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LESSONS FROM TWO SMALL ISLANDS — 6) Keep Calm and Run a Bath

I didn’t think seriously about fashion and beauty until I, an American East Coaster, became a resident of two small islands: Britain and then Japan.

Both London and Tokyo are fashion capitals, and living in each of these cities, I found that every so often I really enjoy thinking about striking clothing combinations, make-up, and self-pampering.

Would I have discovered this love of what America’s Puritan founders would call frivolity had I stayed in this country? It’s conceivable, especially if I’d moved to New York City, where I now live as a repatriate. (NOTE: While I do not have Puritan ancestry, I was raised to be a bluestocking, not a girl in rhinestone-studded pantyhose.)

But in the event, I discovered fashion and beauty through my travels — and from learning about how women in other countries clothe and groom themselves.

So what, you may ask, were my key take-aways from this relatively speaking decadent period of my life? No specific beauty products or fashions, but these five guiding principles:

1) To get an English rose (or any other perfect) complexion, you have to be born with it. Nevertheless, skin care is worth it.

As a Caucasian woman, one of my beauty ideals was that of the English rose: a woman with flawless porcelain skin and rosy cheeks that look as though they’ve been produced by good bracing walks in the countryside wearing sensible shoes and tweed skirts.

When I first moved to England and encountered some actual English Roses, I wondered: is it because of the climate, the cosmetics from Boots the Chemist, the diet? (How do I get me one of those?)

My research soon revealed that diet has nothing to do with it. Not in a country where people grow up eating chips and crisps.

And as nice as the No7 products are, they can’t work miracles.

So maybe a glowing appearance is the result of England’s unique climatic conditions: a paucity of direct sunlight and the moisturizing drizzle that almost always seems to be in the air?

I hardly think that can be the case, as there are plenty of Britons with problem skin…

Trying not to turn pea green with envy (hardly a flattering shade!), I could come to only one conclusion: you have to be born with it.

But, not to despair! Once I reached Japan, where women are obsessed with their skin — some even use whitening lotions to obtain a creamier complexion — I learned that of all the things you can do for beauty, skin care is the most worthwhile.

Ladies, if you protect your skin, you might find yourself turning into an English Rose when you get a bit older — the Last Rose of Summer, so to speak.  While some may swear by Crème de la Mer, I go with the regime I picked up in Japan: sunscreen, a hat and a parasol.

I’d also recommend befriending your dermatologist, who knows a lot more about skin care and sun protection than the woman behind the cosmetics counter…

2) Don’t be afraid of experimenting with your hair: it can add some spice and life to your image.

In the UK one of my English rose-complexioned friends favored a chic bob — but with a streak of blue, green or red in it.

As an American fresh off the boat, I was rather scandalized. Why was she ruining a perfectly good hairstyle?

Over time, however, I came to realize that when you live in a country where skies are often the color of lead, adding a bright color to a strand of hair can brighten up your day.

By the time I left England, I could no longer understand why any woman, once she reached maturity, wouldn’t dye or highlight her hair. She doesn’t know the fun she’s missing out on! And, even though I have yet to streak my hair in an outrageous color, it’s definitely on my bucket list.

In Japan, too, I got some kicks from playing with my hair — this time, by adorning it with the kinds of hair ornaments that have been popular since the times when women wore kimono and kanzashi: combs, hair sticks and pins, hair bands, and fancy barrettes.

I did not have particularly long hair when I first reached Japan, but as long hair is the signature of Japanese ladies — and they were my new role models — I soon had locks long enough to make the most of such accessories. My favorite was the snood — I had one that was attached to a barrette covered with a bow. What a great way to keep long hair out of one’s face.

3) Gemstones and pearls are a girl’s best friend.

Sorry, Marilyn dear, but after living in the UK and Japan, my BFFs are gemstones and pearls. Is this because I went to England in the era of Princess Diana, with her (now Kate Middleton’s) 18-carat sapphire ring?

My relationship with colored gemstones only deepened after I moved to Japan and went on several sojourns into Southeast Asia, land of rubies and sapphires, among others.

My engagement ring is a ruby (purchased by my hubby in Tokyo!).

In Japan itself, I fell for pearls and now have quite the collection of necklaces, earrings, rings, and bracelets, mostly from Wally Yonamine’s in the Roppongi area of Tokyo. The owner, Jane, wife of  Wally (a professional baseball player who played with the Yomiuri Giants) is a displaced Japanese Hawaiian.

4) Youth is the time to have fun with fashion.

In the UK, I was taken in by the spectacle of punk and post-punk kids and their strange fashions, while in Japan I found it mesmerizing to watch the Lolita fashions of the Harajuku kids, on a Sunday afternoon.

Eventually, instead of thinking they were weird, I regretted never having had my own equivalent of wearing Doc Martens with a Laura Ashley dresses … sporting long, back-combed hair, pale skin, dark eyeshadow, eyeliner, and lipstick, black nail varnish, along with a spiked bracelet and dog-collar … dressing up like a Victorian boy …

It just wasn’t the done thing, in my stiff, conservative American circles, to wear outlandish garb. And now it’s too late, of course. Youth is the time when you can get away with it. After that, you have to wait for Halloween. (Unless, of course, you want to come across as “mutton dressed as lamb,” as the English say…)

5) Last but not least, my top beauty tip, reinforced by both of these countries: A bath is much preferable to a shower.

At the beginning of living in England, I missed the American shower so much. I was convinced I would never be clean again. But then one day I woke up and realized I’d been brainwashed into believing I needed to have a shower every day. In fact, daily showers dry out the skin. As one dermatologist puts it:

Most people wash far too much. Using piping-hot water combined with harsh soaps can strip the skin of its oils, resulting in dryness, cracking and even infection.

That was around the same time I opened my mind to the possibility that baths — which tend to be favored over showers in the UK (at least in my day) — might actually be preferable. Nothing like a long hot bath with a glass of wine and a book, my English friends would say. Or, as one British beauty site puts it:

A nice bubble bath is the closest you can come to having a spa-like relaxing experience in your own home, without much effort or without spending a lot of money.

Too true! Plus the English shops sell such wonderful bubble bath creams. My favorite was the Perlier Honey Miel (actually from Italy).

Still, I didn’t mind giving all of that up once I reached Tokyo — not the bathing but the bubbles. In the land of the communal bath, you scrub the skin first and then have a long soak in clean hot water, in a tub (ofuro) that is deep rather than long.

Indeed, Japan was where I learned the benefits of exfoliation: I ended up sloughing off dry skin from parts of my body I didn’t know existed. And then the immersion in clean hot water: bliss! Like returning to the womb…

For a Japanese who works long hours, bathing is a sacred time, a ritual. While I haven’t quite converted that far, I have a Pavlovian reaction every time I hear bath water running. Time to go into Total Relax Mode!

I even have a Japanese bath here in my apartment in NYC, and the thought of sitting in it is what keeps me going … That said, I must confess that I sometimes put bubbles in. What can I say? I’m displaced.

* * *

So, readers, what do you make of my five beauty principles? Have you picked up any of your own in the countries where you live? I’m all ears — only please excuse me for a minute while I make sure the bath water isn’t running over. (I don’t want my downstairs neighbors knocking on my door at 3:00 a.m.!)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, another installment 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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Image: MorgueFile

5 movies for expats and world travelers looking to stir up romance this Valentine’s Day

Editor’s note: Today we are happy to welcome a new member to the Displaced Nation team, Andy Martin. His debut post introduces our two favorite February’s themes: Valentine’s Day (aka expat love) and displaced movies (in honor of Oscar season). For those who haven’t read Andy’s Random Nomad interview with us, it’s worth knowing that he’s a UK-qualified social worker who now lives in Brazil with his Brazilian wife, and a self-professed football geek.

One of the things I discovered when I moved to Brazil is that Valentine’s Day is not actually celebrated here until 12th June, where it is instead known as Dia dos Namorados (Boyfriend’s/Girlfriend’s Day). The reasoning for this is that 12th June is the eve of St. Anthony’s Day, the saint otherwise known as “the marriage saint.”

Additionally, what the rest of us know as Valentine’s Day (14th February) typically falls during or around the time of Carnaval, and anyone who knows anything about the excesses of Carnaval knows that a holiday to celebrate fidelity may probably be best left until later in the year — say, June time.

Anyhow, seeing as my wife has lived in the UK and now openly embraces British culture she’s suggested that it would only be proper to celebrate both the British and Brazilian holidays — she’s a clever one! And what more traditional way to celebrate than a trip to the cinema?

Bearing this in mind, I’ve made a list of 5 films that couples like us — multicultural, expat, glolo and/or nomadic — might like to watch this coming Valentine’s Day, to stir up the romance of travel that brought you together in the first place…

The one about adventure

IndianaJones_small1) Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), dir. Steven Spielberg
An action-adventure drama that pits Indiana Jones (played by Harrison Ford) against a group of Nazis who are searching for the Ark of the Covenant because Adolf Hitler believes it will make their army invincible.

Why I like it: The original Indiana Jones trilogy was released between 1981 and 1989, and despite the pointless release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2008, it will forever remain, for my generation at least, what introduced us to the potential excitement of exploring the unknown.

Personal note: I love my in-laws but they neglected their parenting duties in one pretty big way: their failure to introduce my wife to Indiana Jones (a situation that has, thankfully, now been rectified).

Most stunning aspect: Let’s face it, any film that can make archaeology seem like the coolest profession in the world has got to be doing something right hasn’t it?

The ones with the romantic clichés

The traveler is often accused of being a romantic, an idealist and of someone who is running away from life and all the problems and commitments that go with it. The alternative argument is that the traveler is actually taking life by the scruff of the neck and living it to the full.

Either way, two films that best capture this dialectic are the two that often most lionized by today’s generation of travelers:

IntotheWild_small2) Into the Wild (2007), dir. Sean Penn
An adaptation (also by Penn) of the book of the same name, by Jon Krakauer, depicting the true story of Chris McCandless, a 24 year-old American and persistent wanderer whom believed that there was more to life than settling for the 9-5 grind in an office.

Why I like it: My wife introduced me to it (her riposte to my Indiana Jones exasperation). She had watched it early on in our relationship, when she was in Brazil and I was in London — a genuinely long distance relationship.

Personal note: She said that the film’s protagonist, Chris McCandless, reminded her of me — although fortunately our story has had a bit of a happier ending than his (I’ll say no more in order not to ruin it for you).

No half-measures: Boy did McCandless walk the walk, giving away his $24,000 college fund to charity before hitchhiking to Alaska and plunging into the wilderness, gradually seeking the means to remove himself from the “real world. “

TheMotorcyleDiaries_small3) The Motorcycle Diaries (Spanish: Diarios de motocicleta) (2004), dir. Walter Salles
A biopic of Ernesto “Che” Guevara as a young man, representing an adaptation of Che’s memoir of the same name, recounting the trip he made around South America with his best friend, Alberto Granado.

Why I like it: Whatever you view of Che is, there is actually relatively little politics in the film, although one is introduced to some of the experiences that started to inform what he later became in life. Instead, for the most part, this is a film which perfectly captures what is to be young and curious of the world outside your own town or city. Che and Alberto chase beautiful landscapes and beautiful people, but also volunteer their time to those less fortunate than themselves.

Personal note: This film was the tipping point in inspiring me to travel around South America.

Memorable scene: There’s a great scene that highlights the dichotomy between the travel romanticized by “travelers” and that which is driven by the needs of most other migrants around the world — the topic of my guest post last month for The Displaced Nation. In it Che and Alberto meet an indigenous couple who have been forced from their lands and who are traveling in order to find work. When the couple ask Alberto and Che why they are traveling, they reply: “We travel just to travel.” Confused, the wife replies: “God bless you.”

The one about being displaced

Lost_in_Translation_small4) Lost in Translation (2003), dir. Sofia Coppola
The story of the unlikely bond between an aging movie star, played by the awesome Bill Murray, and a trailing spouse (Scarlett Johansson), after they meet in the bar of their five star hotel in Tokyo.

Why I like it: Life as a nomad is not all about romantic adventures and life-changing experiences — there are also just as many challenges and struggles: homesickness, culture shock and loss being just some of them. Lost in Translation is, perhaps, one of the films that best explores some of these issues.

Additional benefits: The story is poignant, and the film is beautifully shot.

The one that’s not actually about travel or expats

Blood_into_Wine_small5) Blood Into Wine (2010), dirs. Ryan Page & Christopher Pomerenke
A documentary about the Northern Arizona wine industry focusing on the musician Maynard James Keenan and Eric Glomski and their winery, Caduceus Cellers.

Why I like it: This film doesn’t really have anything to do with either travel or expat life, but I’m including it here because it’s about one of my favorite artists: Maynard James Keenan. A slightly biased choice perhaps, but I think it deserves a merit for the way it encapsulates the spirit of those people who have dreams and then act upon them to make them happen — a spirit which, I think, drives many of us travelers and expats.

Maynard’s dream: Maynard dreams of starting a vineyard in Arizona. Yes, Arizona. Despite the doubts and concerns of the experts he consulted Maynard invested almost his entire fortune, made from working with the bands Tool and A Perfect Circle, to start a vineyard in Arizona — a state entirely unknown for growing wine.

Does he succeed? You’ll have to watch it, I guess… And don’t forget to invite a date!

* * *

Readers, what do you think of Andy’s suggestions? Are these the sorts of films that make you feel romantic, or do you think he’s bonkers? We’re open to any and all comments…as well as to further recommendations of films likely to bring out the romantic side in us glomads!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post from our monthly columnist, James Murray, who right now can be found in front of his fireplace in Boston — and not because he’s in a romantic mood! Far from it…

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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The 10 Muses of Expat & International Adventure Writing and their 5 most popular tunes

10 muses collageGreetings, Displaced Nation-ers! Ready for a little more intellectual stimulation?

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Great Thinkers who can help with task of embracing the well-traveled life and teasing out its deeper meaning, in the new year.

And today I will address the needs of those who have resolved to tackle a major writing project in 2013.

It’s a well-known fact that many of us who live in foreign lands aspire to write novels, memoirs and travelogues about our overseas adventures. But many of us also live in isolated situations (by definition).

So who can aid us, provide our inspiration?

Why, the muses of course!

Tell us, O muses, how to tell our stories…

And we don’t even have to look heavenwards to invoke them! The 10 Muses (that’s one more than the ancients got!) of Expat and International Travel Writing are right in our midst. They have already shared the joys, wonders and value of writing with Displaced Nation readers:

  1. Barbara Conelli, author of the Chique Travel Book series, filled with the charm, beauty, secrets and passion of Italy…
  2. Martin Crosbie, who is writing a trilogy entitled My Temporary Life; in December of last year, he published Book Two: My Name Is Hardly.
  3. Helena Halme, author of the novel The Englishman (2012)
  4. Laura Graham, author of the novel Down a Tuscan Alley (2011)
  5. Matt Krause, author of the memoir A Tight Wide-open Space: Finding love in a Muslim land (2011)
  6. Meagan Adele Lopez, author of the novel Three Questions: Because a quarter-life crisis needs answers (2011)
  7. Edith McClintock, author of the mystery novel Monkey Love and Murder (2013)
  8. Alexander McNabb, who is writing the Levant Cycle, a trilogy of books about the Middle East; he released the second book, Beirut — An Explosive Thriller, last September.
  9. Tony James Slater, erstwhile regular at the Displaced Nation and author of a two-book series: The Bear That Ate My Pants: Adventures of a real idiot abroad (2011) and Don’t Need the Whole Dog!, which came out in December.
  10. Wendy Nelson Tokunaga, author of Marriage in Translation: Foreign Wife, Japanese Husband (2011) and of several novels that explore cross-cultural themes between the United States and Japan.

Over the past year on our site, if you were listening closely, these heaven-sent muses were singing a number of tunes. Here are their five top hits:

SONG #1: “Yes, it’s hard; yes it’s uphill. But you’re living the dream, which makes writing a thrill!”

In one of the Displaced Nation’s most popular posts of the past year, Tony James Slater tried to make it out that the life of an expat writer is far from glamorous. Don’t believe him. He was pulling your leg, as usual — or singing off key, to continue the metaphor.

Alexander McNabb has the more accurate rendition. Here’s his account of the prep for his latest thriller, Beirut:

While writing it, I spent hours walking around the city, along the curving corniche and up into the busy streets that cling to the foothills rising from the coast up to the snow-capped mountains. Walking with friends, walking alone — day and night, spring and summer. From the maze of funky little bars of Hamra to the boutiques of Verdun, from the spicy Armenian groceries of Bourj Hammoud to the cafés overlooking the famous rocks at Raouché…

Barbara Conelli is another inspirational example. She explores every nook and cranny of Milan so as to take the reader on an armchair journey. And now she is doing the same with Rome, which will be the subject of her third book in the Chique Travel series.

Great work, if you can get it!

SONG #2: “It’s time to make your creative debut — so why not make it all about you?”

These days it’s hard to tell the difference between a heavily autobiographical novel and a memoir, though one of our muses, Helena Halme, insists that there is a distinction. When questioned about her decision to write The Englishman as a novel — it’s about a young Finnish woman, Kaisa, who meets a dashing British naval officer, a plot that echoes very closely her own life story — she had the following to say:

I tried to write a memoir, but couldn’t! Much of this story is, however, true — but I didn’t think I could call it a memoir as some things were pure fiction. I am a novelist and just keep making stories up.

Hmmm… By that reckoning, perhaps Tony James Slater should be a novelist, too? As regular readers of this blog will know, his favorite topic consists of his own, rather daring but also bumbling, world adventures.

But did a bear really eat his pants, or is he exaggerating for comic effect?

The mind boggles…

But whatever the form, the point is that quite a few of our muses have found plenty of material in their own life experiences. Besides Halme and Slater, we have

  • Martin Crosbie: His protagonist, Malcolm, leaves Scotland for Canada at a formative age, just as he did.
  • Laura Graham: Her protagonist, Lorri, arrives in Italy as a forty-something single and finds a younger Italian man, just as she did.
  • Matt Krause: He has written a memoir on the portion of his life that involved meeting a Turkish woman on a plane and following her back to Turkey. (Reader, he married her!)
  • Meagan Adele Lopez: The protagonist of her debut novel, Del, is offered three questions by her British fiancé (just as Lopez was offered three questions by hers).
  • Edith McClintock: Her protagonist, Emma, works as a researcher in the very Amazonian rainforest where she once conducted her own research.

To conclude, the old adage is alive and well, even (especially?) in expat and travel writing: “Write about what you know and care for…”

SONG #3: “Looking for inspiration from above? The answer lies in cross-cultural love.”

Another theme running through the works of several of our muses is the love that takes place across cultures, usually resulting in marriage. I just now referred to the cross-cultural love stories at the heart of the books produced by Helena Halme (Finnish woman, English man), Laura Graham (Englishwoman, Italian man), Matt Krause (American man, Turkish woman) and Meagan Adele Lopez (American woman, Scotsman).

To this list should be added Wendy Nelson Tokunaga, who has written about Western women getting involved with Japanese men — one of the stranger of all possible unions, to be sure! ;) — in both fiction and nonfiction (the latter being a bit of a self-help book).

SONG #4: “As your brainstorming proceeds apace, never forget the appeal of place.”

Since travel is a constant for all of us, it should come as no surprise that particular places can become a pull for certain expat writers. They cannot rest until they’ve depicted a place they’ve experienced so that others can live vicariously. Several of our muses represent this principle:

  • Barbara Conelli and her love for “capricious, unpredictable” Milan. To quote from her book: “When the streets of Milan ask you to dance, there’s nothing else to do but put on your ballet shoes and surrender…”
  • Alexander McNabb and his obsession with Beirut. “There can be few places on earth so sexy, dark, cosmopolitan and brittle…,” he writes in his Displaced Nation post.
  • Edith McClintock and her preoccupation with the rainforest and a place called Raleighvallen in the Central Suriname Nature Reserve. As her main character, Emma, says:

    I fell completely and irretrievably in love with the rainforest that week — the deep rich smells of dirt and decay and teeming, thriving life; the warm soft light of the rocky moss-covered paths hidden beneath layers of climbing and tumbling lianas and roots; soaring tree trunks wrapped in colorful bromeliads, orchids, moss, and lichens; and the canopy of leaves of every conceivable size and shape….

SONG #5: “Growing weary of fruitless writing sessions? Time to take some acting lessons!”

Four of our ten muses could double as the muses of acting and entertainment:

  • Tony James Slater and Meagan Adele Lopez trained as actors (Lopez actually starred in a bad horror film!) before embarking on their world travels.
  • Laura Graham enjoyed a long career as a stage actress in Britain, working for the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Young Vic, and on television, before setting herself up as an expat in Tuscany.
  • Wendy Nelson Tokunaga first went to Japan because she won a prize in a songwriting contest sponsored by Japan Victor Records. She is an accomplished karaoke artist who can sing jazz as well as j-pop and enka, a type of sentimental ballad.

Why are so many of the Muses of Expat Writing multi-talented, you may ask? Does a former acting/singing career work to one’s advantage when it comes to overseas travel and writing? I like to think so.

Just as Dickens used to act out the dialogue of his characters, I like to think of Tony James Slater reenacting his wild adventures on the road, in the confines of his flat in Perth…

And sometimes this versatility can add a further dimension to the writing. Last we heard from Lopez, she had created a trailer for her book and was trying to convert it to a screenplay. Tokunaga composed and sang an enka to accompany her novel Love in Translation. (It’s impressive!)

Plus these four could always hew to the tradition of wandering minstrel, one of the oldest careers in the book, if their works don’t sell. (Hey, it’s never a bad idea to have a fallback option when you’re a long ways away from family and friends…)

* * *

So, writers out there, did our 10 Muses sing to you? And will you listen to some of their songs again as you face the blank page in 2013? Let me know in the comments. (Only, be careful of criticizing the Muses — they have been known to be vengeful!)

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

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

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Images: Our Ten Muses (left to right, top to bottom) — Edith McClintock, Barbara Conelli, Tony James Slater; Laura Graham, Martin Crosbie, Helena Halme, Alexander McNabb; Meagan Adele Lopez, Wendy Nelson Tokunaga, Matt Krause.

Expats, here’s how to enrich your lives in 2013: Choose a mentor or a muse!

Expats and other world adventurers, let me guess. You have you spent the past week making resolutions about

  • staying positive about your new life in Country X;
  • indulging in less of the local stodge;
  • giving up the smoking habit that no one is nagging you about now that you’re so far away from home;
  • and/or taking advantage of travel opportunities within the region that may never come your way again

– while also knowing full well that at some point in the not-distant future, you’ll end up stuffing your face with marshmallows (metaphorically speaking).

Never mind, it happens to the best of us, as psychologist Walter Mischel — he of the marshmallow experimentrecently told Abby Hunstman of the Huffington Post. Apparently, it has something to do with the way impulses work in the brain. The key is to trick the brain by coming up with strategies to avoid the marshmallow or treat it as something else.

Today I’d like to propose something I found to be one of the most effective strategies for turning away from the marshmallows you’ve discovered in your new home abroad or, for more veteran expats, turning these marshmallows into something new and exotic. My advice is to find a mentor or a muse in your adopted land — someone who can teach you something new, or who inspires you by their example to try new things…

Trust me, if you choose the right mentor +/or muse, benefits like the following will soon accrue:

1) More exotic looks — and a book deal.

Back when I lived abroad, first in England and then in Japan, I was always studying other women for style and beauty tips. I made a muse of everyone from Princess Diana (I could hardly help it as her image was being constantly thrust in front of me) to the stewardesses I encountered on All Nippon Airways. Have you ever seen the film Fear and Trembling, based on the autobiographical novel of that name, by the oft-displaced Amélie Nothomb? On ANA flights, I behaved a little like the film’s young Belgian protagonist, Amélie, who secretly adulates her supervisor Miss Fubuki. I simply couldn’t believe the world contained such attractive women…

The pay-off came upon my repatriation to the US. With such a wide array of fashion and beauty influences, I’d begun to resemble Countess Olenska in The Age of Innocence — with my Laura Ashley dresses, hair ornaments, strings of (real) pearls, and habit of bowing to everyone.

Is it any wonder my (Japanese) husband-to-be nicknamed me the Duchess? (Better than being the sheltered May Welland, surely?)

My one regret is that I didn’t parlay these style tips into a best-seller — unlike Jennifer Scott, one of the authors who was featured on TDN this past year. While studying in Paris, Scott was in a mentoring relationship with Madame Chic and Madame Bohemienne. (The former was the matriarch in her host family; the latter, in her boyfriend’s host family.) Mme C & Mme B took her under their wing and taught her everything she knows about personal style, preparation of food, home decor, entertaining, make-up, you name it…and is now imparting to others in her Simon & Schuster-published book.

2) More memorable dinner parties.

As mentioned in a previous post, I adopted actress and Indian cookbook writer Madhur Jaffrey as my muse shortly after settling down in the UK. I was (still am) madly in love with her, her cookbooks, even her writing style.

And her recipes do me proud to this day.

Right before Christmas I threw a dinner party for 10 featuring beef cooked in yogurt and black pepper, black cod in a coriander marinade, and several of her vegetable dishes.

It was divine — if I say so myself! To be fair, the guests liked it, too…

3) Improved language skills.

Now the ideal mentor for an adult seeking to pick up a new foreign language is a boyfriend or girlfriend in the local culture — preferably one with gobs of patience. The Japanese have the perfect expression for it: iki jibiki, or walking dictionary.

Just one caveat: If you’re as language challenged as Tony James Slater, it could prove a headache and, ultimately, a heartache.

Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained…

(Married people, you might want to give up on this goal. I’m serious…)

4) A fondness for angels who dance on pinheads.

After seeing the film Lost in Translation, I became an advocate for expats giving themselves intellectual challenges. Really, there’s no excuse for ennui of the sort displayed by Scarlett Johansson character, in a well-traveled life.

It was while living in the UK as a grad student that I discovered the extraordinary scholar-writer Marina Warner, who remains an inspiration to this day. Warner, who grew up in Brussels and Cambridge and was educated at convent school and Oxford University, is best known for her books on feminism and myth.

After reading her book Monuments and Maidens, I could never look at a statue in the same way again!

In her person, too, she is something of a goddess. Though I’d encountered women of formidable intellect before, I found her more appealing than most, I think because she wears her learning lightly and has an ethereal presence, like one of the original Muses.

Booker prizewinner Julian Barnes has written of her “incandescent intelligence and Apulian beauty” (she is half Italian, half English). The one time I met her — I asked her to sign my copy of her Booker Prize-shortlisted novel, The Lost Father — I could see what he meant.

I was gobsmacked.

Major girl crush!

(Don’t have a girl crush? Get one! It will enrich your life immeasurably.)

5) Greater powers of mindfulness — and a book deal.

Third Culture Kid Maria Konnikova was born in Moscow but grew up and was educated in the US. She has started the new year by putting out a book with Viking entitled Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes. Who would guess that a young Russian-born woman would use Conan Doyle’s fictional creations, Holmes and Watson, as her muses? But, as she explains in a recent article in Slate, she has learned everything she knows about the art of mindfulness from that master British sleuth:

Mindfulness allows Holmes to observe those details that most of us don’t even realize we don’t see.

So moved is she by Holmes’s example — and so frustrated by her own, much more limited observational powers — Konnikova does the boldest of all thought experiments: she gives up the Internet…

So does her physiological and emotional well-being improve as a result? Does her mind stop wandering away from the present? Does she become happier? I won’t give it away lest you would like to make Konnikova this year’s muse and invest in her book. Hint: If you do, we may not see you here for a while. :(

6) The confidence to travel on your own.

We expats tend to be a little less intrepid than the average global wanderer: we’re a little too attached to our creature comforts and may need a kick to become more adventuresome. But even avid travelers sometimes lose their courage, as Amy Baker recently reported in a post for Vagabondish. She recounts the first time she met a Swedish solo traveler in Morocco, who had lived on her own in Zimbabwe for 10 years. This Swede is now her friend — and muse:

She was level-headed, organized and fiercely independent — all characteristics that I aim to embody as a female traveler.

With this “fearless Swedish warrior woman” in mind, Amy started venturing out on her lonesome — and hasn’t looked back.

* * *

Readers, the above is not intended as an exhaustive list as I’m hoping you can contribute your own experiences with mentors and muses abroad: What do you do to avoid the “marshmallows” of the (too?) well-traveled life? Who have you met that has inspired you to new creative, intellectual, or travel heights? Please let us know in the comments. In the meantime, I wish you a happy, healthy — and most of all, intellectually stimulating — new year!

STAY TUNED for next week’s posts.

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Catching up with this year’s Random Nomads over the holidays (3/3)

RandomNomadXmasPassportIt’s Christmas Day and the holiday party continues for the expats and other global voyagers who washed up on the Displaced Nation’s shores in 2012. Remember all those Random Nomads who proposed to make us exotic meals based on their far-ranging meanderings? Not to mention their suitcases full of treasures they’d collected and their vocabularies full of strange words… How are they doing these days, and do they have any exciting plans for the holidays? Third in a three-part series (see also Part One and Part Two).

During the final third of 2012, we met some expats and intrepid world travelers who, I think it’s fair to say, have developed some rather unusual hobbies and eating habits. The two are one and the same in the case of Brian MacDuckston, who was featured on our site this past August. He has made a habit of eating ramen in as many Tokyo venues as possible — a hobby that was quirky enough to attract the attention of the New York Times. In addition to Brian — a San Franciscan who originally went to Japan to teach English — we encountered:

  • Liv Gaunt, an Englishwoman who became an expat accidentally, while pursuing her love of scuba diving and underwater photography. Now based in Australia, she told us she has a passion for sharks but would happily do without sea urchins.
  • Mark Wiens, an American third culture kid who now lives in Thailand and travels all over — he feels least displaced when sampling other countries’ street foods.
  • Jessica Festa, an American traveler who loves to venture off the beaten track and eat locally — she did not hesitate to eat cuy in Ecuador (even though it reminded her of her pet guinea pig, Joey, named after a school crush).
  • Larissa Reinhart, a small-town Midwesterner who lived in Japan for several years and, since repatriating, has taken up the pen as a crime novelist. She is now living in small-town Georgia but hopes to go abroad again. She provides recipes for Asian fried chicken, among other delicacies, on her blog about life as an ex-expat.
  • Patricia Winton, an American who responded to 9/11 by giving up her comfortable life in Washington to become an expat crime writer in Rome. She also invested in a pasta-making machine…
  • Bart Schaneman, a Nebraskan who wanted to see the world and has made his home in Seoul, where he is an editor for an English-language newspaper and author of a travelogue on the Trans-Siberian railway. He is a huge fan of kimchi.

Three of this esteemed group are with us today. What have they been up to since a few months ago, and are they cooking up anything special for the holidays, besides chatting with us?

Brian with Ramen_Xmas1) BRIAN MACDUCKSTON

Have there been any big changes in your life since we last spoke?
I’ve been offered a few gigs on Japanese TV shows as a “ramen reporter” and successfully pitched my first magazine article about a best-of-ramen list. A start! I also started a ramen class aimed at non-Japanese speakers. Check it out!

How will you be spending the holidays this year?
A nice staycation in Tokyo.

What’s the thing you most look forward to eating, dare I ask?
I’m trying to eat more high-class sushi, but I’ll probably just stick to a lot of ramen for the next few weeks.

Can you recommend any books or films you came across in 2012 that speak to the displaced life?
I really enjoyed Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a documentary about the most revered sushi chef in the world. [Editor's note: The film has been available on Netflix since last August.]

Do you have any New Year’s resolutions for 2013?
I want to train myself to stop using double spaces after periods when I write. Not a big goal, but important for someone who has an interest in being paid for my writing.

A worthy goal, imho! (I’ve had to correct quite a few in my time…) So, any upcoming travel plans?
My father will visit Japan, so I am planning a luxury week-long trip of eating and relaxing in hot springs. Two things I’m good at!

LarissaReinhart&Reinhart2) LARISSA REINHART

Any big developments in your life since we last spoke?
My second Cherry Tucker Mystery, Still Life in Brunswick Stew, has a release date of May 21, 2013. [Editor's note: As mentioned in Larissa's interview, the first in her Cherry Tucker series, Portrait of a Dead Guy, came out this year.]

How will you be spending the holidays this year?
We travel to visit my family in Illinois and St. Louis after Christmas through New Year’s.

What’s the thing you most look forward to eating?
There’s this Italian grocery, Viviano’s, in the Italian district of St. Louis, called The Hill in St. Louis, that I really look forward to visiting. I’ll stock up on cheap wine and Italian staples for the coming year.

Can you recommend any books or films you came across in 2012 that speak to the displaced life?
Yes, two Japanese films:

  1. The fascinating documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi. I highly recommend — even for non-sushi fans. The film is beautifully shot and reveals what it takes to be a true master at something. Incredible.
  2. The gorgeous The Secret World of Arrietty (aka The Borrower Arrietty), scripted by Hayao Miyazaki. We were excited to see Arrietty because we saw the ads for the movie when we were still living in Japan (and I’m a big fan of Mary Norton’s The Borrowers, on which the film is based, as well as of Miyazaki).

Have you made any New Year’s resolutions for 2013?
To spend less time on social media and more time writing. I love chatting online, but I need to be more disciplined about getting away from the “water cooler” and back to work.

Any upcoming travel plans?
Disney World for spring break! Woot! And we’re hoping to get back overseas soon, but no definite plans yet.

PatriciaWintonwithholly3) PATRICIA WINTON

Any big changes in your life since we last spoke a couple of months ago?
The month after you featured me, I put my long-time WIP in the bottom drawer for a while and started a new one. I’ve written about 30,000 words. This one, also a mystery, is set in Florence. It takes place during the 500th anniversary celebration of the world’s first culinary society.

Meanwhile, my blog partners at Novel Adventurers are working on an anthology of long short stories. We are an adventurous group comprising (besides me):

  • an Australian who has lived in South America
  • an American of Swiss-German origin who is married to a man from Iran, where they frequently travel
  • an American with close family ties in India, where she frequently travels
  • an American specializing in things Russian, who is married to a Kyrgyz
  • a former Peace Corps volunteer who writes about the Caribbean
  • an American who grew up on a sailboat traveling the world and has lived as an adult in many countries.

We’ll be writing about travel and adventure from international perspectives. It will be some time before it sees publication, but I’ll keep you posted. I think it will interest the Displaced Nation!

Where will you be spending the holidays this year?
I’m spending the holidays quietly at home. I plan to visit a friend in the country for New Year’s weekend. The holidays here last almost three weeks, ending on January 6. Nativity scenes are a big deal here, and I plan to visit various churches to view, and photograph, them as I usually do. I’ll write about them on my blog, Italian Intrigues, on January 3rd.

What’s the thing you most look forward to eating?
Christmas Eve in Italy is devoted to eating fish — usually seven fish dishes from antipasto onward. I’m trying out a new recipe for sea bass stuffed with frutta del mare (non-fin fish). I’m using clams, mussels, shrimp, squid and baby octopus, all well laced with garlic. And I always make the holiday custard that comes from my Tennessee childhood.

Can you recommend any books you came across in 2012 that speak to the displaced life?
The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver. While it was published in 2010, I didn’t read it until this year, and I think it’s a masterpiece. It’s about a man with one foot in Mexico and the other in the US — but that’s a vast oversimplification. After the young man’s Mexican mother dies, he works for Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera while Leon Trotsky is staying with them. He later moves to the US to join his American father. He eventually becomes a successful writer caught up in the McCarthy witch hunt. I don’t want to include spoilers here, but it’s fabulous. The boy/man is a foreigner in both countries and speaks both languages with an accent.

Do you have any New Year’s resolutions for 2013?
Not that I want to share.

Last but not least, do you have any upcoming travel plans?
No concrete travel plans at the moment. While composing these answers, I received an email about a tour of Uzbekistan that sounds really alluring. And I will probably go to the US to attend a mystery writers conference.

* * *

Readers, any questions for this rather motley (one former expat and two current ones) but highly creative bunch?

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post — expat Anthony Windram’s musings on spending Boxing Day in a country that associates boxing with punching, not (Christmas) punch.

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

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Images: Passport photo from Morguefiles; portrait photos are from the nomads (Larissa Reinhart’s shows her family in front of one of their favorite Japanese manga characters, Shin-chan, a sort of Bart Simpson of Japan — the creator, Yoshito Usui, had recently died).

Catching up with this year’s Random Nomads over the holidays (2/3)

RandomNomadXmasPassportWelcome back to the holiday party we are throwing for the expats and other global voyagers who washed up on our shores in 2012. Remember all those Random Nomads who proposed to make us exotic meals based on their far-ranging meanderings? Not to mention their suitcases full of treasures they’d collected and their vocabularies full of strange words… How are they doing these days, and do they have any exciting plans for the holidays? Second in a three-part series (Part One here).

The second third of 2012 brought quite an intriguing (albeit as random as ever) bunch of nomads our way — intriguing because most of them have had experience with spouses from other cultures, suggesting that the point made by one of their number, Wendy Williams, about the globalization of love has some validity. They are:

  • Wendy Williams, the Canadian who is as happy as Larry living with her Austrian husband and their daughter in Vienna.
  • Suzanne Kamata, an American writer who went to Japan on the JET program, married a Japanese man, and made her home on Shikoku Island.
  • Isabelle Bryer, a French artist who feels as though she’s on a permanent vacation because of landing in LA — she’s lived there for years with her American husband and family.
  • Jeff Jung, formerly of corporate America but now an entrepreneur who promotes career breaks from his new base in Bogotá, Colombia.
  • Lynne Murphy, the lovely lexicologist who landed in — I want to say “London” for the alliteration, but it’s Sussex, UK. And yes, despite not being the marrying type, she now treasures her wedding ring of Welsh gold!
  • Melissa Stoey, the former expat in Britain who, despite no longer living in the UK, has a half-British son and remains passionate about all things British.
  • Antrese Wood, the American artist who is busy painting her way around Argentina, having married into the culture.

I’m happy to say that three of this esteemed group are with us today. What have they been up to since nearly a year ago, and are they cooking up anything special for the holidays?

Wendy_Williams1) WENDY WILLIAMS

Have there been any big changes in your life since we last spoke?
Yes, I’ve spent less time at my desk and more time travelling since the publication of my book, The Globalisation of Love. Given the title, I guess I should have expected it.

Where will you be spending the holidays this year?
Since I have “gone native” in Austria, I will be skiing during the holidays. Yipppeeee!

What do you most look forward to eating?
I most look forward to eating a Germknödel, which is a big ball of dough filled with plum sauce and covered in melted butter. Apparently, it has 1,000 calories and I savour every last one. If no one is looking, I lick the plate.

Can you recommend any books you came across in 2012 that speak to the displaced life?

  1. A Nile Adventure — cruising and other stories, by Kim Molyneaux — a light-hearted story of one family’s journey to and adventures in Egypt, both ancient and modern.
  2. Mint Tea to Maori Tattoo!, by Carolina Veranen-Phillips, an account from a fearless female backpacker — is there anywhere she hasn’t been?!
  3. Secrets of a Summer Village, by Saskia Akyil: an intercultural coming-of-age novel for young adults, but a cute read for adults, too.

Have you made any New Year’s resolutions for 2013?
More time with friends & family and more writing, the two of which are completely counter-productive in my case.

Any upcoming travel plans?
I am only happy when I have a plane ticket in my pocket so there are always trips planned. Didn’t René Descartes write, “I travel, therefore I am” — or something like that? The year will start with Germany, Ukraine, Spain and Canada.

SuzanneKamata_festive2) SUZANNE KAMATA

Have there been any big changes in your life since we last spoke?
I sold my debut YA novel, Gadget Girl: The Art of Being Invisible, about a biracial (Japanese/American) girl who travels to Paris with her sculptor Mom, to GemmaMedia. It will be published in May 2013. I was also honored to receive a grant for my work-in-progress, a mother/daughter travel memoir, from the Sustainable Arts Foundation.

How will you be spending the holidays?
We are planning a little jaunt to Osaka between Christmas and New Year’s, but mostly, we’ll be staying at home.

What’s the thing you most look forward to eating?
I’m looking forward to eating fried chicken and Christmas cake, which is what we traditionally have here in Japan on Christmas Eve. There are all kinds of Christmas cakes, but my family likes the kind made of ice cream.

Can you recommend any books you came across in 2012 that speak to the displaced life?

  1. The Girl with Borrowed Wings is a beautifully written contemporary paranormal novel featuring a biracial Third Culture Kid. The author herself, Rinsai Rossetti, is a TCK. She wrote this book when she was a student at Dartmouth. It’s unique and lovely and captures that in-between feeling of those who live in lots of different countries.
  2. I also enjoyed I Taste Fire, Earth, Rain: Elements of a Life with a Sherpa, by Caryl Sherpa, an American woman who went on a round-the-world trip and fell in love with a Sherpa while trekking in Nepal.
  3. Oh, and Harlot’s Sauce: A Memoir of Food, Family, Love, Loss, and Greece, by Patricia Volonakis Davis.

Do you have any New Year’s resolutions for 2013?
Hmmm. Exercise more (same as last year). Also, I resolve to finish a draft of my next novel.

Last but not least, any upcoming travel plans?
Yes! I’m planning on taking my daughter to Paris.

Jeff at Turkish Embassy3) JEFF JUNG

Have there been any big changes in your life since we last spoke?
Since the interview, I launched my first book, The Career Break Traveler’s Handbook. It’s available online at most major book stores in both print and e-versions. And, we’re on the verge of launching Season 1 of our TV show, The Career Break Travel Show, internationally. It includes adventures in South Africa, Spain, New Zealand and Patagonia. We’re just waiting for the new channel to launch.

How will you be spending the holidays this year?
After spending a quiet Christmas in Bogotá, I’ll head off to Washington, DC for my best friend’s wedding on New Year’s Eve. Then I’m off to Texas to see my parents for about ten days.

What’s the thing you most look forward to eating?
As far as food goes, I’m most looking forward to turkey and my dad’s award-winning BBQ.

Can you recommend any books you came across in 2012 that speak to the displaced life?
This year I read Dream. Save. Do., by Betsy and Warren Talbot. It’s a great book to help people achieve whatever goal they have.

Speaking of goals, any New Year’s resolutions for 2013?
Personally, I need to drop a bit of weight. I spent too much time writing and editing in 2012! Professionally, I want to see The Career Break Travel Show find its audience so we can head out to film Season 2!

Last but not least, any exciting travel plans?
I plan to travel for the filming of our second season (countries still to be determined). I also have the chance to go to Romania to volunteer at a bear rescue with Oyster Worldwide. It’ll be a mini-career break for me. I can’t wait.

* * *

Readers, this lot seems just as productive, if not more so, than the last one! Any questions for them — don’t you want to know their secret?

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post by the Displaced Nation’s agony aunt, Mary-Sue — she wraps up 2012 by paying a visit to several of this year’s questioners: did they take her advice?!

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Images: Passport photo from Morguefiles; portrait photos are from the nomads.

LESSONS FROM TWO SMALL ISLANDS — 5) Keep calm and pour some tea

Teatime CollageDecember greetings, everyone! Can you see us twinkling? The Displaced Nation wants to be part of your Festival of Lights this December — a source of brightness and enLIGHTenment during the dark days of winter. (Unless, of course, you reside in the Southern Hemisphere, in which case, you should be helping all of us to feel brighter!)

But before we get to that — Kate Allison will be delivering some tips tomorrow on generating holiday cheer regardless of location — do you fancy what the Brits would call a cuppa?

If you said no, that you’d prefer coffee or cold beverage, I suspect you may be a compatriot of mine. Once upon a time, I was an American like you — I didn’t drink any caffeinated beverages apart from Diet Coke. But then I traveled to Europe and Asia, and now I can’t imagine a life without tea. As the Chinese lady who owns Ching Ching Cha, a traditional Chinese tea house in Georgetown, DC, once remarked to me, when I told her how much I’d grown to like tea from my travels: “For me, tea is a way of life.”

Those who already know what I’m talking about may read no further. But for the unconvinced, here are 10 lessons I learned while living in two major tea-drinking nations, Britain and Japan, for many years. (If you’re the bucket-list-keeping type, think of it is as 10 reasons to develop a tea-drinking habit before you die!)

1) Even if coffee is more your cup of tea, so to speak, give tea a chance.

Coffee is great for that jolt to the system. One of its most effective uses, apart from first thing in the morning when you’re going to work, is for the jet lag that occurs after a really long international flight — say between the United States and Japan. (Japanese, btw, love coffee as much as the English do — and perhaps thanks to German influence, can make an even better cup than anyone in the UK or the USA.) But unlike coffee, tea is what keeps you going day in day out, putting one foot in front of the other. It’s the sustenance beverage for the marathon known as life.

2) I mean tea, not tisanes.

I apologize to those expats who’ve spent their formative years in France. I have nothing against those herbal drinks with medicinal qualities. I just think it would be a shame to miss out on the kind of caffeine that tea has to offer — the kind that produces sustained mental alertness. Not to mention tea’s own medicinal qualities — all of those lovely antioxidants. Why do you think the Japanese live so long, with all their bad habits of smoking, drinking to excess and overwork? Likewise, the English writer, George Orwell, was able to sustain himself on cups of tea when living “down and out” in Paris and London.

3) Tea has a special role to play in the holiday season.

It’s the perfect libation to help you recover when your feet are aching after a full day of shopping and wrapping gifts (surely, the bane of any adult female’s existence this time of year!) or when you think your hand will drop off if you have to write one more Christmas card. It’s also the perfect drink to serve, because so convivial and relaxing, when meeting up with friends or family you haven’t seen in a long time.

4) Tea is a primary aid for developing a more stoical attitude towards life.

As explained in the very first post in this series, I found it a bit of a challenge to adapt to the brand of stoicism-cum-fatalism both of these small islands, England and Japan, have cultivated over the centuries. But the day I worked out the connection between tea-drinking and stoicism marked the beginning of the end of my struggle. If only I’d paid closer attention to Orwell, who said:

All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes.

5) Tea may also be the key to a philosophical approach to life.

The process of drinking a cuppa slows you down for long enough to clear your head of pressing thoughts and work out what is important. Strangely, I found Brits to be almost as insistent on the importance of a regular tea-drinking habit as the Japanese — even though it’s the latter who are renowned for their Zen approach to tea. Take these words of Rudyard Kipling’s, for example:

We haven’t had any tea for a week…
The bottom is out of the Universe

It reads like a haiku, doesn’t it? Certainly, his sentiments are not far removed from the Japanese proverb:

If man has no tea in him, he is incapable of understanding truth and beauty.

6) The rituals are just as important as the tea itself.

After nearly a decade of living in Britain, I had it all down to a fine art: boiling water to serve tea, heating the pot, putting the milk in the cup first, and pouring the tea without spilling. To this day, I cannot imagine making a pot of tea without pouring hot water in it first to heat the pot. The water and the pot need to be at the right temperature to brew the tea properly. Imagine the affront I experienced upon returning to this country and being served a cup of either semi-warm water or boiling water with a Lipton’s tea bag on the side. And though I found some of the Japanese tea-drinking rituals a bit obscure, especially those related to the tea ceremony — twirl the cup around three times, really? — I still took delight in the spectacle.

7) Tea should be served with something sweet.

“Tea and biccies, anyone?” as they say in England — usually meaning the chocolate-coated digestive biscuits. And the perfect way to offset the super bitter green tea (macha) of the Japanese tea ceremony is with the almost sickeningly sweet kashi and wagashi — confections that are usually served beforehand. A tad of sugar helps this most medicinal of teas go down. Not only that but it’s a beautiful combination, as anyone who has sampled green tea ice cream, by now a classic flavor, will attest.

8) Tea should be served in an aesthetically pleasing cup — never paper or plastic!

Part of the pleasure of taking tea at Fortnum & Mason’s or the Ritz is the bone china it is served in. If the world had a treasure chest, surely it would contain a full set of Wedgwood or Royal Doulton? In Japan, by contrast, it is the roughness and imperfection of the tea cup that provides aesthetic pleasure, or, if you’re drinking Western tea (usually served with lemon, not milk), the sheen of a fine china tea cup — either English (Wedgwood Wild Strawberry is very popular there) or a Japanese version (eg, Noritake). Can’t be bothered with china? At the very least, make your tea in a proper mug.

9) Tea is the ultimate social drink.

Perhaps the British writer known as Saki (yes, he was born in the Far East) put it best when he wrote:

Find yourself a cup of tea; the teapot is behind you. Now tell me about hundreds of things.

Japanese may not be as fond of having a natter when they take tea; nevertheless, they see it as a custom that fosters social harmony.

10) No one should ever be too busy for a tea break.

My fellow Americans, are you still with me? This pointer is particularly for you — particularly those of you who are always crazy busy — although as Tim Kreider pointed out on the New York Times‘s Opinionator blog, it’s often not clear why what you’re doing is so important. Perhaps if you took time out for a regular tea break, you would slow down a bit — see 5) — and find an escape from your self-imposed “busy trap.”

****

And now I must leave you as the clock says ten to three — only, is there still honey for my tea?

Readers, do you agree that tea may be the answer? Or is this just another of my moonbat pronouncements that’s put you in need of a strong cup of Joe?!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post from Kate Allison.

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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Img: Collage made of two photos available on Flickr via Creative Commons: (left) “High tea,” by John Heaven, and “Japanese tea ceremony,” by JoshBerglund19.

DEAR MARY-SUE: 6 jolly holiday tips for expats (& other global wanderers)

Image courtesy of bulldogza / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of bulldogza / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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

Woo! That’s Thanksgiving over and I am still full to busting. Oh readers, your Mary-Sue has been one greedy piggy, she is one stuffed turkey — but it was all worth it as she had a lovely time with her family. Yes, she is one mucho happy Mary-Sue.

My oldest child and middle child were back home for the holidays and so I got to feed them and my three lovely grandkids — bliss. Even my youngest was able to extract himself from World of Warcraft and his basement room to join us for dinner.

We had a great time watching Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade on NBC. Other than the Kermit balloon, my favorite part was watching those delightful Kidz Bop Kids sing on a float. Don’t you just want to feed their adorable little faces full of cranberries and mashed potatoes? I do!

And then there’s Matt Lauer hosting the parade. Mmmmh, mmmmh. I know what I am giving thanks for this year. . . Matt’s dreamy eyes. After watching SkyFall this weekend, I think that when Daniel Craig hangs up his tux, Matt’s the guy to replace him. Not only has he got the looks, but you believe he can kill a man. . . with his bare arms!

Anyhoo, enough with my wild thoughts and on with all your problems!

Based on the thousands of similar questions I receive this time of year, this time I am doing something a little different, spicing things up, by issuing a list of six tips for any of you expats and others out there who find the holidays befuddling.

Here we go! Mary-Sue’s top 6 tips for having an amazing holiday!

1) FOOD — BE CREATIVE WITH YOUR LEFTOVERS

Dear Mary-Sue,

We are still trying to work out what to do with all this leftover turkey from our first American Thanksgiving. We’ve got turkey sandwiches coming out of our ears at this point. Can you think of anything more creative?

– A Swedish family in New England

Yes, nothing gets you out of the holiday spirit than eating dreary leftovers. Try and think outside the box. Why just have the leftovers for food? That’s the sort of dreary thinking of a Rachel Ray. Sandwiches, curry, it’s all boring. What you could do with your leftover turkey is use it to make an arts and craft project. It’s a great way of getting the kids or grandkids involved in the holidays, too. Think of the turkey carcass as your canvas and really go to town on it with some acrylic paint. Or why not take that turkey and make a seasonal ottoman with it — the perfect way to put your feet up while watching Hallmark Christmas movies!  

*****************************************************************

2) WEATHER — HOW TO GET THAT CHRISTMAS FEELING

Dear Mary-Sue,

I’m finally in the Northern hemisphere for Christmas, and it doesn’t feel much different than this time of year in Perth, where I come from in Australia. Temps have yet to get below freezing; and as I’m sure you know, we had a hurricane in late October.

Sigh! Will I ever be able to have a white Christmas?

- Aussie in Baltimore

Living in Oklahoma, I can relate to this. To really get that fun, cosy Christmas feeling when temps aren’t as low as you would like, do what I do: wear tops that expose your midriff. When you get a kidney chill, that’s when you know you’re doing things right.

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3) ROMANCE — FOR A TRULY GREAT HOLIDAY, KEEP THINGS ROMANTIC

Dear Mary-Sue,

My Japanese girlfriend keeps hinting that I should give her a ring on Christmas Eve. By that I don’t mean a telephone call but a diamond. I told her I’m not Japanese (they have a thing about getting engaged at the end of the year), but she says Christmas engagements are also popular in the West.

Actually I always thought of her as my iki jibiki (walking dictionary — Japanese is an extremely difficult language), but if I do decide to get engaged, should I be using their cultural norms? What’s wrong with her learning ours?

Then again, there is the Cold Stone Christmas Cake I could get…

- American in Tokyo

Ah, nothing like getting pressurized into a proposal — that always works out for all involved. I like this Cold Stone Christmas cake idea, but I suggest you do an old-school version of it. I know that it is traditional in England to hide coins in the Christmas pudding and then a child eating the pudding either chokes to death, cuts open their mouth or ends up a penny richer. I suggest you do something like that and hide the ring deep into a seasonal, suet-y pudding. If she chokes, breaks any teeth or cuts her mouth, then you’ll know it wasn’t meant to be, and can renege on the proposal.

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4) GIFTS — DON’T BE A SCROOGE McDUCK

Dear Mary-Sue,

I was looking forward to being in the US instead of the UK for Christmas as I thought it might mean buying fewer gifts for friends and relations, but now I learn that everyone expects a hand-out in New York City, from the doorman to the garage guy to the hairdresser. Who knew? And how much do I owe all these people I don’t know?

- Newbie British expat in New York

You can give them an actual gift instead of money. I find signed copies of my book (“Treat Every Day Like It Counts. . .because it does” by Mary-Sue Wallace, published by PublishAmerica) and a signed, framed photograph does the trick. Don’t have your own book published? That’s okay, you can just give them a copy of mine.  

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5) TRAVEL — USE THE HOLIDAYS TO VISIT FAMILY

Dear Mary-Sue,

We are expats in Singapore, and my husband thinks we should use the week off between Christmas and New Year’s to travel within Southeast Asia, instead of going home to the United States to be with our families. But isn’t that what Christmas is about — family? And how can we possibly celebrate Christmas in a non-Christian country?

- The better half of an American exec in Singapore (we’re originally from Georgia)

Actually, it’s about baby Jesus, not your family in Georgia. However, I begrudgingly take your point that it’s nice to be with your family when thinking about baby J.C. You can travel to your family over the holidays, not away from them.  

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6) HOLIDAY ENTERTAINMENT — WHEREVER YOU ARE IN THE WORLD, CONSULT YOUR LOCAL LISTINGS

Dear Mary-Sue,

I’m an American in the UK and would like to experience the best of Christmas/New Year’s traditions here. Besides Scrooge, what are they?

- Linda of London

I live in Tulsa, OK. Do they not have Time Out in London? They probably have some tradition with those Beefeaters at the Tower. Yeah, they eat beef at the Tower every Christmas Eve. It’s a very quaint ceremony — be sure to go to it — or, whatever.

* * *

That’s your dose of Mary-Sue for November. God bless y’all!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s Random Nomad, a chap who is ever-thankful for his expat lifestyle.

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THE DISPLACED Q: Expats, repats, what’s the most outlandish tweak you’ve made to your Thanksgiving menu?

Since my repatriation to America, Thanksgiving has become my very favorite holiday here. This is partly because of a tweak that I make to the menu, but we’ll get to that later.

I wasn’t always so thankful for Thanksgiving. I only celebrated this American holiday twice while living abroad for many years, first in England and then in Japan — and to be honest, I didn’t really miss it.

Both celebrations took place when I was pursuing graduate studies at a British university.

The first time was for my very first Thanksgiving away from my family. I joined several other American grad students in preparing a traditional Thanksgiving dinner to serve in the dorm. Our guests were mostly other international students who were curious to experience an authentic version of this quintessentially American custom — as I recall, there were very few Brits.

At one point, a rather bitter argument erupted between Anna, a Harvard-educated woman who was pursuing a higher degree in feminist studies, and Andy, a Georgetown-educated man who was doing an M.A. in politics.

Andy didn’t like the fact that Anna was carving the turkey, proclaiming to the assembled guests:

It can’t be Thanksgiving if a WOMAN is carving the turkey.

I don’t really remember what happened after that — whether Andy insisted upon taking over, or Anna stormed out of the room. But it did cast a bit of a pall over the proceedings.

The food, though, was a close facsimile to the meals I’d enjoyed at home. And the arguing part? That was something I could relate to as well.

And there was snow, which we could see through the huge dorm windows, covering the panoramic Constable (literally) landscape below.

Thanksgiving-on-the-Hill

The only other time occurred a few years later, when an American friend came to live in North London on a teaching exchange with the Harrow School.

He, too, was spending his first Thanksgiving away from home, so decided to host a potluck Thanksgiving dinner in his living quarters.

Again, I think the food was good, but as I recall, the guests, most of whom were English, thought that potluck was a funny way to do a formal dinner. And the setting wasn’t exactly conducive to re-creating a New World feast. Walking from Harrow-on-the-Hill station, we passed by boys in the quaint Harrow uniform, including black ties (allegedly they are still in mourning for Queen Victoria!).

My Thankgiving-less years

After that rather harrowing (sorry, couldn’t resist) experience, I stopped doing Thanksgiving. I married a Brit and we invariably went to his family for Christmas dinner, which — probably not coincidentally — resembles the Thanksgiving meal enjoyed by the Pilgrims. Turkey is the most popular main, cranberry sauce and all. (No pumpkin pie, though!)

Even when we moved to Japan, where there were more Americans, I didn’t reinstate the custom. It seemed too much like hard work competing at the international grocery stores for vastly overpriced frozen turkeys (specially imported for the occasion) and cans of pumpkin.

What’s more — and I probably should have mentioned this earlier — I’ve never been especially keen on turkey. Once, when I was an early teen, I got food poisoning from an undercooked bird, a memory I’ve found hard to erase.

Something else I forgot to mention is that although I enjoy cooking, I’m not a roaster or a baker. I have never achieved the requisite culinary skills to produce a Thanksgiving dinner on my lonesome — even to this day, when I’m living in the U.S. again.

Nor did I especially enjoy the production such a big meal entails. If I’m going to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, I’d prefer to be producing something a little less bland than a roasted turkey, such as a Madhur Jaffrey Indian spread.

New thought: Maybe going abroad gave me the chance to escape from Thanksgiving? I wonder…

Giving thanks for Thanksgiving…but for one tweak!

So it is strange, the inordinate fondness I now have for this late November holiday. I like it because, unlike Christmas, it’s secular, so you don’t have to hesitate in wishing someone a happy Thanksgiving. It’s also less commercial, consisting primarily of an elegant meal with family and friends (I’m good at tuning out football).

I even enjoy eating turkey more than I used to — especially the dark meat. According to the Wall Street Journal, it’s the sides that American people sometimes tweak. But I like the sides. My absolute favorites are the stuffing and mashed potatoes, in that order.

All of that said, I do feel compelled to make one major tweak because of my hybrid background. Instead of turkey sandwiches the day after, I prefer chirashi-turkey-zushi!!!

Chirashi is Japanese for “scattered” — a scattered bowl of assorted fresh ingredients. Most likely you have tried chirashizushi: a bowl of sushi rice topped with a variety of sashimi (raw fish) and other garnishes. (See #2 in the photo.)

What my (second) husband, who is Japanese, and I like to do, on the day after Thanksgiving, is to substitute leftover turkey for the raw fish.

Chirashi-turkey-zushi is tasty, fast, and easy to make — particularly if you can get ahold of:

  • microwavable Japanese rice (use two or three packets for four people)
  • chirashi seasoning mix, containing five vegetables — typically, carrots, lotus, bamboo shoots, and shiitake mushrooms — sushi vinegar, seasoning, and nori (seaweed).
  • Kizami nori (shredded seaweed), to use as a topping.

There are no hard and fast rules as long as you get the seasoning right. And in my (admittedly rather biased) view, turkey goes as well with that seasoning as raw fish does!

* * *

Okay, your turn to tell me: what’s your idiosyncratic contribution to America’s national feast? Or if you’re not American, what do you do to internationalize your native festive spreads this time of year? I’m all ears, and tastebuds…!

STAY TUNED for another Thanksgiving post, by guest blogger Kristin Bair O’Keeffe.

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A veteran of the expat life, I thought I knew displacement…but then along came Hurricane Sandy!

The topic of today’s post is Hurricane Sandy. We’ll get to that soon. But first I want to tell you how I’m feeling today, one week after this monster storm struck.

I’m feeling like Joy in the Flannery O’Connor short story, “Good Country People.”

Joy — in fact, she calls herself “Hulga” in an act of rebellion against her simple-minded mother. With a Ph.D. in philosophy, Joy fancies herself the intellectual superior of her mother and the rest of the country bumpkins around them. (Although 32, she still lives at home because of being handicapped — a childhood hunting accident cost her one of her legs.)

But Joy’s advanced degree doesn’t help one iota when, out of the blue, a Bible salesman pays them a visit. In fact he’s a con man and cons Joy into giving him her prosthetic leg. For all her smarts, Joy is left stranded in the barn loft, immobilized.

I’ll tell you something — you ain’t so smart!

As one of the founders of the Displaced Nation — and as a long-time expat who has now repatriated to my native U.S. — I thought I knew displacement. I even considered myself something of an expert on the feelings one has when living in someone else’s place instead of your own.

But did this background in displacement help me at all when, like Joy/Hulga, I met my nemesis, Hurricane Sandy? Sandy left me, along with my husband and our two dogs, stranded without power, water or communications for four whole days.

Instead of sophisticated urbanites, my husband and I were no better than cave dwellers, Neanderthals. Our daily routine entailed going up dark stairwells, through dark halls and into a dark apartment, where we would gather around the fire (our gas stove still worked) and make tea and cobble together some dinner from the food that would otherwise spoil (but without opening the fridge door too much).

No longer seeing the light

I will never forget the moment the lights went off, and we were plunged into this unreal netherworld. We were eating chicken pot pie and Greek salad when it happened. I’d made us a proper dinner thinking that even though Frankenstorm’s monster was on its way, we may as well “keep calm and carry on” — a lesson I’d mastered from living on two other small islands before Manhattan: England and Japan.

We kept calm enough and carried on for the rest of that evening. After finishing the meal, we headed down one floor with our trusty flashlights to the apartment of another couple, with whom I’d communicated just before the blackout. Another couple from a higher floor joined us.

The six of us sat around a flashlight — that was the closest we could get to simulating a camp fire — and kept each other entertained while waiting out the storm.

“Bailing” out

The next day, however, the excitement of camping out in the city wore off rather quickly, especially as we no longer had any water. I’d followed the advice of the Weather Channel and filled the bathtub — but it’s no fun stumbling about in the dark to get a pan full of water when you need to flush the toilet.

It is also no fun going up and down 12 flights of stairs with two dogs in a pitch-dark stairwell, made only slightly brighter by your average flashlight. Note to self: Get one of the those miners-style flashlight headbands for the next time. Dorky they may be, but it’s so much easier to have two hands available.

After three days, like most East Villagers, we bailed — something I’m not very proud of, but my office (at Columbia University) had opened again and I was having a dickens of a time getting there and back using buses — there were no subways running.

A kind colleague with a spare room made an offer we couldn’t refuse. She doesn’t mind dogs (has one herself).

What have I learned from being — literally — displaced?

So, is “displacement” a good metaphor for international travel and the expat life? Does it hold water, so to speak?

Here are three quick lessons I’ve derived from the experience:

1) You know all those expat sites that talk about developing resilience? Well, that’s not such a crackpot notion after all, when it comes to real displacement. Now, I was never someone who admired the Brits for their stiff upper lip, or the Japanese for their gaman. But I ended up imbibing these traits by osmosis, as explained in a previous post — and I’m so glad I did.

New Yorkers like to brag about how great they are at weathering crises, but in this particular instance, they seemed like a bunch of wimps! (They were far more stoical in the wake of 9/11.)

Take for instance the downtown fashion set — including Anna Wintour, Carine Roitfeld, Pat McGrath and Marc Jacobs — and celebs like Naomi Watts and Liev Schrieber. As the Wall Street Journal reported, they immediately sought refuge in the Mark Hotel on E. 77th St., to await the return of power and water and normalcy.

The younger crowd, led by Emma Watson, were at the Carlyle.

C’mon, guys, I got through three nights!

Another prime example were the bus drivers who refused to take any of us cave dwellers south of 26th St. because it was “too dark.”

As a result of their intransigence, I found myself walking down nearly 20 blocks of darkened streets in the company of another East Villager — a young woman from New Orleans who’d already had the misfortune of having been evacuated during Hurricane Katrina. Two flashlights are better than one under these circumstances, and together we dodged rogue vehicles that were taking advantage of the no-traffic-lights chaos. All for the pleasure of, in my case, climbing up 12 flights of stairs to my little cave. Gaman shita.

2) My priorities are in the wrong place. As it turns out, I’d be better off doing fewer blog posts on developing a “core” of self while living abroad and more Pilates, developing an actual core. This is of course assuming I continue to live a dozen flights up in a high-rise apartment building.

Likewise, I’ve been placing too great a priority on hyper-communications. Even though I’m the first to feel offended when someone texts while I’m talking to them, I can’t describe how elated I felt when I at last managed to exchange texts with outside world.

When I was an expat, I could be happy in my own company for days on end. What happened?

3) I’m not sure it matters if you’re at home or abroad when you become forcibly displaced. I used to think differently, as I pointed out in my post about what happens when reality bites for expats.

But as it turns out, displacement is a God-awful experience no matter where you happen to be — and in some ways, being able to understand the language and the culture makes it worse.

You’re planning to hold the New York City marathon, Mayor Bloomberg, really? I can’t tell you how agitated I became upon hearing that announcement. Yes, I knew it meant a colossal loss of income to the city. But at a time when many of us were leading disrupted lives, did we need yet another reminder that life goes on uptown, where no one really suffered?

And did any of us really want an influx of entitled outsiders into the city at a time when our own people are in need?

Thank goodness he saw sense in the end and called the thing off.

And don’t get me started on the debates we ought to be having — but won’t — on climate change as well as the need to re-engineer New York’s waterfront to withstand storms of this nature. I feel incensed — not so much because of what I’ve personally endured, but on behalf of the some 40,000 New Yorkers who are still displaced.

* * *

Readers, do you have any Sandy experiences, impressions, or insights to share? Do tell! People who are truly displaced love community! And please hurry! They’re forecasting a northeaster on Wednesday. When it rains, it pours…

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, a poll about, of all things, expat voting…

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Image: MorgueFile

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