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For this fearless and feisty travel photography pro, a picture says…


Steve Davey at a New Year's celebration in Laos, 2011 (supplied).

Steve Davey at a New Year’s celebration in Laos, 2011 (supplied).

A Picture Says… columnist James King is away this month, so ML Awanohara is pinch hitting in his place.

Greetings, Displaced Nationers who are also photography buffs!

Once again, I am the feeble stand-in for James King, who will be back in August. That said, I am happy to be the vehicle for bringing to you such an exciting interview subject: Steve Davey, a professional photographer who is also an intrepid wanderer around Planet Earth, with the creds to prove it. Steve has produced two best-selling BBC travel books, one about unforgettable islands to escape to, the other about unforgettable places that should be on everyone’s bucket list.

He has also written a photography book about festivals around the world as well as a guide to location photography.

And he has started up his own business leading travel-photography tours, about which a participant has written:

“Your love of photography and travel is infectious and I can honestly say I have never laughed or learnt so much on a holiday before!”

I recall that when I first stumbled across Steve’s photography site, I found him an amiable character—on his About Page he says is is a “crap sightseer” who is “more interested in how places work and often how they don’t, than in visiting monuments and museums.” I could also sense his insatiable curiosity about the wider world coupled with a certain fearlessness. This mix of qualities suggests not only that he takes great photos but also that he isn’t easily daunted.

Let’s find out if these impressions were right by giving Steve the floor.

* * *

Hi, Steve, and welcome to the Displaced Nation. Let’s start in the same way James always does: where were you born, and when did you spread your wings to start traveling?
I was born in a small village near Bristol. I longed to head out and explore the world, and as soon as I was old enough I headed off around Europe on an Inter-rail pass. That year I got as far as Hungary. The following year I got even further—to Romania in the days of Ceausescu.

Which countries have you visited thus far, and have you lived in any of them?
I have been to almost ninety countries in the course of my work. Some of these, I have been to dozens of times. I am a compulsive traveler but have always been based in London, travelling where the work takes me. As you mentioned in your introduction, I’ve shot a couple of books for the BBC. Each of these required taking all the photos for about twenty-five chapters in a single year. For the Unforgettable Islands book, I did the equivalent of 6.5 times around the world on 99 different flights.

So you’ve never been an expat?
There are some parts of the world I’ve visited that I would love to have lived in, but my feelings about this are always changing. So I figure it’s best to base myself in London and have the option of returning to the latest place that has taken my fancy.

Well, I love London, so that’s fine by me. Which part of the city do you live in?
South London. Brixton. About the closest you can come to living in a foreign land but without leaving the UK. It is an eclectic area with a multicultural flavour. My local breakfast cafe is Eritrean. There is a large Caribbean market nearby and people of every culture. My daughter’s school is like a 1990s Benneton advertisement.

I lived in South London myself at one stage: Kennington. I remember Brixton well and can picture exactly what you are talking about.

“Art flourishes where there is a sense of adventure.” —Alfred North Whitehead

Moving right along to the part we’ve all been waiting for: a chance to appreciate a few of your photos. Can you share with us three photos that capture some of your favorite memories of the so-called “displaced” life of global travel? And for each photo, can you briefly tell us the memory that the photo captures, and why it remains special to you?
Before starting, I should tell you that I love to photograph festivals. I love the chaos and the sheer exuberance of these events. They are when a destination comes alive and when a place is at its most characteristic for the people who live there (festivals are not put on for tourists). So I’ll be sharing three photos of the most memorable festivals I’ve had the honor of witnessing.

First, the Sonepur Mela (Cattle Fair) in the state of Bihar, India. I have attended a number of festivals in India, from the largest gathering of humans on the planet to remote gatherings in the Himalayas and elephant temple festivals in Kerala in the South, but the Sonepur Mela is one of my favourites. There’s a vast animal market including the Haathi Bazaar, where elephants are lined up for sale. There’s also religious bathing in the confluence of the rivers Gandak and Ganges. The Sonepur Mela attracts few tourists and I consider it one of the hidden cultural gems of India.

Sonepur Mela_India

Elephants for sale at Sonepur Mela in India. Photo credit: Steve Davey

Wow! I have a theory that it’s why we all travel: to see the “elephant.” Clearly, you’ve done that. So what’s next in the photo-fest, so to speak?
Next is one of a festival held by the Kalash people, who live in three remote valleys in the north of Pakistan on the border of Afghanistan. They trace their lineage back to the soldiers of Alexander the Great. They tend to have piercing blue eyes and fair skin. Animist non-Muslims, they drink, wear bright clothes, and permit men and women to dance together. This makes them rather unpopular in the region. Guarding this event were some 3,000 special forces commandos. Despite this, the festival atmosphere was lively and chaotic. It was one of the great privileges of my career to have experienced and photographed this event.

The Kalash people have a handle on what it means to be festive. Photo credit: Steve Davey

Steve, you are opening new windows for me on the world. I never knew about this unique tribe of people in that part of the world. So what’s your last pick?
Last but not least is this incredible festival that takes place on Pentecost Island, one of the islands within the remote archipelago of Vanuatu, in Oceania. It involves the village menfolk hurling themselves from high towers, with their fall only broken by vines fixed to their ankles. I’ve wanted to photograph this ever since I saw the film of the so-called land divers shot by the great David Attenborough. I finally got the opportunity when working on the “unforgettable islands” book for the BBC. It was a humbling rite to witness, and I managed to shoot some stunning pictures, too! This photo represents for me the kind of doors that have been opened in my life due to being a photographer who specializes in travel. I have managed to witness, and take part in, so much more of the world than I ever would have done without a camera.


The precursor to bungee jumping, but a lot more risky. Photo credit: Steve Davey

Truly, you have seen such a wide swathe of life’s rich tapestry. Being presented with what is clearly just a fraction of the photo evidence has been humbling for me.

“Travel makes one modest, you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” —Gustave Flaubert

Having seen your first three photos, I expect it’s a bit of a tough choice, but which are the top three locations you’ve most enjoyed taking photos in—and can you offer us an example of each?
It is a tough choice, so I’ll give you four:

I love India. I can’t get enough of the place. I love the utterly bewildering variety it offers. I have been all over the country and attended a number of religious festivals, including the Kumbh Mela—officially the largest gathering of humans on the planet. But that’s not all there is. Here is a shot of a Buddhist monk in Ladakh, in the Indian Himalayas:

Ladakh monk

A Thikse Buddhist monk blows a conch horn announcing prayers. Photo credit: Steve Davey

I first travelled to Laos years ago, soon after it opened up to foreign visitors. There were few roads up in the north, and the only way to get around was by boat. I love the country’s atmosphere, its people—and could not resist photographing this line of monks heading out at dawn to collect food, or alms.

Laos monks alms

The tak bat, or Buddhist monks’ morning collection of food (alms), in Luang Prabang. Photo credit: Steve Davey

I still love Morocco. It is the most crazy place that you can visit from London on a low-cost airline. Over the years I’ve noticed that the people have become less friendly to photography, making it more stressful to walk around and take pictures; but there are few places that excite me more than the Jemaa el-Fnaa square in Marrakesh. Home to snake charmers, acrobats, fake dentists, herbalists, drummers and some of the best street food this side of Delhi. Electric!


Don’t make the mistake of catching the snake charmer’s eyes! Photo credit: Steve Davey

I have to interrupt for a moment to say that of all the photos you’ve shared thus far, this is my favorite. Even though I’m not fond of rattlesnakes, it captures an atmosphere that is utterly different and seductive. Now, you said you had four?
The last one is my wildcard. I usually love hot, dusty places with people. Svalbard is my Achilles Heel. I love the cold, the wildlife and the stunning scenery. I have seen it from ships, by snowmobile and on foot. I love the ever-present danger, the midnight sun and the sense of true adventure.

Polar bear viewing in the crown of Arctic Norway. Photo credit: Steve Davey

Incredible! The Moroccan rattlesnakes definitely scared me, but, though I know I should also be scared of the polar bears, I can’t help thinking how cute they look.

“Photography is the only language that can be understood anywhere in the world.” —Bruno Barbey

I notice that you often photograph people, whereas quite a few of the interviewees for this column stick to scenery. Do you ever feel reserved taking photos of people, particularly when they are conscious of your doing so? How do you handle it?
I seldom photograph people without approaching them and interacting with them in some way. Spend even a small amount of time with someone and you can come up with an engaged and atmospheric portrait. This is a difficult skill to develop, but once you have mastered it then taking people’s picture is a much less fraught experience and far more enjoyable for both the photographer and the person being photographed.

Here are a couple of examples where I’ve applied those principles:

A Sadhu (holy man) at the Ganga Sagar Mela (festival) in West Bengal, India; a pilgrim at the Korzok Gustor festival in Ladakh, Northern India.

Examples of Steve Davey’s people shots: A Sadhu (holy man) at the Ganga Sagar Mela (festival) in West Bengal, India; a pilgrim at the Korzok Gustor festival in Ladakh, Northern India.

“Eyes like a shutter, mind like a lens.” —Anonymous

And now switching over to the technical side of things: what kind of camera, lenses, and post-processing software do you use?
I shoot exclusively on Nikon pro camera and lenses. I shoot either with the Nikon D3X, Nikon D800 or Nikon D810. I have a cupboard of pensioned off cameras, including a brace of F4s and a brace of F5s. Cameras don’t tend to hold their value: especially when I have finished with them. I am a believer in going for the utmost quality in work. To me this is the mark of a professional photographer, shooting with the best lenses and filters. I always shoot in the RAW format and post process with Adobe Lightroom.

I suspect I need to read your photography guide or take one of your tours to fully appreciate the wisdom of what you just said. But I trust you!

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a cash advance.” —Anonymous

Finally, can you offer a few words of advice for wannabe photographers who are traveling the world or living abroad?
Working as a professional travel photographer is bloody tough. There are a lot of talented amateurs who shoot a few good shots and virtually give them away; and a bunch of fauxtographers who have the website and the business card but the only way that they can get work is to work for free in the hope that they can break into the industry. Best to work at something that makes you money and take photographs for pleasure. Taking pictures for love and not money is a dream for most of us professional photographers!

Thank you, Steve! It’s been a memorable virtual journey into corners of the world I didn’t know existed!

* * *

Readers, that was something else! I’d never even heard of some of these places before, and Steve has been to them several times over. What do you make of his vast range of travel experiences and photography advice? Any questions for him on on his photos or extensive travels? Please leave them in the comments!

If you want to get to know Steve and his photography better, I suggest you visit his photography site. You can also follow him on Facebook. You may also be interested in checking out his travel-photography books:

Or why not consider joining one of his tours and getting some hands-on photography instruction? It would be an experience to go down in the annals!

NOTE: If you are a travel-photographer and would like to be interviewed for this series, please send your information to

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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WONDERLANDED: “Shadows & Reflections,” by long-term expat Paul Scraton

Shadows and Reflections Berlin

Photo credits: (left) Rummelsburg Bay in Berlin via Pixabay; Volkspark Hasenheide, Berlin-Neukölln, by Zusammen via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0) .

Just the other day we were “wonderlanded” in Berlin with British expat writer Paul Scraton. We found out what it was like to live “slightly on the edge of the scene”: in Paul’s view, “that’s where the interesting stuff happens.”

Today we hear from Paul again on the topic of displacement—only this time he will be speaking through a piece of his own writing. “Shadows & Reflections”* is a post he wrote two-and-a-half years ago for the British online forum Caught by the River, which, like Alice’s own story, was “born on a bankside.”

* * *

We are taking a train back from Munich to Berlin on a Sunday afternoon at the start of December, a six-hour train ride home that will take us through some of Germany’s most beautiful countryside at over a hundred and fifty kilometres an hour. A few hours north of Munich, just over the old border between the former West and East of the country, the fields are covered in a light layer of snow, the forests engulfed in mist. Whenever the first snow flurries of the winter arrive it never fails to remind me of the day I moved to Germany, landing at a snowy Schönefeld Airport, still on high alert a couple of months after September 11th.

Train Ride to Berlin quote

Photo credits: (top) The scenery from the train window, by Paul’s partner, Katrin Schönig; “Keep the track focused!” by Axel Schwenke via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

I did not imagine then that I would still be living in Berlin over a decade later, and that Germany would have become my home. Or is it? The Germans have a wonderful word that to my mind has no proper translation into English. Usually the word Heimat is turned into “homeland”—but it means something more than that, a feeling about a place that involves an almost spiritual sense of belonging even in the non-religious. It might be Berlin, or even a district of the city. It might be a stretch of the Baltic coastline, or a village in the north of Bavaria. It could be a certain landscape, a place of particular traditions and culture. Germany is a fractured country, only put together for the first time in 1871, and local, regional pride still runs strong.

Yes, Berlin and Germany has become my home over the past twelve years, but it is certainly not my Heimat… And at the same time, a handful of trips back to England over this year has made me realise that if it is not here, it might not be there either.

During the three trips, to London, my old stomping ground of West Yorkshire, and new discoveries in Northumbria, I realised once again that although there are certain elements of returning that are as comfortable as a favourite old jumper, being away means you miss certain developments and that marks you down as an outsider, whether it is a particular band an old friend is raving about, or a certain slang term that you start to notice being used on social media or in streamed BBC shows that you think you understand but you cannot be sure.

So in this year of journeys—to England, but also through Germany to the Baltic coast, the Oder River and the forests and lakes around Berlin—I reflected a lot on belonging and what it means to be home. When I first learned the word Heimat it made me think of certain places that meant something strong to me, but I realised—as I conjured images of the Welsh coast and mountains, the Yorkshire moors and dales, the Dock Road in Liverpool and the potato fields of West Lancashire—that this was more an exercise in memory and nostalgia than anything else. And the thing with memory and nostalgia is that even when you go back, return for a visit or even to stay, you realise that not only is the place subtly different than you remember it, but you are also not the same person as the one that was there before.

Heimat Two Seas

Photo credits: (top) “Choppy seas,” by psyberartist via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Baltic sea by Paul’s partner, Katrin Schönig.

Living in Germany for a dozen years has, of course, shaped and changed me. If I am looking for a shadow in these reflections, perhaps this is it. The paths you take always leave you the chance to wonder about those that you did not. If you are of a mind to spend much time with your memories and nostalgia, then you cannot help but reflect on how things could have been different. You cannot possibly know how you yourself would then have changed with a different job, a different house, perhaps even different people around you, except to know that you most certainly would have.

As the train rushes through the rolling landscape of Thüringen, just before the flatlands of the north, I think of how my appreciation of such scenes has changed over the past 12 years. From my list above you could work out that the landscape I grew up with, and which continues to touch me—of moors and mountains, wild cliffs and the white horses of the Irish Sea.

But over my time in Germany I have come to appreciate the very different landscape that surrounds me…the flat, melancholic beauty of the Baltic coast, the lakes north of Berlin and the pine forests that encroach on the city. And I realise I am happy to have learned to love something so different, that I need not continue any surely futile search for a Heimat that deep down I know does not exist. That is, perhaps, both the cost and the benefit of having grown up in one place and chosen to live and love somewhere else.

As the train reaches the outskirts of Berlin I look out of the window into the darkness, searching for the first glimpse of the Television Tower in the distance. Then I will know that I am nearly there. Home.

*”Shadows and Reflections” is republished here with Caught by the River’s permission.

* * *

Thank you, Paul, for this enlightening series of “wonderlanded” posts. Readers, I hope that by now you are, like me, full of wonder at Paul’s insights into a life of displacement similar to the ones many of us have led. 

As it happens, the very first issue of the new journal of Elsewhere: A Journal of Place, of which Paul is founding editor, is out today. Please join me in wishing Paul a hearty congratulations! And, say, if you like what Paul has to say about place, why not think about subscribing? I would also urge you to follow his blog, under a grey sky… ~ML

STAY TUNED for the 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!

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Wonderlanded in Berlin with British expat Paul Scraton, founding editor of the new “Elsewhere” journal

Welcome to the Displaced Nation’s Wonderlanded series, being held in gratitude for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which turns 150 this year and, despite this advanced age, continues to stimulate and inspire many of us who lead international, displaced, “through the looking glass” lives.

This month we travel
the hole with Paul Scraton to Berlin.

Paul Scraton Wonderlanded for TDN 3

Paul says he isn’t intimately familiar with Lewis Carroll’s classic work—this despite having had a mainly English childhood. He was born and spent his early years in a market town just north of Liverpool; and, though his family moved around a fair bit in Paul’s early years—Wales, Canada, the south of England—they settled in Lancashire once he reached school age. At 18, he crossed the north–south divide to attend the University of Leeds.

But I feel justified in including Paul in this series first because he is most certainly displaced. Upon graduation from Leeds, he moved to Berlin, Germany, which is where we find him today, living with his German partner, Katrin, and their daughter. Apart from a summer spent in Dublin, the German capital has been Paul’s “home” for the past 14 years.

In addition, having studied Paul’s creative output, I think it is fair to say that for him, “elsewhere”—by that he seems to mean the great outdoors—is a kind of Wonderland. He never tires of exploring the area where he lives. He has served as a tour guide for Slow Travel Berlin and written two short books based on walks he has led in and around his adopted city.

Another place to which he has formed a deep attachment is Germany’s Baltic coast. Katrin spent much of her childhood on the the island of Rügen and in the Hanseatic city of Stralsund, and for about a decade, Paul has accompanied her on trips to the region.

Paul writes a regular series of “dispatches” about his various outdoor adventures—whether in Germany or the UK (which he still visits frequently)—for his blog, under a grey sky…

And now he has just released the very first issue of Elsewhere: A Journal of Place, of which he is the founding editor.

Without further ado, let’s find out what it’s like to be “wonderlanded” with Paul.

* * *

Paul Scraton: Although it was quite a few years ago now, I can remember what it was like when I first arrived in Berlin and needed help with everything, from registering an apartment to opening a bank account. It was certainly challenging, even though Berlin is a city where many people speak English. And it is often only in the moving that you realise what aspects of life are different or not easily accessible compared to “back home”…and that can certainly make you feel lonely in a new city, a new country.

I did not have an internet connection in my first couple of Berlin apartments, and the English newspapers were expensive, so I relied a lot on BBC World Service. It is funny that this is not that long ago, but I imagine it is a different experience now with widespread internet access, social media and Skype.

I think the reason I first resisted the idea of Berlin or my life in another country as “wonderland”, besides a lack of familiarity with the books, is that by the definition of the Displaced Nation I am so often in this wonderland that it would never occur to me to frame it in that way. What I mean by this: when I am in Berlin I feel like I don’t quite belong, but when I go “back” to England having lived abroad for 14 years then I feel just as out of place. So it is something of a permanent state.

Despite this I can recognise that there are elements of life and my experience in Berlin (and beyond) after all these years that I still find curious…

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

Having just finished university with no real idea of what I wanted to do except to write, I did wonder whether Berlin was the right place for me in the sense that I felt a long way away from any community or other people doing something similar in English. But several of us built our own little network, and, with the influx of still more international creatives over the years, there is now a small but thriving community of English-language writers and other like-minded folk.

“But what did the Dormouse say?” one of the jury asked.

One of the reasons I was drawn to Berlin was its history and the stories contained within these streets. One of the questions I would often ask people when I met them was whether or not they had grown up in the east or the west, and their experiences of living in a divided city and country and also what they thought about the process of reunification. In more recent years I was involved with running eyewitness history talks with people who told their personal stories of living in the city during the Nazi era or the Second World War, or living under communism in East Germany or in the “island city” that was West Berlin. Sometimes people in the audience, who were mainly visitors from outside Germany, would ask questions that would make me worry that the speaker would be offended, but actually it never happened. The Germans were happy to answer even difficult questions about their past or that of their families. In general, this is one of the strengths of the German society—the extent to which they have acknowledged, come to terms with, and discussed, debated and learned from their history; and you see it with individuals as well.

“Curiouser and curiouser…”

I think what really struck me about moving to Germany was not any sense of culture shock, but that the differences to back home were subtle and needed time to be discovered. In Berlin especially people can be very direct… there is very little tip-toeing around the subject, which can be a bit disconcerting. The main thing I still haven’t really fathomed is Schlager music, and the assorted television shows that showcase it. Finding yourself in the middle of something like that is one of those moments where you really realise you are living in a place where there are certain cultural traditions you have no grasp of, and to which you may never have access.

Acquired tastes Paul Scraton

German tastes you may never fully acquire. Photo credits: “Wenn die Musi spielt,” by Bad Kleinkirchheim via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Giant gherkins, by Caitriana Nicholson via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

“Well, I’ll eat it,” said Alice…

My partner introduced me to good German pickled gherkins, and without her prompting I doubt I would ever have touched them. Now I quite like them.

“Will you walk a little faster?” said a whiting to a snail…

I am fascinated by Germany’s Baltic coast. One of the reasons is that I am fascinated by the coast in general, I think because it is a place that combines (a) the sense of escape that comes with family holidays, the seaside resorts, and the break with everyday life; and (b) the danger, myths and legends of the sea itself. Most seaside towns have both beaches where people have spent many, many happy hours, as well as memorials to shipwrecks and lifeboat crews… This contrast or contradiction applies, by the way, to the coast of the UK as much as here in Germany. (See for instance my blog post about our visit to Lindisfarne, Northumbria.)

The allure of the coast: Heimat, Germany (top) and Lindisfarne, Northumbria, UK. Photo credits: Paul Scraton and K.

The allure of the coast: Heimat, Germany (top) and Lindisfarne, Northumbria, UK. Photo credits: Paul Scraton and Katrin Schönig.

Another reason the Baltic is special is that it’s the place where my partner grew up. In the past ten years or so she has been taking me and my daughter up there. We are writing new stories for ourselves in a place that was very much a part of her childhood.

“Take some more tea,” the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.

Now that you’re Wonderlanded with me, I must throw you a Mad Hatter’s tea party. This being Berlin, I will serve beer and bouletten (meat balls), a Berlin specialty, at the big table in our living room. We will listen to music and chat…and the guests will be friends, those who I don’t see enough of because of the way life seems to be. Not only those who are in England, and who I don’t see because of distance, but also those who live in the same city but somehow life gets in the way. But before we sat down for beer and meatballs we would have done a long walk together through the city or perhaps out at the lakes and the forests on the edge.

Bouletten and a walk. Photo credits: Bouletten mit Senf, by  Michael Fielitz (CC-BY SA 2.0); Grunewalk Forest by Paul Scraton.

Bouletten and a walk. Photo credits: Bouletten mit Senf, by
Michael Fielitz (CC-BY SA 2.0); Grunewalk Forest by Paul Scraton.

“Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle!”

Inevitably, you are a different person at 36 years old than at 22, and these changes would have no doubt happened whether I was in Berlin or had stayed in England. And if anything, being with my partner and our child probably had a more profound impact that simply the act of moving away. But I would say that work wise, in my writing and in creating our journal, Elsewhere, living in Berlin has been an endless source of inspiration. The number of interesting places and the stories they contain feels inexhaustible. I don’t think I would have become the writer I am, pursued the projects I am doing, or developed my work in the direction I have, without living in this city for the past decade and a half.

Advice for those who have only just stepped through the looking glass

If you are like me, you will find yourself feeling out of place in your new home and out of place when you return to the old one. But there is nothing wrong with being slightly on the edge of the scene…that’s where the interesting stuff happens.

“I wonder if I shall fall right through the earth!”

Paul Scraton books and journal

Paul Scraton’s two short books and the first issue of the new journal he edits, Elsewhere.

Aside from the journal, the first issue of which we are launching this week, I am writing a book about memory, exploration and imagination on the German Baltic coast. As I mentioned, this is the area where Katrin grew up, and so the book combines my own travels and discoveries in the area with the myths and stories of the places along the coast as well as Katrin’s family history. I think coming at these places and stories as an “outsider” gives me a different perspective that informs and shapes the writing. Ultimately everything I am working on right now is concerned with the idea of “place”, and again, I think this interest has developed as a result of never quite feeling I belong wherever I may be…

* * *

Readers, I wonder if you feel like me, that you’ve enjoyed being “elsewhere” with Paul so much you feel a bit bereft now that our “tour” has ended… Do you agree the time went quickly? And what did you make of his Wonderlanded story? Please let us know in the comments. ~ML

STAY TUNED for the next fab post: an example of how Paul writes about place.

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!

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Photo credits for opening image (clockwise from top left): Paul Scraton (supplied); image from “A line of wild suprise: Prespa, Greece,” one of the articles on the first issue of Elsewhere; “Alice,” by Jennie Park via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Hutschenreuther Garten Eden Cup & Saucer via Chinacraft.

LOCATION, LOCUTION: Expat author and new columnist Lorraine Mace offers her own thoughts on writing about place

Location Locution
Please join us in welcoming Lorraine Mace, aka Frances di Plino, to the Displaced Nation for the first time. From this month, she’ll be taking over the Location, Locution column from JJ Marsh.

Hello, Displaced Nationers! I am thrilled to be taking over this column from JJ Marsh, and I already have lots of interesting guests lined up to take part over the coming months. For this first post, however, I am going to follow in Jill’s footsteps and use my first column to answer the “location locution” questions as a means of introducing myself.

But before I do that, let me give you a few basics. I was born and raised in London, but moved to South Africa just before my 25th birthday. I first lived just outside Johannesburg, then moved to the Orange Free State before discovering, and falling in love with, “the fairest cape”. Since leaving Cape Town I’ve been a nomad for more years than I care to count, having moved continent and country nine times. I finally put down roots in Spain, but have an inclination to spend summers in British Columbia, Canada.

Like JJ, I write crime fiction. I also have a book series for children.

Lorraine May and books

The prolific Lorraine Mace has produced four books in her D.I. Paolo Storey crime thriller series, and one book in her Vlad the Inhaler series (vampires, werewolves and peaches, oh my!).

Oh, and one last item before I move to the questions: don’t forget to visit my predecessor’s farewell post and enter the book giveaway competition. So far there’s only two comments, which by my reckoning gives you a pretty good chance at winning seven great e-books!

* * *

Which came first, story or location?

This can vary from book to book and story to story. However, in my crime novels, written as Frances di Plino, story came first—but then location helps to formulate the plots. Although the series is set in a fictional town, the surrounding British countryside is very real. Bradchester is situated close to Rutland Water and the nearest city is Leicester, both of which feature in the novels on a regular basis. I know this area well. During my last (brief) sojourn in England I lived in a small village a stone’s throw from Rutland Water and frequently visited Leicester.

What’s your technique for evoking the atmosphere of a place?

I put myself into the heads of my characters and experience the place through their senses. When I can smell the bread in the local bakery, or hear the cries of street vendors, weep over a beautiful sunset, taste an orange straight from the tree, or touch the moss-covered stones of a monastery, I know it’s time to start writing, using my character’s experiences of the place.

Which particular features create a sense of location? Landscape, culture, food?

All three, but I must admit I find it easier to use food allied to culture when the story is set outside of the British Isles. Having lived in South Africa, on the Maltese island of Gozo, as well as in France and Spain, I know I can use regional dishes to bring areas of those countries to life. But in Britain I think we have lost the regional aspect of many of our foods. Fish and chips, roast beef and so on are now available throughout the country, where other nations seem to have guarded their regional food identities.

Can you give a brief example of your work which illustrates place?

Bradchester is a town that has more than its fair share of rundown, seedy areas set side by side with gentrified neighbourhoods. This leads to a great deal of social unrest—the haves want the have-nots moved elsewhere and the have-nots resent the wealth and easy life of the haves. This short passage illustrates an area that has, as yet, remained untouched by either sector, but just a street away it is very different.

Station Road wasn’t exactly the best part of town, but the place looked respectable. Paolo was pleased to see that most of the businesses he remembered from his youth were thriving. This was one of the few communities that still had a drycleaners, newsagent, old-fashioned fruit and veg shop, alongside a mini-supermarket, hairdressers and a bank. He glanced up. Even the flats above the businesses looked lived in and cared for. Nice nets and curtains framed the windows and many of the street doors had been painted in recent history.

They walked a couple of hundred yards before turning into Zephyr Road. It was like moving into another country. Here, most of the shops they passed were boarded up and the few remaining open for business seemed to Paolo to concentrate on ways to transform goods into money. Pawnbrokers, gold for cash, payday cheque converters. It appeared as though all the dregs of the financial service industry had found their way into this street. This time when he glanced up, Paolo saw the flats above the shops were likewise either boarded up or had dirty nets hiding whatever was going on up there.

net curtains

The quality of the net curtains tells you where you are in Bradchester. Photo credit: Joss Smithson via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

How well do you need to know the place before using it as a setting?

I prefer to use places I’ve lived in, or visited many times. I like to know the area and people so well I can conjure them up at will when I’m writing.

Which writers do you admire for the way they use location?

Barbara Kingsolver and Donna Tartt spring to mind. With both authors I feel as if I am living in the locations depicted. In Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch she manages to recreate both city and desert locations to the extent one can almost feel the weather. Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible brings the 1959 Belgian Congo to life so powerfully the reader is swept into the villages, fearful alike of jungle creatures and the inhospitable landscape.

Books that get "place" right: The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt; and The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver.

Books that get “place” right: The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt; and The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver.

* * *

Thanks so much, Lorraine! I’m impressed that you created your own place for your crime series novels, and that it’s in the UK, where you haven’t lived for quite some time. Readers, any words of welcome and/or questions for our new columnist? Please leave them in the comments below.

And don’t forget to leave a comment on her predecessor, JJ Marsh’s last post for a chance to win 7 e-books that should take you through the summer. All you have to do is answer the question, in 50 words or less: Where and when in the world would you like to go, and why?

Lorraine Mace writes for children with the Vlad the Inhaler books. As Frances di Plino, she writes crime in the D.I. Paolo Storey series. She is a columnist for both of the UK’s top writing magazines, has founded international writing competitions and runs a writing critique service, mentoring authors on three continents.

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Photo credits (top of page): The World Book (1920), by Eric Fischer via Flickr; “Writing? Yeah.” by Caleb Roenigk via Flickr (both CC BY 2.0).

BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST: In Shireen Jilla’s second novel, a group of old friends go on safari and unpack their lives

Booklust Wanderlust column for the Displaced Nation

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 her latest recommended read.

Hello Displaced Nationers! Do I have a treat in store for you this month! Shireen Jilla, whose 2011 psychological thriller, Exiled, was previously featured on the Displaced Nation, is with us again. She has written a new novel, The Art of Unpacking Your Life, which came out in March, and has graciously agreed to answer my questions about her latest work.

Shireen Jilla author photo and book cover for her second novel, The Art of Unpacking Your Life

Shireen Jilla author photo, by Francesco Guidicini (from her author site); cover art.

The book made our list of anticipated “displaced reads” for 2015. For those not in the know, it tells the story of what happens when an Englishwoman named Connie decides to celebrate her 40th birthday by organizing a group of her old university friends and their partners to go on an African safari.

But if Connie is the main character, she is not the only point-of-view character. She functions as the heart of the group—but, as we soon learn, doesn’t seem to manage her own affairs very well. To quote one of my favorite lines from the book:

“Connie was brilliant at life’s details, particularly other people’s life details.”

We all know someone like that, don’t we?

Many authors stick to similar genres and even similar stories but in her two books, Jilla has explored very different places and themes. Where Exiled is a thriller akin to Rosemary’s Baby—it centers on Anna, a British expat leading a privileged life in New York—Unpacking is The Big Chill set in an exotic landscape. Anna may feel isolated within the bustle of the Big Apple, but Unpacking‘s characters are faced with the Kalahari Desert, the kind of place where one must unpack one’s life, finding strengths as well as weaknesses.

Both stories are informed by Jilla’s own travels. An adult TCK and former expat, she has lived in Paris, Rome, and New York as an adult; and in Germany, Holland and England as a kid. (She is now back “home” in London.) And as a traveler, she has experienced firsthand the dry, unusual beauty of the South African bush she describes in Unpacking.

But enough introduction! Time to give Shireen Jilla the floor.

* * *

Hi, Shireen, and welcome back to the Displaced Nation. When we discussed your previous novel, you told us about how the cityscape of New York lent itself to writing a thriller. What made you go from New York’s hustle bustle to the stark, sparse landscape you describe in The Art of Unpacking Your Life? Why the Kalahari?
I had the characters in my mind for a long time. I wanted to explore my generation’s surprisingly disparate lives: single, divorced, gay, with children, successful, jobless. I needed them to be away from home, from their daily lives, unnerved and unsure and therefore open to exploring their issues. I tried setting the book in Sardinia because I know it well. But it wasn’t remote or dramatic enough to force them to “unpack” their problems. When I stepped out of an eight-seater plane into the vast orange heat of the Green Kalahari, I knew I had found my setting.

“Everything in Africa bites—but the safari bug, worst of all.” —Brian Jackman

Tell us more about that moment. I understand from another of your interviews that you went to the Kalahari with your brother?
Yes. My brother generously took me on what can only be called a trip of a lifetime to a private reserve, Tswalu, in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa, bang near the border of Botswana. I had never been to Africa before. So my own experience of this extraordinary trip coloured my story in Unpacking. I was surprisingly drawn to the Kalahari.

Connie and her friends started out in the same place—in a shared house at university—but when the book takes place, they’re all at different places in their lives and don’t appear to have much in common any more. One is a happy housewife, or so she thinks, another feels like success has passed her by both professionally and romantically, others want to start a family, while still others are recuperating from seeing their families crumble. Many books are written from the point of view of a single character, but you give us a glimpse into the thoughts of six multi-layered characters. Was it difficult to imagine how all these people would react to the same events—how they would react to travel?
Thank you for asking this question. It touches the heart of the novel. I wanted to tell this story from the point of view of each of the main six characters because I am fascinated by how differently people read, and react to, the same events. I was inspired by Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, which roams from character to character, from paragraph to paragraph. That said, I wasn’t keen to jump around that much, so each chapter in Unpacking is told from a different character’s point of view. I loved writing the same scene from different points of view. It gave me a great sense of freedom.

“Africa is mystic; it is wild; it is a sweltering inferno…” —Beryl Markham

Many of our readers are international creatives, so I’m asking this with them in mind: how do you capture inspiration while you travel? 

“Instead they snapped away, looking up periodically from their cameras, as if undecided whether photo memories or physical ones were more powerful.”

This line in Unpacking reflects my own feelings. While in Africa, I kept a detailed diary and took hundreds of photos, a selection of which are on my author’s site. Having started life as a journalist, I also bought books and talked extensively to the guides. I used all of this material for Unpacking, which I believe is faithful to the actual setting.

In the book, Connie and her group have a very dramatic encounter with one of the animals in the park and the friends’ various reactions reveal their state of mind. Did you have any big-animal encounters during your Africa adventure? 
Thankfully not! The scene was imagined.

Giraffe & Namibian sand Collage

A silent, self-contained Kalahari giraffe and blood orange sands make it into Shireen Jilla’s novel about a group of friends on an African safari. Photo credits: Male giraffe, by Charles Sharp, and Silhouettes in Sossusvlei, by Monica Guy, both via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

“The more I traveled, the more I realized, fear makes strangers of people who should be friends.” —Shirley MacLaine

As I mentioned in the introduction, you grew up a Third Culture Kid and you’ve also been an expat. Is there anything from your experiences living abroad as a child and an adult that worked its way into this book?
From own experience, I am acutely interested in how people react to being outside their comfort zone. Living or traveling abroad is a very visceral way of exploring this theme. With Unpacking, I wanted to place a group of close friends, who haven’t traveled extensively, into a remote, unnerving location. For me, it gives the novel its heartbeat.

I’m an Adult Third-Culture Kid, too (and an expat currently), and one of the things that I found remarkable in this book is the close cohesion of a group of people who met at an early stage of their adult lives—not always something we TCKs can find! I’m curious. Do you have a group of friends like Connie’s?
Actually, I have a varied and disparate group of old friends from many places and stages in my life. What I drew on in Unpacking is the notion that one can still feel intensely loyal to old friends, despite growing in different directions. But no, I’ve never planned a big trip with old friends as Connie does.

I noticed that within the group of friends you’ve created, there are two cross-cultural relationships. I enjoyed watching the conflicts from their opposing cultures arise in their relationships. Was this something you set out to capture from the beginning?
This is an interesting question. I haven’t consciously created two cross-cultural relationships. But I am clearly fascinated by and drawn to them. I loved writing both relationships, particularly exploring the cultural misunderstandings between the English friends and New Yorker Katherine.

“Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” —Seneca

So far you’ve given us two great books based on interesting locations—New York and South Africa. What’s next? Will you follow up with Connie and her friends in another novel? Take your readers on a new adventure somewhere else?
I’m normally adverse to sequels, but I would actually love to write another novel based on the same characters. I’m not ready to let any of them go. I am deeply attached to them all. And I would also enjoy the challenge of another new setting abroad. It’s like moving country. Always exciting.

Lastly, my favorite question for everyone—what are you reading at the moment? Any suggestions for good books that might appeal to the Displaced Nation audience?
I am currently reading New York writer Hilary Reyl’s Lessons in French. The novel is an absorbing coming-of-age story about an American girl who does work experience with a demanding photographer in Paris. It’s an evocative, lyrical read for all expats. Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, is another addictive page turner that lights up a poor working class community in fifties Naples.

Thanks, Shireen, I’ll check those out! And readers, if you’re selecting books for your summer reading list, I suggest you pack Unpacking in your beach bag! Or on your Kindle, more likely… :)

Beach bag via Pixabay.

Don’t go to the beach without Shireen’s book and at least one of her recommended reads! Beach bag via Pixabay; book cover art.

* * *

And now Displaced Nationers, it’s your turn to answer some questions. And have you ever tried traveling with friends? Did you pick up any insights about them and/or about yourself? Do let us know in the comments!

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!

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Photo credit (top of page): “Notebook in hand,” by Oleh Slobodeniuk via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).

GLOBAL FOOD GOSSIP: I lost my heart (but not my teeth) to the French artichoke

Global Food Gossip French artichoke

Global Food Gossip. Joanna Masters-Maggs (supplied); globe-shaped artichoke via Morguefiles; (slim-shaped) artichoke, by Marco Bernadini via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Joanna Masters-Maggs was displaced from her native England 17 years ago, and has since attempted to re-place herself in the USA, Holland, Brazil, Malaysia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and now France. She describes herself as a “global 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?”

* * *

“You can’t eat artichoke?” my dentist’s eyebrows lowered. “Something has to be done,” he declared, adding: “Don’t worry, the insurance will pay. In France we know that you can’t live life if you can’t eat an artichoke.”

It took a French dentist to understand that more important than a beautiful tooth, is a fully functional tooth, well able to withstand the demands of the artichoke, the most delectable of vegetables.

While out running a few years ago, I fell and broke my front teeth. Since then I had lived with two veneers, one of which never became my friend. Dreams about my teeth falling out came weekly and I never ate apples or baguettes unless first cut into bite-size pieces.

I could not, however, treat the artichoke with the same level of circumspection. I simply found it too interesting. Upon my arrival in the South of France, I threw caution to the winds—and then paid the price.

The Mighty French Artichoke

Artichokes springing up in a French field. Near Kerlouan – Artichokes, by muffin via Flickr  (CC BY 2.0).

As those who are acquainted with this exquisite food ritual will know, artichoke eating requires you to scrape the flesh from the leaves by gripping them between your teeth and pulling. The inevitable happened and that veneer bailed on me—twice.

Had I been living elsewhere, I suspect the insurance companies would not have been looked on the prospect of my leading a desolately artichoke-free life with much sympathy—in any event, not to the point of covering the payment for a new fixture. But heureusement, as I found myself in France, I was soon the proud possessor of a tooth not only of great beauty but also of unsurpassed shearing ability. It was May, and the prospect of enjoying June and July’s premium artichoke season was just around the corner. I was ready to make up for lost time.

Je t’aime bien!” I declared with uncontrolled delight as I held up the mirror to my new smile.

Non,” Monsieur Le Dentist retorted, “vous avez le coeur d’un artichaut.”

We cackled with delight.

(The joke was not entirely appropriate as the idiom describes one who falls in love all the time so it becomes meaningless—a leaf for everyone you see.)

No matter. I will have life-long good feeling for the dentist who set me loose on the vegetation of Provence. Besides, what other idiom could he possibly have used in the circumstance?

The variety of artichokes available in the South of France surprised me at first.

Slim and chic artichoke

Slim and chic. Artichoke, by Marco Bernadini via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Not only do you find the large and familiar green globe type but also the longer, oval types. Trust the French to have a slim and chic artichoke, too!

The colours vary from the usual green to the deepest of violets and are sold in large bunches—I can imagine them being served at the wedding of a dedicated vegan bride.

The French like to eat artichokes boiled in salted water with vinaigrette dressing. Simple and perfect, though I must admit, I sometimes prefer to make homemade mayonnaise. After all, I am dealing with vegetable royalty. Surely I owe them a little effort?

Dealing with an artichoke can cause some worry, but the rules are pretty straightforward.

Preparing an artichoke:

Cut the tips of the leaves off with a pair of scissors to remove any sharp or dry bits.

Lower the artichoke into a pan of salted water and cook uncovered until you can easily pull a leaf from the whole. This can take anything between 20 and 40 minutes, depending on size. NOTE: Just remember not to place a lid on the pan. There are acids in the artichoke, which, if prevented from escaping in the steam, turns them brown. We simply don’t want that!

Next, drain the pan and let the feast begin.

Eating an artichoke:

The artichoke offers tactile eating at its glorious best:

Simply pull a leaf away, dip into your preferred sauce, place between your front teeth and apply gentle pressure as you pull forward, stripping the “meat” from the leaf. (While you’re at it, reflect on the pleasure of knowing that one of your front teeth is unlikely to be dislodged—as you never know what’s around the next corner.)

Discard any woody remnants and move on. Soon you will find a greedy rhythm that makes conversation unnecessary.

As you reach the centre, the leaves become smaller and yield less.

Pretty soon it will be time to strip away the leaves and reveal the silkily haired “choke”—which you definitely don’t want to eat!

Comb away at this choke with your fork until the hairs lift up like poorly rooted weeds. Slowly the heart is revealed, cup-like in shape and richly creamy in colour.

You have now arrived in vegetable heaven!

The rich yet raunchy artichoke “keeps on giving”

The rich yet raunchy artichoke

(Right) Stuffed artichoke, by Joy via Flickr  (CC BY 2.0).

The delicate, buttery nuttiness makes the artichaut one class act. Yet it is far from bland. It has a full and complex flavor that richly fills the mouth.

Indeed, the artichoke is the culinary equivalent of the sophisticated French lady, dressed in natural-coloured linens with caramel-highlighted hair and warmly tanned skin.

If the flavor doesn’t shout for attention with overt showiness or any trace of vulgarity, don’t think it’s a pushover. The artichoke still has potential for a bit of raunchiness. It can provide a base for stronger flavours, as with recipes for stuffed artichokes, which often involve garlic, cheese and oregano.

And why not? Even Kate Middleton has been known to channel the sexy on occasion. However, it is her tasteful and demure style that best defines her—just as it does my beloved artichoke.

Wine…or water?

Finally, I’d like to make a confession. I love drinking wine; the worst thing about it is that it doesn’t even need to be great wine. Sometimes I worry about this, but then I just get on with things.

That said, I’ve discovered that wine just doesn’t go that well with artichokes. Something about this vegetable—its sweet, rounded taste—changes the taste of anything you drink.

But what’s interesting is that it changes the taste of water, too; it makes it sweet. I honestly believe that water is the best accompaniment to this vegetable.

What joy, a healthy, vitamin-loaded lunch, which feels like a decadent treat—yet I am not even tempted to consider just one glass of wine.

If you don’t already love the artichoke, I urge you to give it a chance. It’s the vegetable that just keeps giving.  :-D

* * *

Readers, we invite you to continue the food gossip! In your humble opinion, is it worth fixing your teeth veneers to eat artichoke? Have you ever “fallen” for a vegetable in this way in the country where you live? Be sure to let us know in the comments!

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CULTURE SHOCK TOOLBOX: How to pry open your mind to new cultures—and keep them all sorted

Yelena Parker for CST Displaced Nation Columnist H.E. Rybol never saw a culture clash she didn’t want to fix. A “transitions enthusiast,” she credits her Third Culture Kid upbringing with giving her a head start in this department. That said, H.E. is always on the lookout for shiny new tools, and toward that end has been interviewing other displaced creatives about their culture shock memories and coping strategies. Today she speaks to Yelena Parker, a Ukrainian expat, executive coach, and writer who, through her many international moves, claims to have mastered the art of “moving without shaking.”

—ML Awanohara

Hello, Displaced Nationers! I’d like you to meet today’s guest, businesswoman and author Yelena Parker. Yelena is Ukrainian but has lived in the United States, Switzerland, Tanzania and now the United Kingdom, and has conducted business in many more countries. Last year she published a book titled Moving without Shaking, which made the Displaced Nation’s “Best of 2014 in Expat Books” list. Described as a “guidebook-meets-memoir,” it aims to help women “who are interested in building their new global life styles whether through working, studying, volunteering or simply living abroad.”

One of Yelena’s contentions is:

Once you are on a serial expat path, new relocations get easier.

Can we take this to mean it’s possible to get better at handling culture shock?

Let’s find out by asking Yelena to describe a few of her own culture shock experiences. She may advocate for moving without shaking; but how does that line up with her own adventures? Has she never shaken like a leaf at some point during her various international moves?

* * *

Hi, Yelena! First can you please tell us which countries you’ve lived in and for how long?

I came to California from Ukraine in my 20s to get an MBA and ended up living there for more than nine years. I didn’t make it till the very end of year 10 as an opportunity came along to relocate to Switzerland for work. After two years in Geneva I moved to London to continue working in tech. I’ve now lived in the UK for four years, only interrupted by a four-month volunteering stint in Tanzania, with a Kilimanjaro climbing break in between.

You’ve certainly made your fair share of cultural transitions. Did you ever put your foot in your mouth? Any memorable stories?

I travel to Moscow frequently for work. During the last trip the taxi driver asked me where I was from. This question is always complicated since, like many here at the Displaced Nation, I now feel as though I’m from everywhere and nowhere in particular. I tend to focus on the most recent location when giving an answer. To be polite, I share where I am coming from literally (versus where I am from). On this occasion, the last port of call was St. Petersburg, which in Soviet times was known as Leningrad. Some wires in my brain must have crossed as I blurted out: “From Leningrad.” The driver said “Really???” We ended up engaging in a much longer conversation, about my Soviet childhood in Ukraine and so on. I think I had a reverse culture shock reaction after being away from where I grew up for so long.

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

It’s a bit of a strange example, but what I am trying to get across is that keeping your life truly connected to multiple worlds is very difficult. You are bound to lose some of your identity, forget the basics, replace them with new realities and then, perhaps, come full circle as you find yourself back in your good old comfort zone. You and your memories have many layers now. It can be challenging to keep them sorted. That toolbox of yours needs to have quite a few compartments!

Looking back on your many cultural transitions, can you recall any situations that you handled with surprising finesse?

Moving to Tanzania, I was surprised at how quickly I embraced the pole pole (slowly-slowly) way of life. Until I went on this amazing adventure, I had always been a workaholic. But then I found myself living enjoying the most beautiful sunsets and spending a lot of time talking to people in front of me instead of using various digital ways to connect with people remotely. I didn’t complain about the lack of speedy or efficient services anywhere as I no longer expected that kind of thing. I was not rushed or overwhelmed so wasn’t concerned about being late or other people being late or not showing up to meetings. I just enjoyed every moment of this new experience: no deadlines, no crazy work hours, only things I truly wanted to do. You could say I felt burnt out after working non-stop (or being in school) for 23 years. I do believe, however, that something in that culture was appealing to my natural preferences, which had been suppressed by years of working in the corporate world. I also realized that I wanted to teach again. My first career was in teaching English at a university level in Ukraine—work I’d chosen to abandon when I took a degree in business. That said, I am back on the corporate path again.

If you had to give advice to new expats, what’s the tool you’d tell them to develop first
and why?

I guess it would be some kind of crowbar to pry open your mind to new experiences, no matter how many times you relocate. Learn everything you can about your new home country. Explore it thoroughly. If you end up moving back home, you will regret that you didn’t do enough. If you stay, the more you learn, the easier your assimilation into your new life is going to be.

Thank you so much, Yelena, for taking the time to share your experiences and reminding us that keeping an open mind and a willingness to learn about other cultures can be effective tools, sometimes in unexpected ways! I love your example of becoming immersed in an East African culture and learning more about your own (suppressed) natural preferences as a result. And I of course love the idea of moving without shaking! That’s what this toolbox is for…

* * *

Readers, what do you make of Yelena’s advice? Have you ever found yourself having a Rip-Van-Winkle moment like hers? How about discovering your “true self” in a vastly different culture? Do tell!

If you like what you heard from Yelena, be sure to check out her author site and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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.  

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GLOBAL FOOD GOSSIP: Is humankind getting too fussy to share food, one of our most basic bonding rituals?

Global Food Gossip April 2015

Joanna Masters-Maggs (supplied) and three forbidden foods: Wheat , by Rasbak via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0); dairy, by Stefan Kühn via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0); and peanuts, by Daniella Segura via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Joanna Masters-Maggs was displaced from her native England 17 years ago, and has since attempted to re-place herself in the USA, Holland, Brazil, Malaysia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and now France. She describes herself as a “global 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?”

* * *

Dost thou think there shall be no more cakes and ale
Because of thy wretched bowels?

—Paraphrase of Sir Toby Belch (Twelfth Night: Act 2, Scene 3)

Readers, I hope you will indulge me in this dramatic, and admittedly somewhat unseemly, turn of a Shakespearean phrase. Not long ago, I was planning a simple supper for a few couples and had just received a third text informing me of various food allergies. The relaxed and convivial supper I had imagined was rapidly becoming a nightmare of compromise and unsatisfactory substitutions.

Somehow I had to come up with a delicious menu that didn’t involve dairy, flour or meat.

I should have known not to invite a bunch of people I barely knew, but I was feeling expansive at the time. I’d also been envisioning a pleasant few days pottering through familiar recipes in my kitchen—only to find myself feeling cross, taken for granted and somewhat overwhelmed.

As those of you who are cooks will know, “simple” suppers never take less than days to bring off in the desired relaxed and blasé style—so one really needs to enjoy the preparation. Frankly, getting ready for this particular dinner was beginning to feel like a challenge on a brutal reality show.

I also felt I could empathize with the nearly 100 restaurateurs in Britain who last month signed a letter protesting the new EU rules requiring restaurants to audit their menus for allergens from lupins to eggs. These allergens must be flagged on menus. Failure to do so could result in a $5,000 fine which, for most restaurants, could be the difference between survival and going to the wall. They rightly point out that having to undertake such work will also reduce the spontaneity of their menus and reduce creativity.

Modern etiquette requires hosts to ask guests if there is anything they don’t eat.


Toby jug (named after Sir Toby Belch), by Graham and Sheila via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

This is when the guest can mention any genuine allergies—not their likes and dislikes. I might feign polite interest, but I don’t really care to hear about your digestive issues.

Of course, I do want to know if you are actually c(o)eliac. Curmudgeonly as I can be, I get that this is a very real health issue and I will go to any lengths, happily, to accommodate it.

If I have to jump through culinary hoops because you “really feel that you have more energy since you gave up wheat,” I am, frankly, annoyed.

I once entertained a guest and made the mistake of including in a recipe an ingredient he had repeatedly informed me caused a severe allergic reaction.

To this day I cannot explain how I so deliberately included it; however, when I realized my mistake, it was with a heart-stopping thump in the middle of the night. I agonized for hours, caught a moral maze of whether or not I should call and confess my reckless stupidity or not. As dawn broke, so, too, did the suspicion that if this had been a true allergy, I could have expected some drama before the end of the evening. If I am going to get careless while entertaining an allergy sufferer, I expect the subsequent experience to include severe anaphylactic shock and hysterical calls for an ambulance…

Sure enough, by lunchtime I had received the text thanking me for a lovely evening. The experience has left me deeply suspicious of subsequent allergy stories.

It can’t be fun living with an allergy, but neither can it be everyone else’s responsibility and expense.

During the time when we lived as expats in Malaysia, my children were at school in Kuala Lumpur. Peanut butter was not banned. How can you ban it in a country where peanut oil is a major component of the air? But if your child took in nuts or peanut butter to school, it was their responsibility to sit with kids with who claimed peanut allergies, so that the latter wouldn’t feel isolated.

How severe could such allergies be, I wondered? Indeed, at that time, and probably to this day, Malaysian Airlines tested the peanut-withstanding ability of all those entering the country by serving peanuts with the aperitifs—long after other airlines had bailed.

(While on this topic, it’s worth noting that, according to the latest medical studies, those who consume a greater amount of peanuts have about a 35 percent reduced risk of coronary heart disease. This effect is a result of the peanuts’ ability to lower cholesterol and its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory components.)

When you are invited to eat at someone’s house, you are being asked to share with the family.

dinner party quote

Dinner party, by Elin B via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

As we expats know better than anyone else, the dinner party is an age-old, worldwide gesture of hospitality and friendship. We must take every measure to protect this prized human tradition.

Listen, it is even possible to desensitize ourselves to allergies. I recently saw a documentary about a little boy who showed extreme allergy to a new dog brought into the family. Instead of re-homing the dog, the family decided that the positive aspects of owning a pet were worth making an effort for. They began a desensitization programme at a local hospital and, in time, the boy could begin a wonderful relationship with his dog.

It’s worth thinking about, isn’t it?

* * *

Readers, we invite you to continue the food gossip! To what extent has food fussiness become an item in your social circle? Are you a victim, or do you agree with the curmudgeonly Joanna, that fussy eaters are making dinner parties and other group meals less fun for the rest of us? Be sure to let us know in the comments!

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!

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The Displaced Nation’s 4 wishes for birthday number 4 (no foolin’!)

Happy 4th Birthday to the Displaced Nation!

Photo credit: “Today I’m 4 years old,” by Emran Kassim via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Greetings Displaced Nationers, old and new.

How many of you have been with us from the beginning, could I see a show of hands?

Hmmm… Are there one or two hands out there? Thanks for sticking around! We’ve come a long way together since the Displaced Nation’s humble beginnings on April Fool’s Day 2011.

Actually, can you believe it’s been four years and we still haven’t run out of things to say about the displaced life?

We can’t!

Still, today is not for introspection. It’s a special occasion, a day to celebrate with cake!

Photo credit: AlainAudet via Pixabay

Photo credit: AlainAudet via Pixabay.

And, although it’s not customary to do so, I’d like to reveal my four wishes for the coming year:

1) Reach a new milestone of 500 followers on Facebook.

For some reason we never tried very hard during these four years to get FB followers, and our numbers reflect this insouciance: we are now at 467. If any of you can help us find 33 more “likes”, we’d deeply appreciate. Of course we’d like to have even more than 500, but we’d be happy with that milestone for now. (We post on FB twice a day, and always strive to be amusing and/or thought-provoking…)

2) Have more people discover the new and much improved (if we say so ourselves!) Displaced Dispatch.

If you’re a subscriber, you’ll know that we’ve already celebrated our birthday in last Sunday’s issue by sharing the Danish idea of April Fool’s (no fooling’). Seriously (actually, I am serious), the Dispatch is now like chunky ice cream. It goes down smoothly but also contains six tasty morsels:

  • What to celebrate this week: Holidays and other commemorative occasions around the world.
  • While we were all on social media: New book releases and other milestones in the lives of international creatives.
  • TDN updates: Our past week’s posts.
  • Alice Obsession: Our latest discovery about Alice in Wonderland, whom we see as our muse.
  • Matters of debate: Contentious issues raised by various expat and travel bloggers over the past few weeks.
  • Surprising discoveries: Stuff we didn’t know before sifting through said sources. (Turns out: there’s a lot we don’t know!)

3) Deliver a fitting commemoration to Alice in Wonderland on behalf of the 150th birthday of Lewis Carroll’s celebrated book.

One hundred and fifty years, really? That puts our four years in perspective! As long-time readers will know, the Displaced Nation has treated Alice in Wonderland as our special muse from the very start, beginning with Kate Allison’s brilliant “5 lessons Wonderland taught me about the expat life, by Lewis Carroll’s Alice.” For the past three years, we gave out monthly Alice Awards to a number of international creatives. For that matter, we also have a thriving Alice in Wonderland Pinterest board. But for this special year in Alice’s life, we are planning a special “wonderlanded” series, to be rolled out starting this month. (Know anyone who would be game to channel Alice from the perspective of someone leading a life of global residency and travel? We are open to suggestions. Send to

4) Introduce a new look to the site.

Good news: I already have a theme picked out! Not-so-good news: I can’t seem to find the time to transfer the contents, resize the photos, and so on. (Blame the day job!)

* * *

And assuming I get another wish, to grow on, that one will be that we can always have a rich crop of international creatives as columnists.

Speaking of which, I’d like to give the first pieces of our birthday cake to Beth Green, Lisa Liang, JJ Marsh, Joanna Masters-Maggs, HE Rybol, and Shannon Young: The Displaced Nation would have little to celebrate were it not for the seven of you!!!

And if anyone out there is still with me, you deserve some cake as well. Thanks so much for your support.

Photo credit: blickpixel via Pixabay.

Photo credit: blickpixel via Pixabay.

Bottoms up, cheers, kampai—oh and thanks for all the prezzies! What prezzies, you may ask? Well, I assume that from now you’re going to:

And with that final pitch, I’m off to fetch another glass of champagne. Huzzah!!

STAY TUNED for more 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!

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DIARY OF AN EXPAT WRITER: Shifting base to literary London, where it all began

DiaryExpatWriterAn American expat newlywed in Hong Kong, Shannon Young took the momentous decision last summer to quit her day job and launch out as a full-time writer. She’d given herself until Chinese New Year to see if she could make a living but has now postponed the decision until the end of next month—which we’re actually rather glad about as it means she’s still with us!

—ML Awanohara

Dear Displaced Diary,

It’s a blustery morning here in London and time for another update on my life as an expat writer. You may remember that I do not, in fact, live in London. I’m taking a break from my writing life in Hong Kong for a visit that combines the Easter holidays with my husband’s business trip.

I am still making the most of not having a day job by staying in the UK for nearly three weeks.

Of course the work never stops for a working writer. I spent the first four days of the holiday finishing up the final revisions of Seaswept, the sequel to my post-apocalyptic adventure at sea called Seabounda job that can be done anywhere, really!

Jordan Rivet in London

Shannon Young aka Jordan Rivet showing off her first book on a tea break in London; photo credit: Shannon Young.

As I mentioned in my last post, the revisions on Seaswept were a bit of a slog, but I really got into the groove by the final pass. I have to admit it was kind of magical to wake up with the sun (or clouds) in this famous literary city, write for a few hours, go for a walk, and then do a bit more writing before the jet lag knocked me out. London has always been a source of inspiration for me, and the setting somehow seemed right for ending my work on this book.

In addition to the beautiful buildings, blue historical plaques, and bridges (have I ever told you, dear diary, how much I love bridges?), I’ve found another source of inspiration in London: a friend from Hong Kong.

Expat connections are everywhere

As Displaced Nation readers know, we expats have a tendency to move on often, either to a new country or back to where we came from. Expat life is a constant rotation of hellos and goodbyes. While it’s sad when friends leave, it’s pretty cool to acquire connections all over the world.

A friend from my writers’ group in Hong Kong returned to the UK nearly two years ago, but she has maintained her link with the group and her role as true cheerleader for my work. Recently, she decided to embark on a similar literary adventure by taking time off work to write!

I met up with her at the cafe and bookshop run by the London Review of Books and spent nearly four hours writing and talking about writing together. (I also ate hummus on toast that came with real worms on the side, but that’s another story.) It was a joy to have a friend in a city thousands of miles away from both my home country and my country of residence, all thanks to this expat life.

The day I sent the final draft of Seaswept to my editor, my Hong Kong friend took me on a literary tour of Highgate and Hampstead—and, of course, a trek across the rain-soaked trails of Hampstead Heath. In between breaks for tea and hot cross buns, she showed me the home of Samuel Coleridge (and the alley where he bought his laudanum), a garden straight out of a Jane Austen novel, and a pub visited by many notable figures throughout its 200-year history. As we walked, I was reminded again and again of just how old this city is and just how much has happened in its streets. It’s the setting for some of my favorite novels, novels that made me want to be a writer myself.

Photo souvenirs from Jordan Rivet's London walks. At bottom: Hampstead Heath with a view of Kenwood House, a former stately home.

The houses of Highgate and the expanses of Hampstead Heath, with former stately home Kenwood House in distance. Photo credit: Shannon Young.

As my writing journey continues across the globe in Hong Kong, it’s nice to remember its origins and to soak in a bit of history in the company of someone who is just as excited about it as I am.

Beginnings, revisited

During my time in London, I’m also revisiting the origins of my own expat life. As you may recall, Dear Diary, I met my husband in London during a semester abroad. We ended up in Hong Kong, but our early romance took place here. The memories have been flooding back over the past few days as we walk by all the places where we shared sweet moments: first meeting, first date, first kiss.

I wrote about our romance in the first book I ever started, Year of Fire Dragons. It’s mostly about Hong Kong, but I can’t tell my Hong Kong story without starting in London.

Hong Kong tends to change very quickly, with restaurants and shops going in and out of business all the time. Buildings are torn down and rebuilt completely in the space of months. But London seems largely the same. Back in this place with this man, it’s easy to remember why I decided to follow him across the world.

LondonKiss+Year of Fire Dragons

A firey romance in London led Shannon to the land of Fire Dragons and her first book, a memoir (photo credit: pixabay).

What’s on the horizon?

Well, the sun is breaking through the clouds over the city. I’d better head out to make the most the sunshine before the rain and wind return.

I have two weeks to go in London. During that time, my editor will be working on Seaswept, which should be ready to launch by April 30th. Meanwhile, I’m looking ahead to my next project: the prequel to the Seabound Chronicles. Then it will be time to finish Book 3.

But I’m already working on my next series. I’ve written a rough outline and the first 10,000 words. While I’m enjoying the flood of inspiration and nostalgia in London, perhaps I’ll tap out a few more chapters. If there’s one thing I’ve learned on this expat writing journey, it’s that places have power. I don’t want to miss out on anything London has to offer in the next few weeks.

Thanks for following along on my writing journey around the world.


Shannon Young/Jordan Rivet

P.S. If you like dystopian fiction and writing Amazon reviews, shoot me an email and I’ll send you a book or two!

* * *

Readers, Shannon’s diary post this month has made me nostalgic for my own days of living in London. Sigh! It sounds as though she’s making the most of her time in the Big Smoke with walks on the Health and so on, but if you have any further recommendations for her remaining two weeks (any bridges you think she should see?), do let her know in the comments!

STAY TUNED for more 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!

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