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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here goes:

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

STAY TUNED for Beth Green’s book review column.

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

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And the August 2014 Alices go to … these 3 international creatives

 © Iamezan | Dreamstime.com Used under license

© Iamezan | Dreamstime.com
Used under license

If you are a subscriber to our weekly newsletter, the Displaced Dispatch, you’re already in the know. But if you’re not, listen up. (Hey, why aren’t you? Off with your head!)

Every week, when that esteemed publication comes out, we present contenders for a monthly “Alice Award,” most of whom are writers or other kinds of international creatives who appear to have a special handle on the curious and unreal aspects of being a global resident or voyager.

Not only that, but this person tries to use this state of befuddlement as a spur to greater creative heights.

Today’s post honours August’s three Alice recipients. They are (drumroll…):

1) JESSICA WRAY, overthinking Californian, serial expat (currently in Madrid), and blogger

For her post: Seven Reasons Why English Food Doesn’t Actually Suck on her blog, Curiosity Travels
Posted on: 13 August 2014
Snippet:

3. Yorkshire Pudding
Not the pudding we are used to, this version doesn’t come from a powdered Jello packet. Instead, the Yorkshire pudding is actually referring to the pastry-like cooked dough which holds an assortment of heart attack inducing savory foods.

This specific Yorkshire pudding came with mashed potatoes, sausage and smothered in gravy. Accompanied by an ale, it was great for my soul but horrible for my waistline.

Citation: Jessica, the title of your post goes down in the annals. If that isn’t damning with faint praise, we don’t know what is. Your British hosts would be impressed. And it’s rather too literally gutsy of you to champion the cause of as many as 10 stogy foods merely because of “having dated a Brit for an extended period of time” and after having visited the country only twice. And while we don’t wish to stop you from acquiring a taste for stodge (British victuals need all the support they can get!), we worry you’ve become too focused on the gravy that’s smothering the Yorkshire pud and what it’s doing to your waistline to take in the protocol surrounding the British Sunday roast tradition. Alice, too, forgot her manners after stepping through the looking glass. We refer to the faux pas she committed when attempting to carve the leg of mutton just after having been introduced to it—only to be informed by the Red Queen:

“It isn’t etiquette to cut any one you’ve been introduced to. Remove the joint!”

Should you be possessed by a similar urge to seize the carving knife, don’t be surprised if your hosts are less than appreciative. You may wish to say something cheeky just as Alice did, i.e.:

“I won’t be introduced to the pudding, please, or we shall get no dinner at all.”

Then again, you could always utter an Americanism like: “Don’t get your panties in a bunch.” After all, the Brits have a comparable expression about getting their knickers in a twist. (What’s the worst that can happen—you don’t get invited back and have to make do with the food in Madrid?)

2) KEN SEEROI, American expat in Japan and professional writer, photographer and blogger

For his post: How to Stop Learning Japanese on his blog, Japanese Rule of 7
Posted on: 2 August 2014
Snippet:

Who knew languages had so many components? It’s all those words—that’s the real problem. First, I only wanted to know enough Japanese to order a beer. I figured I’d be happy with one word. But then I wanted another beer, so I needed another word. See, I told you I don’t think about the future.

Citation: We can empathize, Ken. How beautiful life in Japan would be if we foreigners didn’t have to grapple with the “devil’s tongue”. One minute you’re ordering a beer, and the next you find you’ve been captured and hooked: condemned to the life of an eternal student. And the struggle to learn vocabulary that doesn’t resemble Latin in any way is only the half of it. You also have to get into the mode of thinking that what isn’t said is usually far more important than what is said—the (in)famous wa factor. Indeed, if you have wa going, then your listeners should be able to finish your sentences for you—which is great if you’ve forgotten the verb, but not so great if they fill in the blank in the wrong way and you find you’ve agreed to something like tutoring their child in English for the rest of his born days when you were actually trying to say you’re giving up tutoring because you’re writing a book. Another challenging aspect of wa is the tendency to allow emotion to take over in favor of clarity. After all, stating something clearly may mean that that the speaker commits to something and thus would get the blame if the situation goes awry. Should you become the victim of this, you could always do a Humpty Dumpty—we refer to the (in)famous exchange between Alice and Humpty Dumpty over semantics, in Through the Looking Glass:

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you CAN make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

All things considered, though, you may be better off floating in a sea of vagueness. You had the right instincts, Ken, when ordering that beer and realizing one might not be enough. Well done!

3) DR. KATE EVANS, British zoologist, founder of Elephants for Africa (based in Botswana), and expat in Germany

For her remarks in an interview, The Expat that African Elephants Will Never Forget, with Claire Bolden McGill in Global Living Magazine (July/August 2014)
Posted on: 18 August 2014
Snippet:

The sounds we wake up to at night are very different. In Botswana my nights are disturbed by the roaring of a lion, the cackle of hyena or the rumble of an elephant, and I wake up to the sounds of the local franklin (a small chicken-like bird that is common throughout Southern Africa and very funny to watch running).

Citation: Dr. Kate, first of all we must congratulate you on heading up an organization that is doing one of the most noble deeds on the planet—attempting to save the African elephant from extinction. And although we know you have a list of degrees as long as an arm for doing such important work, we also suspect it’s your Alice-like curiosity that makes you so suited to the task. It is not at all surprising to us when you tell Claire (who btw was an Alice winner back in June and has also guest posted for our “New vs. Olde Worlds” series), that you feel more at home in the bush than you do in “hectic lifestyle of the West”. Your comfort level among African wildlife brings to mind this passage from Through the Looking-Glass:

…[Alice] found herself sitting quietly under a tree—while the Gnat (for that was the insect she had been talking to) was balancing itself on a twig just over her head, and fanning her with its wings.

It certainly was a VERY large Gnat: “about the size of a chicken,” Alice thought. Still, she couldn’t feel nervous with it, after they had been talking together so long.

You go on to tell Claire that your expat life owes to a promise you made to an elephant at the age of seven. Were you aware you were channeling Alice?!

*  *  *

So, readers, do you have a favorite from the above, or have you read any recent posts you think deserve an Alice Award? We’d love to hear your suggestions! And don’t miss out on the shortlist of Alice contenders we provide in each week’s Dispatch, which are sources of creative thought if nothing else! Get on our subscription list now!

STAY TUNED for more fab posts.

Writers and other international creatives: If you want to know in advance the contenders for our monthly Alice Award winners, sign up to receive The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with news of book giveaways, future posts, and of course, our weekly Alice Award!. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST: Jane Fletcher Geniesse’s biography of the passionate nomad (but displaced expat) Freya Stark

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, is back. An American who lives in Prague, Beth mixes booklust with wanderlust in equal measures, which gives her just the right background for reviewing book releases on behalf of international creatives.

—ML Awanohara

Hello again, Displaced Nationers! Hasn’t the summer gone by fast? How’s your progress on that reading list you made back in the day when it seemed like the dog days would go on forever?

Well, if you abide by the rule that summer ends with the equinox, then you still have a few more weeks. And if you’re searching for one last read to feed your wanderlust, I would recommend the volume I just now finished: a biography of Dame Freya Stark, one of the most amazing travelers and travel writers of the last century. Called Passionate Nomad: The Life of Freya Stark, it’s by former New York Times journalist Jane Fletcher Geniesse.

Passionate_Nomad_coverDays after reading, I’m still in a daze (so to speak), transported by Geniesse’s tale of this intrepid British war-time adventurer.

Stark is one of those people—we’ve all met them on our travels, haven’t we?—who seems to have crammed many lives’ worth of living into one single walk on Earth.

Born to Anglo-Italian-German parents who made their living painting, growing flowers, and managing textile factories (among other pursuits) across Europe, Stark was the original Third Culture Kid. As she traipsed with her parents across Britain, France and Italy, she had no real place to call home. She was further burdened by her parents’ separation and an emotionally manipulative mother, along with numerous illnesses and financial troubles.

A late bloomer

Though she would eventually achieve renown as a witty speaker who could always be counted on to liven up a party, as a young woman Stark despaired of being able to have her own life. She did not make her first trip to the Orient (as it was known in those days) until age 33.

Perhaps because Stark herself told the stories of her travels in the 25 books she published, Geniesse gives most of her attention to the adventures Stark had before being lionized for her travel exploits and writings. (Geniesse covers the last 40 years of Stark’s life—Stark lived to age 100!—in just one chapter.)

For me, Geniesse’s portrait is most brilliant when recreating the straitened times that preceded the period when Stark became fluent in Arabic, gained a reputation for bravery abroad and published her first articles and books on her Middle Eastern travels.

Geniesse relies on her intuition as well as meticulous research to highlight the details of Stark’s upbringing that help to explain her transformation from a penny-pinching flower farmer in Italy to a voracious student of classical literature, a free-spirited wanderer (she was one of the first non-Arabians to travel through the southern Arabian Deserts), and an internationally respected author, speaker, ethnologist and political consultant.

A misfit in the expat community

In tracing Stark’s life journey, Geniesse provides some sense of her struggle to find a place in the expat communities of the interwar years. On the one hand, she had trouble relating to the other Europeans she encountered on her travels, writing in one of her letters:

[The British missionaries in Lebanon] suffer from stagnation of the brain, and that surely produces stagnation of the soul in time. To feel, and think, and learn—learn always: surely that is being alive and young and the real sense. And most people seem to want to stagnate when they reach middle age. I hope I shall not become so, resenting ideas that are not my ideas, and seeing the world with all its changes and growth as a series of congealed formulas.

But during the period she spent within the expat community in Baghdad while researching her next trip, it was clear her fellow expats weren’t clear what to make of her either. As Geniesse writes:

Freya, now 37, was feeling her earlier despair give way to expanding hope. She could change her life; she had watched herself do it—although precisely to what purpose remained as much a mystery to her as the question of what Miss Stark was doing in their midst intrigued the Baghdad community. Freya enjoyed being directionless, learning purely for learning’s sake—and adjusting, if that was her fate, to a spinster’s life.

Geniesse concludes it may have been easier for Stark to explain herself to the tribes and villagers she encountered during her travels as they had no expectations of how she should be behaving. As a European, Christian woman traveling in remote areas of Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, Persia, Iraq and Iran, she was accepted as a foreigner, while in the expatriate communities there was some expectation that she should conduct herself as a proper unmarried lady.

(In fact she did eventually marry, in her fifties, to a good friend—but the couple separated soon afterwards, when her husband told her he was gay.)

Warts and all

Like all good biographers, Geniesse also highlights Stark’s less flattering qualities. From Stark’s petty rivalry with archaeologist Gertrude Caton-Thompson, to her sharp attitude toward women she felt were prettier than herself, to her irresponsible attitude to money and certain friends, Geniesse shows us the other side of this larger-than-life character. I liked Stark all the more for this mix of traits.

As I got to the end of Genisse’s work, I felt a little bereft. I missed Freya. There is something irresistible about a woman who not only writes her own script for her life but also gives herself a series of challenging parts. As Geniesse says, at the end of her life

Freya had followed her own genius. She had imagined herself as the star in many roles over the years—explorer in Persia and Luristan, Mata Hari at the imam’s court, English plenipotentiary during the war, and humble pilgrim, wandering through Turkey’s ancient ruins.

Next up on my reading list will have to be one of Stark’s own stories, several of which are still in print.

And now, I’ll leave you with a quote from Freya Stark herself, excerpted from a letter to her mother, listing the “7 cardinal virtues for a traveller”:
1. To admit standards that are not one’s own standards and discriminate the values that are not one’s own values.
2. To know how to use stupid men and inadequate tools with equanimity.
3. To be able to disassociate oneself from one’s bodily sensations.
4. To be able to take rest and nourishment as and when they come.
5. To love not only nature but human nature also.
6. To have an unpreoccupied, observant and uncensorious mind—in other words, to be unselfish.
7. To be as calmly good-tempered at the end of the day as at the beginning.”

* * *

Thanks, Beth, for bringing Dame Freya Stark to our attention! And now I would like to offically nominate her for our Displaced Hall of Fame. Readers, had you heard of Freya Stark before reading Beth’s column? What do you make of her? Have you encountered an eccentric like her on your own travels, or does she seem like a product of a previous age?

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, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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THE LADY WHO WRITES: Get over yourself, and start promoting that novel!

LadyWhoWrites_brandThe Lady Who Writes, Meagan Adele Lopez, is back today: we’ve missed her! Once again, she’ll be doling out practical advice based on her own experience for expats and other international creatives who are engaged in writing novels using some of the material gathered from their novel, shall we say, life stories. Meagan is a repeat expat in the UK (last time Bristol, this time London). Besides writing, her talents include acting, blogging, and crafting ads for social media.

—ML Awanohara

So—you’ve written the book, you’ve got the editor, your friends and family love it, you’ve done the Kickstarter to raise the money and your blog has a steady readership.

(Even if you have just written the book and don’t have the rest in that list, you’re a million times ahead of anyone who has just spoken about writing a book. You’ve DONE something.)

Don’t you think you deserve—no, the WORLD deserves—to get a chance to know it exists?

The fact is, most of us writers are a little afraid of self-promotion. But by the time you finish reading today’s column, I hope you will have gotten over that fear and are full of determination to plug your Great Work like crazy.

Excuses, excuses

You don’t have a manager? You don’t have a PR team? You don’t know a graphic designer?

All good! Even if you had all those things, you’d still be expected to do as much, if not more than, the promotional team, who are working on other books as well as yours. Obviously, having a group of PR professionals around you wouldn’t hurt. But c’mon! You’ve been preparing for this your entire life. You got this!

To quote Eminem—just because the song Lose Yourself never fails to get me pumped up to do really GREAT things:

Look, if you had, one shot, or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted, one moment
Would you capture it?
Or just let it slip, yo

Facebook’s (literal) wall

Now I want to tell you about the time when I took a walk through Facebook headquarters to pitch to Walmart and Facebook about why my team was worth their investment of millions of dollars. I noticed many inspiring quotes on their (literal!) walls, one of which really lept out at me:

"Done is better then..." on Facebook's literal wall, by Meagan Adele Lopez

“Done is better then…” on Facebook’s literal wall. Photo credit: Meagan Adele Lopez

Notice the misspelling and the comma in a weird place? It certainly makes a statement, doesn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong: it’s a great idea to comb through the final manuscript, edit the spelling mistakes and make sure your character arcs are outlined appropriately.

But how long have you been working on this novel? One year? Two years? Ten?!

Get it out there. Done is better than perfect. Done is even better than good—or as Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame says:

I want to make as many things as I can, taking on as many projects as I can possibly tackle. Each one exciting. Each one good enough. Each one DONE, to make room for the next, and the next, and the next…

Wouldn’t that be a wonderful way to live?

Take me, for instance…

This article is a perfect example, actually. I have written and re-written it about five times. Twice because my computer crashed, and three times in my head because I didn’t feel like I had anything relevant to add to this topic.

Wait, did I just say I have nothing to add? I work in ADVERTISING and MARKETING for God’s sake. How could I not have something to say?

All of our heads get in the way sometimes, and that’s OK as long as you don’t let it run you. I know this article is supposed to be about promoting your novel, but I think the most useful thing I can tell you is to get over yourself and realize that you are damn good enough to have other people read your book, now that it’s finished.

Regardless of what other writers on writing would have you believe, there are no secret tips to marketing and promoting your novel. Yes, there are the basics—advertising campaigns, blogs, newsletters, etc. But the most important thing is to refuel that passion you had when you were dining with your characters, when you were rehearsing your book trailer and reading every other author’s done works, and use it to drive your promotional efforts.

Set some goals

Thus I’m not going to give you step-by-step instructions on how to promote your novel. There are plenty of other google-able articles out there—for example:

But I will tell you to have goals. Do you want to sell 50 copies or tens of thousands? Do you want to make the New York Times Bestseller list, or do you just want your entire family to read it? Do you want to write articles or be interviewed for great sites like The Displaced Nation?

Once you’ve set some goals, how you go about achieving them becomes a lot easier.

What I can also say is that everything you write after you finish your book will be a promotion for that book. For example, at the end of this article is a little blurb about who I am and what I’ve written. Same for this interview I did in 2011 about publishing on Kindle, this article I wrote about taking the time to make change happen, and this article I wrote just recently for BBC America about combining British and American weddings (a version of which appeared two years ago on the Displaced Nation).

And now, without further ado, here’s Novel Writing Tip No 6 for International Creatives:

Once you write a book—everything you do will help promote it. So finish with the finishing touches, get out there and start talking about it!

* * *

Readers, what do you make of this final piece of advice of Meagan’s, which I take to be a kind of a kick in the pants (or trousers, if you prefer)? And do you have any further questions for Meagan, THE LADY WHO WRITES, before she leaves us? Please share in the comments…

Meagan Adele Lopez grew up in the U.S. with a Cuban-born father and American mother, and at one time enjoyed an acting/casting career in Hollywood, something you can detect in the beautiful trailer for her novel, Three Questions. Her day job these days is in social media advertising. To learn more about Meagan, go to her Web site.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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

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And the July 2014 Alices go to … these 4 international creatives

 © Iamezan | Dreamstime.com Used under license

© Iamezan | Dreamstime.com
Used under license

If you are a subscriber to our weekly newsletter, the Displaced Dispatch, you’re already in the know. But if you’re not, listen up. (Hey, why aren’t you? Off with your head!)

Every week, when that esteemed publication comes out, we present contenders for a monthly “Alice Award,” most of whom are writers or other kinds of international creatives who appear to have a special handle on the curious and unreal aspects of being a global resident or voyager.

Not only that, but this person tries to use this state of befuddlement as a spur to greater creative heights.

Today’s post honors July’s four Alice recipients. They are (drumroll…):

1) STEVE LUNT, British barrister and expat in the Far East (first Hong Kong and now the Philippines)

For his post: “My invitation to paradise was printed on a T-shirt,” on Telegraph Expat
Posted on: 25 July 2014
Snippet:

The tidal rhythms of island life seem to suit the mind and body. After a week in Boracay, you might forget that other world, where you have to strive more, earn more and worry more.

Small wonder then that so many expats forget to leave.

Citation: First off, Mr. Lunt QC, we’d like to pass judgement on this little adventure of yours. Let’s see. According to your testimony, you were having a “chilly winter” in Hong Kong when you happened to notice someone wearing a T-shirt promoting Boracay, the Philippines’ most popular tourist destination. It read:

Quit your job. Buy a ticket. Fall in love. Stay forever …

—and you decided to do just that. Now, does the defendant plead guilty or not guilty of barmy behavior? Off with your head… (Sorry, this is the first chance we’ve had to use that line in an Alice citation, and we simply couldn’t resist.) Moving right along to your observation about expats who are guilty of staying forever: we note that in your own case, you left the white sands of Boracay for the bright lights of Manila after 10 months. While this is a healthy sign, the jury is still out on your long-term intentions. All we can say is that forgetfulness is surprisingly common among us displaced types. Take Alice for instance. After stepping through the looking-glass, she enters the wood where things have no names and immediately forgets her own name:

“What do you call yourself?” the Fawn said at last. Such a soft sweet voice it had!

“I wish I knew!” thought poor Alice. She answered, rather sadly, “Nothing, just now.”

Suffice it to say that the moment you hear a Palawan Bearded Pig cry out, “I’m a Palawan Bearded Pig! and dear me! You’re an English barrister!”, it will be time to get the heck out of there. We rest our case.

2) LUCILLE CELANO, indie author and New Zealander in New Caledonia

For her post: The downsides of living in a Pacific paradise on Stuff.co.nz
Posted on: 15 July 2014
Snippet:

International contracts in mining and development bring in [to New Caledonia] entire families who must cope with a life not their own. Kids are thrown into school wondering what planet they’ve arrived on. No allowances are made for these children in the local system and the French syllabus of reading, writing and mathematics (and nothing else) seems alien to parents used to school rooms full of colour and creativity.

Citation: Lucille, we’ve long suspected that Paradise has many downsides, so thank you for writing this post. But, as to this business of expat children receiving a French-style education, are you sure that’s not an upside? Maybe we’ve been drinking the Pamela Druckerman Koolaid for too long (has her book, Bringing Up Bébé, reached New Caledonia yet?), but Drukerman, an American expat in Paris, pretty much has us persuaded that if your bébé isn’t doing well in school, it’s a sign of bad parenting. According to Druckerman, the French have a knack for getting the balance right between good parenting and good teaching, the evidence being the kids themselves. French kids are much better behaved than—while also being just as boisterous, curious and creative as—kids elsewhere. That said, it sounds as though you’ve got enough toxic matter in the air from that nickel smelter, and we wouldn’t want Druckerman’s thesis to add any more. The way things are going with that New Calendonian expat crowd, we predict it won’t be long before a Mock Turtle stands up and says he’s had the “best of educations,” far superior to anyone else’s in the room. And just think, if said Mock Turtle held sway, all expat offspring would be forced to study the “different branches of Arithmetic—Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision.” On the other hand, his idea of classes taking place in the sea might have a certain appeal. Isn’t New Caledonia one of THE diving spots in the South Pacific? Yes, yes, we know it’s no paradise, or if it is, it’s a paradise with flaws. Actually, now that you’ve gotten us thinking about French-style learning, we’re remembering a line of Victor Hugo’s that you may wish to use on the expat crowd, next time things get on your nerves:

An intelligent hell would be better than a stupid paradise.

3) BARNABY EALES, freelance journalist and director of a translation service, former expat but now living in East Sussex, UK

For his post: A return to my beautiful, mad school in Paris, on Telegraph Expat
Posted on: 7 July 2014
Snippet:

Madame Boulic, the mother of my second host French family, dropped me off at the [British School of Paris]’s anniversary party and reunion. To her amusement, a banner at the entrance to the school read: “We are all mad here.”

Ahead of the evening BBQ party, the theme of the summer fête was Alice in Wonderland, and in the cultural sense, living in this part of France is all about being in wonderland: exposed to French culture and language while receiving a British education. An outsider within.

Citation: Barnaby, thank you for sharing this charming story of your misspent youth at a school for (predominantly, at the time you went there) British expats in France. And we’re head over heels for the idea of an Alice-themed summer fête being thrown by such a displaced institution. In our book, that’s calling a spade a spade, or should we say, a heart a heart? We have just one item in need of clarification, though, after reading your post. You mention beer and Jägermeister being enjoyed. But what about wine? We are recalling, of course, this exchange between Alice and the March Hare:

“Have some wine,” the March Hare said in an encouraging tone.

Alice looked all round the table, but there was nothing on it but tea. “I don’t see any wine,” she remarked.

“There isn’t any,” said the March Hare.

That would not be terribly civil, to use Alice’s word, especially in light of the growing numbers of French students at BSP. À la vôtre!

4) EMMA THIEME, fifth-generation Maine girl living off-the-grid in Washington County, Matador Network contributor and MatadorU faculty member

For her post: The First Time I Felt Independence, on Matador Network
Posted on: 4 July 2014
Snippet:

I wish I could say that this worry gene didn’t pass on to me, but I too have felt myself hugging a loved one too tightly when saying goodbye. I’ve saved countless voicemails as if they were soon-to-be artifacts. I’ve even gone so far as imagining the minute details of myself, distraught, at a funeral. What would I wear? Who would bring me? How soon would I return to work?

Citation: Listen, Emma, “worry” is Alice in Wonderland’s middle name! Honestly, has there ever been a bigger fretter in the history of English literature? Don’t even think about competing with her. But the nice thing about Alice, and we suspect you have this gene as well, is that despite her aversion to nasty predicaments, she handles them with aplomb. How about the time when she eats the cookie in the White Rabbit’s house and grows to the point where her arms and legs are sticking out the windows and doors, yet still has the presence of mind to conduct a little conversation with her extremities:

“Good-bye, feet!” (for when she looked down at her feet, they seemed to be almost out of sight, they were getting so far off). “Oh, my poor little feet, I wonder who will put on your shoes and stockings for you now, dears? I’m sure I shan’t be able! I shall be a great deal too far off to trouble myself about you: you must manage the best way you can;—but I must be kind to them,’ thought Alice, “or perhaps they won’t walk the way I want to go!”

And, while we don’t wish to be too literal, perhaps your worrying nature has kept your feet, which are clearly itching to travel and have adventures, from fulfilling their true potential. Had you thought of talking to your feet, as Alice does, and reassuring them of your intention to let them lead the way? We feel certain they appreciated your outburst at the Denver airport: “Wow, I’m alive!” (Hmmm…and now that you’re a domestic expat, having moved from Maine to Washington State, are they getting ideas about moving abroad? It would not surprise us.)

*  *  *

So, readers, do you have a favorite from the above, or have you read any recent posts you think deserve an Alice Award? We’d love to hear your suggestions! And don’t miss out on the shortlist of Alice contenders we provide in each week’s Dispatch, which are sources of creative thought if nothing else! Get on our subscription list now!

STAY TUNED for more fab posts.

Writers and other international creatives: If you want to know in advance the contenders for our monthly Alice Award winners, sign up to receive The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with news of book giveaways, future posts, and of course, our weekly Alice Award!. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

Related posts:

LIBBY’S LIFE #91/#92 – The Stepfordization of Maggie

Maggie’s house used to feel like my second home. Every part of it was an extension of her, my “other” mother: the black wood-stove, the teapot-cats she didn’t have the heart to throw away, the colourful patchwork quilts draped over rocking chairs and love-seats.

I loved the stove’s smoky smell that wound through the house, even in summer, and clung to my clothes after every visit. So similar to cigar smoke, which I cannot bear, but so comforting in a way that tobacco residue never is.

I loved the china cats, gathering dust on the shelf above the kitchen window. They were as ugly as they were useless; cats of any material were never designed to hold hot liquids, and during afternoon tea, as Maggie tipped them over to pour, they would dribble incontinently over her plates of digestive biscuits and slices of Victoria sandwich.

And the quilts? I loved, simply adored, the stories that each quilt told.

“Now this white taffeta here, that’s from my wedding dress. Well, I say ‘dress’, but there wasn’t much of it. You couldn’t get more than a couple of patches out of it. It was the Sixties, and the skirt was noticeable more by its absence than presence. The blue seersucker, though, is from a party dress that Sara wore when she was five. It had a Peter Pan collar and puffed sleeves, and she looked like Miss Pears in it. And see this lime green? That’s part of the shirt I was wearing when I decided, just like that, that I’d had enough of Derek. I packed a bag for me and Sara and we left at midnight, like a pair of Cinderellas, while he was on night shift.”

The last story, about a patch of lime-green cotton commemorating her independence, is the one that keeps coming back to me as I sit with Maggie now in her living room.

Correction. This is not Maggie’s living room. Not anymore. It belongs to someone else who lives here now.

It’s as if the lime-green shirt lost its life in vain.

Gone is the wood-stove, replaced by a wall fire resembling a plasma TV.

Gone are the ceramic cats in the kitchen. The shelf where they used to sit has also gone, and in its place is a calico Roman blind. The countertops, which used to be barely visible for all the bric-a-brac — half-opened letters, a basket of middle-aged Golden Delicious, assorted supermarket receipts and special offer coupons — are clear of paraphernalia and smell faintly of lemon and ammonia. Only a coffeemaker and a toaster grace the surfaces.

And gone are the worn wooden rocking chairs and threadbare love seats, usurped by two cream, leather sofas, the type with angular seats that dig into the backs of your knees, and backrests that are too low to lean your head on.

Naturally, the life-history patchwork quilts are nowhere to be seen.

It’s like an “after” picture on a home makeover program.

Very sleek, very chic, very neutral. Devoid of personality.

Devoid of Maggie.

Well — devoid of the old Maggie, the Maggie who lived here a few months ago, the one whose personality was too big for this little cottage.

Since her ex has been living with her, though, her personality has been on a starvation diet.

The new Maggie twists slightly on her unforgiving sofa, and asks in a too-bright tone if I would like some tea. The old Maggie would have simply put the kettle on with nothing being said. Her Miss Manners style of etiquette is infectious, though, and I find myself answering:

“That would be perfectly lovely, thank you.”

She rejects my offer of help in the kitchen — something else the Maggie of old would not have done — so I stay seated and watch her walk into the kitchen. Even her dress code has changed: no more dirndl skirts or hippy kaftans, no more peasant blouses or wooden beads. I remember, when we first met, my impression of her was “Biba meets Miss Havisham of Great Expectations.”  Today, a first impression might be “Botox meets Liz Claiborne of Stepford Wives.”

What, I ask myself, can make a strong woman like Maggie turn into a drone?

It’s a rhetorical question. When you take into account the variables of Maggie’s life, only one has changed: her companion. Her ex-ex who, even when absent from the room as he is at present, keeps Maggie in a zombie-like trance by remote control.

Maggie’s personality started to alter quite a while ago, of course. My own diary pinpointed the moment as early as last September:

I have no idea what witchcraft Maggie’s ex has spun on my friend, but in the four weeks she was in the Keys, Maggie changed. She’s never been one to show or act her age — “Age is but a number” she is fond of saying — but since she came back, she’s been nearer in mental age and outlook to Jack than to me.

I did wonder if she was becoming prematurely senile, until I saw Maggie and Derek together one afternoon. Then I realised what had happened.

They’ve teleported themselves back forty years. She is behaving as she did when she was nineteen, and he thinks he’s the dashing young state trooper who stopped a redheaded English woman for speeding in a borrowed Corvette.

And it won’t work. You can’t be teenagers when you’re drawing a pension — at least, you can’t be the same teenagers that you used to be. By all means, have a second youth; but the key word there is “second”.

Reliving their first one will end in a pool of tears, I’m sure of it.

Ignoring Miss Manners’ probable advice to stay put on the sofa as my hostess had indicated I should, I follow Maggie into the kitchen.

She looks up as I approach, and I could swear that her expression is one of alarm.

“Let’s have a nice chat while the tea’s brewing,” I say, leaning cosily against the counter. “I haven’t seen you for ages. Not even in the shops, although I’ve seen Derek there a few times. How are you doing?”

Maggie’s alarmed expression returns to one more bland. She smiles and nods once to acknowledge her satisfactory wellbeing, and counts out spoonfuls of looseleaf tea into an angular, stainless-steel teapot that resembles not a tabby cat but part of a car engine.

I stare at the stainless steel monstrosity — no doubt an example of engineering perfection that it wouldn’t dream of dribbling over teatime cake and biscuits — and rage quietly to myself. How dare it decide that Maggie’s old china teapots weren’t good enough?

The answer to that is: it didn’t. Something else did.

Someone else did.

“And how is Derek?” I ask. “You haven’t kicked him out yet?”

Maggie’s eyes widen. She looks around furtively before replying.

“Of course not. Why would I do that?” she says. “We’re just getting to know each other again.”

She pours boiling water on the tea leaves, lets it brew for exactly two minutes, then pours me a cup. It’s not her usual brand of bright orange PG Tips. This stuff is pale grey with a slice of lemon floating in it, and it smells of lavender potpourri.

“The house looks beautiful,” I lie, after I’ve taken a sip. Not only does the tea smell like potpourri, but it tastes like it too. “Very tidy. Very clean. Very…” I can’t think how to describe the new, angular, clinical style that is so out of place in Maggie’s cosy home.

“Very not me, I think you’re trying to say.” Her voice is barely audible.

It’s the first sighting I’ve had of the real Maggie for several months, and in my surprise, I almost drop my cup.

“So why did you do it?” I ask.

Maggie purses her lips: Shush. Then she jerks her head slightly towards the door in the kitchen that leads to the den.

“Can you talk?” I whisper.

She shakes her head.

In a louder voice that will carry to the den where her ex-ex presumably is, she says, “Derek and I have plans to go out very soon, so I’m afraid you won’t be able to stay long. But before you leave, remind me to give you the CD you lent me last summer. I do apologise for keeping it so long.”

Again, a pursing of lips to silence any bemused reaction on my part. I’ve never lent Maggie any CDs. Ever.

I swig back the remnants of my lavender-flavoured tea and Maggie hustles me towards the front door. As I step out onto the porch, she thrusts a CD case at me. I shove it in my handbag without looking at it, get in the car, and head off home to see the children who have been tormenting a local high schooler who was foolish enough to volunteer to babysit.

Later, after dinner, I tell a slightly bored Oliver about the mysterious changes in our old neighbour. “And then, just before I left, she gave me a CD she says I lent her…but I’ve never lent her any CDs.”

“What was it?” Oliver asks.

I rummage in my handbag, which is a large sack-like affair in which everything falls to the bottom in a jumble of loose change, gas receipts, and Happy Meal toys, and pull out the CD case that Maggie had given me.

“A Beatles album,” I tell him, and hold the case up for him to see.

He squints. “I can’t see without my glasses. Which one?”

John, Paul, George, and Ringo; dressed in blue uniforms, holding their arms in various semaphore positions.

“‘Help’,” I say.

 

.

Next post: LIBBY’S LIFE #93

Previous post: LIBBY’S LIFE #90 – The Other Woman

Read Libby’s Life from the first episode.

Want to read more? Head on over to Kate Allison’s own site, where you can find out more about Libby and the characters of Woodhaven, and where you can buy Taking Flight, the first year of Libby’s Life — now available as an ebook.

STAY TUNED for next week’s posts!

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

summerhacks_US

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

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

But no. It hasn’t worked that way.

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

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

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

FROM JAPAN:

1) Avoid the sun at all costs.

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

2) Carry a fan and a handkerchief.

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

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

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

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

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

FROM THE US:

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

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

AIR
CONDITIONING

and a movie

6) Eat ice cream.

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

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

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

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

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

FROM THE U.K.:

9) Seize the moment and go crazy.

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

10) Have a cuppa.

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

* * *

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

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

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

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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And the June 2014 Alices go to … these 4 international creatives

 © Iamezan | Dreamstime.com Used under license

© Iamezan | Dreamstime.com
Used under license

If you are a subscriber to our weekly newsletter, the Displaced Dispatch, you’re already in the know. But if you’re not, listen up. (Hey, why aren’t you? Off with your head!)

Every week, when that esteemed publication comes out, we present contenders for a monthly “Alice Award,” most of whom are writers or other kinds of international creatives who appear to have a special handle on the curious and unreal aspects of being a global resident or voyager.

Not only that, but this person tries to use this state of befuddlement as a spur to greater creative heights.

Today’s post honors June’s four Alice recipients. They are (drumroll…):

1) ANDREW CREELMAN, British expat in São Paulo, blogger and author of the memoir Trying to Understand Brazilian Culture

For his post: What It’s Like to Watch World Cup Games on the Streets of São Paulo, on his blog, What About São Paulo?
Posted on: 19 June 2014
Snippet:

Watching England vs Italy
The day I’d been waiting for had arrived! I’d managed to recruit a Dane, an American and a couple of Brazilians to support England with me, and we all headed over to the Fan fest area just in time for the English national anthem. I belted this out with gusto, and I noticed I wasn’t alone; there were at least 100 other Brits I could almost hear singing too.

Then the Italian anthem started, and things took an unexpected turn. It was as if EVERYONE else was singing along to this, waving their Italian flags. But then São Paulo is home to a huge number of Brazilians of Italian descent, and for some reason, I hadn’t even thought about this before arriving. To make things worse, there was a group of big, burly Italians stood by us, clearly very passionate about this song and the team.

Citation: Andrew, we’re surprised you didn’t perfect your capoeira kicks before venturing into the FIFA Fan Fest area of São Paulo to watch England play Italy. But it seems you were that clueless. Your story in fact puts us in mind of Alice when she was handed a flamingo and gopher and told to play croquet. She was “in such confusion that she never knew whether it was her turn or not.” Likewise, we note that you were jumping up and down when you imagined England had scored a goal when in fact the ball had hit the outside of the net. Still, it’s a good thing you were mistaken or else those “big, burly” Brazilians of Italian descent might have screamed “Off with his head!”. As it was, their smirks must have made you feel a right wally. Welcome to the Fédération Internationale de Alice (FIA). And, yes, it’s time to invest in the Brazilian equivalent of Spec Savers.

2) CLAIRE BOLDEN MCGILL, British expat in Maryland and blogger at UKDesperateHousewifeUSA

For her post: Brazil 2014: The World Cup Widow’s Guide to Surviving It Stateside, to Lawrence Brown’s blog, Lost in the Pond
Posted on: 12 June 2014
Snippet:

List of activities for making World Cup widowhood fun

3. Buy a big hat and pretend you’re a rich British aristocrat. There is no other reason to do this, other than it’s something fun to do when the game is on.

Really go to town on the British accent. Order or make tea and be all lah-dee-dah, and poo-poo lemon and sweetener, get a proper milk jug and dunk in a Custard Cream. Keep being posh and drink tea and say posh British things during the game.

Citation: Love it, love it, love it, Claire! Only can we make just one wee suggestion, that while outfitted in this rather outlandish garb, you borrow a line from the March Hare and say to your husband, very earnestly: “Take some more tea.” Then when he says he hasn’t had any tea yet so can hardly take more, you can say:

“You mean you can’t take LESS. It’s very easy to take MORE than nothing.”

Just think, he may look away from the screen for an instant, wondering whether you’ve gone totally barking. Mmmmm… Okay, probably not. Still, a Mad Hatter Tea Party would be marginally more entertaining than playing World Cup bingo with yourself (No 6).

3) JANE DEAN, blogger, editor, writer; English-born global resident (but currently in the Netherlands)

For her post: The Non-Expat Expat: Not Fitting The Box to her blog, Wordgeyser
Posted on: 28 May 2014
Snippet:

Today we have no concept of “home” in a geographic sense. This used to worry me and I know it caused consternation for our families that we no longer felt, or identified ourselves as, “British”. I used to feel wholly American, now not so much. I find I can’t identify with any given nationality, but am most comfortable surrounded by people like me, who are from everywhere.

Citation: Jane, at a time when America is about to celebrate its independence from Britain, we find it refreshing to encounter your “nothing is permanent, not even nationality” perspective. British one day and “wholly American” the next—it’s a pivot that can only be rivaled by the German football players on Team USA. What’s more, it’s impressive that you’ve renounced expat-hood as an alternative identity. We, too, have never identified with the expat label and, upon reading your post, suddenly understood why: it’s because we’ve all been “local” (only one of us has had an expat package, in Japan). Like you, we would advise others who feel they are “from everywhere” not to spend too much time on the Alice-in-Wonderland puzzle of “Who in the world am I?” The sooner one can get over the feeling of having arms and feet poking out of the windows and doors of the White Rabbit’s house—or, as you would put it, Jane, “not fitting the box”—the better. To echo your words: “The worst disasters make the best stories down the years.”

4) BRITTANY JORDT, diehard Wisconsinite, “almost expat” in New Zealand and travel blogger

For her post: Reflections on a year and a half abroad, from an almost expat on her blog, Today I’m 20-Something
Posted on: 13 May 2014
Snippet:

Which brings me to my point: anyone who tells you they don’t miss home is either lying or doesn’t have a home worth missing. In the first case, you can hardly blame a person for denying how much they long for the land of their birth, especially when (as is often the case) it’s not feasible to go back. The second scenario is one I don’t envy, even if the homesickness sometimes drags me down.

Citation: Well said, Brittany! Listen, a rainy day in Auckland, the kind that makes you wear socks with your slippers and huddle around the propane heater, would bring out the homesick in anyone, even those of us who don’t have homes worth missing. But your point is well taken. You’re not in Wisconsin any more. To return to Alice (don’t you imagine she and Dorothy would be friends?), a person who is living abroad, particularly on the other side of the world, in the Land of Feijoas no less, would be lying if they didn’t occasionally admit to having a moment like this:

“It was much pleasanter at home,” thought poor Alice, “when one wasn’t always growing larger and smaller, and being ordered about by mice and rabbits. I almost wish I hadn’t gone down that rabbit-hole—and yet—and yet—it’s rather curious, you know, this sort of life!”

We also love that you refer to yourself as an “almost expat—a person who still feels the tug of home on her heart”. It’s the perfect way to describe the existential ambivalence that goes hand in hand with a life of displacement, that persistent feeling of: “There’s no place like home…There’s no place…” Is it any wonder that the Kiwi granny thought you were a keeper? :-)

*  *  *

So, readers, do you have a favorite from the above, or have you read any recent posts you think deserve an Alice Award? We’d love to hear your suggestions! And don’t miss out on the shortlist of Alice contenders we provide in each week’s Dispatch, which are sources of creative thought if nothing else! Get on our subscription list now!

STAY TUNED for more fab posts.

Writers and other international creatives: If you want to know in advance the contenders for our monthly Alice Award winners, sign up to receive The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with news of book giveaways, future posts, and of course, our weekly Alice Award!. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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TCK TALENT: Alice Shu-Hsien Wu, Cultural Bridge Builder and Global Nomad Videographer

Alice Wu TCK TALENT Collage

Alice Shu-Hsien Wu (her own photo).

Elizabeth (Lisa) Liang is back with her monthly column about Adult Third Culture Kids (ATCKs) who work in creative fields, Lisa herself being a prime example. A Guatemalan-American of Chinese-Spanish-Irish-French-German-English descent, she has developed her own one-woman show about being a TCK, which was the closing keynote at this year’s Families in Global Transition (FIGT) conference.

—ML Awanohara

Happy summer/winter/rainy season, international readers! As some of you may recall, last month I talked to Cathleen Hadley, a fellow ATCK contributor to the anthology Writing Out of Limbo, dedicated to telling the stories of those of us who grew up among different countries. Today I’m interviewing another Limbo contributor, Alice Shu-Hsien Wu. An intercultural communication consultant and lecturer at Cornell University, Alice is particularly interested in intercultural adjustment and in internationally mobile families. She has produced two acclaimed videos about college students who have led internationally mobile, nomadic lives, in which the students themselves discuss such challenges as transition, cultural identity, and rootlessness.

* * *

Welcome to The Displaced Nation, Alice. I understand that you were internationally mobile while growing up, living in England, Finland and Sweden in addition to the United States.
Yes, my father was a biochemistry professor and had sabbaticals in various places. We went from New York City to Palo Alto, California, when I was 6 and to Upstate New York when I was 7, and then to England when I was 11 and back to New York State when I was 12. We also sometimes traveled to various countries where my father had meetings. I was a Rotary exchange student in Finland when I was 17; went to college and grad school in New York; and then, at age 26, went to Sweden to study and work, returning two years later to Ithaca, New York, where I still live.

Were you happiest in a certain place at a certain time?
I’ve been happy in many places—one of my favorites was California because of the sunny weather, fruit trees and flowers in my yard, and sand in the playgrounds (I was 6 then, remember). This was a welcome change from living in NYC—where the playgrounds were concrete and you weren’t allowed to walk on the small amounts of grass.

“Then when I got here it was a big adjustment identity thing: I didn’t feel American…” – Lynn, US

How did you find your various “repatriation” experiences?
My repatriation from Sweden was probably the most challenging—since I had lived there longer and gotten more immersed in the culture through school, work, and friends. I remember thinking American TV newscasters smiled and laughed too much compared to Swedish commentators and that college and grad students in the United States dressed very informally compared to students in Stockholm. Everything in the U.S. seemed bigger than I had become accustomed to in Sweden—gigantic tableware and portions in restaurants (especially in California), huge shopping carts and vast numbers of products in supermarkets. Also, I was surprised by the general lack of discussion about current world events in the U.S., compared to the amount and frequency of these discussions in Europe.

Now you sound like the other Alice: in Wonderland! (I mention because she’s the Displaced Nation’s mascot.) As an instructor at Cornell, you’ve made two important documentaries about global nomads/TCKs, Global Nomads: Cultural Bridges for the Future (1994) and Global Nomads: Cultural Bridges for the New Millennium (2001). What did you like best about the creative process?
Meeting the students and getting to know them—they were fascinating, honest, and articulate. I screened the first global nomads video for the student interviewees at the end of the school year, and they liked it so much they decided to form a global nomads club. They asked me to be their advisor and I ended up working with them for the next three years. They were amazingly creative, active, and energetic and brought a lot to the campus community.

“Global Nomads have the ability to educate others…” – Liliona, Ghana

What attracted you to the documentary format? I have talked to other ATCK actors like myself and to novelists and artists, but you are my first videographer.
Clearly, there are many effective ways to portray the GN/TCK experience, but I was more familiar with the documentary format since I’d used it in teaching. For example, I’d used videos during intercultural training sessions for students and staff at Cornell to introduce topics like cultural adjustment, culture shock, and reentry shock. I also videoed international students as well as first-generation Americans who were participating in panels about aspects of American culture, as well as some international students who were teaching and doing role-plays. So I was very comfortable with the format. I really like being able to feature students’ own words and impressions—especially when I can capture them interacting with other students. In the first video, all of the students were from Cornell. In the second video, the students were from six different schools across the United States: San Diego State University, Colorado State University, The College of Wooster, George Mason University, Syracuse University, and Cornell.

Limbo_coverIn your essay in Writing Out of Limbo, you describe the impact of the videos not only on the college students who participated in them but also on the TCKs in your audiences. You produced these two documentaries in the era before social media. How did the news spread?
I showed the videos to as many groups at Cornell as I could: students, including Resident Advisors in dorms and the members of an international student discussion group, as well as groups of staff. I also screened them at international and intercultural conferences. Also, the students who appeared in the first video were great with promotions. They showed it to their dorm-mates to help them understand the GN experience, as well as at an initial meeting of their global nomads club to introduce prospective members to the concept. And they traveled together to a Global Nomads International (GNI) collegiate conference in Virginia where they screened it for GNs and TCKs from other colleges. Audience members who’d been TCKs/GNs could really relate to the students on screen, and word soon spread.

“I never wanted to put down roots…”- Brian, US

Did making these videos help you to better understand yourself as an ATCK?
I could relate to many things that the students talked about, and making the videos helped me think about some of my own experiences such as leaving my friends many times and having friends in many different places.

Do you identify most with a particular culture or cultures? Or are you like many TCKs who are more likely to identify with people who have similar interests and perhaps similar cross-cultural backgrounds? (And of course it’s not a given that we’ll identify with them!)
I identify with some aspects of Nordic cultures like Sweden and Finland, some aspects of Chinese culture (due to my family background), and some aspects of American culture. I always seem to meet global nomads and Third Culture Kids wherever I go: I really enjoy it. After learning about the concept of global nomads and Third Culture Kids at the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication and from the late, great David Pollock, I realized that a lot of the friends I’d made at college were global nomads (and they were very interested in learning more once I’d informed them).

As an ATCK, do you want to move frequently, or do you prefer to have a home base and only travel for pleasure?
My suitcase is always partly packed so it is easy to go on the next trip. On a recent trip to the West Coast, I was thinking about how much I love seeing all the gates listing flights to various parts of the world. I like to imagine what it would be like to jump on one of these planes and end up in a new part of the world. That said, I also enjoy having a home base, especially since I have kids who are quite rooted and don’t like me to be away for very long.

Are you working on a new TCK video project?
Yes. This spring I filmed three panels of Cornell students at Cornell’s Language House. This time I am looking at the influence of technology on the global nomad/TCK experience and how this compares to the experiences of GN/TCK students in my previous two videos. In addition, I am making a video that follows up on some of the students who participated in my first two films, and am planning to use social media tools.

* * *

Thank you, Alice! Readers, if you’re interested in learning more about Alice’s work or obtaining a copy of either of her documentaries, you can go to the Families in Global Transition (FIGT) website. And, to reiterate, you can read her chapter describing her work in Writing Out of Limbo: International Childhoods, Global Nomads and Third Culture Kids. The subheds above are all quotes from the students featured in her second documentary. Please leave any questions or comments for Alice below.

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GLOBAL FOOD GOSSIP: Summer in a bottle…we’re jammin’

global food gossipJoanna Masters-Maggs, our resident repeat-expat Food Gossip and Creative Chef, is back with her column for like-minded food lovers.

* * *

“I heard that wine makers in the Napa Valley have found that picking grapes at night yields better wine,” I said to my husband as we walked the dog around our little neighbourhood.

He followed my line of vision to an apricot tree, which, every June, heaves with the luscious yellow fruit.

“I still think it would be a stretch for that snippet of hearsay to justify nicking the neighbour’s apricots to make jam,” he said.

“As if I would think of it,” I snapped.

But of course, I have thought of it, and often. After three years of living in France, I realize that I have entered into the kind of seasonal cooking that would make the hearts of certain editors of food magazines sing. Preserving has become a huge part of my life. Whenever I see a tree bursting with fruit, I am mentally pulling my preserving pan out of the pantry. Indeed, no tree is safe. My own cherry tree has been stripped bare of its rich dark cherries, which are now satisfyingly preserved in jars with wide red and white checked lids and little fruit decorated labels. Kitsch? Twee? Call it what you will.

Preserving the past

Seasonal preserving not only makes me feel smugly capable, it also provides a connection with a past where preserving was a necessity and not a lifestyle choice. In France the changing seasons are very clear and marked by the varieties of available produce. This is not always the case in other countries where I have lived. Sometimes seasons are blurred due to imports for those able to pay, while in others there is a shortage of actual seasons.  I have always thought we should be grateful Vivaldi was not born in Malaysia.

Jo's strawberrys and raspberrys

At the market

Here in Aix I buy my fruit and vegetables in a large farm shop. As the year progresses, the produce changes. Strawberries come in around April or May and I watch the prices drop and drop until 4 Euros buys you 2 kilos and you are happy to macerate and preserve to your heart’s content. As the supply of strawberries peaks and peters out, in come the apricots, at jaw-droppingly low prices. In England I would feel guilty to pay that much and make jam, preferring instead to use fewer and to put them where they are visible. So the season goes on with harvests of figs, walnuts, grapes and avocados. Even after years of living overseas, it still amazes me that something as special to a Brit as artichokes or avocados can be displayed in barrels as if they were as common as potatoes in Ireland.

I hope I never lose the delight in this aspect of expat life.

Gorgeous Cheddar, where seasonal quality trumps year-round quantity

I can get quite upset thinking of the English strawberry. The best of the best, produced in the county of my birth, Somerset, in the little village of Cheddar. Poor Cheddar, famous for its wonderful cheese, which has been knocked off and plasticized the world over until most people outside the UK don’t even know what real Cheddar is. On top of this, the reduction of its strawberry industry too. The problem was that for all its well-drained and optimal facing slopes, the season was only weeks long. It couldn’t produce enough fruit to satisfy the appetite of the nation which stamped its foot and demanded more and cheaper strawberries, and a longer season to boot.

The nation should be careful what it wishes for. Fruit varieties have been tampered with and grown under plastic so that we can enjoy strawberries for longer than the two weeks of Wimbledon. Flavor has been compromised — of that there can be no doubt. But you can still buy the real thing in Cheddar, or grow your own, and it’s well worth doing if only to see what this fruit should actually taste like: strawberry, if you are interested, and not water.

Then there are the imports. I am all for world travel, but not for soft fruit on which an indefinite travel ban should be imposed. The waxy Spanish strawberry is not only nearly devoid of the flavor of strawberry, but its texture is decidedly unappealing, being as coarse and waxy as an ageing fruit-pickers cheeks.

How much do I love a good strawberry? A bushel and a peck and some in a gourd.

Having said all that, I am (somewhat surprisingly) delighted to see the vast quantities of Spanish strawberries in my French market. There are two points in my rather shifty defense. Firstly, they are cheap, which justifies their use in jam. Turning a perfectly grown, traditional Cheddar strawberry into jam would be a crime, but boiling the heck out of the Spanish and adding sugar can only act to improve the flavor they lack. Secondly, the presence of the Carpentras strawberry gives a taste of how things should be.

The village of Carpentras, in the Vaucluse region of Southern France, hosts a strawberry festival in April each year. I like to think of this village as Soft Fruit Soul Sister to Cheddar. Yet, unlike Cheddar, Carpentras has been successful, in that typically French way, of protecting its strawberry: as fiercely as Champagne growers have protected their name under a registered trademark since 1987. We have much to learn from them.

Several varieties are grown. 90% of production is given over to the parajo, while its posher cousins, the ciflorette and the garriguette, are favored respectively by patissieres and those who like their fruit as it comes. These elite strawberries have retained their, well, strawberrishness with a deeper, fuller flavor. Price is higher but it is a price that locals and fancy restaurants alike are willing to pay for flavor. My favorite is the garriguette which, at 3.90 Euros this morning for 250g (16 strawberries), is nearly double the price of the regular Carpentras, but so well worth it.

This is the taste of the homegrown strawberries I remember from my youth, complete with that rich, almost caramel-like flavour. Heaven, and worth every centime.

Joanna's jam

Joanna’s jam

Bottling summer sunshine for winter days ahead

So here in France I can enjoy quality in my tarts and quantity for my preserves, and that, I think, is a perfect combination. In England it is less of a clear cut and easy situation. Most of my local Pick Your Own farms have closed in recent years and, outside of two or three beloved greengrocers, everything is plastic punneted mediocrity. Not awful, but not good and definitely not strawberry.

Back in France, as the year progresses, so my level of stress rises. Two batches of strawberry, one of cherry, brined olives rinsed and now bottled in olive oil, and apricot in the making, have placed considerable strain on my supply of jars. Yet I am always thinking greedily ahead. Figs are already on my mind, yet here I am in the throes of moving house. Somehow, the making of that Fig Confit must happen. I can’t miss figs at those sorts of prices. They must be preserved before my pans are packed. Or immediately after arriving at the new place before my boxes are fully unloaded. Will I be able to do it? I feel the panic rising. No amount of telling myself that I don’t actually have to do it this year has any effect. I have to. I must. It’s just the rhythm of the year and I can’t bear to miss the joy of opening a jar at Christmas in the midst of an English winter. Just a little ray of Provence sunshine from my other home on a cold, cold day. A little fig confit to serve with the foie gras adds a French touch to the festive season.

The stress is intensive by that Apricot tree which still preys on my mind. Those wasted golden globes are just asking for my attention. It really would be a crime to let them wither on the tree. Wouldn’t it?

* * *

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

Fellow Food Gossips, share your own stories with us!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post!

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Images: All images from Joanna’s personal photo albums, and used here with her permission

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