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Why “exbrats” in São Paulo need their own book to appreciate life in Brazil’s largest city

MeganFarrell CollageThis week’s guest interviewee is Megan Farrell, who like myself is an estrangeiro (foreigner) in São Paulo and married to a Brazilianalthough unlike my good British self, Megan is American and also has a young daughter (sounds like far too much responsibility if you ask me!).

Megan and her family previously lived in New York, but she took a sabbatical from her job on Wall Street in 2009 to become a full-time mum. Then, when her husband was offered a job opportunity here in São Paulo in 2010, they decided it would be a perfect opportunity for Megan and their daughter to learn Portuguese, experience life in a different culture, and learn more about Dad’s home country.

I first came to know of Megan when I moved to São Paulo myself at the start of 2012 and found her blog Born Again Brazilian whilst doing some research for my own blog. Ever since, I’ve kept up-to-date with her tales and travails, and was pleasantly surprisedif not a little enviouswhen she announced earlier this year that she would be releasing a step-by-step guide for foreigners who are living (or planning to) in São Paulo: American Exbrat in São Paulo: Advice, Stories, Tips and Tricks for Surviving South America’s Largest City.

I say envious because a similar idea had occasionally cropped up in my mind, but having read Megan’s book, I’m actually rather glad I didn’t attempt it myselfthere’s no way I could have had done the topic justice to the same extent. Megan has done her research, even offering advice on visas, taxes and other mundanebut extremely importantdetails that a move to São Paulo can entail. She includes things I would definitely not have thought of or, to be honest, had the patience to cover.

My only quibble—which perhaps tells you more about me than it does about the book, which is excellent—is that it reflects the experiences of a small minority in Brazil: exbrats. As someone who loves history as well as current affairs, I tend to prefer books that provide a holistic overview of life in a particular country. What’s more, the life of the exbrat seems completely outside my realm of experience. Though a cynic might suggest that I’m on an extended holiday, I didn’t move to Brazil on an all-expenses paid work package.

And to be fair, Megan doesn’t fall into the “exbrat” category either: her husband is Brazilian so didn’t qualify for the relocation package that makes countries like Brazil so enticing to non-Brazilians.

So, who exactly are these exbrats? And why write a book for them? Megan and I had the pleasure of meeting up I person a few days ago and talking about the audience she had in mind for her book. The following are some highlights from our conversation.

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AmericanExbratinSaoPaulo_cover_pmHi, Megan. Tudo bem? Why did you decide to write a guidebook for non-Brazilians who come to live in Sao Paulo?
If you are making a move to a country such as Brazil, you need to have your expectations managed appropriately. Much of the pain my fellow expats have experienced has been because they were unprepared to deal with some of the idiosyncrasies of life in São Paulo.

What do you mean by an “exbrat”? Was the book specifically aimed at them?
I used “exbrat” because it feels rather fitting of the collection of people I’ve come across here. Expats, including myself, often stomp their feet over inconveniences they’ve encountered here, yet still expect and enjoy all the benefits of being in Brazil. Not necessarily in a pejorative way, but it felt very bratty to me. You also meet people who were previously army brats and were never able to shake their nomadic waysso “exbrat” is also an adult term for these foreigners.

So exbrats are primarily the foreigners who move to Brazil because of job opportunities?
Yes, the target audience is largely people who are moving to São Paulo or have recently arrived in the city for work, as well as human resource managers at companies who send employees to Brazil.

You included yourself just now in the “exbrat” category. But you are married to a Brazilian who didn’t get an expat package.
Believe me, some aspects of the things I’ve experienced here in Brazil have been a shock, as they probably were to you as well. So, while the book is definitely aimed at exbrats, I don’t think it’s too “exclusive.” There is an element of the “exbrat” in all of us. Some people are never able to get out of the exbrat cycle and as a result, fail to take advantage of the opportunities living in this country offers. My hope is that my book will give them a clearer picture of what to expect, and how they can prepare for that reality, so that they can get over the culture shock and go exploring. One of the world’s most fascinating countries awaits.

I think I know what you mean. I particularly remember reading in the book about your shock of attending an officially organized children’s “play-date” and there being seven paid staff to run it, as well as each child returning home afterwards with a crystal tea set as a parting gift!
Yes, exactly! That is far removed from my experiences in New York but is not so uncommon if you and your family start to mix in the same social circles with people towards the very top end of society in Brazilwhether that be through expat communities, your child’s school, or spouse’s workplace.

Has the book reached other audiences besides those who are moving to São Paulo? Perhaps people moving to other South American countries or those where English is not the first language?
Thus far the audience has been very specific to people moving to São Paulo, as opposed to other countries in South America—or even other cities in Brazil. It’s also attracted a few readers who work with Brazilians but in other countries.

Injecting her own anecdotes, and photos, into the book

Which section of the book are readers enjoying the most?
People tell me that they really enjoy the humorous stories I’ve included, which are based on some of my most painful and awkward experiences. For example, I tell the story of how I visited the same bakery for over a year before someone explained that because I wasn’t emphasizing the appropriate accent in the word pão (bread), to a Brazilian ear it sounded like I was asking for pau (penis)! Living in a non-English-speaking country provides plenty of opportunities for embarrassment or frustration, but when something goes wrong, I’m the kind of person who chooses to laugh, not cry.

Did you connect with the city in any new ways in the process of writing the book?
Definitely. I wanted the book to be as complete as possible (without taking ten years to write) and so I did more exploring on some of the subjects I wanted to include. Also, the photos in the book, minus a few I purchased the rights to, are ones I took. Much of the photography I already had in my collection. But there were gaps, so I had to get out and take pictures, which always gives you a second perspective on what you are seeingmore removed and analytical.

The topic of domestic servants

What was your most displaced moment when doing the research for the book, when you wondered why you’d embarked on this mission?
Trying to explain the culture of the people who might work in your homethe culture of the working poor in Brazil.

What do you mean when you say “culture of the working poor”? In your book you seem to suggest that household workers, who are of a far less lower rung on the lady in Brazilian society, are just taking advantage of the situation that they are in. Do you think this is cultural, or the impact of their socio-economic circumstances?
Half and half. I think it is definitely a Brazilian thing to try to take advantage of different situationsand this exists at all levels of society. For example, there’s the term jeitinho Brasileiro, which Brazilians use for situations in which they “creatively” try to get round complications in life.

However, yes, there is also a socio-economic component. If you are from a poor neighborhood and are working in the home of a rich family or person, it’s probably not too surprising that you might want to take advantage of your situation by asking for a loan or a raise.

From blogging to book-writing (she hasn’t looked back!)

Why a book instead of a series of blog posts?
Believe it or not, people still like reading books! HA. Over the past three years, since I’ve written my blog, I’ve received a number of questions about moving to São Paulo and life here. Most of the answers were already within the posts of my blog. I wanted to create a document that was more comprehensive, arranged by topic and easier to navigate. I also did a survey of my expat friends, and almost all of them said they would have purchased at least three books about moving to São Paulo before they camehad any actually existed. So I decided there was at least a bit of demand. Blogs are great, but sometimes you want to read a story from beginning to end. Plus, I’ve always just wanted to write a book.

What was the most challenging part of the book-writing process?
Editing. The editing process was a collaboration with my awesome friends, as well as my mother. It’s difficult to edit yourself. Actually, it is impossible to edit yourself. And when you have a pile of people helping you sort through the stories and facts, you get lots of opinions. But it was all good. However, I don’t think I can advantage of my friends again, so I’ll probably hire an editor for the next one.

Why did you self-publish the book?
A few of my writer friends encouraged me to try and find a publisher. But I just couldn’t figure out what a publisher was going to do for me that I couldn’t do for myself. I have a strong network and a background that includes marketing. I also don’t have the patience to go through a bureaucratic publishing process with an extended timeline. I knew that even if I did manage to find a publisher, I would not be their priority. The market for this is not on the level that would make a publisher move fast.

What’s next? Are you working on any other writing projects?
I am. I’ll probably update this book sometime in the next year. I also plan to write one for Rio. My husband is from Rio, and most of my experiences in Brazil (prior to moving to São Paulo) were in that city, so I know it pretty well.

You mentioned at the outset that you like broader books. I’d love to write something about Brazil as a wholeto counter the focus I put in this one on the expat life. It won’t be another step-by-step guide but a more of a general analysis, including politics, culture and so forth.

Finally, I’m working on some fiction stories that take place in Brazil. When living in New York, I did a screenplay course so have some experience in writing fiction. Currently, my idea is to write two series of short stories. The first will be based around Brazilian folklore, and the second, around some real-life episodes I’ve witnessed that are difficult to record in a blog or non-fiction format.

Ten Questions for Megan Farrell

Finally, we’d like to ask a series of questions that I’ve asked some of our other featured authors, about your reading and writing habits:

1. Last truly great book you read: Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, by Mo Willems. I have a five-year-old. But we’ve read it more than a hundred times and it still makes me laugh. Okay, Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late is another contender. Mo Willems is a genius.
2. Favorite literary genre: I’d love to lie and offer up a more intellectual answer, but my favorite genre has always been horror. I enjoy a good creepy tale. After that, humorous memoirs from people who have overcome great obstacles, like Jeannette Walls‘s The Glass Castle.
3. Reading habits on a plane: I’m most happy if I have a copy of The Economist with me on a plane
4. The one book you’d require President Obama to read, and why: I wish Michael Bloomberg would write a book that Obama could read, because I think the USA would benefit by being run more like a business. But since Bloomberg has yet to put pen to paper, I’d have to say Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In.
5. Favorite books as a child: I loved any book that involved a child in a new world. James and the Giant Peach. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The Little Prince. The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Pippi Longstocking.
6. Favorite heroine: Wonder Woman. I think if Brazil had a Wonder Woman, or the collection of super heroes that we have in the States as—albeit fictional—role models, people would emulate change for the good of the people. Brazil needs to believe in something other than futebol—but that seems to be in the process of changing, as Andy and I discussed last month on this blog.
7. The writer, alive or dead, you’d most like to meet: Hands down, Stephen King. I hope he doesn’t die before I get to meet him. I just need to figure out a way to do it that doesn’t involve stalking.
8. Your reading habits: I used to spend the weekends (sometimes all weekend) reading. But now that I have a child, I usually read right before I go to bed—in bed.
9. The book you’d most like to see made as a film: American Exbrat in São Paulo, of course!
10. The book you plan to read next: I suppose I should say Fifty Shades of Grey, because I haven’t read much of it and people keep bugging me about it. But if you’ve read Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty Trilogy (I only read the first), Fifty Shades is like reading Judy Blume. Yawn. I think I’ll wait for Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep. How could anyone resist a sequel to The Shining?

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Readers, as I said, Megan was a delight to meet in person, a sense of which I hope I’ve conveyed above. Any further questions? Have I pressed her too hard on the “exbrat” point?

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, a new episode in our “Location, Locution” series, by JJ Marsh.

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images: Megan Farrell’s author image and book cover; photo of Sao Paulo from MorgueFile.

Love Living Overseas: An interview with Michelle Garrett aka The American Resident

Displaced Nation Blog - Michelle Alnwick 2In April’s Alice Awards we featured expat blogger Michelle Garrett (an American who has made a home for herself in Britain). She won an “Alice” for her most recent column in Expat Focus, in which she asked readers whether their experience living abroad has inspired them to write a book.

Michelle’s column certainly struck a chord with us here at The Displaced Nation as well as leaving us intrigued and wanting to know more. Regular readers know that we always like to focus on expat writing and highlight it, whether it be Jack the Hack’s tips or our lists of the best books for, by and about expats.

Michelle revealed in that post that she is working on not one but two expat-related books: the first, a helpful guide for unhappy expats called Love Living Overseas; the second, a novel. Today Michelle has kindly agreed to answer my questions about why so many expats find themselves blogging or attempting to write books, as well as her own writing plans.

We enjoyed reading your article at Expat Focus about whether expats necessarily have to write expat books. Why do you think so many people who live abroad feel like writing a book about the experience?
Humans are storytellers. It’s how we share experiences and how we learn. Blogs and self-publishing have opened up a new way of storytelling and when we experience something life changing, as many expats do, we want to tell the story and many of us do so through these mediums. Our stories may be in the form of autobiography or a fictionalized account of our experiences.

Some books are less about the story and more about tips or self-help. These books are often written by expats who have had a hard time with culture shock and once they move through those difficult months or years they feel compelled to help others.

Do expats have something unique to say?
As with any type of book writing, people need to really research the market before they can know if they have something unique to contribute. I do come across expat books, whether stories or books of tips where the author doesn’t seem to have done their research, and the story or information is nothing new or exceptional. However, the nature of the expat niche means there are a variety of ways to spin a story and many different angles to pitch tips, so there should be a wide variety of expat literature for our shelves!

In my research for Love Living Overseas, a book for unhappy expats, I have tried to read the best examples of books in the expat niche, and then see how I can best contribute to that collection.

What are the best examples in the genre, in your opinion?
This list is by no means complete, but among my favorites are:

Expat Women: Confessions, by Andrea Martins and Victoria Hepworth: a valuable book in that these are real questions people have asked (some quite gritty) and many of them I’ve not seen covered in other places.

Living Your Best Life Abroad, by Jeanne A Heinzer: a wonderful book for those of us who need a bit of step-by-step guidance for learning how to do just that: live our best lives abroad.

The Expert Expat, by Melissa Brayer Hess and Patricia Linderman: a fantastic resource covering almost every aspect of the relocation process, including pets, children, and safety—they even include tips for keeping in touch when you move on again.

Tell us more about the two books you are working on.
Love Living Overseas, a book for unhappy expats to be published this autumn, is intended for accompanying partners as well as those expats who have moved to the home countries of their foreign partners. I was once an unhappy expat and wanted to share what I’ve learned through my experiences and research. It’s a book I wish I’d had in the early days—a shortcut to expat happiness!

The book will contribute to the existing expat literature by taking advantage of the Internet in a new way, really using the strengths and opportunities of the Internet to my and my readers’ advantage.

The other book I’m working on is a novel about an American expat who is tired of feeling worthless. She married a British man to escape her dull life, but it hasn’t worked out and she is left adrift in Britain. She is sure there’s more to life than what she’s experiencing, and is equally sure she doesn’t deserve it. On impulse she accepts an invitation from a friend who is driving across the country and needs a companion for the journey. When she reaches their destination, she takes advantage of her anonymity to start a new life with a new identity, only to realize she is actually discovering her true self. I’m playing with the idea we expats often discuss about moving to a new place and taking advantage of the fresh start.

Would you ever consider writing a memoir or “life map,” as Judy Dunn calls it?
Definitely, but perhaps only for my entertainment, not for public consumption! I LOVE the term “life map” by the way—what a great description.

Do you prefer writing fiction or non-fiction?
I love creating books that help others.

When I first brought my new blended British family (7 of us!) to Minnesota, where I grew up, I realized that they would enjoy the experience more if they knew a bit more about Minnesota so I created a booklet of interesting facts. (Did you know that Minnesota and Great Britain are approximately the same square miles?)

And I am really enjoying writing Love Living Overseas because I truly feel it will be a helpful book.

But I also love inventing stories and playing with allegory and symbolism.

What are the biggest challenges of each genre?
I think the biggest challenge for non-fiction is providing information in a captivating way. Tips and facts can be dull—even helpful tips and facts.

As far as fiction goes, I find it challenging to create a believable story that moves people, but it’s a challenge I love.

We notice you are featuring quite a few writers on your own blog, The American Resident, of late. What lessons have you picked up from them? Take, for instance, your interview with the Aussie novelist Allison Rushby, who’s written a travel memoir: Keep Calm and Carry Vegemite. What was the most interesting thing she had to say?
Allison was lovely to work with and very interesting to correspond with regarding writing and expat life. One of my favorite comments of hers on writing Keep Calm and Carry Vegemite was:

… it’s very rare to write a memoir that is 100% true to what happened. It’s not that you lie to the reader, but sometimes events need to be shifted around in time and so on for the story to work—to be cohesive and to make sense in a story-like format. I was worried about doing this at first, but, in retrospect, I can see how the book just wouldn’t have made sense if I hadn’t done it.

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Thanks, Michelle! Readers, that’s some sound advice from Michelle about not assuming your expat experience is unique and researching the market first. Do you have any follow-up comments or questions for her? (Want to learn more about Michelle? Follow her blog, The American Resident, or on Twitter.)

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!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, another installment in the life of our fictional expat heroine, Libby. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

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img: Michelle Garrett

Dipika Kohli on world community art, defining a future, and why “wait and see” won’t cut it

tumblr_m7b7kmftdt1qaqyfmToday TDN welcomes Dipika Kohli, author of The Elopement, which we reviewed in September last year. Raised in America by Indian parents, Dipika now lives with her Japanese husband, Akira, in Durham, North Carolina, where the couple run a design company

Together, they are the driving force behind Stitch, a community art project for which they are currently raising funds on Kickstarter in order to take the project around the globe. 

Dipika, who has channeled her own feelings of displacedness into writing and art, joins us today to tell us more about this exciting project, the first in a series.

We begin with an intro to what Stitch is all about…

Stitch 101

Stitch is about supporting local artists and the art scene; it’s about a community defining the fabric of itself and its future. It’s community art, and an exercise in word-driven intention-setting at the same time.

Dipika and Akira say:

Now, we’re bombarded by images we never chose for ourselves—we let brands and labels do the work to define and express who we are. It doesn’t have to be that way. What if we could choose what we see? In simple, uplifting, people-nominated and people-chosen words and images? Would we, as a community, behave differently? Would we know who we are?


The 276 words representing Durham, NC, in a word-cloud indicating frequency/popularity

For two months, Dipika and Akira talked to hundreds of people in their town of Durham, North Carolina, asking them one question:

What would you like to see Durham become, in one word?

After collecting many words, the residents of Durham voted for those that described their vision of the future Durham — the Durham they would like to be part of.

The resultant 276 words were passed onto two dozen local artists, who created work inspired by these words. Collectively, these pieces create a vision for the town, while money raised from the selling of these pieces will take Stitch to other communities in the world,

“connecting disparate communities with a common thread of art and collective visions.”

And now — over to Dipika:

Insane…or brilliant?

You have to either be insane or brilliant. To do it, I mean. To get up and do the crazy thing that no one believes will ever work. Everyone who says they care about you and your future likes to say, “Just wait, and see.” See if you can save enough. See if you still feel like doing something wild and crazy. Wait. See.

I’m done with that approach.

You see, I’ve been “waiting and seeing” for about a year now. I’ve been wanting to get back on the road, but why? How? What would that accomplish? A little Descartes reincarnation was sitting on my shoulder, niggling.

March, I said, was when I’d pull the trigger. Whether it made “sense” or not to jump ship and move out of my apartment for some unknown adventure ahead.

Taking Flight

March 16. My birthday. The day I launched the book that took me 13 years to get the nerve up to actually publish. So romantic, I thought, to finally upload Flight of Pisces and then move out of my apartment, and “away.” Wherever that might be.

Flight of Pisces was about the time I left Durham, NC, to trek about in India. Footloose and in search of “identity,” I wanted to see the place where my parents originally come from. New Delhi, and Old Delhi. I went solo, and I did it big, culminating in something that all these years later, I shake my head about, thinking, “Did I have some kind of death wish?”

Maybe I did.

Maybe it was survivor’s guilt. Or more, or less. Who knows.

What I do know, and what I can say, is that it had to be the way it was. I had to go and try something that seemed like it was the most absurd and off-the-track kind of thing in the world, in the universe, even, because without having gone and done it, I wouldn’t have ever gotten it. “The glimpse.” A feeling that the world was shifting beneath my feet. And, indeed, it was.

Now, the same feeling is resurfacing.

On the road again

I’m getting lost in the world, again, and on purpose one more time. It’s okay with me that I have a four year-old who’ll be my classmate on this new tour as we go on an educational field trip together to someplace new. I can’t disclose all the details (yet), but I’m trusting it’s going to be okay.

We’ll have just one text with us, in our imaginations. A book that’s got a bunch of blank pages inside, and one image. It’s the cover, and it looks like this:

It’s the drawing I made back in 1994, when I met my husband, Akira Morita. He’s from Japan, and I’m Indian-American, and we eloped to Ireland in 2000. You could say we like to mix it up. Or just trust that we’ll find something wherever we go. One thing’s for sure, we’re always getting to know a bunch of people well, and anyone who’s into the displaced feeling of being elsewhere knows what I mean.

I held a roundtable last year called EXPAT at a place in town called Mad Hatter’s. It’s a little cafe, and about a dozen of us got together to talk about our experiences in places like Ghana, Madagascar, and all parts of Europe, too. Conversations like that made me feel like I was on the road again.

From T-shirt designs to Stitch concept

Now, Akira and I are 18 years older than we were when we met, and we’ve evolved a lot from those days when we thought printing a T-shirt design on a shirt was cool. Our style has gone conceptual, and now we’re doing our biggest art project together yet. It’s called STITCH, and it’s on Kickstarter now through April 28.

Part of the reason we’re doing this is to shape the community for the place where we both have spent the biggest chunks of our life: Durham, North Carolina. But there’s more, too. Lots of things I want to talk about with you in upcoming posts from this new series. I hope you’ll enjoy the journey with me.

Find out more about STITCH here at the Kickstarter website!

* * *

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post from our fictional expat heroine, Libby. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

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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Marry a diplomat, travel the world and write expat guides: Talking to new author Véronique Martin-Place

Veronique and her bookAs some readers may know, before the Displaced Nation, I had my own blog, called “Seen the Elephant” — which I used as an outlet while struggling to readjust to life in America after having lived abroad, in England and Japan, for quite a few years. (The name for the blog came from the expression used by Victorian travelers: “Been there, done that, seen the elephant.” Which is how I felt…)

It was because of that blog that I got to know today’s guest, Véronique Martin-Place, since she, too, was quite active in the expat blogging world.

And when I found out she was a Frenchwoman living in Chicago, I was intrigued. What did she make of the city of broad shoulders, jazz, and deep-dish pizza?

I asked her this and a host of other questions in an interview for my blog. For starters, she said that she and her family — her husband is a French diplomat and they have two young daughters — were gradually finding their feet in Chicago. (She did not, however, mention she was planning to write a book of that title!) She didn’t entirely approve of America’s throw-away society and still cooked every day for her family — she even offered her recipe for “real” vinaigrette in the comments. She also reported she’d seen plenty of elephants while living in Sri Lanka (her husband’s second assignment, after Norway).

Véronique leads life in the fast lane. A little over three years since our conversation, I find that she has written the definitive expat guide to Chicago: Finding Your Feet in Chicago — The essential guide for expat families (Summertime, 2012). And she is already putting her feet down in a brand new city, one of the world’s trendiest… Here is our exchange:

Bonjour, Véronique! When we last spoke, toward the end of 2010, you told me you’d arrived in Chicago with hopes of getting a job, but then the recession hit, so you’d started up your own writing business. When did you hatch the plan to write a book for expats in the Windy City?
I was already thinking about it when we connected. After witnessing several incidences of culture shock at my daughters’ school, I realized I wasn’t alone in having troubles. Several families from different parts of the world had moved to Chicago around the same time. All of us were in need of information and advice. Meanwhile, I’d started up my blog, Expat Forever, to share my experiences about Chicago — tips on where to settle, which schools to choose, etc. I looked around for local guidebooks to recommend — but there was nothing. So I decided to write one myself.

finding-your-feet-in-chicago-3D-Book CoverThat reminds me of the famous quote by Toni Morrison: “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” How long did it take you to produce the book?
From the idea to holding the book in my hands, it took one year and a half! Writing the book directly in English was difficult at the beginning, since English is not my native language. But after a while, I got used to it.

Besides writing in English, what was the most challenging part of the process?
Editing the manuscript. I decided to hire an editor to help with the task.

I know from our previous conversation that having fresh, healthy food is important to you — after all, that’s part of being French! I also seem to recall that you were not a fan of Chicago pizza. You said it was too heavy. But did you cover it in your book?
Of course! I have a chapter dedicated to “Having fun in Chicago,” which includes a section on family-friendly dining out. Before giving my top 10 Chicago child-friendly restaurants, I explain what the Chicago specialties are and insist that children (and their parents) MUST try them. That includes Chicago-style pizza and Chicago-style hot dogs.

What has been the response thus far?
Rather good, I think. I’ve gotten only five-stars comments on Amazon!

Which sections are the most popular?
Readers say they like having so much practical information on family-related topics — not just the advice itself, but all the personal anecdotes and testimonials I include from expat parents. I talked to lots of them and wrote up their stories as “blog posts” or interviews. The stories really speak to the kinds of anxieties most expats have — and they make the book an easy, fun read.

And now your husband has moved on to a diplomatic post in Shanghai! Tell me, does ANYTHING about China remind you of the United States, or are these two countries poles apart?
The United States and China are definitely different cultures — but one similarity struck me right away. Both are consumerist societies. In the US, everything is done to make you purchase and there are plenty of opportunities for you to part with your money. Here in Shanghai, it seems that the only occupation is “shopping.” It’s the only activity people urge you to do from the moment you arrive — visit malls, markets, supermarkets and so on. And I can tell you they have tons of malls, tons of markets (from traditional, the kinds that sell crickets and flowers, to modern, selling electronics, furniture, shoes, and so on), and many, many supermarkets.

How did you prepare yourself and your two daughters for the move?
We didn’t have the chance to make a look-see visit. But six months before moving to Chicago, I’d gone to Shanghai on business, so I had a picture of what to expect: a very urbanized and polluted city. That is also why we decided to settle in the new and “green” development area of Shanghai that is called Pudong.

Did your daughters have any idea of the change they were in for?
My husband and I found some videos about the city on the Internet for them to watch. Fortunately, they’d studied some Mandarin at their American elementary school, so already knew a lot about Chinese traditions and stories. To be honest, I think we learned as much from them about cultural matters as they learned from us on the practical aspects. It was real team work!

I know it’s still early days, but what have you enjoyed the most about living in Shanghai?
Perhaps surprisingly, the fact I can bike! In Pudong, there are a lot of protected biking trails, so it allows me to discover independently this part of the city, and it’s much faster than by foot. But I don’t bike in Puxi (the other side of the Huangpu River, which divides the city into two regions: Pudong, where I live, and Puxi, the city’s historic center). It’s too dangerous.

What is the feature you enjoy the least?
Shanghai is extremely urbanized and I miss greenery. Also, it is very polluted, though less so than Beijing.

What is the top piece of advice you’d give to anyone thinking of becoming an expat in that part of the world — particularly a trailing spouse?
I have five — and actually, they’re for anywhere, not just Shanghai:
1) Learn the language.
2) Get involved in your local community.
3) Keep doing your (or start new) hobbies and/or sports.
4) Discover your surroundings little by little, and you’ll eventually come to know the city as well as the content of your pocket.
5) If you are an accompanying spouse and cannot work locally, go back to school and get new skills, or volunteer to do something you can use professionally upon returning home for good.

And now I have to ask you the obvious question: any plans to write Finding Your Feet in Shanghai?
Many people have indeed asked me that question. And I must admit, the idea was in the back of my mind when I first started my book for expats in Chicago. I thought to myself, this can be the first in a collection, and the next one will be about the city where my husband gets posted next. But at least at this point, I don’t think I’ll write an expat guide to Shanghai. One reason is that there are already lots of books, magazines as well as Web sites for expats in this city. There isn’t the same need as there was in Chicago. But another reason is that my time here is so limited. My husband’s post is for just three years. I’d have to spend all of my time doing research and interviews, getting to know the city like my pocket. And that’s before I can start writing. My book on Chicago was released a couple of weeks after I left to fly to Shanghai — which didn’t give me any time for promoting it locally. I found that very frustrating and wouldn’t want to repeat the experience. Books these days have to be promoted like crazy, and although you can do a lot of it online, I don’t think online promotions can replace interacting with readers in person.

But surely you’ll write another book?
I may not write another book for expat families living in Shanghai, but I already know I will write another book about expatriation. Actually, I have already started it. But I cannot say much more. It is too early.

Aha! You are always so mysterious… Last but not least, I’d like to ask a series of questions that I’ve asked some of our other featured authors, about your reading and writing habits:
1. Last truly great book you read: Rien Ne S’oppose a la Nuit (Nothing Holds Back the Night), by Delphine de Vigan.
2. Favorite literary genre: Memoirs — but also novels, illustrated books like the ones of Danny Gregory (I love his writings and drawings), and carnets de voyage (travel journals). And I have to confess that I still read a lot of children books, especially picture books. My dream is to write and illustrate one.
3. Reading habits on a plane: Something fun and easy to read on my Kindle! I travel light.
4. The one book you’d require the president of France to read, and why: My book, of course! I’m joking. I would like him to read Les mots pour le dire (The Words to Say It), by Marie Cardinal. Everyone should read it.
5. Favorite books as a child: Astérix and Obélix comic book stories, by René Goscinny (illustrated by Albert Uderzo) and Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince), by Antoine de Saint Exupéry.
6. Favorite heroine: Anna Karenina
7. The writer, alive or dead, you’d most like to meet: There are several — all alive and all women: Robin Pascoe, the author of four books about expatriation; Anne Lamott; Annie Ernaux; and the aforementioned Delphine De Vigan.
8. Your reading habits: Every evening, at least one hour, and Sundays as much as I can.
9. The book you’d most like to see made as a film: Hidden in Paris, by Corine Gantz
10. The book you plan to read next: The Help (but I got the French translation), by Kathryn Stockett.

* * *

Wow, what a stimulating list! Readers, any questions or comments for Véronique while we have her attention? Ce qu’est une femme extraordinaire — I think you’ll agree!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, another installment in the life of our fictional expat heroine, Libby. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

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Images: Véronique Martin-Place with her Chicago book; the book cover in 3D (author’s own photos).

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