The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

DIARY OF AN EXPAT WRITER: How to generate more writing ideas than you can handle (expats, you have an advantage!)

Diary of an Expat Writer
It’s been much too long since we’ve heard from Shannon Young, an American expat in Hong Kong who recently achieved her dream of becoming a full-time writerThose who have been following her diary from the beginning won’t be surprised to learn that she’s been extremely productive in the interim. About to finish her five-book fantasy adventure series and begin the next, she shares some proven methods of generating story ideas.

Dear Displaced Diary,

Forgive me for letting so much time pass since my last entry. As you can probably guess from my previous entries, I’ve been busy! Nearly a year ago—on April 1, 2016—I published the first book, Duel of Fire, in my second fantasy series, called Steel and Fire. It’s a five-book series, whereas my first series, Seabound. was a trilogy. As the title suggests, I’ve been writing an adventure series; the Seabound books are dystopian fantasy. Also, from the start, the Steel and Fire novels have done much better than my first set, which I hope can be taken as a measure of my success as a budding writer.

The last time I wrote you, I was about to finish Book Three in Steel and Fire. I’d also set myself the goal of launching Book Four by the end of 2016: achieved! Then in January I wrote the rough draft of the fifth and final Steel and Fire novel.

As I wrap up this series and gear up for the next, I thought it might be an opportune moment to tell you about how I get my writing ideas—something we haven’t really gone over before.

Here are my four main techniques for generating story lines:

1) Draw on life experience to build a new world.

As a science fiction and fantasy author, I am challenged over and over again to build a world that is different to everyday reality.

Expats like you and me have a serious advantage. We have literally transplanted ourselves into a new world already. Viewing people, customs, vocabulary, clothing, and architecture as a newcomer or outsider already puts us in the mindset for developing a compelling world for our stories.

The more you work with a world, the more you can push the boundaries beyond what you already know about it. It’s not so much creating a world as it is excavating one—an idea I lifted directly from Stephen King’s On Writing. As King says, it’s easier to expand upon and discover ideas than to think them up cold. Build outward from an initial concept, and the ideas almost write themselves.

In my dystopian Seabound series, for example, I chose a post-apocalyptic ocean setting and developed my ideas from there. I gave the characters entire vocabularies that revolve around nautical terms. All of my similes had to be relatable for people who have lived on the ocean for sixteen years. “Salt” and “rust” became swear words. I created an oil rig that is a central meeting place, versus a market.

2) Don’t forget about the story—and the power of contrast in telling it.

As anyone who’s written fantasy will know, it’s easy to get so bogged down in the details of a world that you forget about the actual story. Travel writers know this, too: it’s not enough to describe a cool place. You have to take your readers on a journey through it.

One way to come up with a story idea is to set up an inherent contrast. Two characters from different social classes fall in love. A by-the-book detective has to work with a rogue. A normal girl teams up with a paranormal being/secret agent/feisty old woman to defeat a bad guy. Use the built-in tension of contrasting characters to help figure out what your conflict should be. Again, starting with the seed of an idea and building outward is easier than thinking up a whole story from scratch.

3) Read other books for inspiration.

Another way to think up story ideas is to seek inspiration in other books. You shouldn’t copy another author’s ideas, but reading an engaging story can be a great way to get the juices flowing in your own mind. For example, you might be sitting by the fire enjoying the school antics of Harry Potter when—BAM!—you think to yourself: what would it be like if the whole thing took place at a boarding school in space? There’s your idea. Bonus points if you can bring an old idea into a new setting— think Firefly’s country western in space or iZombie’s murder mystery series with a zombie sleuth.

You can also get fiction ideas from reading non-fiction. You might be enjoying the latest expat memoir about your soon-to-be adopted home when it occurs to you things could get really interesting if someone got murdered or an EMP destroyed the electrical grid in the middle of the expat author’s adventures. Don’t be afraid to take someone else’s plot and add a new twist. Just run with it!

4) Live with a cold idea for a while, until it heats up.

I come up with my very best ideas while I’m working on other projects; but what happens when you have a general idea of what you want to write about, and you’re not sure how to move forward? How do you get more specific ideas on which to build a story? My favorite method is to walk around with the idea for a while. It helps if you can give yourself some parameters, such as “I want to write about a murder in the city where I live.” Don’t think too hard about it; just go about your daily life occasionally remembering that you’re looking for a particular story line. You may find that you see or overhear something that connects with the question in your head and hits you straight between the eyes with a great story idea!

This method works for problems within stories as well. Often the necessary solutions will come to you when you least expect them, but only after you give yourself an initial question to mull over. (This is why getting ideas in the shower is common among writers.) Don’t forget to keep a notebook handy so you can capture those ideas the moment they arrive.

Okay, your turn!

In closing, I’d like to pose a question to the readers of this diary entry. What are your tried-and-true methods of coming up with story ideas? Do you usually start out knowing what you’re going to write or discover it along the way?

Happy writing in either case!

And thank you, Displaced Diary, for your continuing encouragement!

Yours,

Shannon Young
AKA Jordan Rivet
www.shannonyoungwriter.com
www.jordanrivet.com

* * *

Shannon, it’s great to have you back at the Displaced Nation, and once again, I’m impressed by your ability to convey so many helpful ideas for the rest of us would-be book writers. You are what the Japanese side of myself would call a sensei, a compliment rarely bestowed on one so young! ~ML

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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Top 60 books for, by & about expats and other global creatives in 2016 (2/2)

Global bookworms, have you finished gorging on the 36 works of fiction featured in Part One of this post? Or perhaps you haven’t finished but fancy trying out a different flavor? In either case, you’re in luck. In Part Two, we’re adding 24 works of nonfiction—memoirs, travelogues, anthologies—that came out in 2016, bringing the grand total to 60.

Again, some of the titles may seem familiar—especially if you subscribe to our Displaced Dispatch—but I reckon you’ll still enjoy munching through the list: the whole is somehow greater than the sum of its parts.

As has become our practice, we’ve included indie as well as traditionally published works, and the books are presented in reverse chronological order.

* * *

Fall 2016

Squirrel Pie (and other stories): Adventures in Food Across the Globe (Bloomsbury, November 15, 2016)
Author/Illustrator: Elisabeth Luard
Expat credentials: After marrying novelist, travel writer and early proprietor of Private Eye Nicholas Luard, London-born-and-bred Elisabeth Luard lived in southern Spain (Andalusia) for nine years, where she produced four children and also painted birds and flowers to supplement the family income, later adding cookery writing to the mix. After Spain, the family relocated to the Isle of Mull (off the west coast of Scotland). As empty nesters, Elisabeth and Nicholas moved to a house in rural Wales they’d inherited from a friend (after Nicholas’s death, Elisabeth downsized and moved to London to be near her grandchildren). All told, Luard’s extensive travels with her husband have taken her to some extraordinary places.
Synopsis: Luard shares tales and dishes gathered from her global ramblings, from scouring for snails in Crete to sampling exotic spices in Ethiopia to tasting pampered oysters in Tasmania. She forages from forest, field, and stream, from the Andes to the Arctic—and provides more than fifty authentic recipes, each one a reflection of its unique place of origin, along with illustrations.
How we heard about: The book earned a mention in Sara Wheeler’s recent article for Guardian Books: “Where have all the female travel writers gone?” She called it “an excellent addition to the voguish ‘foodoir’ category, which overlaps often with travel writing—both being, in the end, hybrid genres.”
Why we recommend: Trying new foods is one of the major benefits of global travel; and if you haven’t yet learned how to spot a truffle lurking under an oak tree, it’s about time you did. You’ll also end up with recipes for Boston bean-pot, Hawaiian poke, Cretan bouboutie, mung-bean roti, roasted buttered coffee beans, Anzac biscuits, and Sardinian lemon macaroons.


Rituals of Separation: A South Korean Memoir of Identity and Belonging (Tojang Press, November 7, 2016)
Author: Elizabeth Rice
Expat credentials: Rice grew up in Seoul, South Korea. After working for a number of years in the NGO sector, she started to write a book about her childhood in South Korea. She is currently living between Costa Rica and Vermont.
Synopsis: When her American family returns to the U.S. after 16 years in South Korea, Elizabeth Rice is a hidden immigrant. She may be a white woman with American roots, but the United States is not her homeland. Part memoir, part history, her book captures the tension of living between identities, the deep longing for home, and the determination to find healing in the face of unrecoverable loss.
How we heard about: A listing in Summertime Publishing’s expatbookshop.com.
Why we recommend: Rice tells the classic Third Culture Kid story of being torn between two cultures, in an eloquent and moving way.


America the Anxious: How Our Pursuit of Happiness Is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks (St. Martin’s Press, October 4, 2016)
Author: Ruth Whippman
Expat credentials: A British author, journalist and filmmaker who started her career at the BBC, Whippman moved to Berkeley, California, with her family when her husband took a job with a tech start-up. (She holds American citizenship because her mother was born in the United States.) Notably, it was the move from always-cynical Britain to always-sunny California, that stimulated her to research this book.
Synopsis: Whippman explores the multibillion dollar happiness industry in her adopted country, and the question of why Americans always seem to be searching for contentment and never finding it. Is it that quest for happiness itself that is generating so much anxiety?
How we heard about: New York Times Sunday Book Review
Why we recommend: Whippman has been called a “whip-sharp British Bill Bryson” for her feat of making cogent observations on the American way of life.


The Big Cat Man (Bradt Travel Guides, October 1, 2016)
Author: Jonathan Scott
Expat credentials: In a blog post of last August, Scott writes that he knew from an early age that “England was not for me”—that he wanted “a life of adventure combined with a window on to the wilderness.” Nowadays he and his wife, Angela, who is also a wildlife photographer, divide their time between a house in a leafy suburb of Nairobi, with giraffes as neighbors, and a cottage on the Maasai Mara.
Synopsis: Scott decides that instead of writing natural history narratives about animal characters, he will write his own story: of how he went from growing up on a Berkshire farm in the UK, to training as a zoologist, to working as wildlife artist and safari guide in the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, to becoming a presenter for BBC’s Big Cat Diary and Animal Planet’s Wild Kingdom. The story includes his marriage, in his forties, to Angela; the pair’s travels to Antarctica, India and Bhutan; and the trauma of facing Angela’s serious illness, which put them on a spiritual journey to rival anything they had faced before.
How we heard about: Through Scott’s interview with Wanderlust travel magazine.
Why we recommend: As Lyn Hughes, co-founder and editor in chief of Wanderlust, says, it was “a brave move for a boy from the Home Counties to move to Africa in the 1970s.” But Scott was undaunted and soon fell in love with the land, the wildlife, the people: “there’s nowhere like it.” He has also fought hard to preserve the future of African wildlife.

Summer 2016

When in French: Love in a Second Language (Penguin Press, September 13, 2016)
Author: Lauren Collins
Expat credentials: Born and bred in North Carolina, Collins didn’t venture beyond U.S. borders until she was an adult and became an expat reporter in London. She became further displaced when she met and fell in love with Olivier, a French mathematician who, after a bumpy cross-cultural courtship, would become her husband. When Olivier was required to move to Geneva for his work, she followed, upending their “his continent, my language” balance and forcing her to confront his Francophone world. The couple now lives in Paris with their young daughter.
Synopsis: Collins offers up her marriage as a case study of what happens when one partner tries to learn the other’s native tongue. How much of one’s sense of self is tied up in language?
How we heard about: When The New Yorker, where Collins has been a staff writer since 2008, ran her article “Love in Translation” last August.
Why we recommend: According to New York Times reviewer Suzy Hansen, the book is “far more ambitious than the average memoir about moving abroad” because it also includes a “meditation on the art of language and intimacy” and a tribute to the “delights of cross-cultural fusion.”


The Illustrated Book of Sayings: Curious Expressions from Around the World  (Ten Speed Press, September 13, 2016)
Author/Illustrator: Ella Frances Sanders
Expat credentials: Calling herself an “intentional” global nomad, Sanders has lived in Morocco and Switzerland, but has now settled back in her native UK (the town of Bath). She first uncovered her creative potential when living in, and interning for a company in, Morocco.
Synopsis: A collection of strange idioms, adages and philosophies from around the world, the book highlights just how culturally specific language can be, with many of the nuances seemingly muddled, bemusing or lost in translation. Sanders’s illustrations imagine these metaphors as literal scenarios, while her accompanying commentary serves to unravel these cultural conundrums.
How we heard about: Sanders has been on our radar ever since she produced her first book, Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World, which made our 2014 list (it grew out of a 2013 blog post of hers that went viral: “11 Untranslatable Words From Other Cultures”). She calls this second book “a sort of older sibling” to the first.
Why we recommend: Sanders says she writes her books to enable people able to connect with ideas that came from a place other than the one they grew up in.


Misunderstood: The Impact of Growing Up Overseas in the 21st Century (Summertime Publishing, August 15, 2016)
Author: Tanya Crossman
Expat credentials: Crossman is technically a third culture kid: although she grew up in Australia (Sydney and Canberra), she spent two of her high school years in Greenwich, Connecticut. As a young adult, she has lived and worked in China and also spent time in Cambodia. Right now she is back in Sydney studying for her master’s degree but hopes to go abroad again soon.
Synopsis: Crossman’s book examines the impact international life can have on the children through the personal stories of hundreds of individuals who have grown up as so-called third culture kids, or TCKs: kids who grow up outside of the country of origin of their parents. The book also offers practical suggestions for how best to care for and support this special group of expats, not only while they live overseas, but also when they return to their passport countries and mature into adults.
How we heard about: We follow Summertime on social media; plus Crossman was the second interviewee by TCK Talent columnist Dounia Bertuccelli.
Why we recommend: Crossman is a passionate advocate for the special needs of TCKs. As she told Bertuccelli, her book differs from other TCK resources

“…because I act as an advocate and a ‘voice’ for young TCKs. I’m trying to express how they really feel about the experience of growing up in a third culture. They have a different experience of the world to their parents. Recognizing this is essential for giving them the support they need.”


The Glamour of Strangeness: Artists and the Last Age of the Exotic (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, August 9, 2016)
Author: Jamie James
Expat credentials: A native Texan who became an art reviewer for the New Yorker, James spent years traveling the globe until he finally left New York and moved permanently to Bali in 1999. The move has given him the chance to indulge in his passion for Pacific culture, Indonesian in particular, producing fiction and nonfiction with local and regional themes.
Synopsis: Drawing on his own career as a travel writer, James offers biographical sketches of six artists whom he would categorize as “exotes” because they ran away to discover who they are and where they belong, thereby joining the “school of no nation, or all nations”:

  • German painter Walter Spies, who settled in Bali
  • Raden Saleh, the Javanese painter who found fame in Europe
  • Isabelle Eberhardt, a Russian-Swiss writer who roamed the Sahara dressed as an Arab man
  • Russian-born American filmmaker Maya Deren, who went to Haiti and became a committed follower of voodoo
  • French post-Impressionist painter Paul Gauguin, who left France for Tahiti
  • French doctor and writer Victor Segalen, who immersed himself in classical Chinese civilization in imperial Peking

How we heard about: New York Times Sunday Book Review
Why we recommend: James’s book reveals a generation of creative people who not only wished to escape from their homelands but also found their new surroundings stimulating for producing art. In refusing to stay put in the country to which they’d been assigned by birth, were they anticipating the world we have today, in which commerce and communications and culture flow easily across national boundaries? We stand on their shoulders! The only thing is, we expats and global creatives are now so common we are no longer considered exotic.:/


Cultural Chemistry: Simple Strategies for Bridging Cultural Gaps (July 19, 2016)
Author: Patti McCarthy
Expat credentials: Originally from the UK, Patti McCarthy grew up a third culture kid. She has lived and worked in England, Belgium, the United States, Botswana, Singapore and (now) Australia, where she runs her own business called Cultural Chemistry providing cross-cultural and relocation support to expats. Not only has she been an expat for over forty years, but her husband, two dogs, and three children were all born in different countries.
Synopsis: Intended as a handbook for anyone who works in a multi-cultural business environment, the book details hundreds of cross-cultural misunderstandings and introduces McCarthy’s four-step process for handling, which she calls the Four R’s: Rewards, Research, Reflect, and Reach Out.
How we heard about: From a tweet by UYD Management
Why we recommend: We’ve hopefully all mastered the three R’s by now. Onwards to the next challenge!


A Scorpion in the Lemon Tree (July 1, 2016)
Author: Marjory McGinn
Expat credentials: Born in Scotland, McGinn was brought up in Sydney, Australia. As a young adult she traveled back to Scotland in search of the cultural links she thought she might be missing, and then across Europe. When she got to Greece,  she liked it so much she stayed on in Athens and worked for a year. Upon her return to Australia, she took up a career as a newspaper journalist; but by the time the 21st century dawned, she yearned to go back to Scotland, accompanied this time by her partner and fellow journalist, Jim. In 2010, the couple and their Jack Russell terrier, Wallace, set off on an adventure to the southern Peloponnese that lasted four years and became the basis for McGinn’s three travel memoirs. These days “home” is East Sussex, England.
Synopsis: Following Things Can Only Get Feta and Homer’s Where the Heart Is, the third in McGinn’s Peloponnese series covers house rental dramas, scorpion threats, and a publishing upheaval. Despite setbacks, McGinn and her companions can’t help but be seduced by the charm of Koróni, on the Messinian peninsula, making new friends while also reconnecting with some of the memorable characters of their days in the wild Mani region.
How we heard about: McGinn is a Displaced Dispatcher and has been featured on the Displaced Nation in Tracey Warr’s Location, Locution column.
Why we recommend: McGinn renewed her love affair with Greece at a time when she thought it would be of mutual benefit. Greece was sliding into economic crisis and had to be bailed out repeatedly—and she wanted to record the country’s rural way of life before it disappeared. At the same time, though, McGinn’s chosen profession of journalism was in crisis. Could her times in Greece inspire her to become a travel writer?

Spring 2016

All Strangers Are Kin: Adventures in Arabic and the Arab World (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, June 14, 2016)
Author: Zora O’Neill
Expat credentials: O’Neill lived in Egypt and studied Arabic in graduate school during the 1990s. This started her on the path of becoming an international creative, interested particularly in languages and traditional foods of other countries. From New Mexico originally but now based in Astoria, Queens, O’Neill has written or contributed to more than a dozen guidebooks, and co-authored a cookbook. Besides the Arab world, particularly Egypt, she has gotten to know Amsterdam and Mexico.
Synopsis: A travel memoir about studying Arabic, the book recounts O’Neill’s linguistic Grand Tour of the Middle East, through four countries that represent the main dialects of the Arab-speaking world. She starts her journey by re-acquainting herself with Egyptian Arabic in Cairo (where she studied Arabic in grad school) in late 2011. She moves to Emirati Arabic in Dubai, to Lebanese Arabic in Beirut, and to several cities in Morocco where she can use Darija, the Arabic spoken in western North Africa. Every time she moves from one country to another, she undergoes a fresh culture shock. As her journey progresses, she convinces us that the various dialects of fushá (Modern Standard Arabic) are the gateway to a fascinating culture.
How we heard about: From a review by M Lynx Qualey, whom we follow on twitter (@arablit).
Why we recommend: It’s impressive that over 25 years, O’Neill never gave up her dream of learning Arabic. She studied classical Arabic in the 1990s and earned her master’s in Arabic literature. But it would be two decades later, on the trip across North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula described in this book, that she finally felt natural speaking it.


A Chorus of Cockerels: Walking on the wild side in Mallorca (Summersdale, June 9, 2016)
Author: Anna Nicholas
Expat credentials: After an eccentric childhood in Kent and London that involved quite a bit of travel in Eastern Europe, Nichols traveled the world for the Guinness Book of Records and then ran her own travel and luxury lifestyle PR firm in London. About 15 years ago, she left Britain with her husband and son to live in northwest Mallorca, aka Majorca, the largest island in the Balearic Islands archipelago (part of Spain). Since then, she has done more writing, not only journalistic articles but also a series of books about rural island life. In May she will be accompanying explorer Colonel John Blashford-Snell to the Amazon (Colombia).
Synopsis: A merger of her PR firm with another London agency has given author and journalist Nichols more time to explore her adopted home. The upshot is this book, Nichols’s sixth Mallorca title, discussing the Spanish island’s Roman and Moorish history and culture. The cockerels of the title refer to her family’s growing menagerie: at last count, 40 hens and cockerels, along with assorted cats, frogs, donkeys, and Johnny the Toad.
How we heard about: Nichols was one of the original group of bloggers on Telegraph Expat. More recently, she produced a summary piece on expat life for Expat Explorer.
Why we recommend: “Intrepid” is Nichols’s middle name. She once organized an expedition to carry a piano to a remote Amerindian tribe in South America (it was the subject of a BBC documentary). Thus you can be confident you’re in good hands when she sets out to explore her adopted island home. She will leave no stone (be it farm, factory, Moorish myth) unturned; she even finds time to hike the Camino de Santiago along the way…


What Language Do I Dream In? (Virago, June 7, 2016)
Author: Elena Lappin
Expat credentials: Born in Moscow, Lappin grew up in Prague and Hamburg, and has lived in Israel, Canada, the United States and—longer than anywhere else—in London.
Synopsis: Lappin’s memoir tells the story of growing up in five languages—Russian (she uses with her parents), Czech (she uses with her brother, as they grew up in Prague), German (from their days in Hamburg), Hebrew (from living in Israel), and English (she has lived in Canada, the US, and now London). A writer-editor, she feels grateful that English finally adopted her, though it did not adopt her brother (he writes in German).
How we heard about: We follow Virago Press on Facebook.
Why we recommend: Most of us struggle to become bilingual let alone multilingual. What happens when not only you but your entire family is multilingual because of having been serial immigrants—how do you communicate with each other? Which of these languages do you teach your children? And if you dream of becoming a writer, as Lappin did: how do you choose a dominant language to think and write in?


Once Upon an Expat (May 31, 2016)
Editor/Author: Lisa Webb
Expat credentials: A Canadian, Webb got swept into the the expat world when she and her husband decided to live in France in 2010. Five years later, they moved with their two children, both of whom were born in France, to Borneo, Indonesia, for a year. They now call the Congo home. Webb has a popular blog, Canadian Expat Mom.
Synopsis: An anthology of stories by women who’ve experienced firsthand what it means to set up life in a foreign country. Areas of the world include Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Australia, and the Americas.
How we heard about: From tweets by Sally Rose and Brittani Sonnenberg. 
Why we recommend: Among the 20 contributors are several familiar names—including Amanda van Mulligen, who blogs at Turning Dutch; Olga Mecking, who blogs at the European Mama; and the aforementioned Displaced Nation columnist Sally Rose (Sally contributed the story “What Mattered Most”).


Mother Tongue: My Family’s Globe-Trotting Quest to Dream in Mandarin, Laugh in Arabic, and Sing in Spanish (Avery, May 17, 2016)
Author: Christine Gilbert
Expat credentials: Growing up in rural Massachusetts, Gilbert never traveled as a youth. But the death of her grandfather from a severe form of dementia changed all that. It set her on a path to seek out how to become bilingual in the belief that bilingualism helps delay the onset of the disease. Gilbert quit her corporate job and, with her husband, Drew, and toddler son in tow, launched an ambitious eighteen-month-long, three-country quest to become fluent in Mandarin, Arabic, and Spanish. The family (they now have three children) are currently settled in Oaxaca, Mexico, in a house on the Sierra Madre—with Thai herbs from their travels growing in the garden. The couple has started their own video production company and are filming a series about the anthropology of food.
Synopsis: The book is divided into three sections, each named for the place the family settles in order to immerse themselves in the language: China (daunting), Lebanon (welcoming), and Mexico (not surprisingly, learning Spanish is the easiest of the three challenges). The story is part personal memoir, part travelogue, and part literacy narrative. In the end, Gilbert comes to value biculturalism as well as bilingualism.
How we heard about: We first heard about Gilbert when she and Drew were named 2014 National Geographic Travelers of the Year.
Why we recommend: Gilbert is super creative: she is a photographer, a writer, a filmmaker, a coach. But at the time when she uprooted her family to move around the world, she was also a young mother with an all-American husband. That takes guts—a quality Gilbert appears to have in spades.


Bonjour Kale: A Memoir of Paris, Love, and Recipes (Sourcebooks, May 3, 2016)
Author: Kristen Beddard
Expat credentials: Pittsburgh-born American Kristen Beddard moved to Paris in 2011 with her husband for his job. An advertising executive, she found herself without a job and, surprisingly, without one of her favorite vegetables, kale. (The couple repatriated to New York City in 2016.)
Synopsis: Beddard decided she didn’t want to live in Paris for five years without a vegetable that for her, a vegetarian of many years, was like comfort food. The book recounts her launching of the Kale Project, an initiative to reintroduce kale—a légume oublié (lost/forgotten vegetable)—to the country of croissants and cheese. The project succeeded (Beddard’s campaign even made the front page of the New York Times), and the French now enjoy harvesting and eating le chou kale.
How we heard about: From her fellow American expat in Paris, pastry chef David Lebovitz, whom we follow on social media. In fact he wrote about her again in a recent post.
Why we recommend: Reintroducing an heirloom veggie to a country that prides itself on heirloom foods is a feat beyond what most expats, however creative, can ever hope to accomplish. No wonder the New York Times dubbed Beddard “The Kale Crusader.”


Life without a recipe: A Memoir of Food and Family (WW Norton, April 18, 2016)
Author: Diana Abu-Jaber
Expat credentials: The child of a Jordanian father and an American mother (with Irish-German roots), Abu-Jaber grew up in the middle of two very different, and often clashing, cultures. On the one hand she had her tough, independent sugar-fiend of a German grandmother, wielding a suitcase full of holiday cookies; on the other, her flamboyant, spice-obsessed Arab father, full of passionate argument. The two could not agree on anything. Apart from two years her family spent living in Jordan, however, Abu-Jaber has always lived in the United States. She currently lives in Portland and south Florida.
Synopsis: The sequel to Abu-Jaber’s first memoir, The Language of Baklava, this book focuses on writer Abu-Jaber’s attempt to navigate early and middle adulthood. Unable to decide whether she wants her life sweet or spicy, she has two short-lived marriages. By the time she reaches her 40s, she realizes she has to carve out life on her own terms, not those of her family’s. That’s when she meets and marries the outdoors-loving Scott, and they adopt a daughter.
How we heard about: We read her November 2015 essay for the New Yorker, “Lamb Two Ways,” which was drawn from her forthcoming book.
Why we recommend: Abu-Jaber provides an honest account of her struggle to define her identity as Arab and American, as writer and family member. Besides, who can resist spending time with a woman who is baking her way through life? Her sense of life-as-adventure and obsession with all things culinary make her great company.


An Octopus in my Ouzo: Loving Life on a Greek Island (April 14, 2016)
Author: Jennifer Barclay
Expat credentials: Born in Manchester, UK, Barclay grew up on the edge of the Pennines—but as an adult she has led a peripatetic life, attempting to put down roots in Canada and France while also trying out life in Guyana and South Korea. But in the end she settled on Greece, particularly after she discovered the remote island of Tilos, where she now lives for most of the year.
Synopsis: The book tells the story of Barclay’s first few years of immersion in island life, which included getting pregnant (the island is a ferry ride away from a hospital). It’s the sequel to her previous memoir, Falling in Honey, about how Tilos stole her heart after her love life fell apart back in the UK.
How we heard about: Barclay’s “Gathering Road” podcast interview with Elaine Masters brought her onto our radar screen.
Why we recommend: Barclay’s first memoir was one of my picks for Beth Green’s column. I was intrigued by the title of the book that she wrote after living in South Korea: Meeting Mr Kim: Or How I Went to Korea and Learned to Love Kimchi.


Winter 2016

Five Flights Up: Sex, Love, and Family, from Paris to Lyon (March 15, 2016)
Author: Kristin Louise Duncombe
Expat credentials: Duncombe grew up overseas as the child of a US diplomat and has lived overseas for most of her adult life and in Europe since 2001. A trained psychotherapist, she specializes in working with international and expatriate families. She and her family currently live in Geneva.
Synopsis: This is Duncombe’s second memoir. In the first, Trailing, she chronicled her experience of being swept off her feet by an Argentinian Médecins Sans Frontières doctor. Abandoning her plans to set up a psychotherapy practice in New Orleans, she followed him to East Africa—which proved to be even more of an adventure than the couple had bargained for. In the second memoir, ten years have passed and Duncombe has established a successful Paris-based psychotherapy practice—only to find she must uproot herself from Paris to Lyon, again because of her husband’s job. The new book explores the challenges of managing two-career marriages and raising bicultural kids, along with the eccentricities of life in France.
How we heard about: We’ve read a number of the author interviews on her blog.
Why we recommend: Duncombe’s unique specialty is helping “trailing spouses” maintain their sanity while following their other half around the globe. But she must reconfigure everything she thought she knew about her “expat expertise” when her child sinks into existential crisis, and tea time is to be had with glamorous French moms whose sex lives include swingers’ parties. The book should appeal to memoir for anyone facing a move, dealing with marital ghosts, or confronting the professional death of starting anew.


Gardens of Awe and Folly: A Traveler’s Journal on the Meaning of Life and Gardening (Bloomsbury, March 1, 2016)
Author/Illustrator: Vivian Swift
Expat credentials: Swift is not an expat but a perpetual wanderer. When not traveling, she lives on Long Island Sound. (Yes, one of the gardens is from her own Long Island, proving the worthiness of Emily Dickinson’s observation that you can find everything worth discovering in your own backyard.)
Synopsis: From Scotland to Key West, from Brazil to Paris, Swift tracks down nine of the world’s gardens that are considered to be masterpieces. She illustrates her travelogue with her own watercolors.
How we heard about: Swift’s Le Road Trip: A Traveler’s Journal of Love and France made our previous year-end list (we learned about that book from her blog).
Why we recommend: Swift seduces through whimsical words and pictures; she even offers a lesson on how to paint falling leaves.


Bed, Breakfast & Drunken Threats: Dispatches from the Margins of Europe (Jean-Albert Dadas Press, February 17. 2016)
Author: Dave Seminara
Expat credentials: Born in Buffalo, NY, Seminara joined the U.S. Foreign Service upon graduation from university. His diplomatic career included stints in Macedonia, Trinidad and Hungary, and in the Bureau of Central African Affairs in Washington, D.C. He is now a roving reporter—he writes a regular column for BBC Travel called “BBC Travel Pioneer”—and prize-winning photographer. These days he calls Bend, Oregon, home.
Synopsis: A collection of 24 travel stories that unfold across 14 European countries, the book is a tribute to Seminara’s quest to understand Europe. We learn that he wishes he had Norwegian roots, envies the Basques, and feels certain that the best places in Italy and Greece have yet to be discovered.
How we heard about: Social media
Why we recommend: At a time when Europe has fallen out of fashion with travel writers (even Rick Steves says his favorite country is India!), it makes a nice change to find a book by an unabashed Europhile.


Knocked Up Abroad: Stories of pregnancy, birth, and raising a family in a foreign country (January 28, 2016) and Knocked Up Abroad Again: Baby bumps, twists, and turns around the globe (November 17, 2016)
Editor/Author: Lisa Ferland
Expat credentials: A public health expert from her previous life in the US, Ferland has lived abroad in Sweden with her family since 2012. She says that parenting has been her greatest adventure, and the fact that she’s combined this with an expat life has led to some of her most exciting discoveries about herself. Nowadays she works as a writer, editor and publisher.
Synopsis: The first book in the series contains 24 stories about the trials and joys experienced by 21 mothers and two dads who had babies and raised their families abroad, ranging from the spa-like treatments for postpartum women in Japan to insatiable pregnancy cravings in the Seychelles to non-functioning toilets in West Africa. The second book is an anthology of stories by 25 women in 25 different countries—again recording what it’s been like to raise children in a country that looks, sounds, and expects completely different behaviors than the culture in which the mother was raised herself.
How we heard about: We follow Ferland on social media.
Why we recommend: The collection includes stories by two writers we love: Amanada van Mulligen and Clara Wiggins.


How to Talk about Places You’ve Never Been: On the Importance of Armchair Travel (Bloomsbury, January 26, 2016)
Author: Pierre Bayard (translator: Michele Hutchison)
Expat credentials: Bayard is a French author, professor of literature and connoisseur of psychology. He is not an expat but has gained an international following through his books presenting revisionist readings of English literary classics: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and Shakesperea’s Hamlet.
Synopsis: Bayard takes readers on a trip around the world, giving us essential guidance on how to talk about all those fantastic places we’ve never been. He examines the art of the “non-journey,” a tradition that a succession of writers and thinkers, unconcerned with moving away from their home turf, have employed in order to encounter the foreign cultures they wish to know and talk about. He cites examples of famous writers who were able to write vividly about places they hadn’t visited.
How we heard about: From a conversation between Bayard and Paul Holdengräber at Albertine, a French and English bookshop in Manhattan, a project of the Cultural Services of the French Embassy fostering French-American intellectual exchange (attended via livestream).
Why we recommend: Besides being irreverent and thought provoking, Bayard makes cross-cultural comparisons that would never have occurred to us. For instance, he says that, whereas Americans were shocked to learn that this revered writer had fabricated much of the story of his travels across America with his dog in his work Travels with Charley: In search of America, in France people were unfazed. The French believe it’s possible to convey the spirit of something without having experienced it directly.


The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain (Anchor, Jan 19, 2016)
Author: Bill Bryson
Expat credentials: From Des Moines, Iowa, Byrson has been a resident of Britain for most of his adult life, returning to the United States between 1995 and 2003. He served as the chancellor of Durham University from 2005 to 2011, and since 2007 has been serving as the president of the Campaign to Protect Rural England. He now holds dual nationality (a relatively recent decision) and has an OBE.
Synopsis: Twenty years after his classic Notes from a Small Island was published (it is still one of the bestselling travel books ever written), the Bryson decided to deliver another valentine to his adopted home, which in the interval has given the Iowan writer both a wife and a career in journalism. He set himself the challenge of going the longest distance one can travel in a straight line without crossing saltwater: from Bognor Regis in the south to Cape Wrath in the Scottish Highlands. The result is another entertaining travelogue with stories of “pleasing Britannic things” as well as a few of his pet peeves. And no, there’s no such place as Little Dribbling: Bryson made it up as an ode to eccentric British place names.
How we heard about: New York Times Sunday Book Review
Why we recommend: Two of the Displaced Nation’s founders, both of them British, listed Bryson as one of their favorite expat writers. I rather doubt they’re his only fans!

* * *

And so we have it: our top picks for displaced nonfiction that came out in 2016. What do you think, dear reader? Are we missing something you think deserves to be on the list? Kindly let us know in the comments! (Until next year…)

ML Awanohara, one of the Displaced Nation’s founders and its current editor, has a section in the weekly Displaced Dispatch where she mentions the latest expat books. Why not subscribe as a treat to yourself during the winter doldrums?

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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Photo credits: All photos via Pixabay or Morguefiles.

A valentine to kindred creative spirits encountered in far-away lands

Expat life has a transient quality that is not always conducive to making close friends. Thus when two people reach out and find a connection, it feels very special, as we learn from this guest post by Philippa Ramsden, a Scottish writer who until recently was living in Burma/Myanmar. Philippa has been on our site before. Her story about discovering she had breast cancer shortly after her arrival in Rangoon/Yangon was one of the dragonfruit “morsels” that Shannon Young, who contributes our Diary of an Expat Writer column, chose to share with the release of an anthology she edited in 2014, How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? True Stories of Expat Women in Asia. I must say, it is a pleasure to have Philippa back in our midst. Not only is she doing much better health-wise, but her story of friendship makes a perfect read for Valentine’s Day! —ML Awanohara

As I was eating my breakfast quietly this morning, in this peaceful retreat, I was joined at the table by another couple. We started chatting a little, enthusiastic about the day ahead and our various plans for exploring, relaxing and creating.

That’s when I saw the plate of dragonfruit in front of them! I hadn’t seen dragonfruit since leaving Asia, I did not even know it grew in South America*.

It was a striking coincidence given the special place dragonfruit holds in my creative heart. The first time I had my writing published in a proper book was when it appeared in the How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? anthology, which came out in 2014. What’s more, something unexpected emerged from the process of refining the writing in preparation for publication, which ultimately led to my present surroundings.

* * *

We were a team of 27 women, including and guided by our editor, Shannon Young, towards producing a collection of stories from our lives as women in Asia. Stories of our lives in countries where we were essentially guests, for a shorter or longer term. From a dozen different countries, we varied enormously in our situations but were tied together by the fact that we were all, or had been, women living in Asia as expatriates.

It was fascinating to get to know each other through our stories and through email connection as we were kept up to date on the decision of the title, the reveal of the cover art and the lead-up to publication.

Just after my writer’s copy of the anthology arrived, I received an email from one of the other writers, Sharon Brown. She had read my account of moving to Myanmar and being diagnosed with cancer. I, meanwhile, had read her story, “Our Little Piece of Vietnam,” in which she recounted hurtling through the streets of Hanoi on the back of a motorbike while being in the throes of labor, reaching the hospital just in time for the (safe) arrival of her daughter.

Sharon had reached out to me because she and her family were moving to Yangon!

“Once we’re settled in, if you have time, I would love to meet with you for tea one day,” her email said.

And indeed we did. Just think, had it not been for our Dragonfruit connection, it is highly unlikely that our paths would have crossed in Myanmar over the two years of their stay. We would not have enjoyed those cuppas and chats, writing together or being part of the same book club.

A wonderful connection, thanks to the Dragonfruit anthology.

cuppas-and-chats

Fast forward two years, to May 2016. As it turned out, Sharon and I were both preparing to leave Myanmar. I was packing to leave Asia for Africa, and I learned that she was leaving Asia for South America: Ecuador. Along with her husband, she was embracing the opportunity to take on a new challenge. They would be running an eco-lodge in Ecuador, something close to their hearts, values and beliefs. They were filled with enthusiasm and zest for their new adventure.

Sharon said:

“You should come to the lodge. It would be the perfect place for a writing retreat. Do come.”

What a fascinating thought—but hardly a likely venture. Ecuador is further west than I have ever travelled. It is more than a day’s travel from Africa. Would it be rash to travel such a distance when the year has already seen such intensity, change and indeed long-distance travel? Would it not be wasteful given that there is so much to explore on my new African doorstep?

These are sensible questions, but my mind is not so wise. The thought kept returning that this is an opportunity which might not arise again. That it is probably better to travel when health is reasonable as nothing can be taken for granted. And the sneaking reminder, that if I did visit Ecuador, then incredibly, this would be a year which would see me on no less than five continents. (I do believe that I have not travelled to more than two continents in any year in the past.) How many grandmothers are able to do that?

* * *

So here I am, in the beautiful La Casa Verde Eco Guest House, nestling in the hills of Ecuador. I am sitting on the balcony of what is now being called “The Writing Room”, tapping away at the keyboard with the steep green hills right in front of me, the sound of a donkey braying in the distance, the trees swaying in the breeze and in the company of blue grey tanagers. The creative silence of the past months is being lifted gently in these inspiring hills.

I could not resist the temptation of visiting such a new part of the world to me, and of bringing the year to a close in a peaceful and inspiring place.

Had it not been for our Dragonfruit connection, I might never have made it to this fascinating new land. Serendipity and the friendship of a kindred spirit have enabled this retreat to happen.

Like so many journeys, the one to get here was not an easy one, but I am powerfully reminded of the importance of making that effort and seizing the day. These opportunities are to be embraced and treasured. And will surely be long remembered.

Thank you, Dragonfruit!

Editor’s note: In fact, dragonfruit, or pitaya, is native to the Americas.

serendipity-and-friendship

* * *

And thank YOU, Philippa, for such an uplifting story! Displaced Nationers, do you have any stories of friendships that blossomed because of creative pursuits, and if so, did they lead you to new parts of the world? Do tell in the comments.

And if this excerpt has made you curious to about Philippa Ramsden, her blog is Feisty Blue Gecko, where a version of this post first appeared. You can also find her on Facebook and twitter. She has written several meditations on the challenges and joys of life in a foreign environment—and they are all fascinating. She is currently working on a memoir.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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

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Photo credits:
Opening visual: (clockwise, from top left) Dragonfruit anthology cover art; the photos of schoolgirls in Baños, Ecuador (where the eco-lodge is), of the two young women in a field in Myanmar, and the two kinds of dragonfruit are all from Pixabay.
Second visual: The photos of the cups of tea and of the two women making a heart with their hands are both from Pixabay. Image on the left: Inside The Strand Hotel & some of their gift shops – Rangoon, Myanmar (Burma), by Kathy via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); image on right: downtown Rangoon with Sule Pagoda in distance, supplied by Philippa Ramsden.
Last visual: The photos of the green hills of Ecuador and the eco-lodge balcony view were supplied by Philippa; the photo of the blue grey tanagers is from Pixabay; and the rainbow image should be attributed as: Ecuador, over the rainbow, Baños, by Rinaldo Wurglitsch via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

CULTURE SHOCK TOOLBOX: Expats & TCKs, when the culture shocks pile up, pull out the manual or consult an expert


Transitions enthusiast H.E. Rybol is back with her first guest of 2017.

Happy February, Displaced Nationers!

Meet my fellow ATCK Diahann Reyes-Lane. You might know her already from Elizabeth Liang’s lovely interview for TCK Talent. If you don’t, Diahann is a former CNN journalist and Hollywood actress who now works as a coach for writers and artists.

In her own creative life, Diahann is a blogger, writer, and performer. In Stories From The Belly, her blog about “the female body and its appetites,” Diahann addresses feminism, body image, identity culture, food and travel. Her poems and essays have been published in WriteGirl anthologies Emotional Map of Los Angeles, You Are Here and No Character Limit. She has written a number of chapbooks: Howl Naked Raccoon the Moon; Moon Goddess; and Basketball Dome of Tears. And she has performed at the Hollywood FringeFestival and read her stories at Beyond Baroque in Venice. Currently, she is working on a memoir as well as a solo show.

Diahann lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their five cats. She kindly took the time to share some of her cultural transition stories with us. Join us as we talk about TCK burnout, courting customs in Manila (just in time for Valentine’s Day!), and various forms of therapy.

* * *

Hi Diahann, welcome to Culture Shock Toolbox! So where on our beautiful blue planet did you grow up?

I was born in the Philippines. I learned to speak my first language, English, with a Kiwi accent at age one when my dad’s company moved us to New Zealand. We lived there for almost two years before moving back to Manila. When I was eight, we moved to Argentina for two years. Buenos Aires is still, to this day, my favorite city where I’ve lived. Two years later, we landed in Pakistan, where I spent the fifth grade. We stayed for a little over a year before migrating to the US. This was supposed to be our final move, but when the Marcos regime was overthrown, my father moved us back “home” to Manila in 1987.

How well did you settle down once you found yourself back in your passport country?

Our repatriation to the Philippines was brief. It was less than a year before my dad’s company moved him to Indonesia. I spent my senior year in Jakarta before moving back to the United States for college. I’ve been here ever since—going on 27 years now. I consider my long stay in this country a far more exotic adventure than moving countries all the time, which had been my norm for so long.

That’s very interesting. You mean you found staying in one place more exotic than travel?

Yes, learning to live in the same place has been a bigger adventure because moving, I knew how to do. Going to a new school, I knew how to do. Moving out/into a new apartment/house/neighborhood, I knew how to do. It was what my family did the whole time I was growing up. Until I turned 18, I moved to a new school, if not country, almost every year. I had no idea what it was like to have friendships that lasted beyond a school year. My sophomore year at UC Berkeley was a challenge because I didn’t know how to have ongoing relationships and I had to learn how to do that as a young woman. I used to think “what if”, mourning the losses of friendships and budding romances that surely would have blossomed if only I didn’t have to move again. I now know that sometimes, even when you live in the same zip code with people, friends drift apart and romances die for reasons beyond geography.
moving-i-knew-how-to-do

I hear you. And that’s a lot of moves. I’m guessing that, for you, like many of us Third Culture Kids, your most difficult re-entry shock occurred when you returned to your birthplace?

Yes, since Manila was “home”, I assumed there would be no transition. I thought I’d be like everyone else, for once, since I was no longer a foreigner. To my dismay, I still was an outsider. I didn’t know the customs or social rules any more than I did when I’d moved to the other countries. I was hard on myself about this because I assumed that I should know because I was a Filipina citizen.

Did you ever put your foot in your mouth when you were back “home”?

One example that springs to mind occurred during junior high school in Manila. A boy from another school was “courting” me. This was the eighties, so I’m not sure if courting is still what kids do nowadays. Basically, he was wooing me to be his girlfriend. But I wasn’t interested in him and I didn’t want to lead him on. I told the guy straight out—nicely, in my opinion—that I just wanted to be his friend. That’s what I would have done had I still been in living in the United States or studying at an international school. When I told my classmates about what happened, they made clear that this was a breach of etiquette. They said I should have allowed him to keep courting me until he finally asked me to be his girlfriend. Only then should I have let him down. Instead, I’d embarrassed him.
courting-in-philippines

Would you handle that kind of situation differently today?

The woman I am today would have handled the situation exactly the way I did then. But at 16, and after so many moves from country-to-country and school-to-school, I just wanted to fit in—especially because the Philippines was my country of origin. After that incident with the boy, I made more of an effort to abide by Filipino etiquette, including never calling guys and not taking the initiative when it came to expressing interest in a boy. Adapt, assimilate, and conform became my way of coping. I wish I could have told my younger self back then: “Just be yourself and honor your values. Who you are is enough. Your perceptions and choices aren’t wrong.”

Any “tools” you can recommend for the rest of us who are feeling some of these emotions?

Reading books about culture shock and re-entry culture shock helped. I discovered I wasn’t the only one having these experiences and my behavior, reactions, and mental and emotional state because of all the moving was normal. Until that point, I thought I was losing my mind. I couldn’t stay grounded in my body or any place or culture. Also, I wrote a college paper about re-entry culture shock, and the research I did for it was eye opening and healing. It also helps to have friends who have also lived the expat life and know what that’s like. Oh—and therapy. I recommend getting a good therapist.

youre-not-going-crazy

I like your recommendation of consulting the experts, whether it’s through books—we might call them operations manuals—or conversations with therapists who understand the TCK and expat mindset. Can you think of any transitions you made that were particularly smooth?

I’m inclined to say my move back to the United States to study at Berkeley was the easiest. I made friends right away and jumped right into college life. I didn’t miss Indonesia at all—probably because I’d lived there only for a year and hadn’t wanted to move there to begin with. (This had nothing to do with Indonesia—more that I was tired of moving.) But what I didn’t realize was that I’d not yet dealt with the accumulation of culture shocks and re-entry culture shocks I’d amassed in my psyche over the years. Inevitably, all of that would catch up with me eventually.

Yes, the compound effects of all those transitions is such an interesting subject! What advice do you have for expats or TCKs who are experiencing expat burnout or change fatigue?

I’d advise expats and TCKs to understand that the psychological and emotional fallout of multiple moves around the world are real. Recognize what is happening to you, proactively rather than reactively. Read and write about it. For me, writing that college paper about re-entry shock was a formative experience. I finally understood the effects that moving so many times while growing up had had on my development.

Lastly, do you have any advice for parents of kids like us?

For parent expats, I’d recommend letting your kids know that they, too, will be subject to culture shock. I’d suggest making space for your children to process their feelings and deal with the losses that can come from moving countries and cultures. Yes, there are plenty of gifts and benefits from being a global nomad, but there are also drawbacks. Ignoring the negative effects can be harmful. Granted, kids generally adapt more easily than adults, but this can also make it harder for them to stay grounded and cultivate a solid sense of self.

Thank you so much for sharing your stories, Diahann. I agree, some of the best advice for those who feel culture shocks piling up is to try to stay grounded: actively engage in activities that make you feel grounded in the place you are right now.

* * *

How about you, Displaced Nationers? What makes you feel grounded? And do you have any “manuals” or “experts” you’d recommend for getting through the difficult cultural transitions and/or their cumulative effect? Let us know!

And if you like Diahann’s prescriptions, be sure to check out her Website and blog. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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

Until then. Prost! Santé!

H.E. Rybol is a TCK and the author of Culture Shock: A Practical Guide and Culture Shock Toolbox and the newly published Reverse Culture Shock. She loves animals, piano, yoga and being outdoors. You can find her on Twitter, Linkedin, Goodreads, and, of course, her author site.  

STAY TUNED for next week/year’s fab posts.

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

Related posts:

Photo credits: First visual (collage): Culture shock toolbox branding; photo of Sine & family, her book cover and her blog banner (supplied); View over Stuttgart-South and Stuttgart-Heslach and the “Karlshöhe”, Germany, by MSeses via Wikimedia Commons; and A rainbow over Joburg about two hours ago, by Derek Keats via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).
Second visual: Hamburger via Pixabay (moustache vector art from iPiccy).
Third visual: Embarrassed boy, happy faces and wrench via Pixabay; Australia v England Netabll [sic] Test, by Naparazzi via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); and Traditional protective cup, by Scoty6776 via Wikimedia Commons.
Fourth visual: Great white shark, by Michiel Van Balen via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); and tennis player via Pixabay.

TCK TALENT: Educational theatre specialist Guleraana Mir uses drama to coax out and channel TCK & immigrant stories

mir-tck-talent
Columnist Dounia Bertuccelli is back with her first Adult Third Culture Kid guest of the new year.

Hello again, fair readers! In this month of dramatic change here in the United States, perhaps you’d like to switch to another kind of drama. My guest this month is writer and educational theatre specialist Guleraana Mir. Among other projects, she has been working on Home Is Where…, an experimental theatre project based on the stories of Third Culture Kids, with Amy Clare Tasker, my very first guest.

Born in London to Pakistani immigrant parents, Guleraana spent the first five years of her life moving between Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the UK. She recounts her family’s decision to settle back in the UK with humor, explaining:

“There’s a family joke that I returned home from the American nursery in Riyadh with a mixed-up accent, and my dad, proud of his broad Yorkshire twang, said something along the lines of: ‘No child of mine will grow up speaking like that!’ So we immediately made plans to return to the UK so my brother and I could be educated in England.”

As an adult, Guleraana continues to expand her horizons, traveling around and working in South America for a year and then spending two-and-a-half years in the United States. Currently based in London, she engages in a variety of creative endeavors, from leading theatre and creative writing workshops in community settings and schools in the UK, to developing scripts, to producing content for a London-based digital marketing agency, to writing poetry. Her first full-length play was long listed by the BBC Writersroom team in 2014, which seeks out new writers for possible BBC broadcast.

* * *

Welcome, Guleraana, to the Displaced Nation! Let’s start by hearing a little more about your path once you became an adult. What and where did you choose to study at university, and why?
I completed my BA in English and Creative Studies at the University of Portsmouth, in the south of England. I chose that location because it was far away enough to not be in the immediate vicinity of my parents, but close enough to hop on a train home to London. Four years later I chose to study for an MA in Educational Theatre at New York University’s Steinhart School instead of a comparable course in the UK because the dollar was two to the pound, making the cost of studying in the USA was almost affordable. Plus, I was obsessed with New York after visiting the year before. I would have done anything to be able to return for an extended period.

What made you so obsessed with New York, and how does it compare to London?
I can’t tell you how hard I’ve tried to answer these questions in a succinct and tangible way, but it always comes back to this: my obsession with New York is visceral, not something I can rationalize. New York has an energy that inspires and motivates me. London is wonderful, steeped in history and tradition, but its energy is different. In my first semester at New York University, I found myself on the 7th floor of the Student Union Building. I looked out of the window and realized I could see past Washington Square Park all the way up Fifth Avenue. All the way up! It was so long and straight and brightly lit; it seemed infinite and vast, full of magic and possibilities. In London the streets are small and cobbled and windy and you don’t get that sense of size, even though it is a very big city.

Do you think your love for New York also has to do with going to graduate school in that city?
Yes, my passion for New York ultimately has to do with the fact that I first visited at an extremely pivotal moment in my life. I have since written an essay about becoming a woman and an artist, and I attribute 100% of my current confidence to NYC mostly because of all the empowering experiences I had whilst living there. London is my childhood, my safety net, my current state of success. New York sits in the middle of those two states. It’s the place I ran away to and discovered myself, the place I finally felt comfortable being who I am. Whilst I know that London is the right place for me because I could never really live in the USA, every time I think of New York my heart breaks. It’s like the lover you can never let go of, the one that got away.

torn-between-ny-and-london

“Theatre is the art of looking at ourselves” —Brazilian theatre director Augusto Boal

Did growing up as a TCK influence your decision to go into theatre?
I grew up not only as a TCK, meaning I spent my early childhood outside my parents’ culture–but also as a CCK, or cross-cultural kid, as I spent the next portion of my childhood living in England with Pakistani parents. These experiences moved me to want to become a human rights lawyer or a journalist, or else pursue European Studies. All I can ever really remember being passionate about was traveling the world and writing, with a heavy emphasis on “changing the world.” While working on my BA, I explored creative and journalistic writing, but ultimately graduated without a concrete career path. I’ve ended up working in educational theatre because it is a combination of things I am good at, and love. I honestly couldn’t see myself doing anything else. 

Has theatre helped you process your TCK upbringing?
As a playwright I can process my mixed-up identity through my characters. Having the opportunity to explore things I’ve experienced on stage is both triggering and cathartic. Luckily I am surrounded by amazing people who also happen to be extraordinarily talented artists, so working with them makes the whole process easier.

You’re currently based in London—are you settled or do you get “itchy feet”?
I will always dream of New York, and Rio, and all the other places I’ve felt “at home”; but London occupies a special place in my heart. It’s where parents and family are, so as long as they’re here, I’m here. Sort of. The itchy feet are constant—but I hate packing. So, we shall see!

“The worst part of holding the memories is the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.” —ATCK writer Lois Lowry

You’ve been collaborating with Amy Clare Tasker on Home Is Where…, weaving together the true stories of TCKs with a fictional narrative inspired by our post-Brexit political landscape. What has working with other TCKs meant to you?
Meeting Amy and discovering the term “Third Culture Kid (TCK)” for the first time felt like getting into bed after an exciting night out. Through our work on Home Is Where…, I’ve engaged with so many more TCKs. As they say, truth is stranger than fiction and hearing some of the stories that make up Home Is Where… you realize how true this saying is. Some people have been on such great adventures! Also, as our actors are also TCKs, watching them bring a piece of themselves to the project is very humbling. Each of the stories the drama tells is like a special gift.

I know you and Amy have been experimenting with verbatim theatre. I want to ask you the same question I asked her: how has that process been?
Verbatim theatre is an interesting art form. As Amy explained in her interview, the actors listen to the audio recordings of TCK interviews on stage via headphones—and then repeat exactly what they hear. There’s something so raw and honest about it, but there is also the potential for it to be very static and boring. At the moment Amy and I are working on a way to revamp the piece so the interviews take center stage without the audience getting distracted by all the other things we feel we need to add to create an exciting theatrical experience. Watch this space for updates!

Are you working on anything else at the moment?
I am. My play Coconut is about a British-born Pakistani woman called Rumi who identifies as a “coconut”—a derogatory term for someone who is brown on the outside and white on the inside, i.e., who isn’t deemed culturally Asian enough by the community. The play explores Rumi’s relationship with her heritage and her religion, and we see how far she will go to appease her family. The play has been supported on its development journey by the Park Theatre and New Diorama.

coconut-play

Congratulations on that and on being selected as a Pollock Scholar and a speaker for the 2017 FIGT conference, which takes place March 23-25 in The Hague. Is connecting with global communities important for you on a personal and professional level? What do you hope to gain from this experience?
Thank you, Dounia! Amy and I will be doing a short presentation on Home Is Where… followed by an interactive workshop, something that I’m very passionate about. My expertise is in applied-theatre and I want to show the global community that the creative arts are the perfect way to explore the theme of this year’s FIGT conference: “Creating Your Tribe on the Move.” My hope is that everyone who attends our session will be moved to find a way to bring theatre into the way they work with families and individuals who are experiencing, or have recently experienced, migration.

Thank you so much, Guleraana, for sharing your story of how you got started as an international creative. You have so many exciting irons in the fire, it’s a true inspiration!

* * *

Readers, please leave questions or comments for Guleraana below. Also be sure to visit her Website and connect with her on Twitter, where she likes to tweet about theater, global politics and gifs (tweet her your favorites!). And if you’re headed to the FIGT event in March, be sure to attend her workshop on Friday, March 24.

Born in Nicosia, Cyprus, to Lebanese parents, Dounia Bertuccelli has lived in France, UK, Australia, Philippines, Mexico, and the USA—but never in Lebanon. She writes about her experiences growing up as a TCK and adjusting as an adult TCK on her blog Next Stop, which is a collection of prose, poetry and photography. She also serves as the managing editor of The Black Expat; Expat Resource Manager for Global Living Magazine; co-host of the monthly twitter chat #TCKchat; and TCKchat columnist for Among Worlds magazine. Currently based on the East Coast of the United States, she is happily married to a fellow TCK who shares her love for travel, music and good food. To learn more about Dounia, please read her interview with former TCK Talent columnist Lisa Liang. You can also follow her on Twitter.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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Photo credits:
Top visual: (clockwise from top left) Guleraana Mir photo, supplied; New Routemaster at Clapton, Hackney, London [mosque in background], by Sludge G via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); “Home Is Where…” performance photo, supplied; and New York University Waverly building, by Benjamin KRAFT via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).
New York vs London visual: “Looking across Washington Square Park at Midtown Manhattan, up 5th Avenue,” by Doc Searls via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); and Back Lane, Hampstead, by Dun.can via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).
Bottom visual: Coconut rehearsal, performance and promo piece, all supplied.

THE ACCIDENTAL EXPAT: Moving on to fabulous, fragrant (and fatiguing!) Hong Kong

THE ACCIDENTAL EXPAT
At the moment when women all over the world are demanding a right to be heard, columnist Indra Chopra is here to remind us that an expat spouse is a person in her own right, with her own voice. Something else that makes her column well timed: it is about Hong Kong. I can guarantee her descriptions (particularly of food!) will put you in the mood for Chinese New Year, which is just around the corner… ML Awanohara

In a previous post, I described my family’s expat life in Muscat, Oman. Our next big adventure was a move to Hong Kong, which took place after a planned hiatus of six years in our home country.

I agreed to the Hong Kong move, not because of the Indian family tradition of a wife walking seven steps behind her husbandbut because I, too, am into adventure.

Join me as I take you into the fabulous, fragrant place I initially encountered.

* * *

Water brings luck

No sooner had I agreed to our move to Hong Kong but I am looking down from a rental suite on the 38th floor of Harborview Horizon in Hung Hom, Kowloon, at the teal waters of Victoria Harbour. There is a line of vessels—scampering ferries, catamarans with orangey-brown sails, nose-in-the-air cruise ships with names like Star Virgo and Pisces, rusty junks, barges and sampans—silhouetted against the vast blue sky, with brawny mountains in the distance.

I spend the entire day settling in while taking sneak-peeks at the unfolding harbour scenes. By the time night falls, it looks as though someone has taken a painter’s brush and dabbed sequined color on the concrete structures in the distance and then streaked the water in rainbow hues…

On the day of our arrival in Hong Kong, a friend told us that staying near water brings luck. Hm, is that what the Britishers felt when they first set foot in “The Fragrant Harbor” in 1841, and is that why they stayed for so long?

fabulous-victoria-harbour

A taste of “home”

The so-called City Island is eons ahead of staid Muscat, and I find myself unsure of how to approach my new life: as a novice or as a widely traveled person critically appraising what was on offer?

Being Indian, I am naturally drawn to Chungking Mansion (Nathan Road, in Tsim Sha Shui, Kowloon), a building full of small, family-run Indian and Pakistani restaurants serving traditional food. Believe me, the best Indian snacks or spices in Hong Kong can be found in little peek-a-boo stores under stairs or between shops—dark patches one could easily overlook while being bombarded with DVDs, mobile phones, suitcases, watches, currency exchangers, not to mention steady streams of locals and foreign tourists. I would taste the best butter chicken I would eat during my time in Hong Kong at a Pakistani eating-place on one of the floors of Chungking. I like the feeling that no one can ever get to the bottom of this cavernous, mysterious place. The possibilities are limitless.

a-taste-of-home

Fabulous…and fragrant

Our fresh-off-the-boat year is mesmeric…and exhausting. We are constantly meeting new people and making new friends among Hong Kong’s potpourri of nationalities. I never get homesick, except for family, thanks to the sizable Indian diaspora.

Now, it would be easy to be a stay-at-home wife who joins the various kirtan (prayer) groups, coffee mornings or kitty parties. Watching me deliberate on which Indian ladies to befriend, a British friend is surprised: “What’s the big deal, aren’t you all Indians?” Well, yes, but each of us has our own individual traits.

But something within me desires a whole set of new experiences. I know I won’t rest until I can understand more about the vignettes of daily life I keep witnessing as I navigate my new surroundings.

Perhaps energized by Hong Kong’s Autonomy Movement, I start asserting my own autonomy. Joining the crowds on the Peak Tram and the Mid-Levels escalator, I step out of my comfort zone and start peeking into the curtained windows of posh villas and spa treatment facilities that reek of Chinese herbs and other concoctions. I sense there is something unique about this place. Part of it is a sensibility but there is also an aroma that is manifestly Chinese.

I start taking day trips to Macau, China’s Las Vegas clone. I queue up for weekend ferries to the outlying islands of Chueng Chau, Lama, Lantau, Peng Chau, Pui Oh, Tai Wan Long, and Sai Kung. I even join some treks and hikes, including to the Ng Tung Chai waterfall, the biggest in Hong Kong, and within the lush, secluded greenery of the New Territories.

I visit the former Kowloon Walled City (Kowloon Walled City Park), the history of which traces back to the Song Dynasty (960–1279), when an outpost was set up to manage the trade of salt.

Strolling through subterranean air-conditioned passages or along overhead walkaways, I find aspects of my adopted home enchanting. I stand mute in front of the iconic lions as I reach the front of the HSBC Main Building in Central, which was designed by British architect Norman Foster. Catching sight of the International Finance Centre (IFC), I visualize French Spider-Man, Alain Robert, doing loops atop its towers; and, as I make my way through the high rises of Central, Wan Chai and Causeway Bay, I feel like Moses as he walks through the parting seas in The Ten Commandments.

Hong Kong has an excellent public transportation system, and I even manage solo travel to Lo Wu, which lies on the border between Hong Kong and mainland China, though I do not cross over to Shenzhen as I still don’t have my China visa.

On brutally hot days, I hop on a bus or a train and escape to an unknown neighborhoods in search of alfresco cafes, local designer stores, tearooms, parks and gardens, art galleries or libraries.

Whenever I feel I have seen and done it all, I have a niggling doubt there is more.

fabulous-and-fragrant-hk

Fabulous, fragrant…and fatiguing

Although Hong Kong still has pockets of antiquity here and there, with links to the region’s rich historical past, much of the region is in flux. For instance, Sheung Wan, one of the earliest settled places by the British, and part of the Central and Western Heritage Trail, is rapidly turning into a dining hotspot and bustling shopping mecca. The same is true of Sai Ying Pun, an area once known for its small lanes and historical buildings.

Similarly in Kowloon, Sham Shui Po—Deep Water Pier in Cantonese—the peninsula’s commercial and industrial hub, is fast becoming a street-shopping mecca.

Talk about change—one has only to look upwards at the constantly changing skyline. Hong Kong has more skyscrapers than anywhere on the planet, with its notorious shoe-box apartments piled atop shopping malls piled atop subways stations. Then, two years ago, a giant wheel suddenly landed in the midst of all these shifting layers, giving Hong Kongers their own version of the London Eye: what a fantastical embellishment to this swathe of reclaimed land!

Not long after my initial arrival, my feet are in urgent need of pampering. I have never done so much city-walking before—so followed the lady handing out leaflets in one of the by-lanes to a third-floor cramped salon that offered reflexology massage. It’s not one of the cleanest experiences, but soon I will have my favorite places, where I take visiting friends and family when they, too, are in need of some down time…

Travel writer Paul Theroux has said that travel is a state of mind. In Hong Kong, the fear is you may never get out of that state… No sooner have you taken in the brightly colored tong laus (19th-century tenement buildings) than you find yourself in a murky alley full of yan ching mei (the essence of humanity). It can be difficult to take in the sounds of traffic and never-ending foot-falls, the smells of traffic fumes, cigarette smoke, raw meat and fish…and not feel overwhelmed.

Making my way around this cacophonous Island city, I pick up many lessons, two of which stand out:

  1. Silence is golden—best exemplified by unblinking people in malls, the surging and pushy crowds of the MTR, and the mute cashiers at general stores.
  2. Survival is an art. You have to learn how you deal with the guttural rudeness of fruit sellers in wet markets, the pestering sales-peddlers of “genuine fake” watches and purses on Nathan Road, and the “No cheap” snide comments of shop assistants in brand showrooms once they notice you’re from the Sub-continent. After a while, I begin to comprehend the “I stay in a beach-side villa” hand-flick of long-time expat residents, the “couldn’t care less” attitude of locals, the jostling Mainlanders on weekly shopping sprees, and the hired helpers laying siege to open spaces and parks on weekends.

I shadow a friend as she navigates past umbrella-poking pavement walkers; impervious-to-others, 70+ matrons pushing carts laden with used cardboard boxes; cell-phone strollers; feisty old ladies twirling to “Sugar Sugar Honey Honey” in a neighborhood park; and Rambo seniors swimming in the cold waters of Hung Hom Bay. Little by little, I am getting in step.

It’s food!

A member of my writing group suggested I should spice up my writings rather literally, with more mentions of food—not a difficult task when it comes to Hong Kong, which entices its visitors into alleys, eateries and restaurants with its distinctive smells.

It is not long before I learn there is more to Chinese cuisine than my favorite dishes of Indian-Chinese Manchurian chicken, chow mien and hot & sour soup. In my various gastronomic quests on both sides of the Island, I discover finger-licking fish balls, succulent dim sum dishes, as well as slurpy wanton noodles, at the cha chaan ten (traditional Chinese eateries). In time my list of favorites comes to include:

Food is a kind of entry point into the mysteries of Hong Kong, the key to pinning down some of its elusiveness. I learn what people consider to be esoteric or exotic (e.g., snake soup, whole pigs or fish varieties) and become aware of the apparently important need to distinguish between dim sum, the word for a traditional lunch or brunch where one eats small portions of food served with tea, and dumplings, consisting of small pieces of dough wrapped around various fillings (meat, veggies or even fruit). Dumplings are not dim sum but a dim sum dish.

By making the restaurant rounds—from Michelin starred restaurants. to neighborhood open-air food stalls or dai pai dong, to book cafes and fast food outlets—I come to know parts of Hong Kong I might not otherwise have encountered.

Most important of all, I discover The Toothpick: the fine art of flicking food particles from in between tooth gaps, after one finishes eating. It is fascinating to watch all the Chinese people immediately reach for a toothpick at the end of every meal. A friend always carries a packet of toothpicks because “some eating places do not place it along with sauces and the salt-and-pepper set.” Now I, too, am addicted and my mouth craves that instant gratification.

its-food-hk

* * *

In John le Carré‘s The Honorable Schoolboy, it is said at one point that “when you leave Hong Kong it ceases to exist.” That was not my experience. After a seven-year stay, Hong Kong never ceases to exist for me.

To be continued…

* * *

Thank you, Indra! As always, you bring a unique lens to your travels and expat experiences. I wonder, does Hong Kong seem familiar in some ways to you because of its British colonial heritage, not unlike India’s? —ML Awanohara

Indra Chopra is a writer/blogger passionate about travel and curious about cultures and people. Her present status is that of an accidental expat writing to relive moments in countries wherever she sets home with her husband. With over twenty years of writing experience Indra has contributed to Indian, Middle Eastern publications and online media. She blogs at TravTrails

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Photo credits: Opening visual: Airplane photo and India photo via Pixabay. Other photos supplied or else downloaded from Pixabay.

LOCATION, LOCUTION: For acclaimed British novelist Simon Mawer, not feeling at home anywhere fires creativity


Tracey Warr is here with the extraordinary Simon Mawer, whose work is on a par with Australian-born, U.S.-based Peter Carey and Sri Lankan-born Canadian Michael Ondaatje. Like them, he has used his displacement to produce an award-winning body of fiction.

Greetings, Displaced Nationers.

My guest this month is world-class novelist Simon Mawer.

As ML implied, Mawer is a natural fit for the Displaced Nation. Though British, he has lived in Italy for many years and to this day finds his imagination fired by the extraordinary and the unfamiliar.

He also had a peripatetic upbringing. His father served in the Royal Air Force, and his family spent three years on the island of Cyprus—an experience that informed his novel Swimming to Ithaca (2006)—and a total of five years in Malta.

About his childhood spent in other cultures, Mawer has this to say:

These experiences planted in me a love of the Mediterranean world which has lasted my whole life. They also gave me a taste for exile which I have never lost. When people ask me where I come from I am still unable to reply. I have lived in Italy for more than three decades, but Italy is not home. Home is where the mind is, perhaps.

Returning to the UK for boarding school, Mawer attended Oxford University where he earned a degree in zoology. He spent three years teaching biology at the secondary-school level in the Channel Islands, two years in Scotland, and two in Malta, before moving to Rome where he has lived ever since, teaching biology for over thirty years at St George’s British International School in Rome (he retired in 2010). Because teaching took up so much of his time, he didn’t publish his first novel, Chimera, until age 40, when he sold it to Hamish Hamilton.

Mawer’s ten novels are imbued with a compelling sense of time and place. His characters grapple with their own fraught and hybrid identities. The Bitter Cross (1992) is the only one set in the distant past: taking place in the 16th-century Mediterranean, it explores the theme of exile and belonging through the eyes of one of the last of the English knights, from the vantage point of retirement on the fortress island of Malta.

But the rest of Mawer’s novels take place in the early 20th century, with settings ranging through 1930s Czechoslovakia, 1940s occupied France, wartime Rome, 1950s London during the Cold War, Cyprus, Israel and Palestine.

The following six have won high accolades:

  • Mawer’s first novel, the aforementioned Chimera (1989), tells the story of a part-Italian, part-English archeologist who is haunted by his own past. On an archeological dig in central Italy, he recalls being parachuted into wartime Italy as a Special Operations Executive (SOE) agent. It won the McKitterick Prize for First Novels.
  • Mendel’s Dwarf (1997), described by the New Yorker as “furious, tender and wittily erudite,” blends fact and fiction by telling the story of the fictional Benedict Lambert, a distant descendant of real-life founder of the modern science of genetics, Gregor Mendel. Like Mendel, Lambert struggles to unlock the secrets of heredity and genetic determinism. However, Benedict’s mission is particularly urgent—he was born a dwarf. The book reached the last ten of the Booker Prize and was a New York Times “Book to Remember”.
  • Set partly in wartime Britain and partly in the anarchic world of British rock-climbing in the early seventies, The Fall (2003) is about many kinds of falling: off mountains, into love, out of love, from grace. It was the winner of the 2003 Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature.
  • The Glass Room (2009) centers on a couple who who live in a modernist house that resembles the real-life Villa Tugendhat, which the German-American architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe designed for a wealthy Jewish man and his gentile wife in Brno (now in the Czech Republic). But then the storm clouds of World War II gather and the family flees through Switzerland to the United States. This work was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction and the Wingate Prize, and was a bestseller in the US and the UK. The Guardian described it as “a thing of extraordinary beauty and symmetry,” and the Washington Post found it “eerily erotic and tremendously exciting.” The Glass Room was adapted for the stage from the book’s Czech translation for a performance in the city of Brno (which, incidentally, is the seat of the priory where Mendel performed his experiments).
  • Mawer’s ninth novel, The Girl Who Fell From The Sky (Trapeze in the US) (2012) was described by the Daily Telegraph as “an absorbing novel full of treachery, twilight and terror.” Set during World War II, the novel follows the path of the half-English half-French diplomat’s daughter Marian Sutro. Her hybrid status is an advantage in wartime, and she ends up serving as an agent in occupied Europe. The Guardian once described Sutro as “perhaps the closest thing to a female James Bond in English literature.”
  • Mawer must have enjoyed the company of this complex female protagonist as Marian Sutro returns again in his most recent novel, Tightrope (2015), a cold war thriller set in 1950s London. One of a handful of surviving agents of the Special Operations Executive, Sutro tries to cast off her identity as heroine of the resistance, but the memories of torture, heartbreak and betrayal won’t leave her—nor will the longing for adventure. Tightrope was described by the Sunday Times as “a sophisticated, deviously constructed story,” and by the Mail on Sunday as “gripping stuff, with a sinuous plot and some haunting bedroom scenes.” It won the 2016 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction and was Waterstones Novel of the Month (March 2016).

Mawer has also written two nonfiction books:

* * *

Welcome, Simon, to Location, Locution. Which tends to come first when you get an idea for a new book: story or location?

This very much depends on the book. Most begin with an idea—for example my last pair of novels, The Girl Who Fell From The Sky (Trapeze, in the US) and Tightrope, began with the idea of a young woman—a mere 19 years old—being recruited into a clandestine warfare outfit in the middle of the Second World War. Everything else followed from that. Similarly The Fall began with a literal fall, in this case the fall of a climber from a mountain wall. But once I’d got a mountain involved it was pretty obvious that location was going to become important. Indeed the Sunday Times reviewer drew attention to precisely this:

“What makes The Fall truly valuable, and truly unusual is its sense of landscape. Much British writing these days seems to be self-consciously urban. Mawer’s novel, distinguished by its keen descriptive sense of rock-face, crag, lake, snow and stone, bucks that trend beautifully.”

However, two novels later The Glass Room most definitely began with a location—the mesmerising Tugendhat House in the Czech Republic that I first visited in 1994. Standing in rooms that seemed to have barely changed from the 1930s, in a building that to this day remains a touchstone for modernist design, it was obvious for me to think, “There’s a story here.” I’m a writer of fiction so the subsequent story had to be my own creation rather than the true story of the family that built the house; but there is no doubt that location came first.

the-glass-room-collage-w-quote

What is your technique for evoking the atmosphere of the various places where you’ve set your four novels?

If there were only one technique it would be easy (and dull). There are many techniques but for me underlying everything is the idea that the reader must do some work. The writer’s task is to stir the imagination not replace it. So you evoke place with small hints, little details, small observations, and you rely on the intelligence of the reader to create the whole picture in his or her head. Don’t underestimate the literary intelligence of the reader—the ones without it are probably watching TV anyway. At best they’ll only be reading Dan Brown.

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

It depends on the location. For landscape one tends to resort to descriptive devices, leavened with metaphor of course. But it’s important not to overdo it and to restrain yourself from indulging in purple prose. Description should be brushed into the narrative with rapid, impressionist strokes. Urban locations, on the other hand, lend themselves to cultural references (see the example below).

Can you give a brief example from your writing that illustrates place?

How about Paris immediately after the war, as described in Tightrope:

Her first visit to the city since the war. Paris with a superficial gloss to it, like a piece of silver plate that has been polished up but is still worn away in places to show the base metal beneath: the drab buildings in need of cleaning, the broken pavements, the impoverished shops. But Paris with a strange, febrile vitality, Paris that was home to the theatre of the absurd and was itself a kind of theatre with people performing on its various stages, writers in the cafés of the Left Bank, politicians treading the boards of the National Assembly or berating crowds in place de la Bastille, black jazzmen from America sounding off in basements and cellars, models strutting on catwalks wearing clothes that outraged the poor of Saint-Denis and Belleville, tarts and pimps on the pavements of Pigalle. Paris canaille.

Paris canaille? Coarse, tawdry, crooked Paris. It’s the title of a song of the time written by Léo Ferré and first made popular by Catherine Sauvage. If the readers get that, great. If not, it doesn’t matter. But give them the opportunity to find out if they want to. You’ll find it here.

In general, how well do you think you need to know a place before using it as a setting?

It is possible to know a place too well. I have lived in Italy for about 40 years and have written very little that is set in this country. It is too familiar to me (yes, Italy can become too familiar!). What fires my imagination is the extraordinary and the unfamiliar—so I’ve set novels in Israel/Palestine, Czechoslovakia, World War II London, Cyprus, 16th-century Malta. Of course once your imagination has been lit, then it is necessary to get to know the place sufficiently to write about it with conviction without ever losing the sense of newness and discovery.

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

Perhaps one writer above all: Graham Greene. He was a master at location, so much so that critics even bestowed his name on the world that his characters inhabit: Greeneland. You know it. It’s hot, arid, run down, plagued with dust and corruption and lost faith. That’s the ultimate achievement, to create a world so vivid that it transcends any real location and instead belongs entirely to you, the creator.

So true! I should tell you that my last guest, the novelist Dinah Jefferies, chose one of your books—The Girl Who Fell from the Sky—in answer to this question.

Thanks so much, Simon, for joining us. It’s been a pleasure, as always.

* * *

Readers, any questions for Simon? Please leave them in the comments below.

Meanwhile, if you would like to discover more about Simon Mawer and his novels, I suggest you visit his author site. You can also follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

À bientôt! Till next time…

* * *

Thank you so much, Tracey and Simon! I have to say I’m particularly intrigued by Simon’s statement that he’s written very little in Italy despite (because of?) having lived 40 years in the country. That suggests that we international creatives should get started sooner rather than later if we decide to write about our adopted homes! —ML Awanohara

Tracey Warr is an English writer living mostly in France. She has published two medieval novels with Impress Books. She recently published, in English and French, a future fiction novella, Meanda, set on a watery exoplanet, as an Amazon Kindle ebook. Her latest medieval novel, Conquest: Daughter of the Last King, set in 12th-century Wales and England, came out in October.

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 biweekly posts from The Displaced Nation and much, much more. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Photo credits:
Top visual: The World Book (1920), by Eric Fischer via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); “Writing? Yeah.” by Caleb Roenigk via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); author photo, supplied; Roman scene via Pixabay; Cyprus. Nicosia 1969 – 70, by Brian Harrington Spier via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); and Street and Glastonbury Tor taken from Walton Hill, by Edwin Graham via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0).
“Glass Room” visual: (top) Mies van Der Rohe- Tugendhat House, 1930, by Rory Hyde via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); (bottom left) The Glass Room on stage at the City Theatre, Brn (Pavla Vitázková as Liesel, Svetlana Jantová as Kata), supplied; and Simon Mawer relaxing in the living room of the Tugendhat House, with the director of the house, Iveta Černá looking on, supplied.
“Paris as theatre” visual: (clockwise from top left): Acetate fabrics by Robert Perrier, 1951 Autumn-Winter via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0); Screenshot from Catherine Sauvage “Paris Canaille” (live official), Archive INA; Waiting for Godot (cover detail) via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0); and Zsa Zsa Gabor playing Jane Avril in the film Moulin Rouge (1952) via Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain 1.0).

CULTURE SHOCK TOOLBOX: Expat mums, time to loosen your worry nut: relax, write funny stories & try not to embarrass your kids!

sine-culture-shock-toolbox
Transitions enthusiast H.E. Rybol is back with her final post of 2016.

Happy holidays, Displaced Nationers!

Are you already thinking about trips you’d like to make in 2017? Maybe you’re thinking about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro? In which case you’ll find it inspirational to meet Eva Melusine (Sine) Thieme, traveler, writer, and author of the hilarious memoir Kilimanjaro Diaries: Or, How I Spent a Week Dreaming of Toilets, Drinking Crappy Water, and Making Bad Jokes While Having the Time of My Life, about climbing Africa’s highest mountain with her teenage son.

Born in Germany, Sine—whose name is not pronounced like “mine”—has moved across the world seven times, “lugging progressively more stuff and family members along the way,” as she puts it on her author site. Most recently, she and her husband, also German (they met in Stuttgart), spent three years in Johannesburg, South Africa, with their four children.

At that time, Sine started up her popular blog, Joburg Expat, as a space for recording her adventures—ranging from her campaign to help baseball gain a foothold in an African township to a series of hair-raising encounters with lions, great white sharks, and the Johannesburg traffic police.

The family now lives in Tennessee, where Sine continues to maintain her Jo-burg blog. She also writes freelance for the Wall Street Journal and other outlets, and prides herself on remaining sane with four teenagers in the house—which reminds me of a quote by Nora Ephron:

“When your children are teenagers, it’s important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you.”

Sine says her next book will be about a road trip through Namibia with six people in a five-person car.

She kindly took time out from her busy life to share some of her culture shock experiences. Join us as we talk about mustaches vs. mustard, cultural differences in parenting—and the therapeutic benefits of writing…

* * *

Welcome, Sine, to Culture Shock Toolbox. So where on our beautiful planet have you lived?

I was born in Germany where I spent the first 16 years of my life. I then embarked upon a year as an exchange student in the United States, arriving full of wonder in the Deepest South of Mississippi, marveling at such novelties (to me) as cordless phones, giant TV screens and drive-through fast food. My love for America kindled and confirmed, I returned after my undergraduate studies for an MBA at the University of North Carolina together with my also German-born husband. We have since moved—with an ever-growing entourage of kids—to Singapore, Wisconsin, Kansas, South Africa, and now Tennessee. Having been naturalized in 2010, I don’t consider myself an expat in the United States any more. My most memorable time of feeling like an expat came when we lived in Johannesburg with our four children, from 2010 to 2013.

It sounds like a beautiful love story, what you said about the United States! In the context of your many cultural transitions, did you ever put your foot in your mouth?

The most embarrassing—because I was a self-conscious teenager still learning English—was the time when, as an exchange student in Mississippi, I insisted that I wanted “mustache” with my burger. I had of course confused the word for “mustard”—and it didn’t do my perfectionist self any good to be relentlessly teased about it by my younger host siblings for months on end.
burger-mustache-quote

Any stories from your time in South Africa?

Nowadays I’m not easily embarrassed, but my kids make up for that with their exponential embarrassment on my behalf, which, I’m convinced, comes with the Expat Mom territory. Take, for instance, the school sports scene in South Africa. My daughter Impatience—that’s her blogging name—was playing in a netball match, actually playing pretty well considering she’d never played the sport before in her life. But I was going crazy because no one was going for the rebound after shooting at the basket. “Get the rebound!!!” was naturally what I yelled from the bleachers for an entire half, like a good American mother with Olympic ambitions for all her children, no matter how lowly the league. Well, as any netball players out there will know, it’s not called a “rebound”. It’s also apparently not something you can “get” willy nilly, because there is some kind of zone around the basket or perhaps the goal-shooter—I learned there is actually a position called goal-shooter that comes with its own lettered t-shirt—into into which you can’t extend your arms. Impatience later informed me of this technicality in hushed tones so that I would abstain from any further “encouragement” from the sidelines. South African mothers do not seem to provide such encouragement at all, I came to learn.

How did you handle that situation? Would you handle it differently now? What tools do you think are most useful for adapting to situations like these?

I think in general the key is to relax waaaaay more than we typically do, not just as a tip for expats but a life skill in general. None of this is really so important, so instead of watching my kid with eagle eyes to see how well she plays, I should have socialized with the other mothers much more and dug into the goodies piled onto tables for “tea time,” which had been supplied by some well-meaning parents. South Africans are good at relaxing, as I learned during those years. “Sit back and observe what locals do” is usually a pretty good guideline when arriving in a new land.

Definitely! Looking back again on your many transitions, can you recall any situations you handled with surprising finesse?

I don’t profess to have much finesse. So just abstaining from committing a similarly embarrassing blunder in front of another one of my kids can perhaps count for such a success story. One day I was tempted to walk right into the teacher’s lounge at the prep school, brimming with indignation, to tell my son Jabulani’s geography teacher that no, contrary to her firm belief, the United States does NOT have 52 states, never had, and probably never would. And, while we were at it, zero degrees north is just as good an answer on the exam as zero degrees south, if she really insisted on splitting that particular hair. Jabulani blanched at the prospect. He begged me to abstain. It would be SO embarrassing if I talked to the teacher like that, which is apparently something South African mothers don’t do. So I listened to my child—another good rule for parents of Third Culture Kids to follow. They are so much more attuned to the perils of putting a foot in your mouth. 

Yes, that’s actually something Tanya Crossman wrote about in her book, Misunderstood, which was featured on this site last week.

Come to think of it, it was also Jabulani who found it equally embarrassing when, upon receiving the supply list before cricket season, I was the only mother who had no idea what a “ball box” was. And who then loudly inquired at the sporting goods store as to where she might find one, and proceeded to tell everyone for months afterwards, hooting with laughter, how funny it was that it turned out to be an athletic cup (which is inserted in a jockstrap to protect the genitals against impact from the ball):

Yes, if you think about it, a ball box is indeed a box containing balls, haha, and should we read anything into the fact that South African “ballboxes” are about twice the size of their American counterparts? Hahaha.

embarrassed-tcks

I’m imagining you might say “sense of humour,” but if you had to give advice to new expats, what’s the tool you’d tell them to develop first and why?

Maybe I’m biased because I’m a writer, but I’d actually say the most important tool as an expat is to start writing. Emails to your friends, Facebook posts, a blog, whatever it is, it will lighten your mood tremendously. It will shift being afraid of what’s new towards seeking out the new—because you have an audience and a story to tell. It will turn frustration at yet another long wait at an incomprehensible government office into almost giddy suspense as to what ridiculous thing might happen next, and how to best put it into words to make your readers back home burst into laughter.

How did you feel when you came back to the United States after living in Africa? What was “reverse” culture shock like for you?

It was worse. Before, there was the excitement about living in a new country, coupled with the benevolence you feel towards a people you don’t completely understand. You give them the benefit of the doubt. They might seem a little quirky and weird, and you might not understand all they’re saying, but they smile at you and they’re interesting. Plus, the sun is shining and someone is ironing your laundry at the house, and that someone is not you. But when you return “home” you feel like you understand everyone far too well, and you don’t like what you think you know about their psyche. They’re all too shallow, too pampered, too full of their First World Problems, you think, and there can’t possibly be anything in it for you by getting to know them. You pine for the friends you left behind in the country you left behind, and nothing seems like it will ever be quite so fascinating and exciting again in your life as it once was.

Can you recommend any tools for handling (reverse) culture shock?

The key is to treat your home country like any other expat location—with curiosity, an open mind and heart, and a willingness to adapt. You have to overcome your own snobbishness to realize there are wonderful people everywhere in the world, and only then can you form new friendships, find new passions, and move on with your life. 

That’s good advice: it’s important to find new passions.

You might have cage dived among great white sharks and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro as an expat, and now you might have to settle for the much more mundane sport of tennis upon returning home. But let me tell you: perfecting your forehand is just as challenging and rewarding as living abroad. I’m still trying to find an equally convincing story about the laundry I’m now back to folding myself in a country without domestic help. I’ll get back to you when I come up with it.
shark-forehand-quote

Thank you so much, Sine, for taking the time to share your stories and insights. As you say on your blog, “If life always went exactly as planned, there would be no stories. If you look at it that way, a crappy day can be the greatest gift!” Such a wonderful motto to live by, abroad or at home!

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Displaced Nationers, I hope you enjoyed this interview. Did you turn any frustrating moments into stories? Let us know!

And if you like Sine’s prescriptions, be sure to check out her author site and her blog. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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

Until then. Prost! Santé!

H.E. Rybol is a TCK and the author of Culture Shock: A Practical Guide and Culture Shock Toolbox and the newly published Reverse Culture Shock. She loves animals, piano, yoga and being outdoors. You can find her on Twitter, Linkedin, Goodreads, and, of course, her author site.  

STAY TUNED for next week/year’s fab posts.

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Photo credits: First visual (collage): Culture shock toolbox branding; photo of Sine & family, her book cover and her blog banner (supplied); View over Stuttgart-South and Stuttgart-Heslach and the “Karlshöhe”, Germany, by MSeses via Wikimedia Commons; and A rainbow over Joburg about two hours ago, by Derek Keats via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).
Second visual: Hamburger via Pixabay (moustache vector art from iPiccy).
Third visual: Embarrassed boy, happy faces and wrench via Pixabay; Australia v England Netabll [sic] Test, by Naparazzi via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); and Traditional protective cup, by Scoty6776 via Wikimedia Commons.
Fourth visual: Great white shark, by Michiel Van Balen via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); and tennis player via Pixabay.

TCK TALENT: Tanya Crossman takes her talent with mentoring TCKs to the next level: a resource-rich book


Columnist Dounia Bertuccelli is back with her second Adult Third Culture Kid guest, who has had a particularly productive year.

Hello readers! Welcome back for my second TCK Talent column, where I am happy to introduce author and TCK mentor Tanya Crossman. Tanya is ending 2016 on a high note as this was the year she had her first book published: Misunderstood: The Impact of Growing Up Overseas in the 21st Century (Summertime Press), a work full of insights into the hearts and minds of Third Culture Kids and, for Tanya, a true labor of love.

Tanya is familiar with what it is like to grow up in other cultures from her own experience. Born in Australia, she grew up mostly in Australia (Sydney and Canberra) but also spent two of her teenage years in the USA when her family moved to Greenwich, Connecticut, due to her dad’s IT career. Being a 13-year-old in such a different part of the world played a major role in shaping Tanya’s adult identity. As she put it to fellow Adult Third Culture Kid, Janneke Muyselaar-Jellema, of the DrieCulturen (Dutch for “three cultures”) blog:

I think it showed me there’s a whole world of opportunity out there, and not to limit myself to what is “normal” in Australia.

After completing a Bachelor degree in Asian Studies at the Australian National University in Canberra, Tanya moved to Beijing for a study year abroad—and ended up staying for 11 years. During that period she also spent a lot of time in Cambodia. She moved back to Australia about two years ago, where she’s been learning to navigate repatriation while completing a Master’s program in Sydney.

It was during her time in China that Tanya began to work with other Third Culture Kids. This became her passion, and, even now that she is back in her passport country, she continues advocating for TCKs.

* * *

Congratulations, Tanya, on the publication of Misunderstood. That’s an amazing accomplishment! How did you develop the ambition to write your own book on this topic?
Thank you for featuring me, Dounia. As you mentioned, I mentored Third Culture Kids who were living in China for years, listening to them and learning how they felt about life. At a certain point I started receiving requests from parents for advice as well as invitations to speak to interested groups both in China and other places. People would ask for resources, and while I was able to point to some excellent works, I couldn’t find anything that represented the angle I spoke from—so eventually I wrote my own book.

“If there’s a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” —Toni Morrison

Tell me, how does Misunderstood differ from other TCK resources?
Misunderstood is different because I act as an advocate and a “voice” for young TCKs. I’m trying to express how they really feel about the experience of growing up in a third culture. They have a different experience of the world to their parents. Recognizing this is essential for giving them the support they need. I interviewed nearly 300 TCKs and surveyed 750 TCKs during the writing process, and there are statistics as well as quotes from this work throughout Misunderstood. I explain the TCK perspective but I also articulate how many of them feel—often in their own words.

Who would you say is the primary audience for the book?
My initial goal was to write for parents, teachers and care workers, but I later re-wrote the contents to cater to young adult TCKs as well. Most of them are processing their childhood experiences and finding their place in the world, and I think it will help them to discover there are other people who have felt the same way, and to be given vocabulary to explain their experiences to others.

tanya-crossman-bridges-gap

I know you were a TCK for just two years, and in another English-speaking culture. But I assume that your experience of living in Connecticut (where I now live, btw!) was also a motive for writing this book? And did writing the book help you process your TCK experience?
Only indirectly. I have to say, I knew nothing about TCKs before I began mentoring them in Beijing. I certainly didn’t connect my two years in the United States to their experiences. Once I got into working with TCKs, I started reading the literature (particularly Pollock and Van Reken’s Third Culture Kids: Growing up Among Worlds). As a result, I began to understand and process what I’d felt while living in Connecticut as a teenager. While my Third Culture experience differed from the teens I was working with, I could see there were points of overlap, which was what had helped me make the initial connection. It gave me a head start in understanding the landscape of their inner lives.

What are your hopes for Misunderstood?
My biggest hope is that it ends up in the hands of people around the world who will find it helpful. I want young TCKs to read it and feel understood and empowered. I want parents to read it and feel encouraged because they are able to see their children’s experiences in a new light. Already I am getting responses from TCKs, parents and other expatriate advocates, sharing the ways in which Misunderstood has encouraged or challenged them. That sort of feedback is exciting and humbling. It makes it all worth it.

“Australia doesn’t really feel like “home” anymore. Beijing feels like home…” —Tanya Crossman

You recently repatriated to Australia—how has that experience been?
Repatriation has been HARD!! The first three months I hardly left my room unless I had to. After about ten months I had this feeling of “waking up” and feeling like a person again. It’s really only in the last couple of months that I’ve started to feel anywhere near normal. I’ve been here almost two years now, and although I feel settled enough in my current life, it does feel quite temporary—although that’s partly because I’m in a program of study, which gives me a concrete end date (about a year from now). I definitely expect to head overseas again after that, though I’m open to staying in Australia if the right opportunity comes up.

If you do end up settling in Australia, aren’t you afraid you may get “itchy feet”?
I get itchy feet if I don’t get on a plane every few months, no matter where I’m living! I’ve managed to make two overseas trips in the two years I’ve been back, and I have another planned in a few months’ time.

tanya-crossman-itchy-feet

Are you working on anything new at the moment? Are there plans for a second book?
Mostly I’m working on my completing my master’s degree, though I do have a side project looking at creating reading guides for Misunderstood—in large part prompted by conversations with a few expat mums (in China, South Africa and Thailand) who were interested in using Misunderstood for group discussions.

Please share any other information or links you would like our readers to know about.
There are lots of great resources about TCKs out there, including some great books released in the last five years. Other than the classic Third Culture Kids which I mentioned before, the books I recommend most often are:

Another great resource is Ellen Mahoney’s TCK mentoring organization Sea Change Mentoring.

It’s generous of you to cite these additional resources for us. Thanks so much, Tanya, for this interview!

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Readers, please leave questions or comments for Tanya Crossman below. If you’re interested in learning more about her book, please visit Tanya’s author site. You can also connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

Born in Nicosia, Cyprus, to Lebanese parents, Dounia Bertuccelli has lived in France, UK, Australia, Philippines, Mexico, and the USA—but never in Lebanon. She writes about her experiences growing up as a TCK and adjusting as an adult TCK on her blog Next Stop, which is a collection of prose, poetry and photography. She also serves as the managing editor of The Black Expat; Expat Resource Manager for Global Living Magazine; co-host of the monthly twitter chat #TCKchat; and TCKchat columnist for Among Worlds magazine. Currently based on the East Coast of the United States, she is happily married to a fellow TCK who shares her love for travel, music and good food. To learn more about Dounia, please read her interview with former TCK Talent columnist Lisa Liang. You can also follow her on Twitter.

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Photo credits: Photos of Tanya supplied. All other photos from Pixabay with exception of Greenwich photo in first collage: Greenwich, Connecticut, by Doug Kerr via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

WORLD OF WORDS: When words fail you: i.e., you have a throbbing toothache in a foreign country

Marianne Bohr in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris—is she reading or indulging in reveries about words?

Marianne Bohr in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris—is she reading or indulging in reveries about French words?

Columnist Marianne Bohr traveled to Corsica last summer to do the GR20 two-week hike across the island, said to be the most grueling long-distance trail in Europe. (She was also, btw, collecting material for Book #2!) When she told me this, I remember thinking: she’s chosen such a curious location! As some readers may recall from Lorraine Mace’s interview with novelist Vanessa Couchman, Corsica exudes a sense of displacement. Annexed by France in 1769, it retains a distinctly Italian flavor. Marianne told meshe read Couchman’s novel, The House at Zaronza, which is set in Corsica, when preparing for her trip. But nothing, readers, could have prepared her for the adventure she shares with us below. —ML Awanohara

My worst travel nightmare has materialized: a throbbing toothache in a foreign country. From experience, I’m sure it’s a dead nerve and I need antibiotics tout de suite.

After two days of downing pain relievers—I am miles from a town of any size on Corsica—I know I must deal with this immediately. Certainly before boarding a ferry from France to Sardinia, Italy—if there’s going to be any chance of me communicating with the doctor.

Readers, as you know I love immersing myself in the world of words. Can you imagine how I felt being in a situation where I was about to have no words?

throbbing-toothache-nightmare

We arrive in Bonafacio, a striking city with a stout hilltop fortress and stunning white chalk cliffs on the southern tip of the island. France is famous for its red tape and I’m ready to tackle it with respect to healthcare.

We reserve a late afternoon ferry for my emergency journey to Italy. Close to tears from the ache, I tell our hotel desk clerk what’s wrong and ask if she can get me a medical appointment. She picks up the phone and dials the local doctor whose office is down at the port. “Yes, he is seeing walk-in patients this morning. Here’s his address and our shuttle will take you.”

We enter his bare-bones, second-story walk-up office in a pastel 18th-century building overlooking the sparkling harbor. I wait ten minutes until his current patient comes out and then in I go. All he asks is my name. No ID, no insurance paperwork, nothing else. I’m in need and he’s treating me. A couple of questions, a quick look in my mouth, a few taps on my teeth, and he writes two prescriptions: one for an antibiotic and one for pain (a drug not available back home). Total damage: $33.

We head to the pharmacy next door, shell out a whopping $16 for the meds, and we’re on our way. Less than an hour after my plaint at the hotel and just shy of $50 for an impromptu doctor’s consult and the cure for my pain. I pop the pills and by the time we board the ferry hours later, my jaw is no longer on fire.

I can only imagine how long visitors to the US would wait, what documents they would be required to provide, and how much they would pay for the same treatment. Red tape and unconscionable fees in France? Not when it comes to healthcare.

french-health-care

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What a harrowing tale, Marianne! But the happy ending reminds me of the first time I went to a doctor in Britain. I was astounded that there weren’t any bills and the doctor simply tried to help me. After that, I became a national-health-service convert. It was a formative moment. It’s also a timely reminder of what we may be giving up in this country—I’m thinking of our post-election debate! —ML Awanohara

Readers, have you ever had this kind of nightmare in a foreign country? Do tell in the comments!

Marianne C. Bohr is a writer whose book, Gap Year Girl: A Baby Boomer Adventure Across 21 Countries, was published in September 2015 with She Writes Press. She married her high school sweetheart and travel partner, and with their two grown children, follows her own advice and travels at every opportunity. The couple has just now taken early retirement in Park City, Utah, where she plans to spend her time working on Book #2. Marianne has an author site where she keeps a blog, and is active on Facebook and Twitter.

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Photo credits: Top of page: Marianne Bohr (supplied); world map via Pixabay. All other images via Pixabay except the one of red tape: Tied up in red tape, by James Petts via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

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