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EXPAT AUTHOR GAME: What score does Paul Shore earn on the “international creative” scale? (2/2)


Readers, I’m happy to report that Paul Shore passed the algorithm test for his memoir, Uncorked, with flying colors. He will therefore be throwing out the jack (so to speak) for the second round of the Expat Author Game.

I am, of course, using this terminology because of Paul’s affection for the quintessentially French game of pétanque, as reported in his book and as illustrated above.

During this round, we’ll be trying to see how closely he measures up to the Displaced Nation’s (admittedly somewhat quirky) notion of an “international creative.”

On the face of it, Paul’s claim to be “international” rests on having spent a single year in Provence. Can 12 months be long enough to qualify as displaced? On the other hand, it was an important, life-changing year. The book in fact came about at his wife’s suggestion, when he was immobile after a recent surgery (hm, is that the reward for all those sports?). Why not dust off his notes from that period of living in in Saint-Paul de Vence, she said, and write about how much it meant to him, a kind of Bildungsroman.

Furthermore, I think it’s fair to call Paul “creative”. After all, it’s not every day we hear of a computer geek charming their way into an ancient French village. Plus he has received compliments on his writing style as a “wry cross between Bill Bryson and Dave Bidini“. (Dave who? He’s a Canadian musician and author of Around the World in 57 1/2 Gigs, among other travel works.)

So let’s see how Paul does with this round, where points are scored for intangible indicators of an expansive, global outlook and the ability to take a creative approach to exploring the world.

Welcome back, Paul, and now let’s get started. Many residents of the Displaced Nation have had a moment or two when they’ve felt like a character in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, myself included. How about you? Please illustrate, if possible, with a quote.

QUEEN OF HEARTS TO ALICE: ”Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” Breaking into a foreign culture may seem impossible, though with persistence and respect it is very possible. Now, my experience was back in ’99, at just the very start of the digital age and before mass Internet interconnection; but even with enhancements to communication, I suspect it is just about as difficult still today to break into French life in a small town, as it was then. I spoke only terrible elementary school French when I arrived, which I’d learned growing up in Ottawa, Canada, so it didn’t endear me much to locals, at least not until I improved after several months of working with a tutor.

Moving on: According to George Elliot’s Maggie Tulliver, the best reason to leave her native village of St. Ogg’s would be to see other creatures like the elephant. What’s the most exotic animal you’ve observed in its native setting?

A polar bear on Baffin Island in the arctic of Canada. Some indigenous guides were taking us on a boat tour. As we travelled near the shoreline, we spotted it. It was awe inspiring to see such a beautiful, rare, and dangerous animal from a safe, yet close, distance.

Last but not least on this series of literary challenges: We’re curious about whether you’ve had any Wizard of Oz moments when venturing across borders. Again, please use a quote or two.

GOOD WITCH GLINDA TO DOROTHY: “You are capable of more than you know.” I tend to live by a “why not try?” attitude and truly believe that we are all capable of so much more than we typically are willing to attempt. Thus, when I was told that I couldn’t learn pétanque because “you aren’t French”, I didn’t take “no” for an answer and persisted. Eventually I convinced a neighbour to teach me—though he only agreed to do by in the darkness of night, so as not to embarrass himself or his culture. I had to earn my stripes over several weeks of play in the dark before I was invited to play in broad daylight. And eventually I became quite good and was accepted playing with locals and even complimented and invited to join the local private club…a very high compliment.

Moving on to another dimension of creativity: telling tales of one’s travels through photos. Can you offer an example?

I like this photo of a green light moving on the calm ocean water at sunset…telling me to move ahead in a calm manner, while recognizing that so many aspects of life are circular in nature. It was taken in Lund, where we have a vacation rental home—we’ve been there quite frequently in recent years. It is an extremely peaceful, ruggedly beautiful, remote part of Canada that is relatively accessible from Vancouver.

And now for our interplanetary challenge: Can you envision taking your exploration of other modes of being beyond Planet Earth? How about a trip to Mars?

Only if I could take my family and friends. If I can’t take them along, I’d prefer to remain on earth, where I have more things to explore and share with the people who are special to me.

* * *

Congratulations, Paul! You have reached 13 points (hahaha) so may declare yourself the victor of our Expat Authors Game. I for one appreciated your jovial style in playing it, which I imagine you picked up from all those pétanque matches. Readers, are you ready to score Paul Shore’s performance on Part Two? How did he do with his literary references? And what about that animal of his: rather magnificent! And don’t you like that black-and-white photo of him up top, on the pétanque grounds of Saint-Paul? What’s more, as that photo of Lund suggests, his creative talents appear to extend to photography!

Finally please note: If you’ve given Paul Shore a high score on international creativity, we urge you to check out his author site. You can also follow him on Twitter.

STAY TUNED for next week’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!

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Photo credits: Photo of Paul and the ocean supplied; all other photos from Pixabay.

EXPAT AUTHOR GAME: Paul Shore’s algorithm for “Uncorked: My year in Provence studying Pétanque, discovering Chagall, drinking Pastis, and mangling French” (1/2)


Hello, Displaced Nationers. When I introduced our Expat Author Game series last October, I had no idea it would take until June to play another round. I have no excuse except to say the Game of Life intervened.

In any event, I am thrilled we are picking up the series again this month and I can introduce you to the next player, Paul Shore. He recently published a memoir, Uncorked, about the year he spent living in southern France, in a quaint place called Saint-Paul de Vence.

Just how did he, a Canadian techie, end up landing in a medieval walled village in Provence, you may wonder? Back in the late 1990s, he was working for a start-up software company in Vancouver, and the founder asked if he would move to Nice to open their European sales and marketing office. He agreed. And being an adventuresome sort, with a “Why not try?” attitude, he eschewed the idea of living in an expat enclave, opting instead to be the rare outsider within a Provençal village.

When Paul readily agreed to play the Displaced Nation’s Expat Author Game, I was pleased and flattered…that is, until it dawned on me he has yet to encounter a game he wasn’t eager to play.

My goodness, he even learned how to play pétanque, an obscure (at least to me) form of boules (you’d think boules would be obscure enough!) while living in Saint-Paul. In fact, that’s one of the principle ways he “uncorked” traditional French culture—the other ways being working on his French, navigating a sporty car through roundabouts with the confidence of a Grand Prix driver, and drinking pastis at 9:00 a.m.

Pourquoi ne pas essayer? Time to roll the boule so to speak and see how he does…first, with the task of creating an algorithm for his book. Please note that while Paul may seem like the archetypal nice Canadian, he’s a fierce competitor. Pétanque is just one of many sports he has played to win. And, although he says he originally wrote his book for his kids, it recently hit #1 on Amazon in travel books about Provence!

If we like Uncorked, which movie/musical/play/TV series would we also like?

The film Under the Tuscan Sun, based on the memoir by Frances Mayes of that name, because it is also an evocative, heart-warming story based in Southern Europe. Although I wasn’t escaping a cheating spouse and I didn’t fix up a house, I did achieve a breakthrough into the traditions and culture associated with living in an ancient village in south Europe by learning how to play the game of pétanque. This adventure proved to be both humorous and life-changing.

What meal or dish would go well with reading your book?

Tarte Tatin (French upside down apple tart), a sweet, delicious, comfort food that I first ate in Saint-Paul in a small cafe that I came to frequent. As my book explains, not only did I indulge in this upside-down pastry while living in Saint-Paul, but as a result of living in this ancient village, I began to see that flipping the priorities of work-life balance more towards the “life” side of the ledger leads to a more fulfilling lifestyle and general level of happiness.

If your book had a signature cocktail, what would it be?

Given the subtitle of the book, that one’s easy: Pastis on ice.  It’s the go-to drink of the region and tastes refreshing on hot, humid summer days.  When the anise-flavored liquor mixes with the ice water, it becomes cloudy…much like I found the process of finding my way within local French culture.

Are there any special clothes/headgear/costumes/accessories we could wear to put us in the mood for reading your book?

You might think about donning a pair of open-toed leather sandals, especially as summer is now approaching. Sandals are popular footwear in Provence on hot summer days.

If we wanted to take a mini-trip to understand your story better, where would you recommend we travel and which one or two sights should we take in?

In Saint-Paul de Vence, you cannot miss Le Café de la Place. At the foot of the village ramparts, it has a terrace overlooking Place du Jeu de Boules. You can watch locals play pétanque and absorb the French culture all around you. The other must-see is Fondation Marguerite and Aimé Maeght. Here you can take in the French modernist works of displaced Russian-French artist Marc Chagall (he settled in St. Paul for the remainder of his life after returning from New York) and those of other famous local artists.

* * *

So, readers, tell us: Has Paul come up with a winning algorithm? Does the thought of slipping into a pair of open-toed leather sandals and sipping pastis on ice while watching a rousing game of pétanque make you want to buy Paul’s book? How about feasting on some freshly made tarte Tatin while recalling the joys of reading/watching Under the Tuscan Sun and/or contemplating Marc Chagall’s Saint-Paul years (most of his paintings from that period were vibrant odes to love)? If so, be sure to check out his author site. You can also follow him on Twitter. And be sure to tell us: do you want to see Paul move on in the Expat Author Game?

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts. Hm, but will they include Paul’s next test?

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!

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Photo credits: Book cover (supplied); sandals from Pixabay; other photos from Flickr creative commons.

EXPAT AUTHOR GAME: What score does Lisa Morrow earn on the “international creative” scale? (2/2)


Readers, I’m happy to report that Lisa Morrow aced the algorithm test for her latest book, Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul, and will therefore be advancing to the second half of the Expat Author Game.

For this second round, we’ll be looking to see how closely she measures up to the Displaced Nation’s (admittedly somewhat quirky) notion of an “international creative.”

On the face of it, Lisa most certainly qualifies as “international”. Originally from Australia, she nurtured a passion for Turkey for many years, to the point where she and her husband finally took the leap to become full-time expats in Istanbul (they live in Göztepe, on the Asian side—extra points, Lisa, for that!).

Likewise, I think it is fair to call her “creative”. In addition to her latest book, recounting the couple’s permanent move to Istanbul, she has produced two books of essays:

But let’s see how Lisa does with this series of challenges on less tangible, but equally important, indicators of international creativity. Is she truly, madly, deeply “displaced”?

Welcome back, Lisa, and now let’s get started. Many residents of the Displaced Nation have had a moment or two when they’ve felt like a character in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, myself included. How about you? Please illustrate, if possible, with quotes.

Sure, I welcome this new series of challenges. Here are my top two picks for Alice quotes, with explanations:

1) ALICE TO CHESHIRE CAT: “But I don’t want to go among mad people.” What is madness anyway? Some people might define it as packing up all your personal belongings and moving to the other side of the world where you don’t speak the language, share the religion or properly understand the culture. A lot of my family and friends certainly thought my move to Turkey was risky, but if I’d stayed put in suburbia, where I’ve never ever felt at home, I’d have slowly wilted under the burden of trying to conform and eventually drowned in a rule-bound, limited life, before succumbing most definitely to madness.

2) ALICE TO MOCK TURTLE & GRYPHON: “…it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.” I’ve met more people in six years living in Istanbul than I’ve met in the whole of the last twenty years. The majority of them have been Turkish, and as I worked through the cultural differences to develop close friendships with some, I’ve had to question who I am, how I relate to people, and what I want in all my relationships much more intensely than at any other time in my life. I did the same when I struck up friendships with foreigners. Such ties are equally fraught because you have to push past the tendency to think you have a common bond just because you all live in a particular country and aren’t natives of that country. Along the way, I’ve had some of my beliefs, in particular my tendency to think everyone is naturally generous and supportive, rather painfully disproved. That said, it’s been a positive experience overall because by being exposed to so many different people, beliefs, behaviours and lifestyles, I’m a very different person now than when I first came to Turkey, much more confident in my judgements of people—and that makes me happy. Nonetheless I’ll always be a work in progress. Feel free to ask me this question again in ten years’ time!

Moving on: According to George Elliot’s Maggie Tulliver, the best reason to leave her native village of St. Ogg’s would be to see other creatures like the elephant. What’s the most exotic animal you’ve observed in its native setting?

muffin-of-istanbulThat’s easy: Muffin the Street Cat. Part untamed domestic tabby, part savage cheetah, Muffin prowled our Istanbul neighbourhood in search of prey. Whenever I came back from doing the shopping he’d be waiting for me, drawn by the rustling of my plastic bags. Brought up never to feed wild animals, I’d fend off his ferocious claws before running for the front door. (That’s him in the photo: it’s as close as the beast ever allowed me to get. A very camera shy breed!) Even more spectacular than Muffin was his former pack mate Son of Satan, last seen struggling to get through the front gate after eating too much kibble. They breed them tough in Istanbul.

Last but not least on this series of literary challenges: We’re curious about whether you’ve had any Wizard of Oz moments when venturing across borders. Again, please use a quote or two.

For this challenge, there’s really only one quote I can use:

DOROTHY (WHILE CLICKING HEELS): “There is no place like home.” As well as being a writer I’ve worked as an ESL/EFL English teacher for many years and know how to teach the difference between the word ‘house’ and the word ‘home’. I teach that the former is a concrete structure of bricks and mortar and wood, while home is a conceptual idea of place and belonging. I can say that one gives solid, quantifiable shelter and protection, while the other gives, what? This is where I come unstuck because I have no meaningful comprehension of the idea of home. I can list what it’s not. It’s not my country of birth, it’s not the place where I spent my childhood, it’s not a house, apartment, flat or condo I’ve lived in. My furniture and belongings give me comfort but they aren’t home. Of all my possessions, my private library that packs up into 30 boxes and spans more than thirty years of my life, is the one thing I can’t imagine doing without. And yet I am still at home when my beloved books are in storage and I only have a poorly stocked public library for sustenance. I have to conclude that home—be it in me, a person or a place—is where I am most myself.

Moving on to another dimension of creativity: telling tales of one’s travels through photos. Can you offer a couple of examples?

My writing is fueled by the desire to examine the way tradition and modernity clash in Turkey, and meld to form something new. I’m also keen to dig behind the popular tourist images of mosques and beaches, to show the little everyday oddities that make Istanbul in particular such a fascinating place—like these goats I took a photo of in the Eminönü neighborhood:
goatsin-eminonu_lisamorrow

The photo below is from a street in Paris, which seemed unremarkable from the pavement but when I looked up I was rewarded by finding something extraordinary in the ordinary—another theme I explore in my writing.
parisstreetart_lisamorrow

And now for our interplanetary challenge: Can you envision taking your exploration of other modes of being beyond Planet Earth? How about a trip to Mars?

To answer this I’m going to borrow a line from Wendy Fox’s new novel The Pull of It, which is set in Turkey. She writes, “What kind of person doesn’t wonder about other people’s lives?”—and I have to say too many kinds of people. The two types that bother me most are those who run the world and don’t seem to care what others suffer, and those who write, vlog, tweet and Instagram their travels as lists of countries they’ve ‘done’, devoid of any reference to the actual inhabitants of whatever city or place they proclaim themselves expert. If ever our planet is left with just these two types of people—and no one is writing, thinking, exploring, documenting, experimenting, painting, and creating work based on wondering about other people’s lives—then I’ll go to Mars. My only caveat being that non-wonderers aren’t welcome.

* * *

Congratulations, Lisa! You have reached the end of the Expat Authors Game. I like the way you played it, not always giving us the obvious answers. Readers, it’s time to score Lisa Morrow’s performance on Part Two. How do you think she did with the three literary references? That was an interesting comment she made, about preferring the madness of Istanbul to the Sydney ‘burbs, and she even came out with her own non-definition of “home”! And what about that animal of hers, did you find it exotic enough? (Are we sure there aren’t any cats like Muffin in Sydney?) Still, that photo of the Istanbul goats more than makes up for it…!

Finally please note: If you’ve given Lisa Morrow a high score and her formula for international creativity appeals, we urge you to check out her author site. You can also follow her on Facebook (she adds photos, tips and vignettes about Istanbul and Turkey to the page nearly every day) and let’s not forget Twitter.

STAY TUNED for next week’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: Photo of Lisa supplied; her comment: “Although I look happy in this photo taken in Bayonne, France, I don’t speak a word of French. It’s like being two years old and no one can understand you, but because you’re an adult you can’t throw a temper tantrum to get what you want.” All other photos from Pixabay.

EXPAT AUTHOR GAME: Lisa Morrow’s algorithm for “Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul” (1/2)


This month I am delighted to welcome Lisa Morrow to the Displaced Nation as the very first guest in our new author interview series, which, in my inimitable style, I’ve devised as a kind of game expat authors can play.

I told Lisa that her first challenge would be to supply an algorithm for her latest book rather than leaving it up to Amazon: if we like Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul, what would we also like?

Then, assuming she comes up with the goods, her next challenge would be to take the Displaced Nation’s “test” to measure how well she qualifies as an “international creative”—the results of which will be published in a second post.

It’s to Lisa’s everlasting credit that she was “game” to be the first to take on these considerable challenges. For those who haven’t read it yet, her most recent book, Waiting for Tulips to Bloom, tells the story of what prompted Lisa and her husband to pick up and move from their native Australia to Göztepe, on the Asian side of Istanbul, in 2010. Now, Lisa’s decision to move to Turkey was a long time in coming. She’d first developed a passion for the country and its people when living and working in London many years before. She’d visited Turkey for the first time as a tourist and somehow found her way to Göreme, a town in Cappadocia (central Turkey), where she’d ended up staying for three months. That first stay marked the start of a period of traveling back and forth between Sydney and Istanbul, living between both places, culminating in the “permanent” move almost seven years ago.

Given Lisa’s long exposure to Turkey, the transition to full-time expat life in Istanbul wasn’t as smooth as expected, and her new book recounts both the “drama and the joy involved,” to use Lisa’s words.

And now let’s roll out Lisa’s algorithm, beginning with…

algorithm_entertainment

If we like Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom, which movie/musical/play/TV series would we also like?

One film that closely mirrors some of the major themes in my book is The Dressmaker, based on the novel by Rosalie Ham, directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse and starring Kate Winslet. After making herself into everything her mother wasn’t and escaping the stifling norms of Australian society, Tilly Dunnage (Kate) returns to her hometown. Once there she’s tested by living in a community bound by strict rules governing social intercourse and an unquestioned social hierarchy. Although The Dressmaker is set in Australia, with a main character who’s a native speaker born into the culture, Tilly is as displaced in the fictional town of Dungatar as I have often been in the real world of Turkey. Though a long ways away from 1950s small-town Australia, Turkey is equally rigid about social interactions and power structures. To live here I’ve had to get a handle on them or risk forever being ostracised. However, in order to be comfortable in both my new home and myself, I’ve had to learn to what I’m capable of, and what principles I’m not prepared to relinquish. I’ve also had to be flexible enough to incorporate different ways of seeing and living into my own perspective and daily practices. In both The Dressmaker and my book Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul, belonging, and feeling happy as a result, isn’t predicated on living in your place of birth. It’s about understanding that being displaced is a point of reference from which to start living, regardless of where you find yourself, and not a condition to be cured.

What meal or dish would go well with reading your book?

The dish that would go best with reading my book is Çerkez Tavuğu, or Circassian Chicken as it’s known in English. This dish doesn’t require infinite culinary skill, just a lot of time and patience to prepare it. What results is a cultural and historical delight harking back to the complexity of Turkey’s multicultural past. It reflects my experience of coming to live in Turkey, where I learnt that what I thought was important to know wasn’t helpful, and only by being patient would I ever get what I wanted. I particularly like the inclusion of walnuts in the sauce because they’re a symbol of strength and power. I’ve come to realise I have a lot more of both than I ever knew.

The recipe is quite long so here is a link to the website that gives the closest version of the one I cook. Naturally I make it using a whole chicken because if I’m going to this much trouble, I want to share the results with all my friends. I also add bay leaves to the chicken when I cook it, and freeze any leftover stock to use in soups and casseroles later on. (You never know when you’ll need it!)

drink-algorithm

If your book had a signature cocktail, what would it be?

It would have to be a champagne cocktail. According to the International Bar Association:

“A champagne cocktail is an alcoholic drink made with sugar, Angostura bitters, champagne, brandy and a maraschino cherry as a garnish.”

I prefer mine with just a sugar cube at the bottom of a chilled champagne flute, two or three drops Angostura Bitters or cognac when available and then filled to the top with brut champagne. It’s the perfect signature drink for my book because like the champagne cocktail, Turkish culture, although bound by regulations, is extremely versatile and adaptable. Few people actually follow the rules and when things go wrong, which they often do, they’re very good at finding alternative ways of doing things. As a person prone to getting hung up on details and subsequently unable to creatively problem-solve, living in Istanbul and constantly having to re-negotiate ways of being stops me falling back into old habits.

fashion-algorithm

Are there any special clothes/headgear/costumes/accessories we could wear to put us in the mood for reading your book?

Definitely a scarf. Not because I live in a predominantly Muslim country, although I do cover my head to show respect when I enter a mosque, but because I’m never without one. For the early chapters of my book a light cotton number in strong summer colours will put you in the mood for my optimism and enthusiasm as I pounded the pavements in Istanbul in search of a new home. As autumn sets in and things start to go pear-shaped, you’ll need something with a bit of body to wind around your neck and shoulders to give comfort when none is on offer. Winter brings biting cold and overwhelming stress, so wrap up tight in a shawl that covers the outfit you’re likely to wear day after day as you battle your fears and doubts. Spring passes in a minute so when summer comes around again choose something to wrap around your hips. Make sure it’s sewn with coins, so you jingle with delight when you join me as I dance for joy.

travel-algorithm

If we wanted to take a mini-trip to understand your story better, where would you recommend we travel and which one or two sights should we take in?

It would have to be to Istanbul, because it’s a city without substitute. Come on a Friday and head straight to Kadıköy, on the Asian side of the city. It’s a place to experience rather than see, so plunge straight into the crisscross of streets and make your way through the crowds of Friday shoppers, skirt the overflow of devout congregants praying on rugs rolled out onto the sidewalks, take in the scents, sight and sounds of Fish Street, and eat spicy lahmacun with parsley and lemon at Borsam. You’ll see plenty you want to photograph but first just stop, look and feel the energy swirling around you. Living in a city with so many people can be overwhelming, so I always try to balance the mania with more peaceful days out along the shores of the Bosphorus. Two of my favourite neighbourhoods are Kuruçeşme and Arnavutköy, because they offer a glimpse into Turkey’s multicultural past under Ottoman rule. You can find out more about these neighbourhoods in the Discover Istanbul section of my blog, Inside Out Istanbul, and from my book of travel essays with that title, recently updated.

* * *

So, readers, tell us: Has Lisa come up with a winning algorithm? Does the thought of wearing a jingly scarf, sipping a champagne cocktail and feasting on Circassian Chicken, watching Aussie flicks, and traveling to the Asian side of Istanbul (at least from your armchair!) make you want to buy Lisa’s book? At the very least, does it make you want to keep in touch with Lisa and her adventures? If so, be sure to check out her author site You can also follow her on Facebook (she adds photos, tips and vignettes about Istanbul and Turkey to the page nearly every day) and let’s not forget Twitter. And please leave any questions for Lisa in the comments.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts. Will they include Lisa’s next test? (You tell us: do you want to see her move on in the Expat Author Game?)

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:

  • LOCATION, LOCUTION: An expat life in Istanbul frees Oliver Tidy to write crime novels set in places he knows well (and Turkey, too!)
  • Ten years after “Expat Harem,” foreign women will have another say on expat life in Turkey
  • BOOK REVIEW: “Perking the Pansies — Jack and Liam move to Turkey,” by Jack Scott
  • Photo credits: All photos from Pixabay; book cover (supplied).

    BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST: In “The Porcelain Thief,” ATCK and expat writer Huan Hsu assembles shards of his Chinese heritage

    booklust-wanderlust-2015

    Attention displaced bookworms! Our book review columnist, Beth Green, an American expat in Prague (she is also an Adult Third Culture Kid), is back with a new recommended read!

    Hello again Displaced Nationers!

    After a long absence (in which I got to satisfy some wanderlust, go me!), I’m resuming my column just in time for the crisp autumn weather that is conducive to some serious reading.

    This month I’m excited to tell you about one book in particular I uploaded to my Kindle since we last met: The Porcelain Thief: Searching the Middle Kingdom for Buried China—a memoir of a journey through Mainland China and Taiwan by Chinese American journalist Huan Hsu.

    Photo credits: Top third of an antique Chinese vase (Pixabay); cover art; Huan Hsu's author portrait by Martijn van Nieuwenhuyzen.

    Photo credits: Top third of a Chinese antique porcelain vase (Pixabay); cover art; Huan Hsu’s author portrait, by Martijn van Nieuwenhuyzen.

    Hsu currently lives in Amsterdam and teaches creative writing at Amsterdam University College, but he grew up in Utah. His parents had immigrated to the US from China via Taiwan. Hsu had never set foot in Asia until, as an adult, he started investigating the family legend that sparked this book.

    I think one of the reasons Hsu’s account of his travels within China resonated with me so much is that I returned to the United States this summer after a two-year absence and, as usual, felt disoriented. In my case, of course, it was reverse culture shock. I just couldn’t get over the novelty of understanding everything. I started eavesdropping on conversations not because I wanted to but just because I could! Sometimes when people asked me questions, I would stare at them blankly before realizing I could understand what they were saying and respond. I found all the signs and labels, which I often tune out in my life in Prague, distracting. Man, counter culture shock can be tiring!

    But whereas I was going home again, Hsu was recounting his very first journey to his homeland, another kind of (and more challenging, I think) Through-the-Looking-Glass experience.

    Hsu goes to Shanghai ostensibly to work in an uncle’s semiconductor chip business, but really he wants to interview his grandmother to see what she knows about the family tale of his great-great grandfather having buried a vast collection of prized antique porcelain just before he and his family fled the town of Xingang, on the Yangtze River, to escape the Japanese occupation.

    In a place he’s never been—but which many people expect him to regard as “home”

    In Shanghai, Hsu finds himself in a place he’s never been—but which many people expect him to regard as “home.” Coming to China without fluent Mandarin, he’s just as much at-sea as many other American expats; but the people he encounters treat him differently than they do other foreigners. In fact, they don’t really consider him an “expat”; rather, they see him as “Chinese”—as much as he would have been if his family had never left that part of the world.

    Invisible foreigner in Shanghai

    Photo credits: “Just a ‘Small Crowd,'” by Kyle Taylor via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); invisible man (via Pixabay); middle third of Chinese antique porcelain vase (via Pixabay).

    This honorary insider status frequently works to Hsu’s advantage as he tries to uncover the truth—if any is to be found—about the complicated events that led to his ancestor burying his precious porcelain pots before taking flight and becoming displaced.

    To be honest, I would have been perfectly happy if Hsu’s entire book had been about his experiences as an American-born Chinese exploring China. As Hsu himself says in an essay published earlier this year just before The Porcelain Thief came out, “while books about the Chinese-American experience in America are plentiful, … the story of Chinese-Americans in China remains unstudied.”

    It is a story that interests me personally as my now-husband, who is half Chinese, and I once lived in China, where he could pass for Chinese as long as he didn’t talk too much, whereas I was the visible foreigner. (Now that we live in Prague, our “visibilites” are reversed.)

    Hsu talks about the times he had it easier adjusting to China because of his ancestry (fewer stares, more acceptance in some areas), but I was happy to see him also address the down side of this situation:

    “…(F)etishization of Westerners was perhaps the most exasperating part of being an ABC [American-Born Chinese] in China…the Chinese still regarded laowai [foreigner] as an ethnicity, not a nationality, so we lacked the necessary skin tone and hair color.”

    Likewise, other expats fail to see him:

    “…I felt wounded when a fellow expat’s gaze passed over me without acknowledgment. Non-Chinese foreigners seemed to always notice one another on the street, sharing a knowing, conspiratorial glance, and when I tried to catch their eyes, they probably regarded me as just another impolite, ogling local. Though I stood out to the local Chinese, I was also invisible to many of my countrymen.”

    Hsu’s refreshing honesty about the difficulties of living in China

    One of the dangers of many travel memoirs (one that I sometimes fall prey to in my own writing) is to only write about the trip’s highlights. But perhaps because of his journalist background, Hsu is refreshingly honest. He calls it as he sees it:

    “To face the absurdities of daily life, expats in Shanghai keep a mantra: This is China. The Middle Kingdom was not so much a foreign country as it was a parallel universe that managed to offend all five senses plus one more—common.”

    Hmm… As I can attest from my own experience, it’s not only expats in Shanghai who feel that way!

    And if he is honest about the difficulties of living in China, Hsu is also honest about the difficulties of studying Chinese. Anyone who has signed up for language classes after a move abroad will identify with this passage:

    “Their Mandarin sounded familiar, and their speech didn’t seem fast to me, and sometimes I could even understand a good number of the words. But I couldn’t comprehend a thing because I was missing all the important ones, so I would hear something like, ‘Okay, and now we’re going to talk about [blank] and why you [blank] and [blank] because [blank] [blank] [blank] [blank] [blank] [blank] otherwise [blank] [blank] [blank]. Any questions?’”

    Good memoirs are a little raw; this one is. Just as Hsu doesn’t pull any punches when describing China, he is equally blunt about owning up to his family’s quirks and talking about his own difficulties surmounting culture shock. Regarding this last, he writes about people having “the same personal space as puppies” on public transportation, and about his cringing embarrassment when he sees people drying their laundry on telephone poles in less-affluent areas of the city. I think anyone who has been an expat in China has made a similar list of initial observations. I can remember doing so after moving to China in 2006.

    So much more than just a TCK-experiencing-Culture-One memoir

    But in the end, the book is so much more than just a TCK-experiencing-Culture-One memoir. Tsu also introduces the reader to the art of Chinese porcelain, which serves in turn as a kind of symbol of modern China, a nation of fragments.

    Photo credit: Chinese antique porcelain vase (Pixabay).

    Photo credit: Chinese antique porcelain vase (Pixabay).

    In fact the bulk of the book is devoted to Hsu actively searching for any remaining pieces of the family treasure. He flies to Taiwan and Hong Kong to locate the heart of the old porcelain industry. He finally visits the old family property that his great-greats had fled and in so doing turns up long-forgotten shirttail relations.

    In the course of this quest, Hsu pieces together beautifully imagined scenes of his family’s escape from the Japanese into the Chinese diaspora.

    I enjoyed The Porcelain Thief on all kinds of levels: as memoir, travelogue, art history, and social history. I’d particularly urge anyone who has lived as an expat in China, or who is thinking of doing so, to give it a try.

    * * *

    So, readers, have you ever had the experience of being an “invisible” expat or know someone who has felt that way? Let us know in the comments. And if you have ideas for books to review for this column, please leave a comment or let me know on Twitter! Last but not least, I urge you to sign up for the DISPLACED DISPATCH, which has at least one Recommended Read every week.

    STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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

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

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    BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST: The story of Jo Parfitt and her expat press, Summertime Publishing

    booklust-wanderlust-2015

    Attention displaced bookworms! As our book review columnist, Beth Green, an American expat in Prague (she is also an Adult Third Culture Kid), is still honeymooning (literally—congratulations, Beth!), we have loaned her space this month to seasoned expat and freelance writer Ana McGinley, who will tell us the story of a well-known international creative in the expat book world: Jo Parfitt, founder of Summertime Publishing.

    Hello, readers, and thanks Displaced Nation for this opportunity to talk about Jo Parfitt. A journalist, editor, writer, speaker and teacher, Jo has lived abroad for 26 years—in France, Dubai, Oman, Norway, the Netherlands, Brunei and now Malaysia. She is the founder of Summertime Publishing, which specializes in publishing books by and for people living abroad.

    Eighteen years ago, Jo published A Career in Your Suitcase, her guide to creating a portable career. Now in its 4th edition, the book continues to grow in popularity as the number of expat accompanying partners, mostly women, find themselves seeking new mobile careers to replace the jobs and careers relinquished to embark on a global relocation.

    Jo Parfitt and A Career in a Suitcase

    Jo Parfitt on Bankastraat, Den Haag, Netherlands, one of many former homes; book cover art for her bestseller, A Career in a Suitcase, now in its 4th edition.

    Jo’s own career in a suitcase

    The success of that book inspired Jo to set up her own business mentoring expats in search of suitable career opportunities. Having written 31 books herself, Jo decided to extend her training to include writing skills guidance for new authors. Several of them have partnered with her to publish their works, and Summertime Publishing—which she’d first set up to publish her cookbook, Dates, written while living in Oman—took off.

    After nearly two decades, Summertime has a catalogue of over 100 publications covering many facets of expat life, including:

    Summertime Top Five

    Jo recruits her dream team…

    A year ago, Jo enlisted the help of former Displaced Nation columnist Jack Scott, he of Jack the Hack fame. Jack had published his book, Perking the Pansies (a memoir based on his popular expat blog of that name), with Jo (he now has a sequel out: Turkey Street).

    In addition to Jack, Jo has hired Jane Dean (who was Jack’s editor).

    Jo, Jane and Jack have British roots, although Jane is now a US citizen, yet all three are based in different global locations: Jo in Kuala Lumpur; Jack in Norwich, UK; and Jane in The Hague, Netherlands. All three have in common the experience of relinquishing previous careers to accompany their partners—and establishing successful portable careers in the publishing world.

    (Left to right) Jo Parfitt, Jack Scott and Jane Dean (supplied).

    (Left to right) Jo Parfitt, Jack Scott and Jane Dean (supplied).

    Today Jo takes care of sales and marketing, business growth, client intake, big-picture edits and manuscript assessment at Summertime Publishing. Jane is the chief editor and production manager, and Jack is responsible for royalties, administration, digitization and social media.

    Business is conducted digitally via computer networking and bi-monthly business meetings on Skype—and regular Skype meetings with their team of designers. The three aim to physically meet each year for the company annual general meeting.

    Jo says that the recent expansion of her business is directly related to the growth in the globally mobile workforce. As more people relocate to new locations, the thirst for knowledge about expat issues, both unique and common to specific destinations, increases. Expats tend to be well-educated individuals capable of resettling in unfamiliar places and adjusting to new cultures, without losing their own cultural identity. By necessity expat partners often dive deep into the culture of their new destination, interacting with local people and services daily. These accrued experiences, good and bad, can form a strong basis for a good story.

    The summertime—& sunshine—of the expat life

    Anyone who is familiar with Jo has noticed a theme running through her life and work having to do with summertime and sunshine. Jo says she named her press “Summertime” after the song by Gershwin, which she sees as her theme tune. “I am a positive person and love the optimism and hope in the lyrics,” she says.

    Having spent ten years in the intense sunshine of the Middle East, Jo has also published a novel called Sunshine Soup, about expat life in Dubai, and she currently keeps a blog about the life she leads with her husband in Malaysia, called Sunny Interval, because after postings in Europe they get to enjoy the sunshine again.

    Photo credit: A Sunny Interval[http://sunnyinterval.com/2014/11/23/life-ocean-microwave/]

    Photo credit: A Sunny Interval.

    There is also, of course, Jo’s sunny disposition to consider. “I am an optimist at heart and like to see the good in everyone,” she says, adding that, since setting up her press, “my motto has been Sharing What I Know to Help Others to Grow.”

    Further to which, in closing I’d like to share some tips Jo has for expats who dream of writing a book:

    • Do your own market research to see whether books covering your topic already exist. Most mainstream bookstores do not have a specified section for expatriate books—so look online.

    • Visit Expat Bookshop and Summertime Publishing. (Interested in publishing with us? Send a message via the contact form on the site.)

    • Download the free booklets offered by Summertime Publishing:

    • Consider the practical aspects of publishing a book. Writers who enter a contract with Summertime Publishing will be offered editing, printing and promoting services tailored to suit their individual needs.

    • Most importantly, assess your available time and lifestyle and evaluate the real possibilities of being able to regularly focus on your book project. writing a book demands a high level of focus.

    And now for Jo’s parting pearls:

    I believe everyone has a story in them. I tell someone that if their story is likely to inspire, support, inform or entertain another person then it is worth telling.

    * * *

    Thank you, Ana, for introducing us to Jo Parfitt. Her dedication to the cause of publishing expat works, along with her sunny disposition, has extended the feeling of summertime for me a little longer! Readers, how about you? Any questions for Ana +/or Jo?

    STAY TUNED for the next fab post!

    Born in Australia, Ana McGinley has now lived in seven countries in 15 years, so more than qualifies as a serial expat. She writes, edits, reviews and researches articles for various online publications, including serving as the review coordinator for Summertime Publishing—all of which distracts her from finishing her book about caring for ageing parents from abroad, a topic related to her previous work as a social worker with older people. She currently lives in the Netherlands with her Canadian husband and four children, all born on different continents. To get to know Ana better, please follow her HuffPost column. You can also view her portfolio of published works here.

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

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    BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST: Beach bound? Check out summer reading recommendations from featured authors (2/2)

    booklust-wanderlust-2015

    Attention displaced bookworms! Our book review columnist, Beth Green, an American expat in Prague (she is also an Adult Third Culture Kid), empties the remainder of her treasure chest that she brought to us two days ago, stuffed with recommended reads to take you through the summer.

    Hello again. As explained in Part One of this post, I reached out to some of my bookish friends as well as a few of the authors whose books I’ve recently reviewed to see what books they recommend taking on vacation. I asked them to tell me:

    Summer Reading 2015

    Photo credits: Amazon Kindle PDF, by goXunuReviews via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); beach chair and sandy feet via Pixabay.

    Here are the rest of the recommendations I received, including a few from yours truly and ML Awanohara (Displaced Nation’s founding editor) at the end. Enjoy!

    * * *

    MARK ADAMS, best-selling travel writer and author of Meet Me In Atlantis (which we reviewed in May): My recommendations are a classic travelogue, a biography of an intrepid traveler, and an adventure novel.

    The-Snow_Leopard_cover_300xThe Snow Leopard, by Peter Matthiessen (Viking Press, 1978)
    Shortly before he died, I had the honor of interviewing Matthiessen at his home on Long Island. I was surprised by how concerned he seemed, knowing that his death was rapidly approaching, that he would be remembered less as a novelist than as the author of The Snow Leopard. I went back to reread it for the first time in twenty years and was amazed by how good it was—a moving story about a man’s search for meaning through Zen Buddhism after the death of his young wife, intertwined flawlessly with a thrilling narrative about an incredible journey through the Himalayas. So fresh and evocative it could have been published yesterday.

    Bruce-Chatwin_A-Biography_cover_300xBruce Chatwin: A Biography, by Nicholas Shakespeare (Anchor, 2001)
    Chatwin, of course, is one of the great travel writers of all time; he practically reinvented the genre with books like In Patagonia and The Songlines. But as Shakespeare’s brilliant biography demonstrates, Chatwin’s greatest creation may have been the globetrotting persona that he carefully presented to the world. The descriptions—decodings might be a better term—of how Chatwin assembled his literary works will be absolutely riveting to anyone who has tried his or her hand at trying to pin down the essence of a place using only words.

    State-of-Wonder_cover_300xState of Wonder, by Ann Patchett (HarperCollins, 2011)
    I once heard Ann Patchett on the radio, talking about the job of a novelist. She described it as “creating a world.” No one creates worlds with quite the skill that Patchett does. Reading her descriptions of pharmaceutical research being conducted in the Amazon is like being dropped into the jungle—you can feel the sweat beading on your forehead and the buzz of malarial mosquitoes preparing to land on the back of your neck. And you know what? Patchett’s Bel Canto, which takes place in Lima, Peru, is an equally brilliant tale that performs the magic tricks that only great fiction can, allowing you to read minds and travel through time and space.


    MARIANNE C. BOHR, Displaced Nationer and author of the soon-to-be-published Gap Year Girl: A Baby Boomer Adventure Across 21 Countries: My summer reads are usually of the meaty kind because as a teacher, I have more time in July and August to pay close attention and savor every word. As one who suffers wanderlust daily, my three choices all have to do with travel. They are very different books, but each grabs my heart in a different way and I could read them over and over, each time discovering something new.
    Bohr Collage

    The Drifters, by James A. Michener (Random House, 1971)
    This book takes me back to my youth and the thirst for exotic adventure that goes along with being young.

    Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of a Woman Traveling Alone, by Mary Morris (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1998)
    I wanted to head straight to Mexico when I read this heart-wrenching book and also felt like the author was a new friend when I finished.

    An Italian Affair, by Laura Fraser (Vintage, 2001)
    What a guilty pleasure immersing myself in this book of islands, romance, lust and longing is. I could read it again and again.


    SHIREEN JILLA, adult TCK and former expat and author of The Art of Unpacking Your Life (which we reviewed in May) and Exiled (which we featured in 2011): I would pack three very different books:
    Jilla Collage

    Red Dust: A Path Through China, by Ma Jian (Vintage, 2002)
    Dissident artist Ma Jian’s diary of his walk across China in the wake of his divorce and threatened arrest is utterly enlightening, moving, profound and playful. Walking is clearly an under-rated pastime.

    Look at Me, by Jennifer Egan (Anchor, 2009)
    A powerful, beautiful novel about the crazed nature of modern urban life, it elevates Egan to one of the greats of American literature.

    Paris Stories, by Mavis Gallant (NYRB Classics, 2011)
    A regular writer for the New Yorker, Gallant penned these short stories about expats and exiles in Europe particularly Paris. They are brilliantly laid bare. (Born in Montreal, Gallant moved to Paris when she was 28 determined to be a full-time writer. She lived there until her death in 2014.)


    BETH GREEN, writer, expat, TCK and BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST columnist: Here are my three picks, one of which I’ve not read and two that I have:

    The-Messenger-of-Athens_cover_300xThe Messenger of Athens by Anne Zouroudi (Reagan Author Books, 2010)
    Summer is the best time to really sink into a mystery series. I love taking a few titles from an established series and binge reading them on the beach or by the pool. Previously, I’ve done this with Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley novels, Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books and Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire mysteries. This year I’ll be spending some time on the beach in Greece, so I’ve got my eyes set on British writer Anne Zouroudi’s Greek Inspector mysteries, which depict ugly crimes based on the seven deadly sins in beautiful Mediterranean surroundings. The series now has seven books, of which Messenger is the first. (Born in England, Zouroudi worked in the UK and the USA before giving it all up to live on a Greek island. She married a Greek as well.)

    swamplandia_coverSwamplandia! by Karen Russell (Vintage, 2011)
    This darkly fascinating and somewhat magical story of a girl and her siblings abandoned in a run-down theme park in Florida fascinated me when I read it a few years ago. It’s both a chilling odyssey into a swampland netherworld and an exploration of subcultures of the kind rarely seen in American books. For me it had the right amount of tension to keep you turning pages and the right amount of whimsy to keep the potentially depressing material light enough for a summer read.

    Daughter-of-Fortune_cover_300xDaughter of Fortune, by Isabel Allende, trans. by Margaret Sayers Peden (Harper, 2014)
    Summer is a time for voyages—or at least reading about them! I can name a whole bagful of road trip books I’d happily re-read over summer, but for pure swashbuckling joy I have to recommend Isabel Allende’s historical cross-cultural adventure Daughter of Fortune. An upper-class girl raised in an English enclave in Chile in the 1800s stows away to follow her lover to the gold fields of California. I haven’t read the sequel, Portrait in Sepia, yet, but I’m guessing it’s also worth adding to that beach bag. (Born in Peru and raised in Chile, Allende lives in California.)


    ML AWANOHARA, former expat and Displaced Nation founding editor: We are constantly reporting on new displaced reads in the Displaced Dispatch, which comes out once a week. Just to give you a taste of the kinds of things we feature, here is a selection. As you can see, it comprises a work of historical nonfiction that reads like a novel, a memoir with elements of Nordic myth, and a novel by a once-displaced poet, all with beach-bag potential.

    Daughters_of_the_Samurai_cover_300xDaughters of the Samurai: A Journey from East to West and Back, by Janice P. Nimura (W.W. Norton, May 2015)
    Call it the early Japanese version of our gap year or junior year abroad. The story begins in 1871, after Commodore Perry’s ships opened Japan to the outside world, when five young women were sent to the United States on a mission to learn Western ways and help nurture a new generation of enlightened Japanese leaders. Three of them stayed for ten years and returned to Japan determined to revolutionize women’s education. Several critics have said the book reads like a modern fairy tale. But if the women faced many hurdles in the course of their unusual journey, the tale doesn’t necessarily end happily ever after. “I cannot tell you how I feel,” one of them remarked upon her return to her native land, “but I should like to give one good scream.” Janice Nimura, an American who is married to a Japanese, has spent time living in Japan.

    Passage-of-the-stork_cover_300xPassage of the Stork: One Woman’s Journey to Self-Realization and Acceptance, by Madeleine Lenagh (Springtime Books, March 2015)
    Madeleine Lenagh is American but spent her first five years as an expat child in Europe, after which she grew up in Connecticut. Rebelling against her mother’s interference in her love life, she set out to travel across Europe alone. Arriving in the Netherlands broke, she took a job as an au pair—and the rest is history. She has now been living in the land of cheese and tulips for over four decades and speaks fluent Dutch. But that’s her travel history. Her own personal history remained repressed until she wrote this memoir. One of the things that interests me about it is that Lenagh chose to weave together the narrative using Nordic mythology. (As long-term followers of the Displaced Nation will know, we are fond of doing the same with the Alice in Wonderland story.) Passage of the Stork is a publication of Springtime Books, the new fledgling of Summertime Publishing, which specializes in books by expats and for expats and is the brainchild of global nomad Jo Parfitt.

    hausfrau_coverHausfrau, by Jill Alexander Essbaum (Random House, March 2015)
    This novel by Texas-born American poet Jill Alexander Essbaum, her first, depicts an American woman in a cross-cultural marriage to a Swiss banker. They are living with their three young children in a postcard-perfect suburb of Zürich. In the spirit of Essbaum’s erotic poetry, Anna (yes, the name is a nod to Tolstoy’s heroine) engages in a series of messy affairs. Now, is this book the expat answer to Fifty Shades? Actually, the answer to that question interests me less than the fact that Essbaum herself was once a hausfrau in Dietlikon, near Zürich, where she moved with her first husband, an American interested in studying Jungian psychoanalysis. Like Anna, she experienced intense loneliness and isolation—albeit no torrid affairs. Who would have guessed?

    * * *

    Thank you so much for your recommendations, ML and everyone else! Readers, it’s your turn now. What books are you looking forward to popping in the book bag this summer? And, for our friends in the Southern Hemisphere, what books are getting you through the winter?

    Also, can I echo ML’s contribution by urging you to sign up for the DISPLACED DISPATCH, which has at least one Recommended Read every week. And please feel welcome to make recommendations for books to be featured in the Dispatch, and in this column, by contacting ML at ML@thedisplacednation.com.

    STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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

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

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    BOOKLUST, WANDERLUST: Beach bound? Check out summer reading recommendations from featured authors (1/2)

    booklust-wanderlust-2015

    Attention displaced bookworms! Our book review columnist, Beth Green, an American expat in Prague (she is also an Adult Third Culture Kid), has arrived with a treasure chest full of recommended reads to take you through the summer. NOTE: Check out Part Two here.

    Hello again, Displaced Nationers!

    Summer is upon us—well, for readers in the northern hemisphere, that is! And for those in the United States, Fourth of July weekend is coming shortly. Even if you’re not beach bound, perhaps you are at least picturing yourself sitting in a beach chair feeling the sand through your toes, the waves pounding towards you, the fresh, bracing sea air filling your lungs…

    And what’s that you have in your hand—a book or a Kindle?

    I find the sound of the waves and the ocean breeze the perfect conditions for escaping into other worlds that writers conjure up for us in their books. This summer, I’ve already been to a few local parks with my e-reader, and I’ll soon be topping it up with some of the books from our best-of-2014 list for an overseas trip. But I’m always on the look-out for fresh new material, and as there are miles to go before I can flop down on the beach of my dreams, I fear I’ll run out of prime reading matter by then. With this eventuality in mind, I decided to reach out to a few of the authors whose books I’ve recently read or reviewed, along with a few of my bookish friends, to see what books they recommend taking on vacation. I asked them to tell me:

    Summer Reading 2015

    Photo credits: Amazon Kindle PDF, by goXunuReviews via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); beach chair and sandy feet via Pixabay.

    They responded with recommendations that seem tailor made for an audience of international creatives. Enjoy! Part 2 will be posted on Friday.

    * * *

    ALLI SINCLAIR, world traveler, Australian romance author and former co-blogger at Novel Adventurers: I recommend that you bring one travel book, one classic, and one novel. The following make a good combination:

    ChasingtheMonsoon_cover_x300Chasing the Monsoon: A Modern Pilgrimage Through India, by Alexander Frater (Henry Holt & Co, May 1992)
    There are some books that touch something in your soul that stays with you forever. For me, Chasing the Monsoon falls into that category. Originally published in the early nineties (and thankfully, still available!), Alexander Frater follows the monsoonal rains from the Kerala backwaters in southern India to Cherrapunji, in northern India—known as the wettest place on earth. Frater connects beautifully with the people he meets and he writes for all senses, giving the reader a full immersion into one of the most captivating countries on Earth.

    The Ascent of Rum Doodle_cover_x300The Ascent of Rum Doodle, by W.E. Bowman (Vintage Classics, 2010)
    Originally published in 1956 but still in print, this book is one of the most celebrated mountaineering stories of all time. The 1950s saw some of the world’s highest mountains successfully climbed (including Everest), and this book is a parody of mountaineering at it’s finest…er, worst. There’s a route finder who is constantly lost, a diplomat who continually argues, and a doctor who is always ill. Rum Doodle will most definitely appeal to fans of Bill Bryson, who wrote the introduction to the book’s international edition (published in 2010).

    HellofromtheGillespies_cover_x300Hello From The Gillespies, by Monica McInerney (Penguin, 2014)
    I’m a long time fan of Monica McInerney’s books, maybe because Monica is a “displaced” person: having grown up in Australia, she has split her time between Australia and Ireland for the past 20 years. This book is mostly set in outback Australia but with ties to England. Angela Gillespie, a mother of four adult children, has sent out a regular Christmas letter to friends and family for thirty years. The notes are always cheery and full of good news but this year, her note details the unsettling truth of how her family has fallen apart. If you enjoy family sagas with humour and heart, you can’t go wrong with this book. (True, some people recommend it for the holidays, but it’s summer in Australia at Christmas time, remember?)


    BRITTANI SONNENBERG, adult TCK, current expat and author of Home Leave (which we reviewed in November): I would pack the following books (assuming I’d be packing it for someone else, who hadn’t read them yet).
    Sonnenberg_collage

    The Dog, by Joseph O’Neill (Vintage, September 2014)
    It’s a devilish, compelling take on cosmopolitan and expat life by the TCK author of Netherland. (Joseph O’Neill was born in Cork, Ireland, in 1964 and grew up in Mozambique, South Africa, Iran, Turkey, and Holland. He now lives in New York City.)

    Ghana Must Go, by Taiye Selasi (Penguin, 2014)
    This is an intimate examination of a splintered family, set in Accra, Lagos, London, and New York.

    All My Puny Sorrows, by Miriam Toews (McSweeney’s, 2014)
    One of the saddest and funniest books I’ve ever read; an honest, moving portrayal of sisters and mental illness.


    CHRISTINE KLING, author of travel- and sailing-related thrillers: I’ve just finished up the edits on a the third novel in my Shipwreck Adventure series, and I’m looking forward to taking a bit of time off from writing and working at reading my way through some of the long list of books I’ve been wanting to read. The three books I’d take in my beach bag include two novels and a combination cookbook/memoir/travelogue.

    The-Janissary-Tree_cover_x300The Janissary Tree, by Jason Goodwin (Sarah Crichton Book, 2006)
    My husband and I are contemplating building a new boat in Turkey, and after our recent visit, I’ve fallen in love with the country. Jason Goodwin has written travel books, histories, and thrillers, and I’ve been waiting for the chance to begin reading his work. The Janissary Tree, winner of the 2007 Edgar Award for Best Novel, is the first in what is now his five-book series set in in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire’s Istanbul. The series features a very unique protagonist Yashim Togalu, a eunuch guardian. In this book, Yashim is called upon to investigate a series of crimes including murder and theft of jewels.

    Marina_cover_x300Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2014)
    The first book I read by this author was The Shadow of the Wind, which I often cite as one of my favorite books of all time. I knew Zafón had written a young adult novel that was published in 1999 and became a “cult classic” in Spanish, and since I enjoy good YA novels like the Harry Potter series and the Hunger Games, I was happy to see this book finally released in English in 2014. Marina is set in Barcelona around 1980 at the end of Franco’s regime. This gothic tale is touted as containing elements of mystery, romance and horror as a young boarding school boy meets the exotic, dark Marina. Together they embark on a series of adventures where they meet the kind of grotesque Barcelona characters Zafón does so well.

    Sea-Fare_cover_x300Sea Fare: A Chef’s Journey Across the Ocean, by Victoria Allman (Norlightspress Com, 2013)
    Years ago I worked as a chef on our owner-operated charter sailboat, and I know what it is like to have to create meals for demanding guests. Victoria Allman is in an entirely different category as she trained as a chef and has worked your years on multi-million dollar yachts. In Sea Fare, Allman has combined the tales from her beginning as a green Canadian chef looking for a job in the charter yacht industry to the joys of shopping in exotic markets from Italy to Vietnam. From the descriptions of her experiences on board the yacht, dealing with crew problems and falling in love with the captain, the stories are grand, but the recipes and the outstanding color photos of the food, will probably cut my trip to the beach short as I head home to try some new dish.


    HEIDI NOROOZY, adult TCK, translator and author of multicultural fiction: I just returned from a research trip to Germany, and my choices seem to reflect that! (I went there because I’m writing a novel about an East German detective, Johannes Christian Alexander Freiherr von Maibeck—I know, it’s a bit of a mouthful—I created for a short story I once wrote. The setting is Leipzig, German Democratic Republic, 1981.)

    The-Leipzic-Affair_cover_x300The Leipzig Affair, by Fiona Rintoul (Aurora Metro Press, May 2015)
    Set in 1985, this novel tells the story of a Scottish student at Leipzig University who falls in love with an East German girl and stumbles into a world of shifting half-truths. Well written and fast paced, the story captures the atmosphere of its setting very well, a world where nothing is ever quite what it seems. As one reviewer writes: “The book is expertly written and seems to me to be a very comprehensive picture of what it was like to live in the East German state.” (Rintoul, a Scot who lives in Glasgow, gathered her material for the book by visiting East Germany and meeting a woman who had been imprisoned. She also looking at extracts of STASI files on people she met.)

    Zoo-Station_cover_x300Zoo Station: Adventures in East and West Berlin, by Ian Walker (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1988)
    British journalist Ian Walker, who once covered Central America for the Observer (and never managed to write his promised volume on Nicaragua), produced this travelogue on the two Berlins back in 1988. It depicts bohemian life in the once-divided city, where everyone seemed to be from somewhere else: West Berlin was full of Brits, Asians, Danes, Turks and East German exiles; East Berlin, of Anglo-Austrian expats. Walker’s descriptive narrative and reflections on the broader social issues of the day are what make this book stand out. As one of Amazon reviewer puts it:

    Having read “Zoo Station”, I was able to understand why some people regarded East Germany as a pinnacle of socialist achievement, much more preferable to its capitalist twin in the West. It is good travel writing, and is both politically and culturally astute.

    The-One-That-Got_Away_cover_300xThe One That Got Away, by Simon Wood (Thomas & Mercer, 2015)
    Okay, this one isn’t about Germany, and I haven’t read it yet—but it’s at the top of my summer book bag. Tag line: “She escaped with her life, but the killer’s obsessed with the one that got away.” The story of two grad students in California who decide to take a road trip to to Las Vegas, this suspense novel deals with survivor’s guilt and is bound to be a thrilling ride. (Originally from England, Simon Wood lives in California with his wife.)

    * * *

    Readers, that’s it for this round; we’ll have another round on Friday (update: check it out here). Meanwhile, have you read any of the above and/or do you have summer reading recommendations to add? Please leave in the comments!

    And if you need more frequent fixes, I urge you to sign up for the DISPLACED DISPATCH, which has at least one Recommended Read every week.

    STAY TUNED for PART 2 of this post on July 3rd!

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

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

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    Ten years after “Expat Harem,” foreign women will have another say on expat life in Turkey

    Tea in Gülhane Park[http://www.flickr.com/photos/wneuheisel/6493228113/ ], Istanbul, by William Neuheisel via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

    Tea in Gülhane Park, Istanbul, by William Neuheisel via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

    When the Displaced Nation first started, Anastasia Ashman, an American living in Istanbul, was running a blog tailored to the needs of the “thinking expat.”

    It seemed almost too good to be true: a group of women who were passionate about telling stories that illustrated the impact of the expat life on a person’s psyche. Had Anastasia rubbed a magic lamp to conjure up a kind of foreign harem? After all, her site was called Expat+HAREM.

    In fact, as we soon discovered, the core contributors to the site had also been contributors to a book Anastasia had co-edited with Jennifer Eaton Gokmen, Tales from the Expat Harem: Foreign Women in Modern Turkey, which came out in 2005.

    Anastasia has since moved on from Turkey, the expat life and the Expat+HAREM project. As she reported in a post to the Displaced Nation three-and-a-half years ago, she and her Turkish husband traded Istanbul for her native San Francisco because they thought that life in America’s high-tech city would “more closely align with a future we want to live in.”

    Yet the work she created on the basis of her Turkish expat life has lived on in her wake.

    And now two American expats in Turkey, Rose Margaret (Rose) Deniz and Katherine (Katie) Belliel, have announced their intention to produce a kind of sequel to Expat Harem, which is scheduled to be published later this year, to coincide with its 10th anniversary.

    The title of the new anthology will be Sofra: A Gathering of Foreign Voices Around the Turkish Table.

    As that title suggests, we’re shifting metaphors: from the harem to food. But no need for me to go on any further as Katie and Rose are joining us today to discuss their plans for the new volume. (Note to female expats who have lived in Turkey for at least a year: the window for submissions closes on April 1st!)

     * * *

    Sofra Editors Horizontal

    Meet Sofra editors Katie Belliel (left) and Rose Margaret Deniz. Photo credit: Journey Collective

    Hi, Rose and Katie, and welcome to the Displaced Nation. Before we talk about your plans for a sequel, let’s go back to the original work. Katie, I understand that you contributed a story to Tales from the Expat Harem. What did you write about?

    KATIE: “A heart-broken Michigan girl finds closure in Bursa at an ancient Ottoman bath, nurtured by her would-be Turkish sister-in-law.” This line that introduces my story in the book sums up my piece nicely. It is about how my first journey to Turkey was for love. My return was also for love—but not for my failed relationship. It’s the story of how I returned for closure, but stayed for my true love, Turkey the country. At least, that is what I hope people understand when they read my piece 😉

    How about you, Rose? I believe you were active in the book’s companion blog and online community?

    ROSE: I was a frequent writer for expat+HAREM, the companion site for the book (it was Anastasia Ashman’s brainchild). For example, I facilitated a roundtable discussion that included nine female cultural ambassadors from around the world, called Dialogue2010. It was a live conversation on art, culture, and hybrid identity inspired by my post to expat+HAREM called Mapping the Imagination. We sought to create a living definition of hybrid identity and how one’s worldview literally shifts as a result of location.

    Am I right in surmising there was something very special about the Expat Harem experience?

    KATIE: Being a part of Harem was an incredible experience from beginning to end. I knew I could trust the editors with my story; we had a wonderful relationship. They inspired confidence in me, and really gave me the courage to keep writing even well after Expat Harem was published. I also find that I keep going back to the book, as different stories speak up at different times in my life. Right now, as a mother, I am particularly drawn to Maria Orhon’s story about her daughter. Two years ago, when we bought our new house, Annie Prior Özsaraç’s story about their house problems gave me a much needed laugh amongst our then house troubles.

    ROSE: I remember reading the book around the time I moved to Turkey. So many of the stories struck a chord, especially as I was getting my bearings those first few years. It made a big impression on me.

    The Harem book features stories by expat women, and this new book you’re working on, Sofra: A Gathering of Foreign Voices around the Turkish Table, is likewise calling for female contributors. What’s the thinking behind the “women only” approach?

    KATIE: Both Rose and I were heavily involved in the sisterhood of Expat Harem: all-female writing groups, entrepreneurial initiatives, and other spin-offs. It seemed natural for Sofra to be another book featuring women expat writers.

    ROSE: Yes, as Sofra is following in the footsteps of Expat Harem, we thought it important to continue the tradition of honoring women writers.

    But are men’s voices unwelcome?

    KATIE: We mean no offense to the guys. I’m sure they have wonderful stories, which we hope to incorporate in the Expat Sofra community. In fact, we want to open Expat Sofra’s companion blog to expats from around the world, male and female. Stay tuned, as these plans are evolving.

    I understand that sofra means “feast,” and you are proposing to make the new anthology at least partly about food. I’m curious: what was your own food journey like in Turkey? Did you take to the food right away?

    Turkish food

    (Clockwise from left): Kokoreç, by William Neuheisel via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); big black Turkish [figs] , by naturalflow via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0) ; Istanbul: Ayran, by tomislav medak via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

    KATIE: I was really hesitant about Turkish food at first, but then I just dove right in. Kind of like how I fell in love! There was no going back. There are still some things I just can’t eat or drink, like ayran (a milky yogurt drink) and kokoreç (intestines, usually lamb). I still try them on occasion, but they are just not for me! I have many favorites. Fresh figs are at the top—I look forward to fig season at the end of August/early September each year. Pazı, a kind of green, leafy chard, is my favorite vegetable, I eat it sauteed with onions and yogurt.

    ROSE: Turkish cuisine is definitely a leap from the standard Midwestern fare of my native Wisconsin. I love cooking, though, and embraced the challenge of learning new dishes but adding a twist from my roots. My least favorite food experience would have to be the amount of service required when having guests over. It is more tiring at times than the meal! However, now I can say that my Turkish friends and family appreciate buffet style big meals at my house, and I don’t stress about every detail being perfect as I did in the past. My favorite food experiences are cooking with my friends and family. Nothing flavors my sofra better! Another thing I enjoy is sourcing my food locally. We get milk, butter, and eggs from our neighbors’ farm, and even turkey and chicken from time to time!

    You are also conceiving of food as a metaphor for the expat life in Turkey, which can be sweet, bitter, tangy, or spicy. Regarding your own Turkey experience: what percent has been each of these taste sensations?

    KATIE: Good question. I would argue that my experience here has been an equal part of all the tastes. There are beautiful and not-so-great parts of each flavor. But that is life, right? Even bitterness becomes a taste we crave if denied it for too long. So, I believe in appreciating the full flavor of whatever is put in front of me in the moment. Appreciating all parts of it for even if I don’t understand the taste then, I will understand it much later.

    ROSE: Hmmm, I would say my life here has parts of each. Similar to motherhood, there are wonderful, sweet moments, and moments that are bitter. I would also add the combo of bittersweet to the mix! We are challenging our writers to pick one experience and match it with a flavor. You will have to wait until the book comes out to see which flavor I picked to portray.

    On my one and only trip to Istanbul, I came away with a copy of the letters written by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, wife of the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in the 18th century. As Anita Desai writes in the introduction, Although Lady Mary was well traveled,

    it was Turkey and her first experience of a non-European, non-Christian civilization that provoked her most open and heart-felt admiration.

    Do you see your book as having a further purpose of helping to explain Turkey to the West?

    "Liotard Lady Montagu," by Jean-Étienne Liotard. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

    “Liotard Lady Montagu,” by Jean-Étienne Liotard. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

    KATIE: I am currently re-reading Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s The Turkish Embassy Letters. I read them before moving to Turkey. It’s nice to re-read them after living here for over a decade! Our book definitely seeks to show a different side of Turkey than is commonly portrayed by the media. What is the main thing every tourist says after their first visit here? “It’s not what I expected.” We want to show people a deeper, richer side of Turkey. In my opinion, the true side of Turkey.

    ROSE: This region is still largely portrayed in a negative light. Expat Harem successfully challenged that by showing a different side, and we hope to continue that with Sofra. Not everything is positive, of course, we don’t want this book to be all cakes and flowers. We want to show a deeper side, an open portrayal of even bitter experiences that give lessons or show growth.

    Who is the book’s primary audience?

    KATIE: Our primary audience extends from the armchair traveler to the seasoned expat. The foodie to the culinary newbie. A little something for everyone, we hope.

    Thank you, both. Talking so much about Turkish food has made me peckish. I look forward to seeing what you cook up in this new book. After our exchange, I’m anticipating a rich stew!

    * * *

    Readers, if this interview has piqued your curiosity about the Sofra anthology, or even if you simply wish to know how sofra is defined, I encourage you to visit the Expat Sofra site and/or follow the book’s progress on Twitter. And if you’re a woman who has had the pleasure of living (and eating!) in Turkey as an expat, then why not submit a piece to the new anthology? Only don’t forget, the deadline is coming soon: APRIL 1.

    STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     * * *

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

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

    HTLID_cover_and_hearts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    * * *

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

    STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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