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As an expat, is it my place to join another country’s political protest?

BrazilianProtest_ahpmJust after the street protests broke out in Brazil last month, Megan Farrell, an American who lives in São Paulo with her Brazilian spouse, contributed a guest post to the Displaced Nation.

Megan was very honest in admitting that she had previously taken little notice of politics or social issues in Brazil:

Being displaced … makes it easy to be in a bit of denial.

I, too, am an expat in São Paulo with a Brazilian spouse, albeit from the UK. Like Megan, I didn’t initially involve myself in Brazil’s latest political movement—but my reasoning was a little different from hers.

I’m someone who self-identifies as politically engaged and active. Back in the UK I was a union rep at my workplace and I’ve been involved in protest movements since my student days, the most prominent being those against the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Additionally, as a social worker and student of social sciences, it’s second nature to be socially and politically aware of what is going on around me, whether that be at home or elsewhere.

Why, then, would I be reticent to involve myself in the politics of the protests that were going on around me here in São Paulo?

Not my fight to fight

Despite broadly agreeing with the objectives of the early protests (about a rise in bus fares which as a daily user of public transport, by which I was directly affected), I felt that as a gringo and a guest of Brazil, it wasn’t my place to get involved.

To be honest, I even felt a little reluctant to use social media to post articles or comment upon what was happening, and when I was asked to cover the protests for a site in the UK, my first inclination was to turn it down.

As a foreigner I was sensitive to being seen by Brazilians as poking my nose into their affairs. Additionally, I was also quite aware that there is a lot of history and background behind these protests that I am only, at best, partly aware of.

On top of this, Portuguese is my second language, so whilst I can read it without too much problem, I was apprehensive of inadvertently misconstruing a tweet, newspaper article or blog post, and using ill-informed or partly understood information to inform my opinions.

Eventually, however, I went out on the streets.

What led me to change my mind?

What was my impetus for joining the protests? I think it was seeing the extent of the violence (rubber bullets, tear gas, etc) the police used against what was widely reported as peaceful protest in São Paulo on 13 June.

And it wasn’t just me. The harsh police response was a turning point for many Brazilians as well, because while it may have successfully extinguished the 13 June protest, it also had the converse effect of igniting far broader outrage across the city and the whole of the country. At the same time, it provided an opportunity for a far wider array of grievances to be voiced (most of which Megan notes in her article so I won’t go into them again here).

Once I’d been out on the streets I felt a little bit more confident about joining in the discussion myself. When a couple of photographs I’d posted got a bit of attention on Twitter, and Planet Ivy in the UK—an online news magazine started up by a team of young, adventurous journalists—asked me to cover the protests, I agreed.

A duty to inform the folks back home

My decision was largely influenced by my realization that people at home in the UK—as first my mum and then Planet Ivy made me aware—were largely unaware of what was going on.

In Megan’s post, she mentioned her disbelief at how her friends and family members in the U.S. were still sharing updates on Facebook about their morning meals, their cats, and sports teams:

How could this be? How could they just not care?

Like her, I had the sense of being in the middle of something big and important, and for a while just assumed that everyone else around the world must be aware of it as well.

If I stopped to think about it, of course, no one is ever as interested in an event who are on the scene. But once I realized that there were people out there who wanted or needed to know more, I thought I could do my bit to inform them.

Another motivating factor was the need to correct the widespread misperceptions of the Brazil’s situation—in particular, the negative press the country has been receiving in the UK with regards to its preparations for the 2014 World Cup.

Whilst a fair amount of that criticism has been justified, it occasionally feels as though the UK press has some sort of vendetta against Brazil, with every news story seemingly inferring that “this once again casts doubts about the safety of Brazil and its ability to host a major international event.”

Alas, I thought, even if I am a naïve foreigner living in and writing about Brazil, I could at least provide some insight about what is actually going on at street level.

A closer connection with my adopted land

As an aside to this, one interesting thing about the protests is that they’ve helped alter my perception of the connection I have with São Paulo and Brazil.

Obviously, through my Brazilian wife and my residency in São Paulo, that connection is now much deeper than before. However, and as mentioned in my last post, in the 18 months since moving here I’ve evolved from whining expat (or “exbrat,” as Megan likes to say) to being an avid proponent of my new home.

My decision to join in the nation’s protests—whether participating on the streets or discussing and sharing the issues with people online—was a kind of watershed moment, effectively making the transition complete.

Of course, I’ll always primarily consider myself a Londoner, a Brit and a European (a fact I’m constantly reminded of by my Brazilian friends and family, who refer to me as “the gringo”), but increasingly I feel just as proud to be quasi-Paulistano*.

*People from São Paulo refer to themselves as Paulistanos.

* * *

COMING SOON: Andy’s interview Megan Farrell about her new book on expat life in São Paulo.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, from our travelogue writing coach Jack the Hack.

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: Photo of protesters in São Paulo, June 2103, by Andy Martin. Go to his photo blog to see more.

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An American writer in Brazil is transformed from “exbrat” to politically awakened expat

Sao Paulo June Protests CollageWell, the best-laid plans of mice and menand international creatives—often go astray. Today, instead of Andy Martin interviewing Megan Farrell about her excellent book, American Exbrat in São Paulo: Advice, Stories, Tips and Tricks for Surviving South America’s Largest City, Megan herself will post about the transformational effect that the protests in her adopted country are having on her world outlook. (Not to worry, barring further major events, Andy’s interview with Megan should appear next month.)

—ML Awanohara

For nearly a week solid, I was locked to social media sites, doling out information about the protests in Brazil, via blogs, Facebook and Twitter. Along with other expat friends here in Brazil, I was been trying to make up for the fact that global news outlets were doing little to spread the word about the public demonstrations going on in São Paulo and other large cities.

Like a large percentage of my foreign friends, I have a closer connection to the country than your average expat. I have a Brazilian husband, and though she was born in New York City, a daughter who is a Brazilian national.

Ignorance was bliss

I’ll admit, before June 13, the night when police “lost control,” using rubber bullets against protesters and even journalists covering the events, I had little real knowledge about the injustices occurring in my new home country. I chose not to let such things enter my world.

Being displaced often makes it easy to be removed from your own surroundings.

Being displaced also makes it easy to be in a bit of denial.

But that Thursday night in mid-June, as my husband and I sat in a bar near our apartment and watched as the streets filled with protesters, my perspective on my adopted country changed.

The bar’s manager wasn’t allowing patrons to leave out of fear we would be exposed to the enthusiastic, but angry, crowd—some of whom were attempting to start fires to distract the police from blocking their access to Avenida Paulista, the central thoroughfare of São Paulo.

The protest eventually moved on, and we were able to leave, but my interest in what had initiated this movement lingered.

Not just about 20 centavos

By now, many of you hopefully understand that millions hit the streets of Brazil over more than a bus fare increase. Yes, that act was the catalyst. A 20 centavos increase meant an additional monthly expense of eight reais (R$8 is about US $4). It may not sound like a lot to you and I, but as minimum monthly wage in Brazil is R$675 per month (about US $300), every centavo is accounted for in the household of the working poor (i.e. the emerging middle class).

But the fare increase also speaks to deeper issues concerning the government’s priorities. Many Brazilians are finding it hard to stand by and watch as the government attempts to squeeze them for more, all the while spending millions of dollars on preparing stadiums for the 2014 World Cup—millions more than other countries who have hosted the event. Meanwhile, public services within Brazil remain abominable.

A few examples:

  • Across the country, emergency rooms of public hospitals are filled to the brim with patients hoping to get care, yet doctors have no means to help the majority.
  • Public school teachers often don’t show up to conduct class.
  • Police are untrained and uneducated, often looking to supplement their meager incomes with bribes.
  • Public transportation is decrepit in many cities.

“Its hour come round at last…” W.B. Yeats

As I wrote in my recent book, American Exbrat in São Paulo, one of the more frustrating aspects of living in Brazil can be the Brazilians’ passive attitude on the inefficiencies and transgressions that occurred in their country. Be it that the post office ran out of stamps (again) or the police never showed up when called, a local’s response to this would be some version of, “That’s Brazil.”

So when hundreds of thousands took to the street in protest, with a list of complaints in hand, no one was more surprised than the Brazilians.

The media took it lightly at first, burying the story about a bus far increase in the back of the papers. Then, the focus was on the violence of the demonstrations. But the reality is that when you gather such a large group (everyone was invited by social media), there are bound to be a few who are there to express extreme anger or simply to commit acts of violence.

But as one who sits within the scene, I’ve found the protests mostly peaceful and the intentions positive. The people of Brazil want change and want the world to understand that their country isn’t satisfied with the samba and beach party persona. There are real issues within the nation’s borders that need addressing.

Whither the rest of the world?

As mentioned at the outset of this post, sharing information about the realities of Brazil’s protest movement has become an important objective for me. Friends, both foreign and Brazilian, and I have been passing along videos, news articles and photos that depict the main events as well as the sentiments of the people.

Many of us who have blogs about being in Brazilmine is Born Again Brazilianhave written posts on these topics. For instance, I have just posted on Dilma Vana Rousseff, president of Brazil, who has stood in support of the Brazilian protesters.

Yet many friends and family members in the U.S. were still sharing updates on Facebook about their morning meals, their cats, sports teams, and other notices. These felt like irrelevant nonsense. How could this be? How could they just not care?

But then I recalled that I have friends in Turkey, who are going through the current protests. I have friends with family members who are in Greece and must have lived through the two years of protest in that country. I know little about what is happening in Ethiopia, where the first large-scale protest since 2005 has just broken out. And before June 13th, I was blissfully sharing little more than food photos and trip pics.

It is easy to be self-absorbed, content to contemplate the details of one’s own little world. It is even easier as an expat, when so much of your surroundings are of an unfamiliar nature. You take comfort in that which is close to home.

But now I have a different attitude and think about my power to disseminate information. It’s satisfying to share the details of what goes on in the politics of this country and have people you know respond positively.

But it is as important, especially for those of us who have an audience through blogs and other outlets, to keep tabs on what is happening elsewhere in the world and use our skills to move toward justice and peace.

This episode in Brazilian history has changed me forever.

Or so I hope…

* * *

Readers, any questions or comments for Megan about what she is experiencing? Have you had any similar moments of political (re)awakening—or do you not “do” politics as an expat?

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, a new episode in our Capital Ideas series, by Anthony Windram.

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: Surrounding Megan Farrell (aka Maggie Foxhole) and her book cover photo are several photos taken by TDN writer Andy Martin. Go to his photo blog to see more.

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!

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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

And the April 2013 Alices go to … these 5 international creatives

 © Iamezan | Dreamstime.com Used under license

© Iamezan | Dreamstime.com
Used under license

As subscribers to our weekly newsletter, The Displaced Dispatch, may have noticed, we are now presenting our “Alice Awards” in that esteemed publication. Each week, we give an “Alice” to someone who has a special handle on the the curious and unreal aspects of the displaced life of global residency and travel. Not only that, but they have used their befuddlement as a spur to creativity of all kinds.

Today’s post honors our first five Alice recipients, beginning with the most recent and this time including citations.

So, without further ado: The April 2013 Alices went to …

1) MICHELLE GARRETT, expat blogger

Source:Has Your Expat Life Inspired You To Write A Book?” in Expat Focus (e-zine for anyone moving or living abroad)
Posted on: 19 April 2013
Snippet:

By definition is an “expat novel” about an expat? Or does it need to be more than that—does an expat novel need to be about an expat experiencing expat life? You know, the culture shock, the language differences, the homesickness …

I have always written and always wanted to be a Writer so for me the motivation to write a novel was more about “you want to write? Start by writing what you know’” rather than, “I’m an expat with adventures—I think I’ll write about them!”

Citation: Should we expats write books about the wonderlands we’ve experienced on our travels, or should we write because we enjoy writing (and just so happen to live abroad)? Michelle, you’re sounding a little Mad Hatterish by posing this riddle with no answer, and we feel duty bound to point out that Alice herself felt that her adventures could be worth writing about:

When I used to read fairy-tales, I fancied that kind of thing never happened, and now here I am in the middle of one! There ought to be a book written about me, that there ought!

But listen, if our enjoyment of your blog, The American Resident, is any indication, we’re going to love the novel you’re writing about an expat woman but that isn’t an expat novel. We also look forward to your book of tips for expats with long and sad tales, like the Mouse’s.

2) JUDY LEE DUNN, award-winning blogger on blogging and former humanitarian aid worker

Source:Judy Lee Dunn on words, maps, and inspiration“—an interview with Judy conducted by author Lisa Ahn (notably, Lisa’s own favorite words are “once upon a time”!).
Posted on: 17 April 2013
Snippet:

For as long as I can remember, I have been enchanted by the power of words to transport readers to a world they don’t yet know.

And when I was a child, maps were a metaphor for a world I had not yet seen …

Whenever my two passions intersected, I was truly inspired. As manager of Writing Resources for World Vision, words and maps perfectly converged to send me to West Africa as part of a documentary team to tell the stories of projects helping third world families become self-sufficient. …

Now, I’ve finally reached the point where I am putting together the pieces of my life, word by word, shining a light on one of the recurring themes of my life. Finding just the right words to express a life map of sorts: to understand where I started and where I am going.

Citation: Judy, we feel certain you would approve of our fondness for Lewis Carroll, believing as you do in the power of words to transport us to other worlds (and also having worked as a first-grade teacher!). We’re with you on the map thing, too, as evidenced by our “Here be dragons” banner. And we love the idea of someone who has worked abroad, as you have (in West Africa), writing a “life map.” May we borrow this term?

3) ANN PATCHETT, best-selling American author

Source:What now? Advice on Writing and Life from Ann Patchett“—a post by Maria Popova on her Brain Pickings blog, containing extracts from Patchett’s 2006 commencement address at Sarah Lawrence, which has been published as a book, What Now?
Snippet:

Coming back is the thing that enables you to see how all the dots in your life are connected, how one decision leads you to another, how one twist of fate, good or bad, brings you to a door that later takes you to another door, which aided by several detours—long hallways and unforeseen stairwells—eventually puts you in the place you are now. … But when you look ahead there isn’t a bread crumb in sight—there are just a few shrubs, a bunch of trees, a handful of skittish woodland creatures.

Citation: Ann, we know you intended your words for the ears of graduates from your alma mater, but they could easily apply to us displaced types, who spend a good deal of our time feeling lost and clueless. You go on to say: “Sometimes not having any idea where we’re going works out better than we could possibly have imagined.” What a marvelous assertion! Far more reassuring than the series of unhelpful responses Alice elicits from the Cheshire Cat after asking him: “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” (What’s more, you’ve followed your own advice, booking a trip to the Amazon as soon as you decided to set your sixth novel there.)

4) LAINIE LIBERTI, world traveler and blogger

Source:Reentry Observations—Washington DC,” an entry on her blog, Raising Milo on the Road of Life—a single mom and son’s nomadic adventures as they travel around the world together.
Posted on: 29 March 2013
Snippet:

I imagined this country’s politicians, their assistants, their staff, all rushing away from the Capital, eager to go somewhere else. I imagined this was the group of stressed people who were running the United States of America. … I clearly have a different feeling about the United States now. I feel as if I’m on foreign soil. I don’t perceive the energy as welcoming.

Citation: Lainie, your description of Washington VIPs dashing about reminds us of Alice’s encounters with the White Rabbit. And we join you in wondering: don’t they realize that someday their actions will seems as trivial as some might perceive the ancient cultures of Peru? (Certainly puts it in perspective!)

5) LAURA J. STEPHENS, psychotherapist and author

Source: “Overcoming Isolation,” an entry on her author blog (she is the author of An Inconvenient Posting: an expat wife’s memoir of lost identity).
Posted on: 9 March 2013
Snippet:

For me, there was nothing in my experience quite so isolating as arriving in an unfamiliar country and trying to orientate myself, whilst experiencing the losses of “home” and all the while thinking I should be grateful for my new existence.

Citation: Laura, it’s great to know that someone out there understands the tendency for us expat Alices to declare “I am so very tired of being all alone here!” and then to suffer “pool of tears” moments… Not only that, but you provide practical tips to keep from drowning. What more can we ask?

* * *

So, readers, do you have a favorite from the above, and do you have any posts you’d like to see among May’s Alice Awards? We’d love to hear your suggestions! And don’t miss out on these weekly sources of inspiration. Get on our subscription list now!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post—more writing advice from Jack (the Hack) Scott!

Writers and other international creatives: If you want to know in advance whether you’re one of our Alice Award winners, sign up to receive The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with news of book giveaways, future posts, and of course, our weekly Alice Award!. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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RANDOM NOMAD: Andy Martin, UK-qualified Social Worker, Football Geek & Now a São Paulo Resident

Andy_MartinPlace of birth: Chatham, Kent, United Kingdom
Passport: UK
Overseas history: Brasil (São Paulo): February 2012 – present. I also had a period of travel around South America between 2007 and 2008.
Occupation: NGO Volunteer, English teacher, blogger
Cyberspace coordinates: The book is on the table: An Englishman’s guide to living in São Paulo (blog) and @andyhpmartin (Twitter handle).

What made you give up London for São Paulo?
For some reason — probably because I’m a massive football geek — I had always wanted to go to South America, and so when I found out that one of my best friends was planning to travel there, it took very little persuasion for me to tag along. Then whilst there I met my future wife, who is Brazilian, and it all got a bit more complicated.

First she moved to live with me in the UK. We got married and stayed in London for three years. However, she had deferred her degree in Brazil to move to London, where I had a job as a social worker. I am a qualified social worker and spent almost nine years working in various social or community work roles. For most of that time I specialized in supporting refugees and asylum seekers. But when my job became uncertain due to government cuts (due to the economic crisis), it seemed like the perfect opportunity to move to Brazil so that my wife could finally get everything finished.

So now you’re a trailing spouse. Does anyone in your immediate family share that fate, or do they all live in the UK?
When I first traveled to South America in 2007, I was pretty much the first person in my entire family who had ever traveled outside of Europe, so I can’t really say there’s any significant history or influence of having the urge to want to explore or become “displaced.”

You haven’t been in São Paulo for long, but can you pinpoint a moment when you have felt displaced?
I had been to São Paulo twice before I moved here and I was already quite familiar with South America as a whole, so was pretty well prepared for what to expect — although there’s no doubting that living somewhere and just visiting are entirely different things.

But if I had to pick one thing, it wouldn’t be a moment but more the constant challenge of living somewhere where you are unable to speak your mother tongue. We Brits are notoriously bad at learning languages, and I can barely remember any of the French or German I learned at school. I did learn some Spanish whilst traveling in 2007, and in some ways this helped because of its similarities with Portuguese, although on the other hand it was also a hindrance because of their very many differences.

Not being able to fully communicate your thoughts is obviously very frustrating and when you’re having a bad day, it just intensifies your sense of displacement and dislocation. Fortunately, Brazilians are pretty intrigued by people (especially those from the “West”) who have moved to Brazil and are trying to learn Portuguese. They’re often very forgiving when you make mistakes. It also helps that many Brazilians themselves tend not to speak grammatically correct Portuguese, so in effect your own mistakes are just contributing towards the evolution of the language (that’s what I like to convince myself, anyway!).

When have you felt the least displaced?
One of the things I love about Brazilians is their general informality. As someone who’s never worked in an office or a suit, I feel right at home. For example, people are often referred to by their nicknames (even the former President was) and rarely, if ever, by their surnames. Also, Brazilians tend not to make a big deal out of social occasions — it’s more about making sure you’re surrounded by the people who matter to you. As long as there’s cold beer, everyone’s happy.

How could you not feel at ease?

You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from the country where you’ve lived into The Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
Again, as a self-confessed football nerd, I think it would have to be my collection of football shirts. I have one from pretty much every country I’ve been to, and I’ve lost count of how many I’ve acquired in South America.

You are invited to prepare a meal for the Displaced Nation, based on your travels. What’s on the menu?

Starter: Salgadinhos (savoury snacks) are fantastic so a platter of these, including:

Main: It’d have to be a churrasco (Brazilian BBQ). That may sound pretty unimaginative, but once you’ve had a Brazilian BBQ, especially those from the south, you’ll forever wonder why it took you so long to do so.
Dessert: A selection of some of Brazil’s finest (and weirdest looking) fruits. Believe me, I’ve seen fruits in the markets here which look like they have been imported from Mars. They taste great, though.
Drinks: Brazil’s most famous cocktail, a caipirinha, which is a hangover-inducing concoction of cachaça (sugar cane rum), lime, sugar and ice. Refreshing, tasty and deceptively lethal.

Now that you are hard at work learning the language, can you donate a Brazilian Portuguese word or expression to the Displaced Nation’s argot?
Tudo bem? This is pretty much said every time you greet someone in Brazil and literally translates as “Is everything okay?” It reflects quite nicely, as I mentioned previously, how Brazilians prefer to keep things simple and informal.

This month, we’ve been focusing on the need for mentors: people who teach us what we need to know, or remind us of things we have buried deep. Have you found discovered any new mentors, whether physically present or not, in your life abroad?
As mentioned in my guest post this month for the Displaced Nation, when I’m going through a period where I’m missing home or things get tough, I often think about some of the kids I worked with back home in London (in my last job I worked with unaccompanied minors from countries such as Afghanistan).

Thinking about the challenges they as young kids faced after fleeing their home countries — but then still being able, on the whole, to go on and make the most of their new lives — always helps me to put into perspective the things I tend to moan or stress about here, in what is fortunately a much easier experience of displacement.

Apart from that, I read as widely as possible. For instance, I recently really enjoyed Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel.

If you had all the money and time in the world, what topic(s) would you choose to study in your adopted country?
I guess, given my pre-existing interest and work experiences with migration, I’d like to study the history of migration to Brazil. Brazil is a country defined by (im)migration — for example, my wife has indigenous, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese heritage, a mix that is is pretty normal for Brazilians. It would be fascinating to piece it all together in order to get a more holistic understanding of who Brazilians really are.

I’ve always wanted to do a PhD, so who knows, maybe this might be my research proposal one day!

Readers — yay or nay for letting Andy Martin into The Displaced Nation? A social worker who is taking lessons from the Brazilians on how to be more social? Who is used to helping the displaced and is now displaced himself — so may be in need of our help? (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Andy — find amusing!)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, an expat take on the muses of Classical Antiquity.

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Img: Andy Martin travels within his native land (the Norfolk Broads, 2010), a couple of years before his expatriation.

Do refugees and migrants have anything in common with us expats? No, and yes…

displacedvdisplacedBelieve it or not, the Displaced Nation has occasional qualms about whether “displaced” is the right word to describe a group of expats and internationalists. What does a group of privileged travelers have in common with refugees or migrants who’ve had no choice but to leave their homelands? We thought we’d begin the new year by touching on this vexed question, this time with the help of a mentor, Andy Martin. Andy is now an expat in Brazil, but he previously worked with refugees in London.

— ML Awanohara

Before moving to Brazil in February 2012 I worked with refugees as a social worker in the UK, and my last job entailed supporting unaccompanied minors: children as young as 11 who flee conflicts and persecution in countries such as Afghanistan — on their own.

And it is of them that I remind myself when I reflect upon my own struggles and anxieties at being “displaced” from my own country. Suddenly, my tongue-in-cheek British moans about uncomfortable buses and lopsided pavements (yes, pavements), or my frustrations with struggling to learn Portuguese, seem trivial when contrasted with the experiences of the young people I worked with.

Given this, it would seem bizarre for a rich (relatively) migrant like myself to even contemplate comparing my experiences of displacement with those who flee poverty, persecution or some other unimaginably unfortunate situation that most of us will thankfully never have to experience.

Or is it?

Well, I guess the differences are probably easier to distinguish — for example:

1) The reasons for the migration

Whilst refugees are forcibly displaced through circumstances outside of their control, more fortunate gringos like myself possess far greater agency when it comes to the motives for our movements: love, jobs, travel, etc.

2) The journey itself

Forcibly displaced people often leave their homes unexpectedly with no belongings, or else hurriedly sell whatever possessions and land they have in order to fund their flight, whilst my wife and I had carefully planned our move for over two years (well, we read a few books and, to be fair, she is Brazilian herself — which helps).

What’s more, the route a refugee takes is often perilous, taking months or even years, and in turn may comprise many different means of movement: on foot, by car, on overcrowded boats, airtight lorries or refrigerated trucks. On top of that, their destinies also usually lie in the hands of people smugglers.

My wife and I, though, as middle-earners in the UK, booked our flight with a click of our laptop, and the path from our flat in London to our new life in São Paulo was no more than a day’s inconvenience — and a relatively smooth and comfortable one at that.

I had the cabin crew to serve me unlimited amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon and my biggest anxiety was which of the in-flight films to watch: Moneyball or Midnight in Paris?

3) The arrival at the new destination

Refugees are typically at the complete mercy of the host countries they successfully manage to reach. Most likely, they are from countries for which there are strict immigration controls and they are typically confronted not with empathy but with a culture of disbelief — yes, 11-year-old kids from Afghanistan with no family.

A British citizen like myself meanwhile, merely through my place of birth, possesses a passport that requires one of the fewest number of visas to travel around the world. Even when there is a requirement, particularly to live or work, it’s often pretty straightforward.

Refugees, though, even if they are granted some form of status, will by the nature of their former lives typically have to start from scratch, their qualifications often meaningless (that’s if they can even prove them) — and thus with access to only menial jobs and bottom-of-the-rung housing.

And then, once they’re settled, the mental scars from the trauma they’ve experienced will slowly emerge.

Fortunately for me — with the education I’ve received, the qualifications I’ve gained and the work experience I’ve accumulated — I’ll be in a far better position to start my dream life abroad.

Just take me to the beach already!

* * *

So far, so different then.

Is it really possible then that the experiences of forcibly displaced people can ever be compared to those whose displacement is chosen?

Well, yes, I think they can. Here’s a couple of ways we are similar:

1) The requisite adjustments to a new culture

One of the fascinating things about my job back in London was listening to people describe their reactions and adjustments to their strange new worlds. And, as you can imagine, the youthful frankness of the kids I worked with often made these accounts hilarious and, perhaps, more honest.

For example, I remember one young person seemed bemused as to why on one particularly hot day (well, relatively anyway) in London, so many people were stripping off their clothes and heading to the local park to sunbathe. He only realized why when by the next time I had seen him, there had been subsequently been 20 successive days of rain in London.

“Welcome to the UK,” I joked.

2) The occasional bouts of homesickness

It wasn’t, of course, just the things they were discovering which were intriguing, it was also what they were missing. For some it was their homelands, for others it was speaking their language, whilst often it was specific things like their mother’s home cooking, although most commonly it was the weather — of course.

However, a common and I guess obvious sadness amongst all of them was missing people — whether that be their friends, family or both.

* * *

In sum, writing my blog over the past year has made me realize that despite our very many differences all migrants share some common behaviors: that of exploring, adjusting and, inevitably, comparing (in my case moaning), as well as reflecting upon the losses we have to make in order to get to where we are.

At the same time, I’ve also acknowledged that my own anxieties are not trivial just because they might seem so in comparison. They are real and probably shared by many people. However, thinking about those kids back in the UK just gives me the motivation to try even harder.

Thank you, Andy, for that reality check! Readers, what did you think of Andy’s analysis?

British by birth and slowly becoming a little more Brazilian each day after moving to São Paulo a year ago with his Brazilian wife, Andy Martin is also a qualified social worker in the UK, who specialized in supporting refugees in negotiating the process of displacement. Now, as a migrant himself, he is finding out whether any of the advice he gave them was of any use in the first place. Andy is also known to drink tea, warm beer and play cricket, none of which Brazilians seem to be massively convinced by. You can learn more about him by following his blog, The book is on the table, and/or following him on Twitter: @andyhpmartin.

STAY TUNED for next week’s posts.

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Images: The photo of the boy is from Morguefiles; the other photo is of Andy Martin (his own).

The accidental repatriate on the 2012 elections: Looking back — and forward

The Displaced Nation’s coverage of the 2012 U.S. elections would hardly be complete without a post by our accidental repatriate, Sezin Koehler — who, to add yet another whammy to her many counter culture shocks, had to cast her vote in the District of the Hanging Chads. Please note: Although Sezin always gets our vote, her opinions are her own, not necessarily those of the Displaced Nation.

The last time I voted in the United States was the disastrous 2000 election in which George W. Bush effectively stole the race from Al Gore, all on account of “hanging chads” and allegations of voter fraud in Florida.

That election was actually the first time I ever voted, and the polling station was even in my place of residence for my final year at the Occidental College (in Los Angeles) — at the Women’s Center. I cast my ballot with shaking hands: my dear friend Wendy had been murdered just the week before and I had returned from her funeral in Texas only a few days before the election.

Emotional to the max.

The long — and nightmarish — march to Election Day

My accidental repatriation in December of 2011 brought me right smack dab in the middle of the so-called American election season. I had completely forgotten that, unlike many European and other governments which only allow campaigning for a short period directly before the election (for example, in the Czech Republic it’s a mere six weeks), the USA has no such rules.

And worse, the addition of Super PACs — a new loophole passed in 2010 that allows for an organization to indirectly campaign for the candidate of their choice, spending as much money as they can raise — brought home a frightening new reality for me in the form of the corporatization of our government. The Campaign-Industrial Complex.

Further, I would actually be voting in the same Florida district that was under such great contention in 2000.

Horror mounting, I watched President Obama forced to make his birth certificate public even though his opponents kept their tax records secret. The outright lies about the president being a Muslim, socialist, un-American, and so on swirled around me in the conservative pocket of Florida in which I live. Every other commercial on television was an attack ad, each more vicious than the last. It was becoming clearer and clearer: the problems people here (and Republicans) have with the president comes down to the color of his skin.

Bumper stickers like “Re-Nig 2012” and “Put the WHITE back in the WHITE HOUSE” adorned some of the cars in my neighborhood, so proud were some of the anti-Obamaites of their willful ignorance.

After voting from abroad all these years, it was a complete shock to the system to be confronted daily with the dysfunctional American political system.

I asked myself over and over: How is it possible that I’d ended up here?

From jitters to jubilation

As the presidential debates unfolded it became more and more clear that Romney and Obama represented two distinct visions for the future of this country. Mitt Romney’s a plan to bolster the already wealthy and set women’s rights back to the 1950s. President Obama’s to continue the slow going of getting the country out of the mess his predecessor left behind as well as get the United States in line with the rest of the developed world by providing things like affordable healthcare and protecting the rights of women.

Clearly, a very Divided States of America.

Election Day loomed ever nearer and my anxiety levels were through the roof, stomach in knots, wondering which America its citizens would choose.

When I went to cast my ballot I was shaking so terribly my husband had to hold me up and help me to my voting seat. It only occurred to me afterwards that my body remembered the trauma of 12 years ago, right down to a terrifying election.

After leaving the polling station, my husband and I wandered around in a daze. Waiting for results felt like years passing by. Every bit of news a cause for momentary relief or stark panic. As the first reports — from Fox News no less! — said Obama had been re-elected, we were still too scared to get excited. It wasn’t until Mitt Romney finished his acceptance of defeat speech that I stood up and cheered.

We had won.

I’ve never in my left felt such a feeling of sweet relief. I hadn’t given America enough credit. There are more than enough Americans like me, concerned about healthcare, women’s rights, human rights, to balance out the conservatives! Hallelujah!

However, that didn’t stop the losing party taking to social media and proving what we’ve known for ages: their biggest problem with the president is that he’s African-American. I predict it’s the beginning of the end for the Republican and Tea Parties.

Gee…am I no longer displaced?!

Though it took five days for us to get the Florida results! WTF?! Seriously, developing countries get election results quicker than that! And President Obama even won here, in spite of Governor Rick Scott’s illegal attempts to disenfranchise black and Hispanic voters by sending out mailers with the wrong election date, purging voter rolls, and making it generally difficult for Obama-supporting areas to vote.

Amazing. I moved to a Republican state and even with all their tampering, it is now Democrat. I feel instantly better about where I live. Just like that.

In these seven days since the Obama victory I’ve lost five+ pounds without doing anything, the weight of incredible stress that’s simply melted off. I’ve been sleeping better than I have in years. My husband tells me I’m even snoring, something I’ve only done when with cold!

So, after a miserable first year in Florida coupled with an absurdly harrowing “election season,” I finally feel there is reason to hope in this country’s future and my own place within these red and blue borders.

Sezin Koehler, author of American Monsters, is a woman either on the verge of a breakdown or breakthrough writing from Lighthouse Point, Florida. Culture shock aside, she’s working on four follow-up novels to her first, progress of which you can follow on her Pinterest boards. Her other online haunts are Zuzu’s Petals‘, Twitter, and Facebook — all of which feature eclectic bon mots, rants and raves.

STAY TUNED for Tuesday’s post, announcing this month’s book giveaways.

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Images: From Morguefile, apart from the one of Sezin Koehler, which is her own.

The accidental repatriate

Last time Sezin Koehler wrote for us, she was bidding farewell to “strange, Lovecraftian” Prague, where she and her husband had lived for four years. Also in the Czech Republic, Koehler succeeded in producing her first (horror) novel, American Monsters. After a short stint in Germany, the couple is now saying hello to sunny, but bugbear-filled, Florida. Koehler describes the emotional transition.

When I left the US for Europe in 2002 I had no intention of ever again living in America. Violence, backwards politics, a horrible job market, and a provincial outlook on the world made an extreme contrast with my global, Third Culture Kid background. I am half American, half Sri Lankan, and my mother worked for UNICEF, so the family lived all over the world.

Not to mention I was suffering from extreme post-traumatic stress disorder after witnessing the murder of a dear friend when the two of us were robbed at gunpoint by a gang banger in Hollywood.

Ten years later and a forced repatriation determined by economics rather than desire, I am at a loss for how much worse off this country is since I left. I know a decade is a long time — but surely not long enough to usher in political rhetoric that would take this nation back to pre-1950s? My mind boggles.

One big dark nation

Gun violence has ever increased — to the point where we find so-called Stand Your Ground laws that allow citizens to kill each other with impunity, under the guise of “I felt threatened” — even when that threat consists merely of a young African-American boy, armed with nothing but iced tea and a bag of Skittles.

I’m back in the world of mad gunmen going on shooting sprees. Sikhs mistaken for Muslims and murdered. Women getting abducted and raped at gunpoint while waiting for a bus — this happened just recently not far from where I live.

Post-9/11 America has seen the sharpest increase in the infringement of civil liberties as matters of homeland security and anti-terrorism. The arrests of journalists covering Occupy Wall Street events brought the US’s rank of journalistic freedom down 27 points, putting the country at 47, just behind Comoros and Romania.

Xenophobia abounds as states pass laws against the teaching of ethnic studies, and even literature written by Native and Mexican Americans, in schools. Such developments are exponentially more ironic when considering that this country’s immigrant history.

The worst (and rudest!) of times

After college it took me almost a year to get a proper job. Upon returning, I’ve had trouble securing even a retail job: all applications are now submitted online and don’t give you an option to upload a cover letter or even your full resume. Not only are American jobs outsourced to China, the application process has been tech-sourced to boot, as machines vet your application — even if you live right down the street from the store to which you’re applying.

I was shocked to find that retail jobs pay exactly what they did a whole ten years ago. Way to move forward, America.

America might have progressed in terms of technology; I see a smart phone in every hand. However, common courtesy has gone out the window as people text, Facebook, Tweet, right in the middle of an actual face-to-face interaction, without even a twinge of remorse.

Call me old fashioned, or a kindred spirit to Hannibal Lecter, in believing it’s the epitome of rude to fiddle with one’s phone (or any other such object of distraction) whilst another human being is talking to you.

The wheels on the bus go back-backwards.

Monsters are the best friends I ever had

To add insult to injury, I find myself in a particularly devoid area of Florida, easily one of the most vapid places on the planet. Plastic people who can spend an hour telling you about their lunch salad are the antithesis of the cultured individuals with whom I spent my time while living elsewhere.

Who would have thought the rabbit hole I fell down when I left Prague would lead to a place scarily resembling Hell, with its torturous circles and its staggering temperatures?

Each day I force myself to review the positives:

It seems incredible that the America I left ten years ago — the one that traumatized me so badly — is actually a better version than the one in which I live now.

So frustrated have I been by absurd American conservatism and the zombie hordes of consumerism around me, I’ve resorted to a new persona: Zuzu Grimm, a creature who writes wicked dystopic visions of where this country is headed if it continues down this current path of willful ignorance and fear mongering.

Bored now

But that’s not been the only struggle: For years I defined myself as an expat. My blog was filled with anthropological tales of living in Switzerland, France, Spain, Turkey, the Czech Republic and Germany. More than that: stories of growing up in Sri Lanka, Zambia, Thailand, Pakistan, India.

While I’m still a Third Culture Kid — never really at home anywhere — my expat identity became a cornerstone of who I was. It worked, and was so much less confusing to explain. The expat label made me feel ultimately more interesting. Writing a novel in Prague sounds infinitely more exotic than writing from an essentially retiree community of ten thousand.

Oy vey.

Accepting that this is who I am now, and this is where I am, has been even harder than the absolute culture shock upon repatriation.

Being an expat gives a person a sense of uniqueness that may or may not be deserved. Yes, you’re a foreigner who must negotiate language/cultural/social barriers. But it’s also your choice. And for many people economics determines whether you can or can’t participate.

Kind of like having kids. You can complain all you want about how hard it is, but it’s something you elected to do, not something that was forced upon you.

(Well…unless Republicans head up the White house; with their insane ideas on abortion there’ll be thousands more women forced to carry rapists’ babies to term. Disgusting. Terrifying. Yet another grotesque example of the New America I find on return.)

I’m nobody, who are you?

My former life as an expat has taken on so many more shades of meaning as I consider how it must have seemed to those in my position right now: How glamorous. How decadent. How lucky. How dare they criticize my government when they’ve jumped ship. I have to live here. I’m thousands of dollars in debt. I don’t have the luxury of leaving.

Maybe one day when my husband wins the lottery, that’s just what we’ll do. Leave. Maybe for Buenos Aires, or Addis Ababa. Maybe in the meantime we’ll find a better city in the US, one that offers more by way of creativity, culture, and history — the things I miss most about life in Europe.

Until then, I have to make peace with being plain old Sezin Koehler who lives in and writes from Florida. Hopefully some time soon I’ll be okay with that. Any minute now. It’s going to happen.

That’s fine. I’ll wait.

And pray I don’t get sick in the meantime, because even with Obamacare, I still can’t afford health insurance.

Sezin Koehler, author of American Monsters, is a woman either on the verge of a breakdown or breakthrough writing from Lighthouse Point, Florida. Culture shock aside, she’s working on four follow-up novels to her first, progress of which you can follow on her Pinterest boards. Her other online haunts are Zuzu’s Petals‘, Twitter, and Facebook — all of which feature eclectic bon mots, rants and raves.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, another displaced Q from anti-foodie Tony James Slater.

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: Sezin Koehler in St. Petersburg, Florida, by Steven Koehler (2012).

THE DISPLACED Q: Does living abroad make you more or less patriotic?

Now then, this IS an interesting question. Very topical, especially for me, as the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee is still being televised ad infinitum here in Australia. It’s almost like the networks can’t get enough of it. At one point this week it was on three channels simultaneously!

I’m not normally very patriotic — my opinions on the state of England and the UK are…well, let’s just say, that’s why I moved to Australia!

And yet — as I watch the parades, listen to the crowds shrieking, and imagine the atmosphere outside Buckingham Palace, part of me thinks: maybe I should be there? It is my home after all…and whatever else I end up being, I will always be British as well. I can’t imagine giving it up completely — it’s my history, man! And there are still things I do love about the old country. It’s an awfully pretty place, for one thing! It’s not England’s fault it’s being run into the ground by a bunch of idiots.

Mark Twain said:

Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.

Transferred loyalties

Oddly enough, I sometimes transfer my loyalties to wherever I call home, at least temporarily. It helps me to feel more involved with the local culture when I’m in a place, and I’m the kind of guy who’s more than happy celebrate whatever makes their country great as well.

In Thailand, for the King’s birthday, I kidnapped a gigantic yellow flag and fastened it to the back of my scooter. I saw nothing wrong with committing a minor offense to display my support for their monarch. And neither did the local police — they stopped me to applaud my efforts!

In Australia it goes without saying that I celebrate their national holiday, Australia Day. I do it for two reasons: first, I genuinely love Australia and all it stands for — it’s why I moved here as soon as I could! I really believe in their attitude to government, their national traits and their value system. Australia IS great, and it works. I think that’s quite rare in the world, and deserves recognition.

Oh and the second reason? Well, you celebrate Australia Day by going out in the sunshine, down to the river, and getting drunk. It’s not like it’s much of a hardship to get involved. 😉

But Britain is “great” — isn’t it?

Back to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. I hear stirring speeches from celebrities and Royal Family members, and feel…I dunno. Uplifted? Triumphant? It’s hard not to feel a tickle of pride when the eyes of the whole world are on the monarch of my tiny island.

But is it rose-tinted glasses that make me tear just a little, as the cameras zoom in on the Queen smiling at a joke from the commentator? Am I just caught up in the fever of the moment? The rest of England is going crazy for this. It’s hard not to feel just a little infected by it. But what exactly is it that I’m feeling? Mere nostalgia? Fond memories and a touch of homesickness?

As already mentioned, there’s plenty of reason not to feel pride in the country of my birth. There’s also plenty going wrong in England at the moment. The wages are terrible, unemployment is rampant, the economy is in the dumps. In my humble opinion, the UK is falling apart.

But the Jubilee itself was quite stirring, inspiring even, a reminder of all that was Great about Britain, and perhaps could be again.

Then again, I can’t help but remember that the Ancient Romans had the same idea: when the masses are starving in the streets, give them GAMES! A spectacle to take their mind off the hunger, to remind them of what a glorious empire they belong to — give them a taste of grandeur whilst they’re dying in the gutters.

Okay, so that’s a pretty cynical view to take. Hey, I’m here to play the Devil’s Advocate too, right?

So here’s my question to you kind folks: does being displaced — or out of your “home” country for any reason — make you feel MORE or LESS patriotic? And why is that?

Tell me what you think in the comments, or feel free to hit me up on Twitter at @TonyJamesSlater.

STAY TUNED for our next post, which will be on Monday.

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Image: MorgueFile

Keeping yourself earthed: Expats and Earth Day

We should do a post on Earth Day. It fits in with the celebration theme we have for this month, in honor of The Displaced Nation’s first birthday

The brainchild of Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. senator from Wisconsin, Earth Day was established in 1970 — a year that also gifted world culture with bell-bottom trousers and Jon Pertwee’s itineration as the third Dr Who — as a day to engage the public about air and water pollution. From these beginnings it has grown into a day observed by groups and people throughout the world to celebrate the environment and raise awareness of the dangers our planet faces. This Sunday is Earth Day’s 42nd anniversary. The event will be marked with an amusingly inventive doodle on the google homepage and by NBC turning its normally multi-colored peacock logo green. Hallmark will once again fail to capitalize on the day as perhaps they might wish to. This will lead to high-level discussions in the Hallmark marketing department.

it seems to be just the sort of thing that our expat readership would think is a good cause

The vast majority of people agree that not f***ing up the environment is a good idea. Admittedly there may be disagreement over the means by which you do that, and the extent of the problem, but in principle most people would seem to think of Earth Day as  a fairly decent, mostly harmless idea.

…in fact, its just the sort of thing that expats are into. You see, I think expats are more concerned about the environment.

With absolutely no studies to back up the assertion, it was suggested here to me, in the corner of the Internet we call The Displaced Nation, that Earth Day would be a good topic for me to consider writing a post about as expats, so we thought to ourselves, are possibly more attuned to the environment that those mundane muggles known as non-expats.

Theyve just traveled more widely, experienced a bit more.

So I find myself sitting down ready to write this piece. My “notes” if we can call them that, consists of a half-baked observation written on a torn piece of notepaper about all the gas-guzzling trucks people in my current locale (California) seem to love driving. It eloquently reads, “ubiquity of big trucks.”

Added to this is a later notation, a parenthetical thought, where I write that the sights of these unnecessary trucks make me nauseous.

So that’s all I’ve got as I try and knock out this post, but I don’t get far as it seems that this idea that we’re, as I assume if you’re reading this blog you’re an expat, somehow better from my truck-driving neighbors is complete and utter tosh.

Theyre more in tune with whats going on

Now I admit that not all expats are equal, and what I am going to write about doesn’t apply to migrant workers who have left a home country that is undeveloped in a search of a better pay in a more developed country. Neither do I include those individuals who are living in foreign climes doing environmental work. No, what I am concerned about is the self-satisfied expat. You know the type — the sort that decides to start a blog about their experiences because their observations are just so damn important that they need to be read by others. In other words, the likes of me, and, most probably, the likes of you.

and theyre probably better informed.

I was extremely willing to go along with the idea that my expat status confers some sort of wisdom on me. Let’s face it, it’s an intoxicating thought, the idea that living in a different culture from your own automatically transforms you for the better. I guess I must half believe it as I make a point of mentioning on my C.V. that I have lived on three continents, as if that makes me better than a candidate who has only lived on one continent.

Now I do think that there’s a lot to be gained from moving abroad, from leaving your comfort zone, but there should also be an awareness that it is a position of privilege, a privilege conferred — at least on me, I should stop talking on your behalf — by living in the jet age, by ignoring that the life I have chosen, a life that I at times get smug about by being an expat blogger (which really is the smuggest of all expat types) leaves on the world a far greater carbon footprint than my neighbor’s life driving his gas-guzzling truck. And yet I’m the one to feel disdain for him and his environmental choices.

Happy Earth Day.

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