The Displaced Nation

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Category Archives: New vs. Olde Worlds (series)

NEW VS OLDE WORLDS: The “expat ten” can work both ways!

Libby Collage New&OldEvery two weeks, the Displaced Nation publishes an episode in the life of fictional expat Libby Patrick, a 30-something British woman who has relocated with her spouse to a town outside Boston. Her diary, Libby’s Life, by Kate Allison, is replete with observations about life in New England vs. England. In the weeks when Libby isn’t published, we are featuring posts by writers who are sensitive to the subtle yet powerful differences between new and “olde” worlds. Today Bobbi Leder, an American trailing spouse, responds to Claire Bolden’s post of two weeks ago, in which she claimed that a tour in the United States inevitably entails a ten-pound weight gain. Turns out, it goes both ways!

—ML Awanohara

* * *

Bobbi with sausage and friesMexico has just surpassed the United States as the fattest country in the world, according to new UN figures released last month.

It’s an honor another country can have as far as I’m concerned, but when America was the fattest in the land I was truly perplexed.

Yes, you heard that right: perplexed. Now I know there’s a lot of unhealthy food in the States (e.g., BBQ ribs, deep-fried everything-you-can-possibly-think-of, junk food galore) and many Americans are addicted to their sugar, fat and salt. But conversely there’s also a lot of very healthy food available in the States.

At the end of the day, it’s about making a choice.

When I expatriated to the UK over a decade ago—I moved from the Washington, D.C., metro area to Southampton, on the south coast of England—I didn’t have many healthy choices. Over a decade ago, that part of England simply didn’t have health food stores, nor were there restaurants catering to those of us who sought out low-fat, low-salt meals. As for vegetarian dishes, these were practically non-existent.

It was impossible to find a sandwich where the bread wasn’t smothered in butter or the fillings weren’t loaded with fatty meats or (full fat) mayonnaise. I found it very difficult to eat well because the food options I was used to simply weren’t available.

Cheery bye to Size 2!

Before moving to England I was thin, some would even say skinny at a size 2 (an American size 2 that is); but after living in Southampton for a few months, my weight crept up on me like a burglar in the night, and before I knew it, I was two sizes heavier.

And if you think I was binging on fish and chips, think again. I never touched any of the stereotypical British foods because they loaded with saturated fat. I still remember never being able to eat breakfast at the Southampton airport because all they served was the greasy English breakfast. The sight of a full English breakfast made me nauseous: back bacon, sausages, beans, two fried eggs, mushrooms, and fried bread, all cooked in grease—and they say America is the capital of fried food?

There was a reason why we went out for Thai food every Friday. It was the only place we could find that didn’t serve fatty meals and they’d alter any dish to suit their customers. Forget about trying to find a healthy item on the typical pub menu or in the food court of the local mall.

Even in the supermarkets I couldn’t find the healthy choices I was used to, like veggie burgers, soy cheese, and low-calorie bread.

Before moving to Southampton, I’d eaten a mostly ovo-vegetarian diet, with the occasional lean poultry and fish. When I wanted “junk food,” I would buy lower calorie options like baked potato chips.

After the move, I felt as if I had no choice but to start eating ingredients I never would have eaten otherwise including pork, beef and cheese. And food prices were higher compared to the States, which made grocery shopping a challenge—even at Asda, a British supermarket chain owned by Walmart. The produce was often not up to par, and grocery costs were higher than we’d budgeted for.

So I found myself eating things that made me gain weight—despite going to the gym four times a week, and either walking or biking to most places—and I wasn’t happy about it.

New diet, new regimen

After receiving an invitation to my cousin’s wedding in the States, I knew I had to lose weight in just a few months, so I did something I never had the time to do before: I learned how to cook.

I looked for low-fat recipes online that included ingredients I could realistically obtain. I took charge of what I was eating despite my location and its limitations.

Eventually, the weight came off, and after living in Southampton for a year and a half, we moved to London, where healthier food choices were more readily available.

I even took my cooking to the next level after watching British culinary shows—I knew the Brits could make healthy food—and began to make gourmet meals that were not only tasty but low in calories and fat.

After London we moved to Wales and wound up being in the United Kingdom for six years. Not once during that time did I have:

I did, however, have one British staple: the Sunday roast, which consists of roasted vegetables, potatoes and lean beef or chicken.

It was actually one of my favorite meals.

My cup of tea

Today, after moving a few more times (ah, the life of a trailing spouse!), I live in St. John’s, Newfoundland, where I’m fortunate that the times have changed and health food as well as vegetarian options are the norm in most supermarkets and restaurants.

I have no idea if Southampton now offers healthier choices in their restaurants and supermarkets—one can only hope so for the sake of the university students who make up a large population of its city.

The moral of my story is that even though you might move to a country (or an area of that country) where fatty food is the staple, it doesn’t mean you have to eat it.

Looking back, I’m grateful for my experience in Southampton because even though I saw beef and cheese as the enemy when I first moved there, I still eat both today (just in moderation alongside my usual healthy diet), which makes life so much easier when dining out and moving around the globe as an expat.

* * *

Thanks, Bobbi, for making us realize that America is not the only country that fosters weight gain. Readers, what do you make of her observations? Are we global nomads destined to balloon in size as we move around the globe—has that been your experience? Do tell! (A good thing Bobbi hasn’t ended up in Mexico yet, that’s all I can say…)

Bobbi Leder, 43, is originally from New York and grew up in New Jersey. She has moved at least 11 times (she lost count after the fifth move) in the last 18 years thanks to her husband’s job in the oil and gas industry. Leder is a freelance writer and the author of the children’s book, The Secret Police-Dog, but her most important roles are those of cocker mom (to her very high maintenance English cocker spaniel or just cocker spaniel to everyone outside of North America) and wife to her workaholic husband. Leder still exercises several times a week, eats well most of the time—hey, a gal has to treat herself every now and then—and does something British daily: she drinks tea.

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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img: Bobbi Leder enjoying(?!) a sausage and fries during a trip to Germany while living in the UK.

Portrait of woman from MorgueFile; Lighthouse (R) from MorgueFile; Lighthouse (L) from MorgueFile

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NEW VS OLDE WORLDS: How not to be a victim of the 10-pound Tour, aka the Expat 10

Libby Collage New&OldRegular readers of the Displaced Nation are treated every other week to a new episode in the life of fictional expat Libby Patrick, a 30-something British woman who has relocated with her spouse to a town outside Boston. Her diary, Libby’s Life, by Kate Allison, is replete with observations about life in New England vs. England. In the weeks when Libby isn’t published, we are featuring posts by writers who are sensitive to the subtle yet powerful differences between new and “olde” worlds. Today we hear from a new contributor, Claire Bolden, a Brit who lives in the Washington, D.C., area and blogs regularly on such matters. She is also a fitness expert, which, as you will see, explains a lot!

—ML Awanohara

* * *

We Brits call it the “Ten Pound Tour.” You’re here in the United States for three years; expect to gain ten pounds, that’s what they say.

I’m in the USA for three years; how is this possible? Well, let me tell you…pull up a chair and grab a cup of tea (hot is preferable—none of that iced nonsense) and a biscuit (that is a BISCUIT, not a cookie or any other sweet treat, which will be pumped full of sugar and additives).

Firstly, I’m British, so our culinary delights are much to be sniffed at. Especially boiled cabbage, I find. We’re partial to fish and chips, but it has to be soaked in vinegar and wrapped in yesterday’s news (not fake newspaper, like a fake British pub in the USA deigned to provide me with recently) and curries.

Yes, yes, I know curries are not traditional British fare, but they’ve become so ingrained in our eating out and eating in culture, that I think they are now a fully-fledged, ghee-butter-infused part of the British diet.

Claire B CollageJust thinking of growing fat…

In the USA…hmm, what culinary delights was I to chance upon? Pulled pork. I’ll have some of that.

Corn dogs…sigh, this batter-wrapped-sausage-thing-on-a-stick filled me first with joy, then dread, then Zantac.

Less a feast on a stick; more a beast on a stick. A beast of untold gastronomic consequences.

But the real devil in disguise is hidden away, tucked and folded and processed beyond belief into many, many of the foods in the Land of the Free. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS).

This is not, as I understand it, part of the UK diet. Then what on earth is it doing being fed to millions of Americans? And how did I chance upon it?

The American version of “sweetbread”

Here’s the tale:

“There is sugar in bread,” a friend told me whilst I was chomping on a sandwich.

“Surely not,” I replied.

“There bloody well is,” she confirmed with vigour (she’s British, hence the “bloody” and the “u” in “vigour”).

She’s right, don’t you know. I looked more closely at the contents…

In a normal UK loaf there is stuff and nonsense, of course there is. But no sugar.

By comparison, an American grocery store’s loaf of bread ingredients will wrack up a whole host on unpronounceable allsorts, with the dearly beloved HFCS topping out as Ingredient No. 3!

And the blighter is everywhere!

HFCS has reared its nasty, cavity-making, gut-increasing syrupy head since I’ve been in the USA, and I’m not liking it too much…

What is it? Basically, HFCS goes in processed foods and is said to rot your teeth. It causes many health and obesity issues in the USA.

And so, to the cupboard to see what’s what in the food I have obtained since being in the USA. Yes, it is true, this sweetener is in all sorts of stuff.

“Out, damn HFCS. Be gone!” I’ve gone all Lady Macbeth about it

So, I see now why an expat stint in the USA has been christened the “Ten Pound Tour”—Americans might like to think of it as the “Expat 10,” after their expression the “Freshman 10” (actually it’s now the Freshman 15 as most freshmen put on at least 15 pounds during their first year of college).

Food glorious food: don’t care what it looks like!

Add to this the food porn issue. When I first heard of “food porn,” I thought it might refer to food that:
a) is so big it would make your eyes water,
b) is difficult to swallow, and/or
c) is indecent to look at, let alone put in one’s mouth.

But as my first encounter with The Cheesecake Factory (this place tops the list for calorie content) proved—it is all about the size, and, to set the record straight, size does matter.

We all know American portions are large, but in this restaurant chain, they are HUGE. My Asian chicken salad was the size of my husband’s head AND his sideburns AND his fluffy hair after he’s been swimming. That is V V V large.

Everyone eats as much as they can stuff their faces with and then takes the rest home in take-out boxes, because there is enough left for three more meals and you could potentially invite the neighbors, if they’re not already drowning in their own quagmire of take-out food porn and HFCS-infused products themselves.

So, take the food porn home. Indulge in the privacy of your own home—go on, no one’s watching…

Our senses go reeling…

As already mentioned, we’re no angels in the UK with our food and eating habits. On the healthier side, I crave a roast dinner now and then…roast lamb with all the trimmings.

Food is so much an inherent part of our cultures. It helps define us, but as expats we have to sample and pig out on what’s available in the country in which we reside.

That’s only right, is it not?

If I were in China, I’d certainly want to take advantage of the cuisine on offer there. Now, I wonder if they call it “Ten Pound Tour” in Bejing…?

American food and the custom of eating out makes the previous fortnightly little treat in the UK of a Value Meal curry for two from Tesco’s seem a right measly affair.

But maybe one day, when I return to my homeland, I will savour stabbing that plastic cover of the curry before I microwave it and pouring the egg cup-sized portion of “meat” into a dish and spooning in some hard-as-nails rice and enjoy every mouthful.

Just maybe…

* * *

Thanks, Claire, for reminding us about the dangers of high fructose corn syrup, which is lurking inside so many American foods! Readers, do you have anything to add to Claire’s observations? Also, is 10 pounds really enoughisn’t it more like 20 these days?

Claire, 38, left the UK shores a year ago in August and is living with her husband and son near Washington, D.C. They will be there for three years and have a bucket list of things to do and see in the USA during that time. Though a Brit, Claire is a flip-flop-wearing, cowboy-hat-totin’ sun worshipper who has already sampled a lot of US cuisine, including corn dogs and crab, but she still enjoys a Rich Tea biscuit with a cuppa. She spends her time talking to Americans and confusing them with her British colloquialisms, as well as writing her blog ukdesperatehousewifeusa, which takes a light-hearted look at the cultural differences between the USA and the UK.

STAY TUNED for next week’s series of 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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Images (from left): Claire enjoying a corn dog; an all-American breakfast of pancakes and grits; a sinful dessert at The Cheesecake Factory.

Portrait of woman from MorgueFile; Lighthouse (R) from MorgueFile; Lighthouse (L) from MorgueFile

NEW VS OLDE WORLDS: Would you rather chat about weather with a rugged Aussie or a whingeing Brit?

Libby Collage New&OldRegular readers of the Displaced Nation are treated every other week to a new episode in the life of fictional expat Libby Patrick, a 30-something British woman who has relocated with her spouse to a town outside Boston. Her diary, Libby’s Life, by Kate Allison, is replete with observations about life in New England vs. England. In the weeks when Libby isn’t published, we are featuring posts by writers who are sensitive to the subtle yet powerful differences between new and “olde” worlds. Today we hear from an occasional contributor, Kym Hamer, whose thoughts on the topic immediately drifted to the ten winters she has spent in her adopted home of London. Hmm…is that because her native Melbourne now has highs of 8°C, or 46°F (and overnight lows of -1°C, or 30°F)?

—ML Awanohara

Kym Outdoor Entertaining Australia Day 2008As an Australian who moved to the UK in 2004 and who continues to make London her home almost ten years on, I can’t really afford to have any quarrel with the weather.

It is one of the quintessential British-isms, this obsession with weather, and it is the question I find myself in the midst of most debate aboutalways at the first meeting and often well into several years of cross-cultural friendship.

The stereotype of Australia’s big blue skies, fresh-faced outdoorsy-ness and neighbourly games of cul-de-sac cricket prevails so strongly in the British psyche, that any suggestion that all is not what it appears Down Under comes across as churlish, un-conversational and bordering on arrogant ungraciousness.

It’s not worth arguing: the Brits like to be right about this.

But what has struck me most about these conversations is that they usually occur in overheated pubs, lounge-rooms, Tube carriages and lifts with the protagonists sitting or standing around in their shirtsleeves complaining about the cold.

I have never met a nation so unwilling to put a jumper on.

(Which reminds me of a rather bad joke: what do you get when you cross a kangaroo and a sheep? A woolly jumper!)

Wrap up warm, but not too warm

I’ve been caught out myself, rugging up [putting on lots of clothes in anticipation of going somewhere bl**dy freezing] upon leaving the house on a chilly morning. Silently congratulating myself on my toasty (sometimes even thermal) attire, I find myself wishing I could dispense with three quarters of it half an hour later.

And let me tell you, it’s a royal pain to carry around a heavy winter coat and quite embarrassing to sit sweating profusely in a job interview because everything you could have possibly taken offand still remain decent, let alone remotely “put together”has been shed.

So I’ve learnt to avoid the thermal underwear and to dress in layers. More or less like a pass the parcel parcel.

Tuning into the daily weather forecast on the radio as I open one sleepy eye each morning, I’ve learnt that it pays to double check that the light spring coat hanging at the ready should not be replaced by something more…or less.

Accessorize!

But the biggest lesson I’ve learnt is this: it’s the extremities that matter and the right hat, scarf and gloves can make all the difference.

As the temperature and wind chill factor pas de deux through London during any given month, the right “weight” of this essential triumvirate can have me either swanning about in a state of slightly disheveled fabulous-ness or looking as though I’ve been dragged through a damp hedge backwards.

As such I have acquired:

  • several right “hats”
  • a range of pashminas—from warm woolly to just to keep the chill off on a “summer” evening
  • many suitable scarves (they are defined by being more slender in shape than a pashmina)
  • not one but two perfect pairs of gloves—a heavy-duty, super-warm pair and a lightweight purple leather set.

Which reminds me how hacked off I was to lose one of the heavy duty duo in January—and must make a note to myself to buy the perfect replacement pair. I’ve learnt that’s harder than it sounds. Who knew such things would become so important to me?

And then there’s the bag. My handbag grew exponentially into a “tote” during my first few years in London, becoming big enough to stuff in one or any combination of this trio as I climbed up/down Tube escalators, entered offices and interview rooms, got on and off buses and hugged friends in the doorways of their toasty digs.

Thank goodness other essentialsphones, umbrellas, (e)bookshave gotten smaller.

“Bring something warm—if it’s dry we’ll be sitting outside!”

But when I am at home and the climate is just my own again, slippers and cozy throws abound, whether I’m curled up on the couch in the lounge room, cooking up a frenzy in the kitchen or tucked under the duvet in my bedroom. The heating does get turned on but only when a jumper just isn’t enough.

I am famous (or infamous?) for invitations tagged with “bring something warmif it’s dry we’ll be sitting outside.” Guests laugh knowingly and remark about taking the girl out of Australia and all of that.

But baby, when it’s cold outside, quite frankly you should already know the drill:

Put a bl**dy jumper on!

* * *

Thanks, Kym, for that impassioned account of what it’s like for an Aussie to live in the midst of limeys who’d prefer to moan about the cold instead of taking practical measures. And speaking of whingeing limeys, you’ve given us Yanks yet another reason to feel pleased that we declared our independence from Britain on this day 237 years ago!

Born and raised in Melbourne, Kym Hamer has worked in London in sales and marketing for nearly ten years. She writes the popular blog Gidday from the UK. Also follow Kym on Twitter: @giddayfromtheuk.

STAY TUNED for next week’s series of posts—and a Happy 4th of July Weekend, meanwhile, to US-based readers!

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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Img: Photo of Kym Hamer entertaining outdoors, glass of wine in hand, in honor of Australia Day (January 26).

Portrait of woman from MorgueFile; Lighthouse (R) from MorgueFile; Lighthouse (L) from MorgueFile

NEW VS OLDE WORLDS: British husband and Brazilian wife swap cultural allegiances

Libby Collage New&OldThanks to Kate Allison, regular readers of the Displaced Nation are treated every other week to a new episode in the life of fictional expat Libby Patrick, a 30-something British woman who has relocated with her spouse to a town outside Boston. Her diary, Libby’s Life, is replete with rich observations about life in New England vs. England. In the weeks when Libby isn’t published, we are featuring posts by writers who are sensitive to the often subtle, yet powerful, differences between new and “olde” worlds. Today we hear from one of our regular contributors, Andy Martin. Those who caught Andy’s Random Nomad interview at the start of the year will remember that he’s a British social worker and football geek who followed his Brazilian spouse back to her native São Paulo.

—ML Awanohara

AndyMartininUK_pmA few weeks ago I made my first trip home to the UK since moving to São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, in February 2012.

Prior to leaving I started to ponder how I’d feel once I touched down in London.

After such an extended period of time, I guess it’s only natural to feel this somewhat apprehensive. Yet another reason for my intrigue was the number of times over the past year a Brazilian had asked:

Você tem saudades de Londres?

There is no direct translation for “saudades“—which probably says a lot about how us English speakers struggle to express our feelings. Broadly it translates as something like:

having a deep sense of nostalgia or longing for something or someone*

To such beautifully expressed enquiries of my sentiments about home, my typical response has been some muttered utterance like “Na verdade, não,” which basically means: “No, not really.”

What did I say above about us English speakers being expressive?

Or perhaps that’s just me.

Delighted to be in the new world…

Yet, on the whole those two words do sum up my thoughts about home. Sure, I miss friends and family—but the place? As I said, “Na verdade, não.”

I’ve lived in London, walked its streets and drank in its pubs for most of my life, so why would I be so desperate to go back?

Perhaps it is because I know that we’re likely go back to settle there eventually.

Alternatively, perhaps it’s not that I don’t miss London, more that I am happy with my lot here in São Paulo.

Which I am.

…while my wife is attached to the old one!

Ironically, it is actually my wife who is the one who most wants to return “home” to London after she finishes her degree at the end of this year**. This surprises most people, who assume that my Brazilian wife is the one who wants us to stay in Brazil, when it’s actually the opposite.

Why?

Part of it, I guess, can be put down to the opportunity each of us has to explore the unknown.

When I traveled around South America in 2007, I had never before left Europe. Likewise, until she went to Buenos Aires in 2008 (where we met), she had never left Brazil.

Both of us had only really ever known one way of life.

Now, with my wife having spent three years in London and us now having spent almost 18 months in São Paulo, we both seem to have come to appreciate and adore the things about each other’s countries that the other takes for granted or even dislikes.

The predictability, and quaintness, of London

For my wife São Paulo is a stressful city, with its inadequate infrastructure having a tendency to make life more complicated than it needs to be.

On top of this it’s a place that for her, because of the fear of crime, constantly leaves her feeling on edge.

Conversely, London is a place where she says she feels safe and where life is made easier by things working as they should—even if it that isn’t always the case.

For example, it still amazes her that a train can be scheduled to arrive at, say, 10:27 a.m. and then on the whole it actually arrives and departs at 10:27 a.m.

Additionally, coming from a land that was “discovered” as recently as 1500 by the Portuguese, she finds Europe’s long history fascinating—the fact that there are buildings in London older than the country of Brazil itself being a prime example.

I’ll be honest, in some ways I probably felt the same when I first arrived in Brazil. My initial posts on my own blog, The Book is on the table, whilst written with my tongue firmly in cheek, could possibly also be seen as me just being another gringo moaning about stuff—the subtext being that “everything back home is much better.”

As time went on, I realized that I didn’t want to be or become one of those moaning expats. Of course, it is natural to compare things when you move or go abroad. Likewise, there’s nothing wrong being critical if it’s fair and balanced.

But to make a habit of it isn’t good for one’s mental health. It ends up making you bitter and unhappy with your new environment. It’s also the quickest way to feeling homesick.

Even worse, such comparisons can easily drift into self-righteous rants asserting one’s cultural superiority—a throwback to the attitudes of our colonialist ancestors that did no one any good back then and will do no one any good now.

The unpredictability, and beauty, of Brazil

Around the time I realized that moaning and comparing are pointless enterprises, I started to feel a genuine affection for Brazil, something that has been reflected in my blog posts over the past 6-9 months.

Firstly, it would be hard not adore a country and continent that shares my passion for futebol.

Additionally, I found it easy to get used to a relaxed, slower pace of life in this part of world, which is not hard to complain about when it’s touching 30°C (86°F) for most of the year.

We have a swimming pool in our apartment block, something that is unthinkable in the UK, and there’s 4,500 miles of stunning coastline to pick from to go to on holiday.

Then, there’s the fact that if I want to go out for a beer or meal I know the bar or restaurant won’t be shut by midnight, as they so often are in London. If I want to stay out sipping a beer until 4:00 a.m., I can.

I’m also enjoying, although also a little frustrated by, the challenge of learning Portuguese, and as someone who studied Sociology and Social Anthropology and then later worked with migrants as a social worker, living in Brazil provides the perfect opportunity to explore South America, its indigenous history and the legacy of immigration after its colonization.

Additionally, the continent’s history of revolution and resistance against oppression also matches my own rebellious tendencies and political values—something I didn’t always have an outlet for in the UK.

Finally, it might sound a little condescending but I’ve now come to embrace some of the things I once moaned about. Living in London is great, and I appreciate my wife’s perception of the quality of life, but all the things I mentioned above provide an alternative quality of life. In other words, there’s more to life than just functioning public services.

Brazil may be frustrating sometimes, but it certainly makes life just a little bit more interesting—though my wife is yet to be convinced by that argument.

Maybe at some point I’ll change my mind and the novelty of life in Brazil will wear off—there is certainly enough evidence to suggest that might be the case. However, for the time being, whenever a Brazilian affectionately ask about my longing for home, I’ll continue to mutter: “Na verdade, não.”

*It’s extremely convenient in these situations having a translator as your wife.
**As a compromise I’ve so far managed to negotiate us staying until at least the end of the World Cup next year, using these two strong arguments: 1) I love football; and 2) Living in São Paulo meant we missed the Olympics in London.

* * *

Speaking of the Olympics, the handing over of the torch to Brazil at the end of the London Olympics certainly showed you the contrast between old and new worlds! Readers, can you relate to this couple’s frequent twists and turns in their cultural allegiances?

STAY TUNED for next week’s series of 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!

Related posts:

Img: Photo of Andy Martin taken during his recent trip to the UK, at a wedding.

Portrait of woman from MorgueFile; Lighthouse (R) from MorgueFile; Lighthouse (L) from MorgueFile

NEW VS OLDE WORLDS: Does Australia up the ante on British cultural stereotyping?

Libby Collage New&OldThanks to Kate Allison, regular readers of the Displaced Nation are treated every other week to a new episode in the life of fictional expat Libby Patrick, a 30-something British woman who has relocated with her spouse to a town outside Boston. Her diary, Libby’s Life, is replete with rich observations about life in New England vs. England. In keeping with the Libby tradition, we have started a series of occasional posts by writers who are sensitive to the often subtle, yet powerful, differences between new and old worlds. This month’s contribution is from Russell V J Ward, who made his first appearance at the Displaced Nation as a Random Nomad interviewee. Ward’s popular blog, In Search of a Life Less Ordinary, chronicles his overseas moves first to Canada and then to his wife’s native Australia. The couple now lives in Sydney with their infant son.

—ML Awanohara

RUSSELL_WARDWhen I left my native Britain to live in Canada and then Australia in search of a life less ordinary, I anticipated thriving on the energy I would find in a system that is more open to people who work hard, regardless of class or race.

The Old World with its long history and class traditions held me back and frustrated me. The New World, by contrast, would provide a sense of unfettered opportunity.

This hope has largely been borne out. But I’ve also faced some adjustment challenges, which I’ll talk about in today’s post.

An eye (as well as mouth) opener

The first time I visited a dentist in Sydney was also the first time I learned about Australian attitudes toward certain immigrant groups.

As a rule, I don’t mind going to the dentist’s. I find that most dentists are of the chatty sort, making me feel comfortable and not particularly averse to the fact they’ll shortly be rummaging around in my mouth looking for any signs of badly behaving teeth.

On this occasion, I was laid out horizontally waiting for the dentist to examine my pearly whites. As he leaned over to begin his work, he asked if I was house hunting yet and, if so, how it was going.

“Pretty good,” I replied. “We’re looking at a few options but we’re thinking the North Shore might be a good place to call home.”

“You should look at houses in the west of Sydney,” he said. “Lots of big, grand houses out near Penrith way. Built for wogs. Depends if you like your woggy houses. Lots of concrete and ornate metal railings. Not my thing, but some people love those wog houses.”

I was floored. Did I hear him right? Had he just said what I thought he said? Should I have said anything back? Reprimanded him for saying something so racist and unprofessional in front of me? 

In the end, I smiled awkwardly and said nothing, unsure of the territory I was in and concerned that I might be in danger of overreacting. With the conversation grinding to a halt, he continued with my check-up.

This encounter took place not long after I arrived in Australia, almost seven years ago. I soon found out that a “wog” is in fact a person of Greek or Italian descent, not quite the meaning it has in the UK.

That said, it wasn’t used in a particularly positive light so I remained troubled by what I’d heard.

The Canucks get it more right

It wasn’t the only such occurrence over the years but, more often than not, I put these incidents down to the Aussie sense of humour or credited it to the way things were done and said here.

Besides references to “wogs” and “lebos” (those of Lebanese descent), jokes about “Abos” (Aborigines) are fairly commonplace. Less common, but also prevalent, are negative comments about folk from other cities and countries (us Brits top of the list of course, closely followed by the Yanks and the Kiwis).

So, in those early weeks and months of living in Australia, I realised I should probably “put up” and “shut up” if I wanted to fit in—but I still felt uneasy. Hadn’t I left the cultural stereotyping of the UK behind for the new world?

I’d also stopped at Canada in between, a country that I think gets it rightor more right than the UK, and certainly Australia, does.

Those who’ve followed my blog may know that I previously posted on how Canada and Australia are separated by more than just water. (The post in fact appeared on Maria Foley’s blog, I was an Expat Wifepart of an Expat Dispatches series.) My view was that Australia preaches tolerance, whereas Canada believes in accepting a person, wherever they’re from or whoever and whatever they are.

How much will (should) I tolerate?

Not so long ago, I read an article by a fellow expat in Australia, Lauren Fritsky, in the UK Telegraph, “Seeing in black and white in Australia.” Originally from the East Coast of the U.S., Lauren expressed her unease and embarrassment at hearing what she perceived as racial “icebreakers” in public. She noted her struggles with the apparent lack of political correctness in Australia and the ease with which some of these terms are used by the local population.

Reading this piece was a reality check: I realised how accustomed I’d become to these casual, throwaway, offhand remarks when they do occur. In fact, I often brush them off as unintentional slurs or said without bad feeling behind them. I mean, what’s so bad about giving a Kiwi or a Yank a bit of stick about where they’re from? And the Poms have been ridiculed for years, much as the Lebos and Westies have.

The problem is that, although these words are as much a part of the light-hearted Aussie vernacular as the barbie or the ute, they sometimes come very close to crossing the lineand often, as is the case with the use of choco or Abo, they do.

It’s important to understand the psyche here, the fact that the culture is based on the premise that “anything goes” and “anyone is fair game”. From the camaraderie at the bar to the casual BBQ setting, the light-hearted work environment to the jovial yet die-hard sports rivalries, all combine to create a “no worries, mate” attitude, inspired by a society that goes with the flow without giving a damn what you might think of them.

Yet to this day I still get tiny flashbacks to my former university days spent in the heart of the multicultural British Midlands, where racist taunts and cultural insensitivity tended to be the norm rather than the exception.

The question remains as to whether the basic attitude of tolerance in Australia is good enough to carry the nation forward in today’s many-cultured world.

There’s quite simply no place in such a beautiful land for ugly attitudes and ignorant opinions, and I can only hope that the odd experience or encounter I’ve had along the way isn’t held by the many but by the inconsequential few.

* * *

Thank you, Russell, for such a thoughtful treatment of this controversial topic. Readers, can you relate to Russell Ward’s experience? Has the cultural stereotyping you’ve encountered in your adopted country made you think twice about settling there? Or have you been tempted to turn a blind eye, putting it down to cultural differences?

A Basingstoke lad born and bred, Russell Ward now has dual citizenship with the UK and Australia. As reported on his blog, he recently left his cubicle job to join an Australian-based team of social media professionals, which permits him to work from home most of the time. That said, he and his family are currently training their way across Canada to TBEX Toronto, courtesy of the Canadian Tourist Commission! A version of the above post originally appeared on Ward’s own blog. We thank him for tweaking it on our behalf.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s “Capital Ideas” post, by Anthony Windram. (Hint: His choice of city pays tribute to the winner of the Eurovision Song Contest 2013, which ended on Saturday.)

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Portrait of woman from MorgueFile; Lighthouse (R) from MorgueFile; Lighthouse (L) from MorgueFile

NEW VS OLDE: The Canadian “R”

Libby Collage New&OldFor just over two years, readers of the Displaced Nation have been following a novel-in-progress by Kate Allison called Libby’s Life. It’s the running diary of Libby Patrick, an Englishwoman who has trailed her spouse to a town just outside Boston. Libby’s Life is rich in Kate’s observations about life in New England vs. England. In the weeks when she doesn’t publish an episode, we plan to feature posts by writers who are sensitive to the often-subtle differences between new and old worlds.

This week: Carolyn Steele, a Brit now living in Canada, whose book, Trucking In English, we reviewed last month.

It’s a useful thing, the Canadian R. There are times that I wish my English way of speaking—my inherent BBC accent—could learn to incorporate it. The technique would have helped a lot with a potentially disastrous spot of linguistic difficulty. The discovery that I am still prone to linguistic difficulty is surprising in itself. I have been through the initial culture shock associated with realizing that no-one in Canada knows that Brits speak a different language. I have come to terms with the fact that old episodes of Are You Being Served on TVO don’t help me when I want to buy petrol, crisps or knickers.

Carolyn Steele, TruckingI came through all that and emerged on the other side the sort of wise and whimsical Brit who uses the language barrier for fun but can turn it off at will when there is serious work to be done. I went native vocabulary-wise and thought I knew it all. Well guess what? Vocabulary isn’t always enough. An inability to produce the Canadian R can get you into just as much trouble as a car with a bonnet.

It all began with an email from a friend; another ex-pat from London, transplanted to Ontario. Another mascot with a quaint accent who entertains all and sundry on a regular basis with jolly misunderstandings of a transatlantic nature. After a few years of gags about putting trunks in the boots and boots in the trunks of our cars, asking for tomatoes that don’t rhyme with potatoes just to confuse people, and clinging doggedly to trousers and torches and lorries, we both considered ourselves adept at mangling the language for pleasure; the deliberate, linguistically delicious cabaret.

Light dawns…or should that be “dorns”?

So, what strange alignment of the planets, which unheard of synchronicity of biorhythms, caused us both to discover in the same week that Canadians pronounce ‘pawn’ and ‘porn’ somewhat differently? Of course, I am very grateful to have received the email. Without it (typed amid tears of glee I understand, after what sounds like a classic cabaret day) I would not have known. And that is the big difference between his story and mine, his listeners put him right. There and then. Embarrassment, laughter, beer, funny anecdote.

Mine were polite. Without the anecdotal email I still might not have known quite how I had managed to horrify a couple of guests at my B&B. I would only have known that they appeared to think me a little strange. If my ex-pat pal had not been among work colleagues who consider it their inalienable right to poke fun, and if he had refrained from kindly sharing the joke with me, I would still be none the wiser.

If you’re not using the Canadian R — be specific.

It might have helped if I had told them I was looking for a TV to upgrade one of our bedrooms but I didn’t. They told me all about their day and I told them all about mine. About finding this great little pawn shop where the people were so friendly and helpful. My guests looked a little nonplussed but smiled encouragingly. They appeared to want me to continue with an explanation, so I did. “They have this great scratch and dent section for electrical goods,” I wittered. “All new stuff, nothing used…and I have a 30 day guarantee too.”

If you are reading this, dear guests, I am truly sorry if you thought I was running a brothel out of the room next to yours. I wasn’t you see; I was a landed immigrant who would have been deported for breaking the law. It was a beautiful little TV and I was delighted with it, I am quite normal really.

I have been practicing my diction ever since. I thought I could be relatively Canadian when I chose, after all I could do a really authentic howarya on the telephone sometimes after a beer or two, so this bothered me. I tried really hard to make ‘pawn’ and ‘porn’ sound different just in case I ever needed to use either word again. Different people thought I was mad but I got there in the end. I run little podcasts on my blog these days and when I listen to them back while editing I can hear the BBC accent plus randomly sprinkled Canadian Rs.

Should I ever frequent a pawn shop again it’ll be ok.

* * *

Readers: what linguistic trouble have you unwittingly landed yourself in?  Please leave your thoughts in the comments!

A Londoner born and bred, Carolyn Steele is now a Canadian citizen and lives in Kitchener, Ontario, where she ran a Bed & Breakfast for five years before trying her hand at negotiating 18-wheelers. Depending on who is asking,  she “maintains that she is either multi-faceted or easily bored”. Confirming this, her résumé states that, in addition to being a lady trucker, she has also been a psychologist and a London Ambulance Service paramedic, while her hobbies include tatting, a form of lace-making. 

Check out her website, Trucking in English, at TruckingTales.com, and/or follow her on Twitter:  @Trucking_Lady

STAY TUNED for next week’s fabulous 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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Images: Picture of Carolyn from herself.

Portrait of woman from MorgueFile; Lighthouse (R) from MorgueFile; Lighthouse (L) from MorgueFile

ENGLAND VS NEW ENGLAND: The arcane laws of taxing and tipping

Libby New EnglandFor just over two years, readers of the Displaced Nation have had the treat of following a novel-in-progress by Kate Allison called Libby’s Life. It’s the running diary of Libby Patrick, an Englishwoman who has trailed her spouse to a town just outside Boston. Libby’s Life is rich in Kate’s observations about life in New England vs. England. In the weeks when she doesn’t publish an episode (she is now up to #75!), we plan to feature posts by writers who are sensitive to the often-subtle differences between new and old worlds. First up: James Murray, a young Brit now living in Boston.

–ML Awanohara

Hey, where did all my money go?

Apparently it’s all to do with my upbringing — I remember with almost preternatural clarity, learning how to shop in an English supermarket. You had a list. You found the things on the list. Where there was an element of choice — this brand of toothpaste or that one — you looked for the special offers.

Only people with money to throw away would ever buy the branded cereal, unless they were on holiday, because really, how much difference is there in taste?

I learned the arts of thrift in Tesco of a Wednesday morning. My guiding words were “2 for 1” and “Special Offer” — and a treat was especially permitted if it was drawn from the holy well of the Reduced section.

Prices — written numbers — were important in those innocent days. They told you clearly and precisely how much you could expect to pay for the things you put in your trolley. You could even add it up as you went around the shop.

Taxed by state taxes

Not so in New England. Here in Massachusetts a quick turn around the supermarket for say $56.59 worth of groceries will actually cost you $60.12 –and unless you happen to be quick with your percentages, you more than likely won’t know how much you’re spending until it’s totaled on the cash register.

This isn’t new to anyone who’s been to pretty much anywhere in the States. Most states have a sales tax, with varying rates, and it’s hardly ever included on the price tag for whatever you’re buying. So if (God forbid) you only have so much cash and you’ve been carefully estimating the total in your head as you go shopping, you might find that you need to leave an item behind when you check out.

I have a healthy fear of being ripped off or paying over the odds. It took me some time to let go of the expectation that I would know exactly how much I was spending — and as soon as I did, I discovered the much larger grey area: tipping.

Price is not only contingent on the face value of an item; it’s also contingent on culture. In the States, as most people know, there is a culture of not paying bar and restaurant staff a living wage, which means that they rely on tips.

The tipping point

When I was tipped as a barman in the UK, it was a perk — a small one. I would have been floored if anyone had tipped me 20 percent and especially floored if they’d insisted on tipping me an extra 60 pence (or a dollar) for each drink I served them — but such is the expectation in New England.

Okay, there are differences to the working culture of bar staff — table service, for one — which mean that the staff actually earn their tips. But it’s often expected even if you order at the bar and do the walking to fetch the food yourself. In terms of hidden costs, a meal out is pretty pricey, especially when there’s that 6.25 percent tax on meals added in there. You basically pay over 125% of the menu price if you’re being a good citizen.

And if you’re coming from the UK, all that this tipping will buy you is a lot of extra attention that you don’t want. The Brits are a private people when it comes to eating out. In our part of the world, good service is characterized by quiet diligence. If we get asked three times in the course of a meal “How is everything?” it just starts to rub us up the wrong way. We begin to ask ourselves: “Why are you asking? Should there be something wrong with it?” They’re just “earning” that tip, but it can initially feel like solicitation.

Tipping also creates unintended outcomes, one being that if you enter smaller bars at peak times and sit down at a table, you will be expected to eat. If you then reveal that you’re actually just after a drink, you might see some of the rudest service you’ve ever experienced. Tables are prime real-estate, where you can cram in the eating customers, which means higher order value, which means more tips.

I’m generalizing of course, but I never used to even think about buying food in most UK pubs, whereas in Boston it’s sometimes hard not to.

Hey, it’s only money!

With the financial anxiety of living on savings (the default position of a new immigrant), I’ve fought the urge to resent the little extra slices of cash that get siphoned off on a daily basis.

My new mantra is not “2 for 1” or “Look for the offers.” Instead I say to myself:

Just let it go — it’s just the way they do things here.

* * *

So, readers, are you surprised as Murray’s sense of displacedness on money matters? Perhaps some repats to the U.S. can also relate? Please leave your thoughts in the comments…

James Murray is a self-described “itinerant Brit.” After a stint in New Zealand, and some travel in Southeast Asia, he and his American girlfriend — now wife — are practicing “staying put” in Boston, where James is pursing a career as a wordsmith for marketing and fiction, and as a non-professional theatre director. He is also a Utopian idealist and SingStar enthusiast. You can find more about his views by reading his blog, Quaint James, and/or following him on Twitter: @quaintjames.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fabulous posts, including a new giveaway!

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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Images from MorgueFile

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