-Sue Wallace tip, when I go on my annual Reykjavik the first thing that I pack is my alpaca hat. I got it from my cousin, Mary-Ann Banville, who lives in California and owns an alpaca farm out there. Well, she makes great hats and sweaters from the alpaca wool – she also grows great avocados as well. Anyhoo, I make sure I’ve got my alpaca hat with me – in fact, I make sure I have it whenever I go north of the 49th parallel. Hubby Jake says it makes me look like a smurf, but he’s no Brian Williams in the looks department and I’m sure you’d look darling in one.

The other thing that you need to do is earn the art of layering. Indulge in some nice autumnal colors, invest in an attractive overcoat and some lovely scarves.

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Dear Mary-Sue,

I’ve just now moved to Los Angeles from the UK, and I notice that everyone here has straight white teeth. Mine are the usual tea-stained crooked ones that English people have, so I’m feeling very self-conscious. Would you recommend that I get adult braces?

Lily from Lancaster

Dear Lily,

You’re in LA, first things first, get your cheeks, nose and boobies done first, then you can move onto the teeth.

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Dear Mary-Sue,

I’ve been in Taiwan teaching English for about a year, and I can’t get over how spoiled the dogs here are. Each of them has several little outfits. I know I should be tolerant of other cultures, but I can’t help but think it’s a ridiculous and wasteful custom. Wouldn’t you agree?

Sally from Seattle

Oh Sally,

I know you’re from Seattle and jaded by caffeine and hipsterdom, but get over yourself girl! Would it help if you viewed it all ironically?

My dachshund, Eudora Welty, has a cute little burberry coat. Yes, you’re probably rolling your eyes Sally, try to enjoy life a little more. This is why me and my girlfriends, Sondra and Tilly, are going to Krakow this summer. I’ll be sure to post a picture of Eudora in her Joan of Arc costume up on here.

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Anyhoo, that’s all from me readers. I’m so keen to hear about your cultural issues and all your juicy problems. Do drop me a line with any problems you have, or if you want to talk smack about Delilah Rene.

Mary-Sue is a retired travel agent who lives in Tulsa with her husband Jake. If you have any questions that you would like Mary-Sue to answer, you can contact her at thedisplacednation@gmail.com, or by adding to the comments below.

STAY TUNED for Monday’s post.

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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