The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

Tag Archives: Love love love

CULTURE SHOCK TOOLBOX: Expats, don’t throw away your old coping tools—they may come in handy for your new life abroad

For her column this month, transitions enthusiast H.E. Rybol interviews displaced creative Jessica Lipowski about her culture shock memories and coping strategies.

June 2015 Jessica Libowksi Culture Shock Toolbox
Hello, Displaced Nationers! I’m excited to introduce you to road-less-traveled (#TRLT) buff and foodie Jessica Lipowski. Originally from Detroit, Michigan, Jessica moved to Amsterdam in February 2011 to be with her Dutch boyfriend, Matthijs. She has worked in a variety of jobs related to travel and is currently writing a non-fiction book that documents the stories of 83 entrepreneurs from 50 different countries who live in Amsterdam. They all have in common that they own restaurants in the city.

Jessica, who appreciates Amsterdam’s wide range of cuisines, has developed a curiosity about how all of these people ended up in the same industry, in the same city and with similar passions. As she writes on her site:

Why Amsterdam and how did so many people from every corner of the world end up in this small capital city? What drew them to the land of tulips and windmills?

But our focus today is not these expat restauranteurs but Jessica herself. While sampling Amsterdam’s rich cultural stew, has she ever had to put down her spoon owing to culture shock? And what tools did she use to restore her appetite?

* * *

Hi, Jessica, and welcome to the Displaced Nation. Can you tell us a little about your background?

I am originally from the United States, born and raised in the metropolitan Detroit area. I spent the first 23 years of my life in Michigan, apart from the two summer internships I completed in Washington D.C. In February 2011, I moved to the Netherlands and have resided in Amsterdam for the past four years.

In the context of transitioning from the United States into Europe, did you ever put your foot in your mouth? Can you share any memorable stories?

While working in sales and marketing for an online group travel platform, I often had to attend business meetings and conferences in Europe. I was a regular at one of these events, which took place four to six times a year. I soon developed a friendship with another regular, a Dutch woman, whom I’d always look forward to seeing. On one occasion when we met, she complimented me on the dress I was wearing. I thanked her and then, as I leaned in to share with her where I purchased the dress (I wanted to tell her I’d paid a relatively cheap price), she cut me off and said: “Oh, Jessica, you should never tell someone details like that.” I honestly thought she would appreciate hearing my story, but it turned out to be the kind of information that is supposed to be shared only with close friends.

I got a bargain! Shhh... Photos via Pixabay.

I got a bargain! Shhh… Photo credits: “Street signs of the nine Straatjes” on Wikimedia by JSpijer via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0); other two photos via Pixabay.

What lessons can you offer to the rest of us from this story?

Instead of being offended, I smiled and apologized. I told my Dutch business acquaintance how much I appreciated that she’d corrected me, and I meant it sincerely, as it would keep me from making the same mistake again in future. I think a smile and an apology can go a long way in such situations. Of course it might have helped if I’d done more research beforehand on social customs and norms in various European countries. But if you haven’t done your research, then don’t be too proud to rely on business colleagues or local friends for advice.

Looking back on your transition from the United States to Holland, can you recall any situations that you handled with surprising finesse?

I surprised myself with my commitment to learning Dutch. My first exposure to the language occurred when I met Matthijs, who is now my partner. When we started dating, I used Rosetta Stone intermittently; but then, once I made the move to Holland, I started taking private lessons once a week. Expats can get by quite easily in Amsterdam speaking just English as the Dutch start learning English at a young age and many speak the language quite well. However, I felt it was important to learn Dutch so that I could speak it with my partner’s family. It’s not easy but can be done. It all comes down to practice, practice, practice.

If you had to give advice to someone who just moved to a new country, what’s the tool you’d tell them to develop first and why?

I guess it would be pack some of your old tools. Because one of the most important things to do when you first arrive is to establish a routine. A routine will help you settle into a new country and feel at home. For instance, if you used to work out or do yoga, search for a gym or studio. Or maybe you always looked forward to grabbing a cup of coffee on the way to work. So find a favorite coffee house en route. Did you used to have an active social circle? Then make a point of joining a local meet-up group, a sports team, classes or other activities where it’s relatively easy to make friends and develop a support system. It will make the transition that much easier.

Thank you so much, Jessica, for taking the time to share your culture shock stories with us. Leaning on local friends for advice and re-establishing small personal rituals or routines: those are two nifty tools that can ease the initial stress of changing countries.

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Jessica’s advice? Have you ever found yourself in a situation in your life abroad where you thought, “I should have done more research”? Do tell!

If you like what you heard from Jessica, be sure to check out her writer’s site and/or follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Well, hopefully this has you “fixed” until next month.

Until then. Prost! Santé!

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

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation—and much, much more! Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related post:

WONDERLANDED: “Can you make me a Manhattan?” by A. Spaice

Can you make me a Manhattan Collage

Drink a Manhattan at Eat Me in Bangkok. Photo credit: “Alice 15,” by AForestFrolic via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Eat Me Restaurant, Bangkok; Manhattan cocktail via Pixabay.

A couple of days ago, we wonder-landed in Phnom Penh with serial expat writer, artist and sometime photographer A. Spaice. She told us falling down rabbit holes in Europe and Asia has sparked her imagination in untold ways—not least by convincing her that a Mad Hatter’s tea Party would not be complete without champagne and an opera singer.

Spaice ended her musings on the expat writer’s life on this fittingly dramatic note:

Knowing it’s the connection that I write for now, instead of the “art,” I’m moving into a different channel. I trust this current, because it feels good. It moves, it flows. Sometimes, when I’m lucky, it even likes to dance.

Today she offers a sample of her work that seeks to connect with others who have wonder-landed and lived to tell the story—whether in words, photos, or other forms of creative expression. It’s an except from her short book Bangkok, which she produced as a kind of roman à clef after taking a trip from her current home of Phnom Penh to the Thai capital. Bangkok marks the first in an unconventional short book series she is planning, titled n+1.

Cover art for Bangkok, by A. Plaice.

Cover art for Bangkok, by A. Spaice

* * *

Excerpt from Bangkok

The story principally concerns Karin Malhotra’s attempt to reconnect with an old female friend in Bangkok, Thailand, the Land of Smiles, only to discover they are no longer that compatible. But in this passage, Karin is about to meet someone new, another displaced creative, a magazine editor who has professed an interest in her work…

“CAN YOU MAKE ME A MANHATTAN?” I asked, truly wondering. “Of course.” This was supposed to be the best bar on this side of Bangkok, according to the gay couple that seemed like good people to ask the day before. I wanted a comfortable place. Not too conspicuous, not too loud. But I didn’t expect it to have the kind of name it did. Eat Me.

Still, the guy from the magazine had said “yes,” to meet me there. I muttered something about the name and how I’d heard about it from a bunch of people (two being a bunch) and thought it could work for a conversation space.

He was taller than I’d pictured, and seemed like he might have been French, because of the two-kiss thing that the Europeans like to do when they meet you for the first time. For some reason, he was extremely close to the lips on the second one, but that was kind of flattering, in a way, because he had a rich dark musty scent and I rather liked it.

“So,” he said. “You’re Karin Malhotra. We meet at last.”

At last? Hadn’t we just talked online like, twice? Business conversation making, that was the agenda today.

“Tell me about what you do.”

Oh, boy. Here it was. The test. I hadn’t really prepared for this. I was going to have to wing it. Really, at the end of the day, pretty much everything good that’s come to my life has come of winging it, I realized. With that thought in the forefront of my mind, I got into character. “I make space. I know that might sound odd, but I was meant to be an architect. Designing physical spaces with bricks and glass and maybe new materials but not concrete because in Kyoto I got a giant magazine with Tadao Ando teahouses all in these sad greys which got me depressed for a while because the ones they have in northern Thailand, Chiang Mai and stuff? They have these lovely bamboo colors and textures and earth tones. Which is better. Anyway, I didn’t become an architect for lots of reasons, the biggest one being that I don’t like projects that take more than three or four months to finish. With books, you know, you can take years to write books, but I got into eBooks and nothing more than like a two-hour read, you know? People like that. Short and sweet.”


“People like it because we are so time-poor right now. Modern people, that is. I’m talking about the malaise of the Western progressive world, where we have books and medicine but we have nothing to get happy about because our souls aren’t nourished properly in the time we’re growing up.

“What I’ve been doing, what I’ve just started since putting the brakes on my own design studio, which you’ll never believe this but is the second time I’ve done that. The first time I just felt compelled to do the same thing again, when we moved from Seattle to Durham NC. Durham is in North Carolina. Have you been there?”

“No. I rarely go to America. I can’t say that I’d ever want to live there, and visiting is a trial.”

“So you’re actually from…”


Oh. Memories of college.



A bottle of Sauvignon blanc.

“Yes, I knew someone from your country once.” I stammered. I wanted to forget about that, but you can’t really forget about those ones you fall for at first sight. Why was I talking about that, though? That was weird. “He was a colleague.” A lie. But… so?

“Where did you work together?”

Shite. I was going to have to keep going with this one? “Oh, just a small firm in Tokyo. They did architecture, but had a base in Los Angeles. I thought I’d make it to Los Angeles because I knew my husband was big into the West Coast, drier air and all. But we wound up in Seattle. It took a while to get there from our time in Japan, though.”

“I love Japanese teas, they are the best.”

“I prefer Darjeeling to everything, personally. But I do love those whisks from those places they have in Kyoto.”

“Are your genetics from India?”

Wow. That was a first. No one put it that way before. Are my genetics from India?

“Yes,” I said. Not barking at them that I’m from the outskirts of Detroit. I hate the where-are-you-from question but I still ask other people, for some reason. I guess it’s habit? Smalltalk.

My bar companion brushed his dark brown hair with his hand, and I noticed that it had a few stray grays. This was interesting. When did I ever think men with gray hair could be attractive? This was news. Maybe it had something to do with turning almost-forty. A round number.

“I have never been to India,” said Glenn. He had a really long last name that I couldn’t pronounce, much less remember to spell. What was the custom in Austria when greeting someone? Was it two kisses like the French, or three like the Swiss? I tried to remember how it had been in those couple of weeks with

“But I intend to go. This winter, in fact.” Glenn was all business, and that reminded me to focus. Not on his hair and his hands and his blue eyes, so puzzlingly deep, but the agenda. “I have to get more writers from that part of the world.”

“You do?”

“Yes. We want to diversify the magazine. It’s far too European for its own good. I really want to bring in some new voices. From afar. From the East. That’s why I contacted you. You seem to have… an Indian-sounding name. I’m sorry… I guess I just assumed…”

“Oh, that’s fine,” I said, waving it away. The truth was it wasn’t fine. Why did my stupid name have to make me into an Indian person automatically? I’d been there enough times to know that the gender bias there is ridiculous and horrid and people aren’t nice within their families, especially to daughters. Goodness knows I’d put up with enough of that growing up with my mother. My complicit brother and father, standing by while she’d hurl psychological abuse upon stones. I hated thinking about those days, and pushed aside the thought as if it were one of Glenn’s locks. I had to stop myself from reaching out to touch his crown, to see if he might notice that kind of action. Just out of curiosity, I’d say, if he asked. Not trying to get with you or anything. Just like the look of you, and enjoy studying your features. High, strong cheekbones made him look a little feminine, but his hands were rough from, what? Magazine work couldn’t possibly be physical.

“Were you always in the publishing industry?”

He took a sip of a new drink that arrived, a tall slim glass that contained a mojito. Kind of a girly drink, wasn’t it?

“No,” he said. “I was a joiner in the past.” “A what?” “Joinery. It’s a kind of carpentry, but specialized. I trained in Germany for it, for about four years. That’s where I met my partner.” “Your… partner?” “He’s a joiner, too, yes.” He. I recalibrated, and quickly. “Ah.”

The waiter came around and saved me. “Another drink?”

* * *

Readers, what did you make of this portion of A. Spaice’s expat-life story? Among other things, I think she has nailed the down-the-rabbit-hole feeling of no longer knowing who you really are or anyone else is, once you have wonder-landed.

Interested to read more of Bangkok? It’s available for purchase at Gumroad and Amazon.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, and much, much more. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:


BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST: When what happens in a third culture refuses to stay there: Allen Kurzweil’s “Whipping Boy”

Booklust Wanderlust Collage

Left: Oleh Slobodeniuk (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0); right: Beth Green (her own photo).

Attention displaced bookworms! Our book review columnist, Beth Green, an American expat in Prague (she is also an Adult Third Culture Kid), is back with a rather unusual selection: a memoir that reads like crime fiction. The author, but of course, is an international creative. Enjoy!

—ML Awanohara

Hello again, Displaced Nationers!

Our Booklust, Wanderlust roundtable series left me with such a wide selection of books to read that I’m only just now coming up for air. This month I’d like to tell you about Whipping Boy: My Forty-Year Search for My Twelve-Year-Old Bully, by the bestselling novelist Allen Kurzweil—which our own ML named as one of the books on her radar in early 2015.

Well, Whipping Boy is out, and it’s a cracking (so to speak) read!

"Allen Kurzweil Wiki2007," by Allen Kurzweil - an image provided by Allen Kurzweil. Transferred from en.wikipedia by SreeBot. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

TCK author Allen Kurzweil & his memoir. Photo credits: “Allen Kurzweil Wiki2007,” by Allen Kurzweil – an image provided by Allen Kurzweil. Transferred from en.wikipedia by SreeBot. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Kurzweil has produced a memoir that deals with deep emotions dating back to his displaced youth—but that still manages to flow fast and fun like an international thriller. As marketing whiz Kat Gordon put it in a recent tweet:

Hanging on every word of @AllenKurzweil memoir “Whipping Boy.” A whodunit + fairytale in one.

In the fairy tale portion, we watch as our hero, age ten, attends a British-style boarding school perched on an alpine meadow high above Geneva. All goes well until he meets the dastardly Cesar (full name Cesar Augusto Viana), who torments him mercilessly. When our hero grows up, he resolves to track down and confront his childhood nemesis, however long it takes…

The whodunit starts the moment Kurzweil discovers that Cesar has become a leading figure in an international fraud scheme. At that point he converts into an investigative journalist, leaving no stone unturned in his quest to find out how many victims the adult Cesar has racked up.

Before saying anything more about the book, I should point out that Kurzweil is an adult Third Culture Kid. His parents were Jewish émigrés from Vienna to New York City. The family relocated to Milan, Italy, when Kurzweil was young, but he spent his teen years back in New York. He got his education at Yale and the University of Rome and then worked for ten years as a freelance journalist in France, Italy, and Australia before settling back in the United States with his French wife and son.

Kurzweil’s previous works include two novels and a children’s book inspired by his son’s preschool bully. The Whipping Boy has also been excerpted and condensed in the New Yorker.

“In 1971, I met a boy who changed my life forever.”

Kurzweil roomed with Cesar—a burly Filipino rumored to be the son of Ferdinand Marcos’s head of security—at the exclusive Aiglon College, in Villars, Switzerland, for the better part of a year, while Kurzweil’s mother was “test-driving her third husband.” (Kurzweil’s father died of cancer when he was five.)

Kurzweil loved the idea of the school—his deceased father had adored the Alps and mountaineering. But he hated boarding, particularly at night, when Cesar and his stooges would subject him to all manner of hazing. They forced him to eat hot pepper sauce, stole his things (including his most prized possession, his father’s Omega Seamaster watch), taunted him with anti-Semitic slurs, and at one point whipped him with a belt while playing “The 39 Lashes” from Jesus Christ Superstar (Kurzweil was Jesus).

Some form of bullying in schools is universal, but when the kids are internationals, and boarders—dealing with the losses of worlds they have loved (which in Kurzweil’s case was tied to the loss of his dad)—things can get even more intense, something non-TCKs may not appreciate.

Fortunately, though, Kurzweil has a sense of humor. In this book he never misses a chance to point out that life, even when traumatizing, has its comic moments.

“It didn’t take long to shed the habits I’d picked up in Switzerland.”

After a year at the school, Kurzweil moves back to New York City, and quickly re-acculturates:

“[My mother and I] returned to New York, where the plimsolls, anoraks and rucksacks I wore at Aiglon reverted to sneakers, parkas and backpacks. I no longer had to address my teachers as sir and ma’am.”

But while Kurzweil displays the TCK’s resilience in adjusting back to life in the U.S., happy to get rid of the crossbars on his “7s” and scuttle his schooner-sail “4s”, he cannot let go of his memories of Cesar so easily. He harbors an obsession, which grows worse with the years, even (especially?) after he finds success as a writer.

When he learns that his boyhood enemy is most probably a con man working for a shady “royal”-family-led corporation named Badische (pronounced “Baddish,” Kurzweil notes slightly gleefully) that runs investment “schemes” for hard-up New York one-percenters, Kurzweil becomes unstoppable:

Obsessives tend to have obsessions. Cesar wasn’t my first fixation, and I’m sure he won’t be the last. Baseball cards, Matchbox cars, Pez dispensers—I’ve always been a collector…my point is I tend to go overboard. I investigated Cesar and Badische the same way I collected Lincoln pennies—intent on filling every void.

“…I began to acknowledge the obvious: Cesar had taken over my life.”

His investigations span decades and continents, and throughout it all he is haunted by memories of Cesar:

At the back of a dingy bar in Alice Springs, a pair of drunks playing foosball recalled my ex-roommate’s unstoppable bank shot. In Vienna, hanging on the wall of the Kunsthistoriches Museum, a Flagellation of Christ reinvoked the musical whipping. Hot sauce, Andrew Lloyd Weber tunes, Ferdinand Marcos, Montblanc fountain pens, and more than anything else, vintage Omegas, had me reaching for the journal.

The Ubiquitous Cesar. Photo credits (clockwise from left): “Flagellation-of-christ-Rubens” by Peter Paul Rubens (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons); foosball, byrev via Pixabay; Omega watch, ephotographythemes via Pixabay.

Kurzweil shares with the reader his mixed emotions when he at last finds Cesar, wondering what to say to someone who may not even remember him. And then the fear returns—the fear that he experienced as a shy boy being whipped with a belt in his dorm room…only now it is morphing into an adult fear as Kurzweil realizes he has tracked down an actual criminal:

Fake knights. False banks. Imaginary kingdoms. These guys travelled on bogus passports. They hosted lavish dinner parties at five-star hotels. They performed knighting ceremonies. (When I interviewed the assistant U.S. attorney who filed the initial charges, he summed up the crime as Dirty Rotten Scoundrels meets Clue.)

“So, basically, I’m being blamed for your memories?”

Whipping Boy was a quick, satisfying read. I loved the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction details that Kurzweil unearths about Cesar and his company’s schemes.

I loved his humor.

I also enjoyed the quiet pauses when Kurzweil would describe personal moments having nothing to do with the hunt for Cesar: for example, when he met his wife in outback Australia:

A French anthropologist named Françoise Dussart spotted me wandering toward a sacred site off limits to visitors. Concerned for my safety, she drove up and warned me away. She was sitting in the cab of a Toyota Land Cruiser and cradling a baby kangaroo. How could I not fall in love?

And then:

She flew west, from Alice. I flew east, from New York. We met each other halfway, in Paris, broke and in love.

Juanchito via Pixabay[]; talitaraquel via Pixabay[]. License: CC0 Public Domain[]

From kangaroo love to love in the City of Light. Photo credits: Australian kangaroo, Juanchito via Pixabay; Eiffel Tower, talitaraquel via Pixabay. License: CC0 Public Domain

I further appreciated his candor in admitting that two people can remember the details of an event differently, particularly when one of them is a psychopath with a chip on his shoulder. As Cesar puts it when they finally meet up again for the first time:

“I recall a lot… But just in bits and pieces. There are some things that people have told me about that I really don’t remember. You might need to prod me a bit.”

I would particularly recommend the book to those who like stories about heists or con artists—the movie American Hustle has some parallels—as well as to anyone who has harbored a fantasy of facing down a childhood bully.

Kurzweil may be beaten but he isn’t conquered, and that’s an inspiration to victims everywhere.

But most of all I appreciated Kurzweil’s understanding that for us TCKs, what happens in a third culture doesn’t always stay in a third culture. Some readers may wonder why Kurzweil couldn’t leave his bullying experience behind, particularly as it happened overseas, in a country to which he had limited personal ties. But for Third Culture Kids, the floating world of the expat is as real as it gets. And, as Kurzeil’s story shows, what happens there can have a life-long impact.

* * *

Fellow TCKs, do you have a Cesar or other skeletons in your cupboard dating back to your school days, at an international school or boarding school? Do tell!

Till next time!

Editor’s note: All subheds are quotes taken from Allen Kurzweil’s New Yorker article.

Beth Green is an American writer and English teacher living in Prague, Czech Republic. She grew up on a sailboat and, though now a landlubber, continues to lead a peripatetic life, having lived in Asia as well as Europe. Her personal Web site is Beth Green Writes, and she is about to launch a new site called Everyday Travel Stories. To keep in touch with her in between columns, try following her on Facebook and Twitter. She’s a social media nut!

STAY TUNED for the next fab 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, and much, much more. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

An expat’s valentine to her adopted home is podcast series and now book

Kay Mellish Valentine CollageThe Displaced Nation aspires to be a home to international creatives. As such, we are fond of showcasing memoirs written by those who have spent large chunks of their lives abroad or novels that were in some way inspired by international travels.

Very occasionally, though, we come across an expat who has written a guide to life in their new country that strikes us as being highly creative. Not long before the Brazilian Olympics, for instance, we featured works by two expats living in Brazil because of having a Brazilian spouse: Mark Hillary’s Reality Check: Life in Brazil Through the Eyes of a Foreigner; and Meagan Farrell’s American Exbrat in São Paulo: Advice, Stories, Tips and Tricks for Surviving South America’s Largest City.

Both authors felt justified in producing their own guides to Brazilian life because they’d noticed so many newbie expats falling into the trap of becoming an “exbrat” (to borrow Meagan’s term)—constantly complaining about Brazilian food, prices, bureaucracy, and crime and thus missing out on one of the world’s most fascinating cultures and friendliest peoples.

And both books, while offering practical information and advice, also communicated the authors’ affection, even love, for the land of carnival and samba, beaches and jungles—warts and all.

My guest today, Kay Xander Mellish, has composed a similar kind of ode to her adopted home of Denmark, which, too, has its attractions even if if Danes are far less sociable than Brazilians and their culture a great deal less lively.

Yet apparently not all visitors seem to appreciate the many appealing features of the country that was recently crowned the the world’s happiest, which is what led Kay to produce her podcast series, How to Live in Denmark, and now a book of the same name.

Born in Wisconsin and educated in New York City, Kay has lived in Denmark since 2000, speaks Danish, and after working in the corporate world has founded her own company to help Danish companies communicate in English. She hasn’t married into the culture but is a single mother bringing up a daughter.

Ironically, Kay’s valentine to Denmark has come out at a time when another foreigner in Denmark, the British journalist Michael Booth, is in the news for a book expressing disillusionment with the Scandinavian way of life. We’ll talk to Kay about that development as well.

But first let’s get to know her a little more.

 * * *

“Santa Claus has the right idea: visit people once a year”—Victor Borges, Danish-born American comedian

Hi, Kay! I once lived in England and then in Japan, and there were times in reading your book that the Danes reminded me of the English and the Japanese: easy enough to like but not so easy to love. Is that a fair description?
It can be difficult for outsiders to make friends in Denmark, because for Danes friendship is a serious business. A real friendship is a lifelong relationship, sometimes starting in kindergarten or even before – my daughter, for example, has a friend she “met” when they were four weeks old! The idea of casual chat with strangers is alien to Danes: they have to force themselves to do it, and it is nearly always uncomfortable for them unless a great deal of alcohol is involved. Once you are within their friendship circle, Danes are excellent friends, reliable, supportive and direct. But it is difficult to come into that circle. Danish society is based on trust, and it takes Danes a while to be sure that they can trust you.


Kay Xander Mellish’s book cover; random Valentine’s hearts and one kiss.

Humor is of course an important element in any long-term relationship, and your have subtitled your book “a humorous guide.” Tell me, are you laughing with or at?
With! Danes are very good at making fun of themselves; in fact, one of the highest compliments they can give a famous or accomplished person is that he or she has “self-irony,” or the ability to make fun of himself. By contrast, anyone who is selvfede (literally, “self-fat”) and thinks he or she is God’s gift to the world is held in contempt. So, in general, humor is not hard to come by in Denmark. You just have to be willing to make fun of yourself. Danes have an old tradition that if you’ve fallen down in public or otherwise made a big mistake or fool of yourself, you’re supposed to buy kvajebager (failure beer) for everyone who saw you. My book, which is based on a podcast series, is very popular among Danes, which it would not be if they could not make light of themselves. Occasionally I get a few crabby emails from people with Danish names, but not many. I’ve found a lot of Danes buy the book for their foreign friends.

“To be of use to the world is the only way to be happy.”—Hans Christian Andersen

Oxford Research recently published a study finding that 9 out of 10 expats enjoy living and working in Denmark and close to half choose to prolong their stay—mainly because of career opportunities. What makes Copenhagen’s work opportunities so loveable?
If you can get a job in Copenhagen, the working conditions and benefits are excellent. Most people work 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and then go home to their families, so it’s common to see an office entirely empty by 5:00 p.m. And there is less of the cutthroat competition, both internally and externally within companies, that you see elsewhere in business life. You also have the ability to do work you will be proud of: Danes demand quality, so you rarely meet anyone who is incompetent. But getting a job is difficult, even for the Danes, and it is extremely difficult for foreigners who do not speak Danish. Many foreigners with only rudimentary Danish either work in the “caring professions,” such as state-sponsored jobs caring for the elderly or the very young, or in IT roles that there are not enough Danes to fill. If you are looking for anything else, besides the usual cleaning and waiting tables, plan for at least a 6-month job search, possibly a year.

“I’m afraid I have to set you straight…”—Michael Booth, Copenhagen-based British journalist

Meanwhile, the journalist Michael Booth has just published a book The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia.
Denmark is a small country where everyone knows everyone, so I should start by saying that Michael Booth is the friend of a friend, although I have not met him myself. Michael has developed a great shtick for himself, which is running down the Scandinavian countries while continuing to enjoy their benefits. (The fact that Michael is a white male from a friendly country allows him to get away with this performance: I don’t want to even think of what the reaction might have been if such a book had been written by someone from the Middle East.) At any rate, his timing is excellent: it’s become fashionable, particularly in left-wing Western circles, to paint Scandinavia as a utopia, which it most certainly is not. Michael’s book is a strong antidote to that.

An excerpt from Booth’s book appeared recently in The Atlantic, where he says Denmark is “stultifyingly dull” and “boring” because of its “suffocating monoculture.” You don’t agree with any of that?
Personally, I don’t find Copenhagen dull, and this is from someone who used to live in downtown Manhattan and be very involved in the New York art and nightlife scene. I find Copenhagen sophisticated without being too intense. There is certainly less of a gallery or theater scene here, but by contrast people have more time to enjoy the arts events that take place.

“I come from a culture where you don’t divide it up [between] what you can do on TV and what you can do on film.”—Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen

You are a professional voice actor, and, unusually, your book is based on a podcast series. Since we’re talking about love today: which do you love more, podcasting or writing?
The podcast series was actually based on an old group of essays that had been mouldering on a rarely-updated website I started when I still I lived in New York. (In those days, the days before podcasts and before the web, I used to put up parts of my stories as flyposters in a graffiti format—but that was the 1990s!) When I came to Denmark, I wrote a few essays about the experience, but then I pretty much abandoned the site while working full-time at a corporate job while raising my daughter. The site was still online, and newcomers to Denmark kept finding these old postings and emailing me, saying how much I had helped them adjust to living here. I began to feel an obligation to help people just arriving in Denmark. It can be a difficult place to get used to. So when I left corporate life and was in the process of building my own voiceover business, doing the podcast How to Live in Denmark was a natural move. I soon found out that many people weren’t listening to the recordings at all: they were just reading the transcripts available on the podcast site. By this time, I was spending so much time on the podcasts that I needed to earn a little money off the project, so I turned the transcripts into an eBook. Customers then kept asking for a paper book, so I published one of those as well. Now we also have the Chinese version, and there are so many Syrian refugees in Denmark that there have been requests for an Arabic-language version, so we are working on that as well. I really feel it’s important for me to serve to others who may be facing the same challenges I once did.

“Give to a pig when it grunts and a child when it cries, and you will have a fine pig and bad child.”—Danish proverb

Turning to your daughter: what do you love most about raising and educating a child in Denmark?
Children in Denmark given much more freedom and responsibility than children in many countries. My daughter has been riding the Copenhagen trains and buses alone since she was eight, for example. Even when they are very young, children are expected to sort out their own playground disagreements with little interference from adults. There’s no such thing as a “helicopter parent” here. Also, children don’t spend most of their childhoods trying to get into a good university, going to cram schools and trying to build up their CV with impressive-sounding activities. They relax; they have time to play, time to think, time to develop themselves and their creativity. There is very little standardized testing in Denmark and not many grades of any kind until the kids are 13 or 14. I think that’s a healthy way to go about things. My daughter enjoys living here; she enjoys her school, where there is very little pressure but the kids learn to put knowledge together in a holistic way, which I think will be much more useful for the future just learning how to spit out facts or repeat the teacher’s viewpoint back to her. Most importantly, parents in Denmark have a lot more free time to spend with their kids, since working hours aren’t particularly long here. So we do a lot of stuff together—sports, travel, crafts. I don’t know if I would have had the time and energy to do those things had I been a single mother in the US.

Do you think she misses out on anything by not being in the United States?
Of course, she’s missing out on the ethnic diversity of the US, as well as the ambition and drive and energy of living there. But she speaks frequently of going to college in the US, so she’ll have a chance to experience those aspects when she’s a little older.

“There was the constant, tinny squeak of a thousand rusty bike chains.”—Greg Hanscom, senior editor at Grist: “An American in Denmark”

You’ve now lived in Denmark for nearly 15 years, longer than many marriages last. If you had one irritating habit about the place you could change, what would it be?
I suppose it would the Danes’ general rudeness in public places. When someone brushes closely by you, or even runs right into you, there’s never an ‘Excuse me’ or the Danish equivalent. Instead, you get a sour look or a grunt that signifies “Why were you in my way?” Customer service in Danish shops or restaurants is not much better: in Denmark, the customer is always wrong. Some of the nonwhite foreigners I’ve met here assumed that they were being treated so badly because of racism or racial discrimination, but that is not the case. Sad to say, everybody gets bad customer service, even other Danes.

And if you and Denmark were to “divorce” and go your separate ways one day, what would you miss the most about it?
Probably the biking culture and the great mass transit. While I have a drivers’ license and enjoy driving a car, I love that I can hop on a bike and get anywhere quickly. No parking problems, no stopping to buy gas, and it’s a very easy and convenient way to keep fit. That said, bringing home groceries on your bicycle can be a headache. And trying to bring home fresh dry cleaning on your bicycle is the worst!

Thanks, Kay! It’s been a pleasure. Taking a closer look at your work, we see you’ve created an intricate valentine to your adopted home, full of love and irreverent humor, the perfect tribute.

* * *

Readers, if this interview has piqued your curiosity about Kay Xander Mellish and her creative output, we encourage you to visit her author site, like the How to Live in Denmark page on Facebook and/or follow her on Twitter: she has a personal account and a podcast/book account. Also please note that Kay was the recipient of one of our Alice Awards for an irreverent post explaining why public nudity is okay in Denmark, whereas public ambition is not.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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

Related posts:

A valentine to displaced creatives: Let a thousand friendships flourish!


Photo credit: PublicDomainPictures via Pixabay.

In my nearly four years of managing the Displaced Nation, I’ve had about as many face-to-face meet-ups with the creatives I’ve “met” on this site. Let me see…the last one was was about eight months ago, when the delightful Jennifer Eremeeva and I had coffee. Among many other things, we talked about her autobiographical novel based on her two decades of living in Russia: Lenin Lives Next Store: Marriage, Martinis and Mayhem in Moscow (don’t you love the alliteration?).

I suppose it’s not surprising how rare these real-life encounters are, given that, by definition, displaced creatives tend to be on the move and/or opt to live in far-flung corners of the globe. (Jennifer was on her way to her summer home—or dacha, as she jokingly referred to it—in Northampton, Massachusetts, when we met, but would soon be heading “home” to Russia.)

Still, putting a gravatar to a name is one thing, putting an actual face to a name quite another. It cements your friendship in a way that nothing else can.

No doubt that’s why I was so thrilled to learn that another such meet-up has taken place between two writers who first encountered each other here: Cinda MacKinnon, author of the novel A Place in the World, and Rita Gardner, author of the memoir The Coconut Latitudes.

Both Cinda and Rita have kindly agreed to answer a few questions about their flourishing friendship (there’s that alliteration again!). This being February, I offer it as a kind of valentine to the pair of them, who have been great friends not only to each other but to TDN, as well as what they represent about the site’s potential to be a haven from the storm of the displaced life, a “home”.

* * *

Rita and Cinda, welcome back to the Displaced Nation! Why don’t we start by having you recount how you discovered each other on this site?

RITA: I first discovered Cinda when she posted a comment on James King’s interview with me in his delightful “A Picture Says” column for the Displaced Nation. I immediately responded to her and we began our online friendship, which evolved into our discovering we were practically neighbors in the San Francisco Bay Area—and subsequent in-person get-togethers.

CINDA: It is ironic to think that James, who lives in Thailand, is responsible for connecting two writers who now live in the San Francisco Bay Area. James’s blog, Jamorocki, and the Displaced Nation are my two favorites.

Thank you for that lovely compliment, Cinda! We’ll be sure to pass on to James… Tell us, what was the thing that immediately drew you the two of you together?

CINDA: We were both expats who grew up in Latin American and her story reminded me of other foreigners I knew, whose parents exchanged a comfortable life for a more adventurous, exotic one…but sometimes with devastating consequences—have you read/seen Mosquito Coast? Actually, I told Rita that Cocoloco—the name of her family’s coconut finca (plantation) in the Dominican Republic—would have served as an apt alternative title for her book. She said it was her working title but then she changed it to The Coconut Latitudes just before publication.

RITA: Besides the obvious—that Cinda was an expat and a TCK who grew up in Latin America—I was intrigued that she’d written a novel that is set in Colombia.

Cinda, you’ve also been a guest of James King’s photography column. Can each of you tell me what which photo of each other’s you liked best?

Rita & Cinda Fave Pix
RITA: My favorite photo of Cinda’s was “A Profusion of Wildflowers in Arvin.” I liked the subtle angles and composition and it reminded me of the unexpected beauty that can be encountered everywhere flowers bloom.

CINDA: I think the “Wading Chairs.” That is so Latino! You can just picture a couple of islanders lounging there and keeping their feet cool.

By now, I assume you’ve read each other’s books. What were your impressions?

Cinda&Rita covers
RITA: I read the TDN interview with Cinda before reading her book. The first line struck a chord, about how her fiction “was a way to revisit homes she has cherished.” I also appreciated learning about Cinda’s life and her writing process and her list of favorite books, many of which mirrored my own. Once I got to reading the novel itself: I loved so much about it! The first thing was its sensory lushness; I could see, smell, taste, and feel the cloud forest setting and the coffee finca. I felt for Alicia, the main character, as she ached to find her own place in that world amid complicated relationship struggles. It was a satisfying read.

CINDA: I loved reading Rita’s memoir. The honesty—a lot of soul searching went into this work. Although her upbringing was difficult and her entry into adult life harsh, the writing is straightforward. And I have to say, her mother must have done a marvelous job with home schooling. For those who aren’t aware: Rita mostly taught herself to write, I believe. The results are extremely impressive.

One of you chose to write a novel based on your TCK life, whereas the other wrote a memoir. Do you think those were the right choices?

CINDA: If Rita had written this story as fiction, we would have assumed that she was exaggerating any real life background that went in to it. It is a haunting and compelling memoir.

RITA: I wondered of course if Cinda’s novel was autobiographical (which I’ve learned it is not, other than being influenced by her South American roots and her love of botany). I thought it was perfect as fiction. A memoir would not have produced A Place in the World—and since I liked this book just as it is, I’m glad she chose that route. However, I’d love to see her write a memoir, too!

Both of you grew up as Third Culture Kids, which gives you something in common right away, though not all adult TCKs become fast friends, of course. What are the closest parallels you’ve discovered?

RITA: Goodness—the parallels are uncanny: We both grew up in families that roamed the world before settling in Latin America. We both love nature, writing, photography, many of the same authors and books. We both wrote our books as ways to revisit our own past. We both arrived in the U.S. as teens, wearing “the wrong clothes” and struggled to basically “become” North Americans. I could go on!

CINDA: I could immediately relate to this line in Rita’s author bio: “She continues to dream in Spanish and dance the merengue.” Like many TCKs we are multilingual and have a tolerance for and interest in other cultures. Both of us had parents that were somewhat negligent and we were on our own by the time we were 18 (maybe 17 for Rita—and I did have some encouragement elsewhere).

You almost sound like the Bobbsey Twins, but I guess you also have some differences?

CINDA: One major difference is that as children, Rita lived in a very isolated village, home-schooled and restricted to certain contacts, whereas I went to international schools with a mélange of teachers and friends. My siblings and I didn’t see our parents as often as most kids, but they were stable individuals. Also, between the ages of 6 and 12, I spent a month every summer stateside with my cousins and affectionate aunts; this helped me both emotionally and gave me a glimpse of American life.

RITA: Also in terms of our adult lives: Cinda pursued a life as an environmental scientist and has had a successful academic career. She possesses a deep knowledge of botany and geology I’ll never have. I’m sure there are a lot of other differences—and look forward to continuing our friendship and discovering more about each other, whether differences or connections.

Finally, can you each tell me something about the other you think might be interesting to Displaced Nation readers?

CINDA: Rita is not just as a writer but has had a big job reporting to the Vice Chancellor of Administration at UC Berkeley. She also garnered a good review from the acclaimed Dominican American author/professor Julia Alvarez, who declared her an “honorary Dominicana”. Rita is an accomplished artist as well; supporting the TDN theory of the creativity of expats .

RITA: Cinda has a generous heart—evident both in person and through her blog posts. For example: Through her blog I’ve learned about a Cuban musician who defected to the US and now is in the San Francisco Bay Area; she did an excellent interview with him and included links to his music. In ways like that, she expands everyone’s horizons. Likewise, she has gotten the word out to friends and readers about my book, and has introduced me to other writers in the area. Oh, and she loves Burmese food!

* * *

Thank you, Cinda and Rita! Readers, be sure to check out their books if you haven’t already! Any further questions for these two writers and adult third culture kids? Any of your own meet-ups to report?! Let a thousand friendships bloom!! As usual, please let us know in the comments…

STAY TUNED for PART 2 of our 2014-2015 reads!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to subscribe to The Displaced Dispatch, a weekly round up of posts from The Displaced Nation, plus some extras such as seasonal recipes and occasional book giveaways. Sign up for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

This expat arrived in the tropics without any saucepans—but then cooked up a potboiler of love, horror and adventure!

LDF in DR Collage

Las Mameyes, Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic (Morguefiles); Lindsay de Feliz (her own photo).

My guest today, the author Lindsay de Feliz, was scuba diving in the Maldives when one night she found herself on a tiny island in the middle of the Indian Ocean gazing up at the stars, the warm water lapping up against her toes.

She thought about life, love and the meaning of the universe. And then she had an epiphany: she no longer wanted the life she had made for herself in the UK. She would leave her husband of ten years, her cats, her house, her cars and her successful career, and buy a one-way ticket to Paradise (she hoped).

“What about your saucepans?” her mother responded upon hearing of this momentous decision. Possibly she was thinking her daughter had gone potty, but instead of saying that, she talked about the set of expensive pans she and Lindsay’s father had bought her for her birthday and Christmas the previous year.

Lindsay did not pack her saucepans and, when she accepted a job as a diving instructor in the Dominican Republic, was glad she didn’t—especially once she’d settled down with her Dominican boyfriend, Danilo. His son, who lived with them as well, had a habit of throwing pans in the bin because he didn’t like washing them.

Yet her mother’s question stuck in her mind, and she decided to write a memoir called What About Your Saucepans?, which was published last year.

I am thrilled to have the chance to talk to Lindsay about this memoir today, which I found an extraordinarily gripping read. Although Lindsay finds her pot of gold in terms of a man who loves her and a life on her own terms, it all goes to pot at a couple of points. And how she copes with these setbacks is as interesting as anything she has to say about the details of life within the country that has the distinction of being the most visited in the Caribbean (though her account of Dominican life is compelling, too).

And now, before we start, can you hear me banging on a saucepan as I yell out: BE SURE TO LEAVE A COMMENT; YOU’LL HAVE A GOOD CHANCE OF WINNING A DIGITAL COPY!

* * *

Saucepans-Cover_pmHola, Lindsay. ¿Que lo que? Can we start, please, by having you tell us what prompted your decision to write a memoir after a decade of living in the Dominican Republic?
I used to send monthly emails to friends and family about what I was doing and many of them said that I should write a book. I know people often say this, but the longer time went on the more the idea started to grow on me. However, the major prompt was when I was shot by a couple of burglars I’d apprehended at the gate to my home. The bullet passed through my throat and then went straight through my right lung. I made it to the local hospital being carried, then draped over the back of a motorbike, and eventually in a car. After a botched tracheotomy, I was taken to a hospital in the capital, where they put in chest drains. I went home after 12 days.

Wow! So being shot was what motivated you to write about your expat life?
There were lots of things I couldn’t remember about the incident—to this day, my recollections of it are a bit fuzzy—so I asked those who helped me what happened, and then wrote it all down. That became a chapter in the book, and then I filled in before and after.

C5 Bullet stuck in my back 2 weeks after the shooting

The bullet went through Lindsay’s lung and got stuck in her back. Here it what it looked like two weeks after the shooting (Lindsay’s own photo).

Did you ever think of writing a novel instead? I ask because your memoir almost reads like a novel. I felt as though I get to know all the characters and missed them when I put the book down.
No, I never thought about writing a novel—my life was like a novel!

I understand the life you left behind in the UK was somewhat more mundane. Can you describe a typical day?
Typically, I would drag myself out of bed at around 5:30 a.m. in the dark. Get showered and dressed in a power suit making sure high heeled shoes and jewelry matched. Wrap up warm and walk 20 minutes to the train station. Train to Central London. Tube to the city. Another tube to Canary Wharf. Total journey time around two hours assuming no delays, which there often were. Work out in the gym and then walk or train to the office. Work all day long, maybe lunch at The Ivy with agencies or journalists, then the same journey home again, getting home around nine and falling into bed to do the same thing the next day.

What was the trigger (so to speak) that made you decide to pack it all in and become a scuba diving instructor?
I adored scuba diving in tropical places and managed to go a few times a year and it just seemed daft to work so hard to pay to go diving when I could dive all the time and earn enough to live off doing something I loved.

How did you end up in the D.R., of all places?
I started off in the Maldives, then went east to Asia, found it impossible to obtain work permits so ended up in Menorca, an island in the Mediterranean belonging to Spain. I decided I should learn Spanish as I already spoke French and German (as an instructor, the more languages you can speak the better). I wanted to get back to the tropics and a job came up in the Dominican Republic, so off I went.

Every pot will find its lid

February is a month for celebrating romance and love. How did you meet Danilo, the Dominican man who became your second husband?
I had seen him around, but I wasn’t even thinking about a relationship. My plan was simply to learn Spanish then head for Costa Rica and work as an instructor there as the diving was supposed to be excellent. One night at a bar Danilo was there and offered me a lift home on his scooter.

Was it love at first sight?
No, although he was seriously cute. But once Dominicans decide that you are the one, they are like Rottweilers and never let you go! He pursued me with a vengeance.


A happy family, Caribbean style: Lindsay with her husband, Danilo, and two sons.

Your courtship led to a ready-made family (his kids) and marriage. Was that a difficult decision?
Not at all. Danilo moved in with me after a couple of weeks courting—as I said they move fast, and as soon as he moved in I was called his “wife” (the vast majority of Dominicans don’t actually get married they just live together but are known as husband and wife). He moved his three children in a week later. We were like that for three years, so most of the big cultural adjustments had already taken place—and there were many, which I discuss in the book. He gave me what I wanted in terms of doing everything to make me happy and to make my life easier, and most of all he made me laugh.

But isn’t “happily ever after” particularly challenging for those of us in cross-cultural marriages?
I must admit, due to the fact we were from such different backgrounds I doubted that we would ever become soul mates, in the way you dream of as a child. However, over the past couple of years—we have now been together for 12 years—he has become my media naranja, as they say here—my half an orange—and is totally my soul mate, my best friend and more. Much I think is due to fact that he is now at university, so we have more “intellectual” conversations, and my Spanish is now much more fluent than it was in the early days. We still laugh all the time and I could not contemplate life without him.

If ifs and ands were pots and pans…

Looking back over the decade you’ve lived in the Dominican Republic, what was your most “displaced” moment: when you thought, what’s a nice girl like me doing in a place full of superstition, political corruption, thievery, and the many other cultural quirks you mention in your book?
You are right, there are many—so many I don’t know where to start. Maybe squatting down to have a pee in the sugar cane fields, taking photographs of dead people in their coffins as their families wanted a picture and had no camera, going into a store and being asked to wait while they catch a rat, going to a jail to get prostitutes out, delivering a baby to a Haitian women on the mud floor of her hutand of course having been shot, which, although I didn’t realize it at the time, meant being taken to hospital draped over the back of a motorbike because there are no ambulances or emergency services where I live.

Goodness, that’s quite a selection! Can you also pinpoint your LEAST displaced moment, when you felt you were much more comfortable living in that place than in your native UK?
I feel like that every day now as I have become totally adjusted to Dominican life. Dominicans call foreigners like me aplatanado—literally, “like a plantain banana,” signifying we’ve become one of them. Nowadays I don’t care what I wear, no make up, material possessions are not important, I don’t get annoyed if the car is scratched—a whole different set of values to those I had before. Instead of dragging myself out of bed, I leap out, happy to see what the day has to bring. I go downstairs and look across at the mountains and watch the sun rise drinking fabulous Dominican coffee. I have never been happier. I talk in the book about my search for joy. Those moments of pure joy that you experience occasionally. Now here I have them every single day. No one could ask for more.

Could you ever live in the UK again?
No, I could never live in the UK again. In the D.R., there are very few rules, which, while it does give rise to some problems, also means one has the freedom of being able to park wherever you want, smoke a cigarette where you want, not wear a seat belt if you choose not to, and so on. I love that. Also, in the UK, Danilo and I have experienced racism—groups of youths making monkey noises on the trains—because I am white and he is brown. I could never ask him to suffer that. Here we have never been made to feel uncomfortable.

Does your husband feel the same way?
My husband loves the organization in the UK, the fact that people queue, the lack of litter in the street and the trains. But even if we did want to live in the UK, we couldn’t as the new immigration regulations mean that I would have to earn a salary I could never earn, and he would have to speak pretty fluent English, which would be very hard for him.

Panning for a publisher

Moving on to the book: what was the most difficult part of the writing process for you?
The first draft was easy. I tend to think for days about what I want to write—in bed before I go to sleep, when I am walking the dogs… I wait and wait and wait until I am bursting to write it down. It is so satisfying when you actually write then. Just like when you eventually find a toilet when you have been dying for a pee for ages. The hard bit was changing it to incorporate what the publisher and editor wanted. They wanted me to write much more dialogue, which I found hard, and to talk about things I didn’t really want to talk about. I didn’t want to hurt anyone, and in a memoir you really need to tell the truth. They were right, of course, and the book was much much better as a result; but it was difficult for me to describe all of the emotions.

You published with Jo Parfitt of Summertime Publishing. How did that happen?
The path to publishing was not an easy one. I wrote to literary agents and publishers, and some said no and others told me to get it edited and then resubmit—which I did, but it all cost money. I think in some instances they were just helping out their editor mates as they all said no even after I resubmitted it. In the meantime, I’d started a blog of the same name, which began to build me an audience ready for when the book came out. In the end I found Jo Parfitt, who directed me to a great editor, Jane Dean. Between them they knocked me and the book into shape.

What audience did you have in mind for the book, and has it been reaching those people?
Originally, I had in mind people who were interested in the Dominican Republic. Yes, it has been reaching them, but it is constant work to make sure you find them and tell them about the book. Luckily, the reviews have been fabulous and those who read the book have said that everyone should read it, not just those who like the DR.

I agree, I think it appeals on many levels, not just to those with an interest in the Caribbean.
Thank you for saying that. Apart from being about life in the Dominican Republic, it’s a love story, a horror story, it has adventure, and I like to think that it might make some people reevaluate their lives and what is important to them.

Do you have any advice for others who are writing memoirs and hoping to publish them?
Firstly, write the memoir. Do it. It is great fun and also cathartic. Never stop writing at a point where you are stuck or it takes ages to pick it up again. Stop when you know exactly what you want to write next. I would also say don’t give up when you are looking for a publisher, just keep at it. It must have taken me over a year at least to find Jo. And when I did she set me targets to achieve, which gave me a purpose and a goal. You must also be honest with yourself as to whether people will be interested in your story and what it can do for them, not just what it might do for you. And finally, don’t be arrogant and precious when your editor and publisher suggest changes. They know the market a million times better than you. Take their suggestions on board. In the end it will produce something much better than you could on your own.

10 Questions for Lindsay de Feliz

Finally, I’d like to ask a series of questions that I’ve asked some of our other featured authors, about your reading and writing habits:
1. Last truly great book you read: In the Time of the Butterflies, by Julia Alvarez, a historical novel about the Mirabal sisters, who opposed the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic.
2. Favorite literary genre: Murder mystery
3. Reading habits on a plane: I haven’t been on a plane since Kindles and such like came out(!). But I used to read novels—the latest Patricia Cornwell or Tom Clancy—which I would buy at the airport.
4. The one book you’d require President Obama to read, and why: Mine. Because I know he would enjoy it, it would make him smile and help him to understand all of the Dominicans in the USA. He would also enjoy the part about Dominican politics. I can just see him reading bits of it to Michelle in bed in his stripey pajamas and them both laughing.
5. Favorite books as a child: Enid Blyton‘s The Famous Five series; the What Katy Did series by Sarah Chauncey Woolsey, under her pen name Susan Coolidge; Heidi; and books about horses and ballet dancers. As I moved into my teens I loved Georgette Heyer books.
6. Favorite heroine: Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
7. The writer, alive or dead, you’d most like to meet: This is someone who hasn’t yet published a book so I hope that counts: Aisha Ashraf. Her writing simply blows me away and I could never write like she does. I am a story teller and she has a way of touching your heart. I would love to meet her one day.
8. Your reading habits: I don’t read as much as I would like now. However, when the electricity goes off (which it does here quite a lot) I grab a book and devour it. I also read books online by other Summertime authors which they send to me.
9. The book you’d most like to see made as a film: Mine again! I know it would make a great film. My dream is to go to the Oscars. I just need to make it happen.
10. The book you plan to read next: Linda Janssen’s The Emotionally Resilient Expat. She is another Summertime author, and I am really looking forward to getting into this one.

* * *

Thanks so much, Lindsay. Readers, what I love about Lindsay is her attitude. Some of us might think that she went out of the frying pan (a life she could no longer stand in the UK) and into the fire (getting shot in the Caribbean), but she doesn’t see it that way at all. In fact, as she explains in the book, after surviving the shooting, she has even more purpose in life and even more devotion to her adopted home.

So, any COMMENTS or QUESTIONS for Lindsay? Do you think you would react in the same way to hardships?

And don’t forget, there’s a copy of the book to be won for the best comment! NOTE: If you can’t wait to read the book or don’t win, What About Your Saucepans? is available from Amazon, Apple iTunes, Kobo and Barnes and Noble. And you can also start following Lindsay on her blog, of course!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, another episode in the life of our fictional expat heroine, Libby, told from the point of view of her husband, Olivera rare treat! (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!

Related posts:

Trevi Fountain blesses American woman’s coins, granting her true love, a new life abroad, and now a book (we’re giving it away!)

Catherine Tondelli book signing photoWhile an expat in Japan, I mastered the ritual of tossing coins into the offering box, or saisenbako, at the Shinto shrine or Buddhist temple while clapping twice (to attract divine attention) and then making a short prayer.

In the West, of course, we toss coins into fountains and make a wish, but I’d never been one for doing that.

I might start trying it, though, now I’ve read Catherine Tondelli’s memoir, Three Coins in the Fountain, which recounts the luck she had in finding a mate the moment she tossed three coins into the Trevi fountain in the Città Eterna.

Sounds like a pitch for a Hollywood film, doesn’t it? Except, wait a minute, that film has already been done (in the 1950s)!

And it’s real life we are talking about here, not the movies.

Besides, Tondelli has kindly granted me three wishes:

  1. She will answer some questions about her memoir as well as her writing process (see below).
  2. She will GIVE AWAY TWO COPIES (hard copy or Kindle) to the two readers who toss in the best comment below.
  3. She will make the book available for free download for a short period—to be revealed at some point in our weekly Displaced Dispatch. (What? Not a subscriber? SIGN UP NOW!)

Before we start, I should mention that Tondelli’s book has been likened to another book recounting travels in the wake of divorce: Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert. But for me, a half-Italian American, Tondelli’s more restricted itinerary makes a a lot more sense. Who needs India and Bali when you can easily get the whole package—great food, a renewed faith in relationships and family, and love—in Bella Italia?

Like me, Tondelli is half-Italian, and I like to think it’s that ancestry that made her realize the truth of Madonna Louise Ciccone’s assertion: “Italians do it better.”

* * *

3-Coins-in-Fountain-by-Catherine-Tondelli_dropshadowWelcome, Catherine. I read your book not long after I’d finished Imperfect Pairings, by Jackie Townsend, which we featured in this space this past November. But that was an autobiographical novel based on Jackie’s marriage to an Italian man. So here’s my question: did you ever consider telling your story as fiction, or perhaps using it to develop a film script for a romantic comedy?
I originally thought about writing it as a novel, but my story was so unique and it gave so much hope to women who have given up all hope of ever finding the man of their dreams after 40 years old. Most people would never believe that stories like this really do happen and that true love will find you as easily as tossing some coins in a fountain. I also felt that many people could relate to my crazy stories of growing up in a large family. In the 1960s it was normal to have families of seven or more children; but, with the exception of Cheaper by the Dozen, there is very little written about large families. You have a lot of crazy stories when you grow up with ten siblings!

Yes, I noticed in the press release for the book that you grew up in Chicago as one of 11 kids who were left behind by a deadbeat, jazz musician dad. Can you tell us a little more about your relationship with the man who bequeathed you the surname “Tondelli”? After all, he features in the book quite a bit as well.
I had a very challenging relationship with my father and harbored resentment towards him for many years. I was only 12 years old when he walked out on my mother. It had a huge impact on the relationships I had and the men I chose. A daughter’s first bonding with any man is with her father: he is her first boyfriend, role model for the men she chooses. We often repeat what we know rather than what we want: we need “familiar,” even if it’s unhealthy. I kept choosing unsuitable men until fate stepped in and finally tossed me a “get a good man” coin to throw in the Trevi fountain.

Did you and your father ever reconcile?
I didn’t speak to him for twenty years. We finally reunited when I was attending a conference in Las Vegas and he was a musician playing on the strip. I called him and we had dinner together. We hugged and kissed at the end of the evening: it was a huge healing moment in my life. I was never as close to him as I was to my mother but we had a good relationship up until the day he passed away one year ago. Writing about him also helped me to heal.

Sono pazzo di te (I’m crazy about you…or am I just crazy?!)

Now turning to the man who would become your husband, the handsome and irrepressible Fausto. Since romance is a big part of what your book is about, I’d like to recount the first moment when the pair of you set eyes on each other. Newly divorced, you were traveling in Italy with your mom and had by that time reached Rome and the Fontana di Trevi, where your mother handed you three coins and urged you to wish for a nice man to come into your life. At that very moment, you heard an Italian man say: “Eeffa you wanta your wish to comb true, you avv to trow the coins witah your layft (h)and as eet’s closer to your (h)art…”
Yes, and then he asked if I knew “de meaning of da tree coins”:

“Da first coin, you find your love in Rome, da second coin, you return to Rome and the t(h)ird coin, you marry in Rome.”

And that’s what happened: he and I fell in love, I returned, and we got married.

Chi ama me, ama il mio gatto (Whoever loves me, loves my cat)

Jackie Townsend entitled her book “Imperfect Pairings” because she thinks Americans have an idyllic view of cross-cultural marriage with Europeans, thinking it sounds very romantic—whereas the reality tends to be culture clash after culture clash. You seem to believe in the romance while also acknowledging there were hurdles along the way. After you got over assuming Fausto was gay, you suspected you might be just one in a long line of fountain pick-ups. And even after he at last won your trust, you and he had to struggle to get used to each other’s habits. He did not take well at first to sleeping with your beloved Siamese cats, for instance.
Three Coins is not your stereotypical girl-on-holiday-meets-man-of-her-dreams-and-lives-happily-ever-after. Yes, we did meet on my trip to Italy, but falling in love and moving to Italy was the last thing I’d expected. I came to Italy only after I had worked for three years in London and only when finding a good job in Rome. And when he proposed, I called my sister.

I like that you put a map at the beginning of the book, showing all the destinations you and Fausto traveled to together, before you decided to live in the same place. I presume Italy and Italian culture were an adjustment?
Even though I grew up in an Italian American household, the cultural learning curve for me was huge.
My mother descends from Irish stock, and Fausto couldn’t believe his ears when I told him my Irish grandmother had put money aside in her will to host a luncheon following her funeral for all her friends and family. When his father passed away, we went down to the morgue to say our last goodbye and then off to the church and finally the cemetery, all within two hours. No lunch, no funeral home, no photographs—it was all too fast, no time to mourn to grieve with family or friends. A real Mork & Mindy moment for me.

Was that your most displaced moment: when you thought, what’s a nice girl like me doing with an Italian?
That’s one, and another would be the Christmas after we moved into our new palazzo in Rome. I went to our five neighbors in the building and brought them Christmas cookies I made and a bottle of Spumante. Fausto looked at me with all my plates of cookies and bottles of Asti in my hand and said: “My love, what are you doing??” I went on to explain that we always bring something over to the next door neighbors in America for Christmas. He just stood there and smiled and said “We don’t do that in Italy.” I said, well, we’re going to start now!

Can you also pinpoint your least displaced moment, the first time you realized you felt much more comfortable with him and in Italy than you do with a man from your own culture in the U.S.?
I think it was when there was a Lazio (Rome) football game on TV and instead he took me to see a classical music concert at the Auditorium. He wasn’t telling me all night how much he was giving up for me…he really enjoyed the concert! I am a big baseball fan, not soccer. I was thrilled.

Non si serra mai una porta che non se n’apra un’altra (When one door closes another opens)

Moving on to the writing of the book: What was the most difficult part of the writing process?
Being constantly turned down by traditional publishers. Also, people I knew who already had books published weren’t very encouraging. Luckily, I didn’t let them get me down. After shopping it around for about six months, I decided to self publish. I realized with all my marketing and PR experience I could do a better job then they could in promoting my book in getting it to the right audience.

I see that you’ve listed Francesca Maggi as a co-author. How did that relationship work?
I was lucky as she was an editor and also an author and a friend. She had just published Burnt by the Tuscan Sun, and I asked for her help on the editing process. I gave her my manuscript and she polished and refined it pointing out my weaknesses and suggested options to strengthen those areas. She was instrumental in getting the flow right and helped with the technical elements. She was a natural choice for me as we share a common love of Italy and America, and she knew my husband well.

Can you offer any advice for others who are writing memoirs and hoping to publish them?
Don’t get discouraged. Publishing a book is not easy but if you have a good story, you now at least have options to get it out there. I love this quote by women’s fiction writer Jennifer Weiner:

The difference between people who believe they have books inside of them and those who actually write books is sheer cussed persistence—the ability to make yourself work at your craft, every day—the belief, even in the face of obstacles, that you’ve got something worth saying.

What audience did you have in mind for the book, and has it been reaching those people?
I really thought the target would be women between 20 and 60 (I do get a lot of emails from women like myself, and am happy they can relate), but I have been amazed at how many men also have written to me to say how much they enjoyed reading it. Obviously anyone who loves Italy, old-time romance, or stories of expat life in Europe would find it entertaining.

What do men like about the book?
I’ve had some nice comments from men who said that they were taking notes on Fausto’s techniques… Many of them also grew up in a large family. Also, Fausto was still a bachelor at 50. His story, too, can be inspiring!

Living La Dolce Vita

In your book you question whether Americans have their values in the right place given that we take so little vacation compared to people in Europe. Have you continued to feel this way about the U.S. since marrying Fausto and settling down in Rome?
Two years ago I decided to live like the Romans do and started working for myself so I could spend more time in the US visiting family and friends and also have more time to enjoy La Dolce Vita.

Do you think you could come back to live in the United States? What would be the adjustments?
After living in Italy for more than 12 years it would be very difficult for me to return to live in the US. Fausto and I have discussed moving back to California as he also acts in film and there are many more opportunities, but then we thought: how can we go and live in a city where they close the restaurants at ten o’clock? It would be very difficult to replace our lifestyle in the US. That said, I would love to transport the US postal office here as Italy still doesn’t have postal stamp machines. I bring my book and my computer now when I go to the post office as I know I’ll be spending the day there.

10 Questions for Catherine Tondelli

Finally, I’d like to ask a series of questions that I’ve asked some of our other featured authors, about your reading and writing habits:
1. Last truly great book you read: Blood from a Stone, by Donna Leone, part of her crime series set in Venice.
2. Favorite literary genre: Biographies or autobiographies: real-life stories are always so much more interesting than anything you could make up. That said, I also enjoy reading fiction.
3. Reading habits on a plane: I usually have long flights as my mother lives in San Diego and I fly from Rome three or four times per year to see her couple that with all the travel I do for my work (am working on events in Dubai, Nairobi, Singapore and London at the moment). I always have three or four books in my library at home that I wait eagerly to put in my carry-on bag for my long, hopefully peaceful journey. I am old fashioned and still like to feel the paper when i read a book.
4. The one book you’d require President Obama to read, and why: Jimmy Carter’s book Our Endangered Values: America’s Moral Crisis. I believe that Jimmy Carter has been one of our great leaders yet he is so humble. He was my 95-year-old grandmother’s favorite president. He tells us that for example the USA gives far less foreign aid to developing countries than most people imagine. And, much of this aid goes to certain select countries whose loyalty we are trying to buy rather than because we want to help the poor. The book opened up my eyes to understand how we are perceived internationally. It will give Obama a good reminder that values and morals are more important than being powerful.
5. Favorite books as a child: Charlotte’s Web, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
6. Favorite heroine: I have many but at the moment it is Malala, the girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban and survived.
7. The writer, alive or dead, you’d most like to meet: Beatrix Potter. I loved her books as a child, and she was also one of the early pioneer woman who broke the male barrier in publishing.
8. Your reading habits: I like to read in bed with my two Siamese cats (Stella and Luisa) on my lap.
9. The book you’d most like to see made as a film: Three Coins in the Fountain, of course!
10. The book you plan to read next: E-Squared: Nine Do-It-Yourself Energy Experiments That Prove Your Thoughts Create Your Reality, by Pam Grout. She provides experiments that prove our thoughts really do create our reality.

* * *

Thanks so much, Catherine. Readers, your turn! Any COMMENTS or QUESTIONS for Catherine? What would YOU wish for with your three coins, having heard her story? Come on, Valentine’s Day is coming! Surely, someone out there aspires to be the next heart wearing the valentine of the Frank Sinatra song?

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s TCK TALENT column, by Lisa Liang.

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!

Related posts:

An expat novel in episodes: SUITE DUBAI #1 – Arriving (2/8)

Suite Dubai Collage Drop Shadow

Image: Top: Book cover & author image (supplied by Callista Fox); bottom: By vahiju (Morguefiles).

It’s midDecember—perfect timing for the second installment of Suite Dubai, a serial novel by adult Third Culture Kid Callista Fox. As Callista tells it, the book grew out of a story that entered her head that wouldn’t go away: “There was this girl, young, vulnerable, naive, walking along a concourse in an airport, among men in white robes and checkered scarves and woman in black gauzy material. Where was she going? What would happen to her there?” Missed the opening installment? Get caught up now!!! NOTE: Highly addictive! Six more parts to come in 2014.

ML Awanohara

Her parents hadn’t wanted her to take this job. “Where?” her dad had asked, like he’d misheard her. “Dubai?”

Her mom had put her hand to her mouth. “All the way over there? In the middle of all those bombings? Can’t you wait a few more months, you know … see if something comes up here?”

A few more months? She’d already waited a few months. Twelve, to be exact. She’d already filled out more applications than she could count, for jobs she didn’t want until they’d rejected her. She had a degree in journalism and couldn’t get a job working the desk at the Motel 6. “Have you ever worked in hospitality?” a woman named Melinda had asked her over the phone, missing the irony of her own inhospitable tone.

In hospitality? What did that even mean? She’d spent her whole life being unnecessarily nice to people, on the phone, at the store, even in heavy traffic. She was certain she could hand someone a room key without causing a scene.

This job, the one waiting for her on the other side of the crowd, had been advertised on a website with an international employment section that she read mostly to pass the time, something she’d had plenty of since graduation. The public-relations position caught her eye, but she didn’t apply. She didn’t even know where Dubai was.

Then, rather than ask her mom for gas money—again—she threw some old clothes into the back of her Honda and headed for a consignment store. At a busy intersection she saw a guy dressed as a mattress, dancing on the side of the road, flashing a 15 PERCENT off sign at oncoming traffic. While she waited at the light, a gust of wind came and caught the inflatable costume like a sail and blew him back a few feet. He stumbled, almost fell, and then regained his footing, but his sign was blowing along the strip of grass and he had to turn and chase after it, the wind blowing against the back side of his costume now. His legs, outfitted in gray tights, stumbled along as he tried to slow himself down lest he become airborne and delivered to the brick wall of the nearby Chick-fil-A. She was scared for him, and she was even more scared she might recognize him from one of her writing classes.

That day she drove home and rewrote her résumé.

She added that she had done some public-relations work for a local nonprofit (omitting that it was her mother’s nonprofit). She had promoted an art auction that raised over $120,000 for at-risk teens (omitting that she’d really paraded paintings, like a woman on a game show, around a banquet hall, encouraging people to bid). She had been more of an art Sherpa than an event planner. Yes, she embellished. That’s what writers do. She wrote a kick-ass cover letter about the lost art of storytelling in the business world and clicked send.

“Where. The hell. Did you find this job?” her friend Emily asked, scribbling down the name of the website with a pen she’d chewed until it cracked. It was her tenth day without a cigarette. “I’d do it. I’d go in a heartbeat. I’m so tired of serving penny beer to drunk college guys.”

When they’d started their journalism degrees, they had both expected a job with the local newspaper that would lead to a column with the New York Times or a wire assignment that required a khaki blazer and a handsome translator. Now all they heard was, “Journalism is dead. You need to start a blog.” She and Emily scraped up money for domain names but neither of them got very far. Her life had become so dull and disappointing she was too embarrassed to write about it.

Emily was having the same problem. “I could describe the texture of the vomit delivered to my left sandal by a guy in a Georgia Tech jersey, or how I’ve started stealing my parents’ dog’s antidepressants.”

“Don’t worry,” Rachel said as she moved her chair into the shifting shade of the umbrella in Emily’s backyard. “I won’t get it. I’m not really qualified. Five years’ experience? Everyone wants five years’ experience. What I really need is a time machine.”

“But what if you do get it?” Emily said squinting at her. “I mean, a real job. One your parents wouldn’t be embarrassed to tell their friends about. I see my mom’s lip quiver before she tells people I’m a waitress at Kelly’s. She’s embarrassed. I don’t blame her. All those ballet lessons, cello lessons, Saturday Spanish classes, SAT prep courses, so I could get ahead. That’s what they said. So I could get ahead. Ahead of what?” She leaned back in her chair. “I wear a green apron with a pin that says ASK ABOUT OUR BUCKET SPECIALS. I count out change and signal to the bouncer when he needs to intervene. But see, I use the word “intervene” instead of “throw his ass out.” So it was all worth it, right? Because…vocabulary.”

“At least you’re good at something. I was a horrible waitress. Always forgetting who got the water, who got the wine. Twice I left a family sitting there, at a table, for almost an hour before even taking their order. The tips they gave me were out of pity. I saw it in their eyes.”

“You’re good at something. You just don’t know what it is yet,” Emily said, unwrapping a piece of gum and folding it into her mouth. “I should go back to school, take some architecture classes. That sounds so much better, right? ‘My daughter’s studying to be an architect.’ Especially if you go off to Dubai and leave me here alone.” Her eyes got shiny with tears. She looked away. “Or you could take me with you.”

“Well, there’s no way I’ll get this job.”

None of it was awful. They weren’t starving. They weren’t homeless. But enough days repeat themselves and you can’t imagine any day in the future being different than the one before it. This is how people fail, Rachel thought. A little bit at a time.

Two weeks went by without a reply. Then one night she remembered the business card in her nightstand. The one she’d had for over a year. The one she’d almost tossed in the garbage. When she had put it in the drawer she’d wondered why she was keeping it, but she knew she’d never get another business card with the word “sheikh” on it. She dumped the drawer on her bed and dug through the gum wrappers, hair ties, and scraps of bad poetry she’d written late at night when she couldn’t sleep. There it was, a simple white card embossed with the name Sheikh Ahmed Al Baz. He lived in a city called Riyadh, not Dubai. Wherever it was, it was closer to Dubai than Atlanta. So she wrote him an e-mail, asking if he remembered her, asking if he’d heard of the Al Zari Hotel.

* * *

So, readers, how are you enjoying the story so far? Let us know in the comments… And if you can’t wait until next month, you can always download the complete episode of “Arriving” (this is just the beginning) —as well as the next episode, provocatively entitled “Party on Palm Island”—from Amazon.

Callista Fox moved to Saudi Arabia when she was eight and lived there off and on until turning 19. she went to boarding schools in Cyprus and Austria. She has written two travel books and a travel column in the Sunday Oklahoman. Currently, she writes proposals for a consulting firm that provides technology and management solutions to governments and nonprofits around the world.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, an interview with this month’s featured author, Alexander McNabb, back by popular request. We’ll be talking about, and giving away, the final book in his Middle East trilogy: Shemlan!!!

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!

Related posts:

An expat novel in episodes: SUITE DUBAI #1 – Arriving (1/8)

Suite Dubai Collage Drop Shadow

Image: Top: Book cover & author image (supplied by Callista Fox); bottom: By vahiju (Morguefiles).

Today we begin a serial novel by Callista Fox, called Suite Dubai. Recalling her childhood as a Third Culture Kid in the Middle East, Callista had a story in her head that wouldn’t go away: “There was this girl, young, vulnerable, naive, walking along a concourse in an airport, among men in white robes and checkered scarves and woman in black gauzy material. Where was she going? What would happen to her there?” Sounds tantalizing, doesn’t it? On that note, here’s the very first part of Episode 1…with 7 more parts to come. (Warning: Highly addictive!)

ML Awanohara

When Rachel walked through the sunlit terminal at the Dubai airport, her student-loan payment was a month past due; her credit card, maxed. She had thirty-six dollars in her bank account and twenty-three in her purse, minus the ten she’d converted to euros to buy a stale ham-and-cheese croissant from a vendor at the Charles de Gaulle Airport. Now she couldn’t find the name of the man sent to pick her up. She’d printed the e-mail back in her mother’s office, folded it into a neat square. But where was it? Not in her purse or her carry-on bag. She’d checked them twice. It was a man’s name, something that started with an S. Her phone was no help. When she turned it on, the word ROAMING flashed across the screen. She was definitely roaming. At least Sallie Mae couldn’t reach her here. Not for a few weeks, anyway. And when they did, Rachel would finally have the money to make a payment. Unless her new boss realized she was a fraud and sent her home.

They wouldn’t have hired you if they thought you couldn’t do it. That’s what she’d been telling herself since Paris, since before Paris, really. Since she’d gotten the job offer.

You will do it, she whispered.

Down an escalator and along a series of moving walkways, she followed a family she recognized from her flight: a man in loose-hipped pants and long tunic, his wife in a bright green sari, the end of her scarf trailing behind her sequined shoes. Between them, holding their hands, a tiny girl in a yellow dress kept bending her legs, lifting her feet off the floor and letting her parents carry her along. The little girl shrieked and giggled, and in spite of the strain on their arms, her parents smiled down at her. In front of them, two men wore long, floor-length dress shirts. Checkered scarves flipped away from their faces like long hair. To her right, in the aisles of a duty-free shop, a woman covered in black gauze moved like a shadow among the perfume displays.

Rachel switched both bags to her other shoulder and smoothed the front of her wrinkled t-shirt. Her pants were no better. All those hours of travel had left a dull film on her skin and her head felt like it was filled with cotton.

She needed something. A trip to the bathroom to splash more water on her face. Something to eat. Several hours of real sleep—not the kind you did while trying to sit straight up until, desperate to finish your dream, your head slipped down and found a comfortable spot on the shoulder of the man sitting in 32F. “Excuse me…miss…”

She handed her passport to a man behind a high counter, who studied her picture then thumbed through the pages to her visa.

“You are here for work?” He asked.

“Yes,” she said. “The Al Zari Hotel.”

“The Al Zari Hotel,” he repeated. He looked at her t-shirt, her pants and then down at her tennis shoes. “Housekeeper?”

The customs line was long but it moved quickly. A man straightened his black beret before motioning for her to put her suitcase on the counter and open it. “Medications?” he asked. She shook her head. “Cash over ten thousand dollars?” She laughed. No. “Gifts over three thousand AED?” She had exactly no gifts worth any AED, as far as she knew.

“You have nothing to declare?” He said, looking annoyed.

“No,” she said. “Nothing to declare.”

“You are in the wrong place.”

She stared at him, not sure what to do next.

He pointed across the room to the Indian family who was waiting for their luggage to travel along a conveyor belt through an x-ray machine. “There,” the man said.

She grabbed her suitcase first, then her carry-on by the strap, tipping it over and spilling an envelope of pictures onto the counter. Together she and the customs man began to scoop them into a pile. He lifted one and squinted at it. Then he turned it around so she could see it. It was her with Truman, taken by a stranger while they stood in front of the roller coaster at Dollywood. They were doing that couples pose they’d perfected the one with their heads tilted toward each other. She was holding a mass of fluffy cotton candy and his face was scribbled out with a black marker.

“Oh, yeah.” She took the picture from him. “I should just throw this away.” She turned and slipped the picture into the side pocket of her bag.

On the other side of customs some sliding doors parted to reveal a crowd. People craned their necks to see who was coming through. Some held signs in Arabic. Some in Chinese or Japanese. The only English sign had the name Mr. Duncan written in marker. She walked along, looking for someone looking for her. The family from the airplane walked past her, the man pushing a luggage cart and the woman carrying the girl, who had fallen asleep on her shoulder.

Someone touched her arm.

“Rachel, eh, Lewis?” A short man with a horseshoe of black hair on an otherwise bald head, wearing delicate gold spectacles, stood a few feet from her. “You arrre Rachel Lewis?” His rolled rs made the question sound dramatic.

“Yes,” she said, and gave him a smile that remained on her face against her will. This was not the professional look she’d practiced but the face of a girl watching a friend of her father’s pretend to pull a quarter from behind her ear. “I’m Rachel Lewis.”

“I am Sayeed,” he said. “The car is outside.” He picked up her suitcase and headed for the exit.

Outside there was no sky, just the sun’s glare. It stung her tired eyes and she had to blink just to see where she was going. The heat felt thick as fur against her skin, too thick to breathe in all at once. Sayeed crossed a road and led the way along a row of cars, finally stopping at a white Mercedes.

The city looked nothing like she’d hoped. She saw no ancient markets shaded with draped fabric, no tents, no camels. It was as modern as downtown Atlanta with silver skyscrapers and wide, smooth multi-lane highways and perfectly painted crosswalks. A Rolls-Royce passed them on the right, then a big truck hauling men like cargo. They were packed tight on benches bolted to the truck bed; the ones on the end braced with their feet to stay seated. Their faces sagged, their shoulders, their arms and hands. They looked as tired as she felt. . . .

* * *

So, readers, would you like to hear more? Let us know in the comments… And if you can’t wait until next month, you can always download the complete episode of “Arriving” (this is just the beginning) —as well as the next episode, provocatively entitled “Party on Palm Island”—from Amazon.

Callista Fox moved to Saudi Arabia when she was eight and lived there off and on until turning 19. she went to boarding schools in Cyprus and Austria. She has written two travel books and a travel column in the Sunday Oklahoman. Currently, she writes proposals for a consulting firm that provides technology and management solutions to governments and nonprofits around the world.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, some musings on Thanksgiving from an expat point of view, by Anthony Windram.

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!

Related posts:

Image: Top: Book cover & author image (supplied by Callista Fox); bottom: By vahiju (Morguefiles).

For author Lana Penrose, expat “curveballs” come in threes

curveballToday we welcome back best-selling Australian author Lana Penrose, who last visited us in December to commiserate with those who were spending the holidays separated from their dearest and no longer nearest. Today’s occasion? The publication of Lana’s third memoir on her life abroad in Europe. Wait, did I just write “third”? Yes, this indefatigable Aussie managed to get a trilogy out of her expat experience, and is here today to explain.

—ML Awanohara

I’ve been asked to explain what motivated me to write my latest mini-memoir Addicted to Love, and it’s a very good question—one that I pose to myself often, particularly while in the throes of insomnia.

ToHelasandBack_dropshadowFor the uninitiated, I’m the author of To Hellas and Back, which chronicles my true-life tale of following the love of my life to the ends of the Earth (Greece) only to wind up losing my mind.

I then Nutbushed over to the UK to work for a world-renowned pop star and in the process wrote Kickstart My Heart, which details my attempt to negotiate my newly single life à la Bridget Jones—only with an axe through her head. As the book’s subtitle says: “A carnival of dating disasters”.

KickstartmyHeart_dropshadowNow these two books are rife with comedy, tragedy and my own human failings, so why scoop out what’s left of my heart and smear it across my shirtsleeve?

Like I said … a very good question.

More to the story…

The truth is that my story absolutely did not end with me leaving London to re-sample Greece after again being lured by love’s enchantment. In fact what happened next is something that I’ve kept close to my chest because it was downright shocking. I spent considerable time deliberating over whether I should share it at all.

AddictedtoLove_cover_dropshadowBut as many of you displaced writers know, the problem with being an author (one of the many!) is that you can’t seem to stop writing. And life has been more than accommodating in throwing me the odd curveball, the sort of material I feel compelled to purge away with my pen.

And so Addicted to Love was born: a mini-memoir that proves once and for all that truth really is stranger than fiction.

It’s set on the beautiful Greek island of Kythera, where I faced an impossible situation that I can’t go into here without issuing a spoiler alert … but rest assured that it’s gripping and you’ll digest it quite quickly, because it’s been described as “a page turner.”

Finally, an answer (of sorts)

But back to the original question: What motivated me to write this book? Well, thankfully (and unfortunately), experience has shown that there are many people who go through similar triumphs and tragedies to mine, particularly while traversing the globe. I like to connect with such people, and book writing is my way of holding out a hand and saying: “What—you, too?”and “You’re not alone.”

To Hellas and Back, Kickstart My Heart and Addicted to Love form a trilogy of the victories and pitfalls I experienced as an everyday person hurdling life abroad.

Each book can be read as a stand-alone, but I (predictably) suggest that you start at the very beginning to understand the depths of where I wound up.

* * *

Hey, Lana—you wound up here, at the Displaced Nation! That’s not the depths, surely? Readers, any questions for Lana or words of support? If you’re not familiar with Lana’s works, you can find the entire trilogy on Amazon or Smashwords. And don’t forget to follow her advice and begin at the beginning: by going to hellas and back!

Sydney-based (and no longer displaced) author Lana Penrose has had various incarnations, including music journalist, record company promotions gal, music television producer and personal assistant to an iconic pop sensation whose name shall never be revealed unless she’s subjected to Chinese water torture. She also once worked with the now-infamous Simon Cowell, which she today finds really odd. You can read more about her and her works on her author blog and/or follow her on Twitter: @LanaPenrose

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, when we’ll be revisiting one of the earliest themes on this blog, Alice in Wonderland, but from the perspective of an international creative.

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!

Related posts:

Image: MorgueFile


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,851 other followers

%d bloggers like this: