The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

RETURN TRIP: 5 lessons Wonderland taught me about the expat life, by Lewis Carroll’s Alice

August is finally drawing to a close — we hope you managed to have an enchanting time of it. Here is one more in our series of “return trips” to posts that, for one reason or another, enchanted our readers. Enjoy!
All three members of The Displaced Nation team have found Alice, of Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass renown, a source of inspiration on our travels — seeing her as a kind of ultimate expat. Thus we decided to dedicate the month of June to Lewis Carroll’s “little heroine.” Kate Allison launched a series of posts on our Alice in Wonderland theme with 5 “lessons” Alice had allegedly learned from her adventures. It remains one of our most popular posts to date.

To kick off our Alice in Wonderland theme, we asked Alice if she had any advice for today’s Displaced Person:


Indeed I do. It might be many years since I fell down the rabbit hole, but human nature hasn’t changed. This is a little of what I learned:

1. Keep the golden key in your pocket at all times, and make a note of the emergency exits.

In another moment down went Alice after [the White Rabbit], never once considering how in the world she was to get out again.

My first mistake was to plunge down the rabbit-hole without planning ahead. The adventurous life is all very well, but it’s good to have a bolt-hole, as well as a rabbit-hole, when you need to escape to the old and familiar.

My second mistake was to leave the key on the glass table before drinking from the bottle marked “Drink Me.” In your vernacular, that’s like buying a return ticket home for this evening, then discovering your passport expired six months ago. Be prepared for the unexpected, the peculiar, and the almost impossible.

2. No matter how hard you try contrariwise, at some point you will offend someone.

Evidently Humpty Dumpty was very angry… “It is a—MOST—PROVOKING—thing,” he said at last, “when a person doesn’t know a cravat from a belt!”

Oh dear! If only I had a shilling for every time I inadvertently offended one of the creatures in Wonderland and through the Looking Glass! Not knowing Humpty Dumpty’s neck-wear from midriff-wear; my compulsive mentioning of cats and dogs in the Mouse’s presence without considering that he and I might have a different perspective of these animals…the list went on and on.

In the end, I think the Red Queen’s advice was the best:

“Always speak the truth—think before you speak—and write it down afterwards.”

But still, I couldn’t help thinking:

“I wish the creatures wouldn’t be so easily offended!”

3. “The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday — but never jam to-day.” Different country, different rules.

The Queen of Hearts was the worst example of this:

“No, no!” said the Queen. “Sentence first—verdict afterwards.”

I suggest if you are ever in this situation yourself, you employ more tact than I did. “Stuff and nonsense!” I said. “The idea of having the sentence first!”

Perhaps today a quick telephone call to your country’s embassy might be better.

Better still, acquaint yourself with the country’s rules before you go jumping on aeroplanes or down rabbit holes.

4. Go to a party or a Caucus-Race — don’t drown in your own tears.

“I am so VERY tired of being all alone here!”

The Caucus-Race proved to me that I could make friends with the most unlikely companions.

After a few minutes it seemed natural to Alice to find herself talking familiarly with them, as if she had known them all her life.

If you feel alone in your new environment, seek out company, even if it’s not the kind of company you’re used to. You might find your life is richer for it.

5. And finally: Keep a note of your name in your memorandum-book.

“Who are YOU?” said the Caterpillar.

Alice replied, rather shyly, “I—I hardly know, sir, just at present—at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”

I spent a great deal of time in both countries wondering who I was now. Was I my little friend Ada, or Mabel, perhaps?

Tweedledum even suggested I wasn’t really there at all.

“You’re only one of the things in his dream. You know very well you’re not real.”

“I AM real!” said Alice and began to cry.

Take a tip from me and write your name in a memorandum-book. Then keep a journal.

That way you will always remember who you were on any particular day.

And one day, people might read about you as they do about me.


Thank you, Alice!


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