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10 summer hacks picked up from an expat (& repat) life spanning Japan, the UK and the US

summerhacks_US

The summer ideal, so rarely achieved (apart from the cocktail), Public Domain CC0 via Pixar.

New York City, where I now live after years of being an expat on two small islands, the UK and Japan, had a particularly brutal winter in 2014. You would think I’d now be in the mood for summer.

But no. It hasn’t worked that way.

The moment the temperature and humidity levels skyrocketed here in the city, I realized my feelings about summer haven’t changed. Basically, and as expressed in this space before, I can’t stand it. Or, in the somewhat more poetic words of Swedish black metal trio Woods of Infinity:

Summer is not my friend. Satan, let it end.
Sunshine, hurting my eyes. Making my skin look like…argh.

Which brings me to today’s topic: summer hacks. What hacks have I picked up from the three countries where I’ve lived—Japan, the US and the UK—that can help me through summer’s doggiest days?

FROM JAPAN:

1) Avoid the sun at all costs.

Japanese women seem to have been the first to get the memo about avoiding sun damage. During the summer, which in Tokyo can be particularly brutal, most would not venture out in the heat of the day without a hat or a UV parasol, sometimes both. (Note: A regular umbrella will do in lieu a proper parasol.)

2) Carry a fan and a handkerchief.

If the heat becomes unbearably hot, say, when standing on the subway platform or getting into a car, one of the easiest ways to get cool is via a simple fan, either the kind that folds or an uchiwa. And if you find yourself perspiring profusely in a public place, try dabbing your face and neck with a handkerchief folded into a neat square. (When living in Japan, I used to find it entertaining to go into a department store and look at the vast array of handkerchiefs on display in the ground floor accessories. Every major Western designer has done one, meaning they’ve all had to struggle with translating their unique look into a small square of cloth. Who knew?)

3) Eat sparingly (cold soba) or else for energy (grilled eel).

On a hot and humid day, one of the healthiest meals is the simplest: a plate of cold buckwheat noodles, or soba, which have been cooked al dente. The noodles are dipped into a cup containing a special sauce (consisting of dashi, sweetened soy sauce and mirin), to which has been added fresh wasabi and sliced spring onions. Alternatively, if your body feels depleted during a heat wave, you can go to the other extreme and have a meal of unagi kabayaki, freshwater eel that has been glaze-grilled: it is served over white rice, typically with a cold beer to accompany. (By tradition, Japanese favor this meal from mid-July through early August, to counteract the lethargy and debilitation that occurs mid-way through their blistering summers.)

4) Drink plenty of cold tea and, for short bursts of energy, iced coffee with milk and a shot of gum syrup.

In Japan you can buy, at every convenience store, huge plastic bottles of green tea or oolong cha (my fave) to refrigerate so that cold tea (most people don’t ice it) is always on hand. You can also make mugicha: a caffeine-free barley infusion, said to be the “flavor of summer” in Japan and always served a room temperature. Before moving to Japan, I had never before tried iced coffee , where apparently the Japanese have been drinking it since the 1920s. Usually, it’s served in a glass to accompany or finish a restaurant meal—not in a plastic disposable cup (it’s impolite to eat and drink on the streets in that part of the world). Although hesitant at first, I became an immediate fan and was pleased to see it had caught on in the West by the time I returned. Now you can even get iced coffee in Dunkin’ Donuts. And, whereas I don’t usually add sugar to coffee, I will sometimes add to the iced version as I find my body needs that extra bit of energy to get from A to B. (In Japan, one always adds gum syrup, which dissolves much better than sugar, but it’s hard to find that here.)

FROM THE US:

5) If you can’t stand the heat, move to a cold dark box, aka a movie theatre.

Maybe it’s a New York City thing, but I’m thinking of Michael Maslin’s New Yorker cartoon showing a movie theatre with a marquee that says:

AIR
CONDITIONING

and a movie

6) Eat ice cream.

One or two scoops of freshly made ice cream in a dish or a regular sugar cone (nothing heavier or fancier) is one of life’s simple pleasures. Many people die in heat waves (no joke), so this is one to have, and keep, on your bucket list.

7) Seek invites to places where you can swim—in a pool, a lake, the ocean.

Nothing is more refreshing on a hot day than plunging into some cool water. Another tip is to put on a shirt or dress that is slightly damp—it will be dry by the time you reach the subway.

8) No opportunity to escape to a house in the Hamptons or equivalent? Have a cocktail.

See my still-relevant post of three summers ago on cocktails as mini-summer escapes to exotic locales, entitled Some enchanted drinking…

FROM THE U.K.:

9) Seize the moment and go crazy.

British summer tends to be short and sweet—and blissful (not too humid). Should you have a day where the heat breaks and temperatures and humidity levels are bearable, EMBRACE SUMMER AS YOUR FRIEND. Now, British people go to extremes by stripping down, as noted in this recent post by Annabel Kantaria in her Telegraph Expat blog, hence risking sunburn and melanoma. (As an aside: Did you know we once did an interview with Annabel? Check it out if you haven’t seen it.) At the very least, perhaps you could pull off an impromptu picnic or bike ride, or else try to score an outdoor table at a popular restaurant or pub.

10) Have a cuppa.

Contrary to the Japanese and American customs, tea is drunk hot in Britain because it makes you sweat and therefore cool down. This hack is one of the more practical legacies from the days when the Brits occupied India. To this day, I will sometimes make a cuppa when I’m boiling hot. Think the science sounds dubious? Listen to this NPR story. In any event, tea is an important summer drink in all three cultures, for good reason. It sustains you. See my post on the virtues of tea-drinking.

* * *

Readers, it’s your turn. What can you add to my list before that Woods of Infinity song starts haunting me again:

Awake at night again. No tears to weep and too restless to sleep. Thinking of all and nothing and got stuck in between.

Hurry, please! Any foods, drinks, rituals, Bacchanalian festivities or other hacks you’ve picked up from your lives of displacement? How about current films you’d recommend? SOS, I’m melting over here…

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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4 observations after 3 years of holding up a mirror to expat (& repat) life

Las Meninas, by Diego Velázquez [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Las Meninas, by Diego Velázquez [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Earlier this month, I wrote a post in celebration of the Displaced Nation’s third birthday, which occurred on April 1st.

For three years we’ve held up a mirror, as it were, to what we’ve been calling the displaced life, writing and commissioning posts on what motivates people to venture across borders to travel and live.

During the past three years, here’s what our looking-glass has revealed:

1) We aspire to be the fairest of them all.

If our site stats are anything to go by, the Fountain of Youth myth is still alive and well. We may not be searching for water with restorative powers on our travels, but we never tire of reading about Jennifer Scott’s top 20 lessons she learned from Madame Chic while living in Paris, TCK Marie Jhin’s advice on Asian beauty secrets, or my post summarizing beauty tips I picked up on two small islands, England and Japan (three of our most popular posts to date). Heck, even 5 tips on how to look good when you backpack still gets plenty of hits.

2) We mostly just want to have fun.

The popularity of two of Tony James’s Slater’s posts—one listing his five favorite parties around the world and other other telling the tale of his attempt to overcome language barriers in pursuit of an Ecuadorian woman—suggest that good times and love still rank high on the list of reasons why people opt for the road much less traveled. That said, some of us worry about going too far with the latter, if the enduring popularity of my post four reasons to think twice before embarking on cross-cultural marriage is anything to go by.

3) But we love hearing stories about international travelers with a higher purpose.

Most of us do not venture overseas in hopes of changing the world, but we are inspired by tales of those who once did—how else to explain the golden oldie status of 7 extraordinary women with a passion to save souls? And our fascination with the international do-gooder of course continues to the present. Kate Allison’s interview with Robin Wiszowaty, who serves as Kenya Program Director for the Canadian charity Free the Children, still gets lots of hits, as does my post about Richard Branson and other global nomads who delve into global misery. Perhaps we like to bask in reflected glory?!

4) Last but not least, we think we know things other people don’t.

Indeed, the most common phenomenon that has occurred when holding up our mirror to international adventurers is to find our mirror reflected in theirs, and theirs reflected in the lives of people they depict, ad infinitum, in a manner not unlike a Diego Velázquez painting (see above). In my view, this mise en abyme owes to the conviction among (particularly long-term) expats that in venturing so far afield, they have uncovered things about our planet that are worth examining, reporting, and creating something with, be it a memoir of what they’ve experienced (think Jack Scott’s Perking the Pansies: Jack and Liam Move to Turkey, Janet Brown’s Tone Deaf in Bangkok, or Jennifer Eremeeva’s soon-to-be featured Lenin Lives Next Door: Marriage, Martinis, and Mayhem in Moscow), a novel based on their overseas adventures (think Kate Allison’s Libby’s Life or Cinda MacKinnon’s A Place in the World), and/or an art work that springs from what they saw and felt when living in other cultures (eg, Elizabeth Liang’s one-woman show about growing up a TCK).

In short, although many of us can relate to Alice’s feeling of having stepped through the looking glass, we also aren’t afraid to hold up a looking glass to that experience. I often think of Janet Brown telling us she almost went home “a gibbering mess” upon discovering that her Thai landlord was spreading salacious rumors about her, but the point is, she survived to tell us about the experience in her gem of a book. Surely, that’s the kind of hero/ine Linda Janssen has in mind for her self-help book The Emotionally Resilient Expat?

* * *

No doubt there are even more insights our three years of running the Displaced Nation have revealed, but I’ll stop here to see what you make of this list of traits. Does it strike you as being accurate, or perhaps a bit distorted? (Hmmm… Given this site’s proclivity for humor and sending things up, how can you be sure this isn’t a funhouse mirror and I’m not pulling your leg? Har har hardy har har.)

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

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Pay no mind to the travel experts — beauty is in the eye of the beholder!

Matador Network published an article last month bemoaning “travel pornography” — in other words, the kinds of photos one often sees in polished travel guides, making an exotic place look so much better than it does in reality.

This is significant because many of us make our decisions about where or where not to go on the basis of travel Web sites, guidebooks and even Pinterest boards — with their slick photography and accompanying reviews.

As the Swiss-born British philosopher Alain de Botton noted in his book The Art of Travel:

Where guidebooks praised a site, they pressured a visitor to match their authoritative enthusiasm, and where they were silent, pleasure or interest seemed unwarranted.

Case-in-point: São Paulo vs Rio

In Brazil the travel experts have influenced and help perpetuate contrasting perceptions about the country’s two biggest cities: São Paulo (where I live with my Brazilian wife) and Rio de Janeiro.

In most instances you’ll read that Rio is the jewel in the nation’s metaphorical crown, the princess; whereas São Paulo is the ugly stepsister that is best avoided at all costs.

To be honest, when I moved to São Paulo just over a year ago, my own first impressions were not much different. It struck me as a place with ugly skylines, overwhelming traffic and polluted rivers. However, as time went by and I got to know the city better, those impressions changed.

And when I recently went traveling around Brazil with a visiting friend from London, I discovered something quite interesting — I was actually becoming as defensive of São Paulo as the natives.

The bad rap on SP

I started to notice this shift when my friend and I encountered other travelers. Anyone who has traveled recently will know that it’s common to meet all sorts. Typically, your first interactions — long before you decide to become best friends and end up downing shots of tequila in some godforsaken bar (even though you’ll probably never see each other again) — consist of small talk along the lines of:

“Where do you come from?”
“What do you do?”
“How long will you be in [insert city, town, country, etc]?”
“Which football team do you support?”
“Who the hell are Gillingham?”

On this trip, when the mundanities came my way, I had to explain why I resided in São Paulo rather than in London. Then I would get the inevitable “Why the hell are you there?” along with repeated denouncements of São Paulo and how it is a city of doom and gloom, a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah:

“I couldn’t live there” | “I don’t like the sound of living there” [delete phrase depending upon whether you’ve actually been to São Paulo].
“There’s too much/many…. [insert one of the following: traffic|pollution|cars|people].”
“It’s not a tourist city, there’s nothing to do or see.”
“It’s just a big, ugly city.”
“It’s too dangerous.”

There is, of course, an element of truth to most of these points. However, don’t these criticisms (apart from the lack of tourist sights) reflect the reality of 21st-century urban life the world over? I mean, isn’t the debate a matter of degrees?

I blame the travel pornography/travel guidebooks. Cities like São Paulo are constantly maligned because no one has taken the time to dig beneath the surface, or because they are not as immediately captivating as their outwardly attractive neighbors (namely, Rio).

Is beauty an illusion?

But whilst anyone can see that Rio is beautiful, it takes a keener to eye to observe beauty or virtue where it is embodied in less obvious forms. You need to become an explorer of the sort James Murray described in his post of yesterday.

Besides, as is the case of many places that are subject to so-called travel porn, Rio may not actually be as stunning as you first thought. It’s often said of that much-visited city that it is beautiful from afar but rather less so when you get up close.

Copacabana, for example, with its world-famous beach, may have once been the home of the glamorous, but today it’s tatty and parts of it, especially at night, are seedy and not massively safe.

And São Paulo?

Well, if Rio is beautiful from afar but less so up close, then I’d say SP is the opposite. As you approach Brazil’s largest city, its skyline advances towards and then engulfs you in its beige blandness, overwhelming and unending — an effect made more noticeable due to the city’s ban on outdoor advertising.

That said, once you get used to it, SP’s vastness actually becomes one of its marvels.

SP at its most splendid

When I moved here just over a year ago, I vividly remember my sister-in-law saying that living and working in São Paulo makes her feel like a “citizen of the world” — like a small part of something big and important.

What she said is true. Whilst I love venturing into the wild, I am more fascinated by cities — mainly because they are man-made and hence symbolize the complexity of the human condition (I’m a typical sociology graduate!).

Returning to our friend de Botton: he introduces the notion of the sublime in his book on travel, pointing out that certain landscapes can provoke sublime thoughts. Places, he says, can “gently move us to acknowledge limitations that we might otherwise encounter with anxiety or anger in the ordinary flow of events.” (He sees this as a kind of substitute for traditional religious worship.)

For most people, the sight of a desert, canyon or rainforest is enough to elevate them to the sublime, helping to put their daily woes into perspective. But for me it has taken an encounter with a mega-city like São Paulo.

And then there’s that street art!

Whenever I start feeling this way — that SP has put me in touch with something sublime — I begin to appreciate the beauty in the things around me. (I’d missed those things before because of feeling overwhelmed.)

For example, I became acutely aware of the quantity and quality of São Paulo’s street art, which I think must rank amongst the finest, if not the finest, anywhere in the world. You can find fascinating street art everywhere and if you exclude pichação (wall writings done in angry protest), then on the whole it enhances one’s enjoyment of the city’s neighborhoods.

In my view, the street art alone is a good enough reason to visit São Paulo.

But if street art doesn’t take your fancy, rest assured the city also offers plenty of good food, culture and entertainment. Indeed, I cannot think of a place I’ve been to in the continent with as wide a range of quality museums and art galleries.

At weekends you can go for a walk in Parque Ibiraquera (SP’s Central Park), watch a top South American football team, catch a film at an IMAX or, if culture is more your thing, go to a play, opera or ballet. And if you’re a music fan, you’re in luck. Artists who tour South America usually have São Paulo as one of the first dates on their itinerary.

The thing about São Paulo is that whilst it can be intimidating and is perennially frustrating, it’s also pretty cool. As displaced actress Marlene Dietrich once said:

Rio is a beauty — but São Paulo, ah … São Paulo is a city.

And for me, there’s something rather exciting, not to mention awe-inspiring, about that.

STAY TUNED for Tuesday’s post.

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LESSONS FROM TWO SMALL ISLANDS — 6) Keep Calm and Run a Bath

I didn’t think seriously about fashion and beauty until I, an American East Coaster, became a resident of two small islands: Britain and then Japan.

Both London and Tokyo are fashion capitals, and living in each of these cities, I found that every so often I really enjoy thinking about striking clothing combinations, make-up, and self-pampering.

Would I have discovered this love of what America’s Puritan founders would call frivolity had I stayed in this country? It’s conceivable, especially if I’d moved to New York City, where I now live as a repatriate. (NOTE: While I do not have Puritan ancestry, I was raised to be a bluestocking, not a girl in rhinestone-studded pantyhose.)

But in the event, I discovered fashion and beauty through my travels — and from learning about how women in other countries clothe and groom themselves.

So what, you may ask, were my key take-aways from this relatively speaking decadent period of my life? No specific beauty products or fashions, but these five guiding principles:

1) To get an English rose (or any other perfect) complexion, you have to be born with it. Nevertheless, skin care is worth it.

As a Caucasian woman, one of my beauty ideals was that of the English rose: a woman with flawless porcelain skin and rosy cheeks that look as though they’ve been produced by good bracing walks in the countryside wearing sensible shoes and tweed skirts.

When I first moved to England and encountered some actual English Roses, I wondered: is it because of the climate, the cosmetics from Boots the Chemist, the diet? (How do I get me one of those?)

My research soon revealed that diet has nothing to do with it. Not in a country where people grow up eating chips and crisps.

And as nice as the No7 products are, they can’t work miracles.

So maybe a glowing appearance is the result of England’s unique climatic conditions: a paucity of direct sunlight and the moisturizing drizzle that almost always seems to be in the air?

I hardly think that can be the case, as there are plenty of Britons with problem skin…

Trying not to turn pea green with envy (hardly a flattering shade!), I could come to only one conclusion: you have to be born with it.

But, not to despair! Once I reached Japan, where women are obsessed with their skin — some even use whitening lotions to obtain a creamier complexion — I learned that of all the things you can do for beauty, skin care is the most worthwhile.

Ladies, if you protect your skin, you might find yourself turning into an English Rose when you get a bit older — the Last Rose of Summer, so to speak.  While some may swear by Crème de la Mer, I go with the regime I picked up in Japan: sunscreen, a hat and a parasol.

I’d also recommend befriending your dermatologist, who knows a lot more about skin care and sun protection than the woman behind the cosmetics counter…

2) Don’t be afraid of experimenting with your hair: it can add some spice and life to your image.

In the UK one of my English rose-complexioned friends favored a chic bob — but with a streak of blue, green or red in it.

As an American fresh off the boat, I was rather scandalized. Why was she ruining a perfectly good hairstyle?

Over time, however, I came to realize that when you live in a country where skies are often the color of lead, adding a bright color to a strand of hair can brighten up your day.

By the time I left England, I could no longer understand why any woman, once she reached maturity, wouldn’t dye or highlight her hair. She doesn’t know the fun she’s missing out on! And, even though I have yet to streak my hair in an outrageous color, it’s definitely on my bucket list.

In Japan, too, I got some kicks from playing with my hair — this time, by adorning it with the kinds of hair ornaments that have been popular since the times when women wore kimono and kanzashi: combs, hair sticks and pins, hair bands, and fancy barrettes.

I did not have particularly long hair when I first reached Japan, but as long hair is the signature of Japanese ladies — and they were my new role models — I soon had locks long enough to make the most of such accessories. My favorite was the snood — I had one that was attached to a barrette covered with a bow. What a great way to keep long hair out of one’s face.

3) Gemstones and pearls are a girl’s best friend.

Sorry, Marilyn dear, but after living in the UK and Japan, my BFFs are gemstones and pearls. Is this because I went to England in the era of Princess Diana, with her (now Kate Middleton’s) 18-carat sapphire ring?

My relationship with colored gemstones only deepened after I moved to Japan and went on several sojourns into Southeast Asia, land of rubies and sapphires, among others.

My engagement ring is a ruby (purchased by my hubby in Tokyo!).

In Japan itself, I fell for pearls and now have quite the collection of necklaces, earrings, rings, and bracelets, mostly from Wally Yonamine’s in the Roppongi area of Tokyo. The owner, Jane, wife of  Wally (a professional baseball player who played with the Yomiuri Giants) is a displaced Japanese Hawaiian.

4) Youth is the time to have fun with fashion.

In the UK, I was taken in by the spectacle of punk and post-punk kids and their strange fashions, while in Japan I found it mesmerizing to watch the Lolita fashions of the Harajuku kids, on a Sunday afternoon.

Eventually, instead of thinking they were weird, I regretted never having had my own equivalent of wearing Doc Martens with a Laura Ashley dresses … sporting long, back-combed hair, pale skin, dark eyeshadow, eyeliner, and lipstick, black nail varnish, along with a spiked bracelet and dog-collar … dressing up like a Victorian boy …

It just wasn’t the done thing, in my stiff, conservative American circles, to wear outlandish garb. And now it’s too late, of course. Youth is the time when you can get away with it. After that, you have to wait for Halloween. (Unless, of course, you want to come across as “mutton dressed as lamb,” as the English say…)

5) Last but not least, my top beauty tip, reinforced by both of these countries: A bath is much preferable to a shower.

At the beginning of living in England, I missed the American shower so much. I was convinced I would never be clean again. But then one day I woke up and realized I’d been brainwashed into believing I needed to have a shower every day. In fact, daily showers dry out the skin. As one dermatologist puts it:

Most people wash far too much. Using piping-hot water combined with harsh soaps can strip the skin of its oils, resulting in dryness, cracking and even infection.

That was around the same time I opened my mind to the possibility that baths — which tend to be favored over showers in the UK (at least in my day) — might actually be preferable. Nothing like a long hot bath with a glass of wine and a book, my English friends would say. Or, as one British beauty site puts it:

A nice bubble bath is the closest you can come to having a spa-like relaxing experience in your own home, without much effort or without spending a lot of money.

Too true! Plus the English shops sell such wonderful bubble bath creams. My favorite was the Perlier Honey Miel (actually from Italy).

Still, I didn’t mind giving all of that up once I reached Tokyo — not the bathing but the bubbles. In the land of the communal bath, you scrub the skin first and then have a long soak in clean hot water, in a tub (ofuro) that is deep rather than long.

Indeed, Japan was where I learned the benefits of exfoliation: I ended up sloughing off dry skin from parts of my body I didn’t know existed. And then the immersion in clean hot water: bliss! Like returning to the womb…

For a Japanese who works long hours, bathing is a sacred time, a ritual. While I haven’t quite converted that far, I have a Pavlovian reaction every time I hear bath water running. Time to go into Total Relax Mode!

I even have a Japanese bath here in my apartment in NYC, and the thought of sitting in it is what keeps me going … That said, I must confess that I sometimes put bubbles in. What can I say? I’m displaced.

* * *

So, readers, what do you make of my five beauty principles? Have you picked up any of your own in the countries where you live? I’m all ears — only please excuse me for a minute while I make sure the bath water isn’t running over. (I don’t want my downstairs neighbors knocking on my door at 3:00 a.m.!)

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

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Image: MorgueFile

Where’s the fairest of them all? Fashion & Style in Brazil vs. Britain

It’s March, a month when residents of the Displaced Nation turn to fashion ideas, beauty tips and other frivolities we’ve gathered from our travels. To kick off the discussion, we’re delighted to have Georgia Campello as today’s guest. She is married to our newest contributor, Andy Martin — and apparently more qualified to comment on such topics than he. A Brazilian (the couple currently live in São Paulo), Georgia has also lived in Britain. How do the beauty and fashion standards compare?

— ML Awanohara

According to my humble observations of my home country (Brazil) and the country where I once lived as an expat (Britain), and trying not to generalize too far, I think it’s fair to say that Brazilian and British women possess somewhat different ideals of fashion and beauty.

Of course they do, I can hear you say. What can women who live in a country known for sunshine and beaches have in common with the female occupants of a rainy, overcast island? It doesn’t snow in Brazil (and in most places it doesn’t get cold at all), so you are not going to see many women in woolly hats, gloves and scarves. Similarly, women in the UK rarely appear in shorts, a t-shirt and flip flops — except on the rare days when the sun suddenly shines.

Yet it’s also true that Britain and Brazil produce many of the world’s most famous beauties: Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Lily Cole; Gisele Bündchen, Alessandra Ambrosio and Adriana Lima.

And even on the level of the ordinary commoner in each of these countries — by that I mean, those of us who aren’t tall, size-zero goddesses — in my experience, we have similar everyday beauty routines: shower every day, shampoo/conditioner, moisturizer, some make-up, some sort of hair styling and off we go… (Is that not the case for most women?)

Have you had a Brazilian?

But hey, it is not that simple.

It seems that Brazilians have put a little more thought into it; at least regarding new procedures and technologies. What do you get before wearing a bikini? That’s right, a Brazilian. It’s even in the Oxford Dictionary!

Have you had a Britain? It doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it?

A quick Google search starting with “Brazilian” will also get you a Brazilian blow dry and even a Brazilian butt lift.

It’s funny how adding this adjective attaches credibility to such a wide range of treatments. Maybe because Brazilian women are associated with beautiful, half-naked, sun-kissed, beach babes with gorgeous bodies dancing samba.

Well, sorry, guys; that is not the case for most of us.

The fakest of them all?

But I digress.

On the whole, most Brazilian women are indeed more concerned about the way they look and spend much more time/effort/money than most British women do on changing their looks rather than enhancing their natural assets. While women in Britain may flirt with the idea of changing their looks to something other than what they were born with, in my native country they go a little further. Brazil is in the Top Three for plastic surgeries, whereas the UK is 17th.

And you don’t even have to go under the knife. It’s easy to find grown women in Brazil wearing braces to correct their teeth. Likewise, it’s hard to find a woman in Brazil who hasn’t changed her hair color and/or texture with some sort of chemical treatment. As a result, you can see a lot of blonde girls with straight hair all over the place, even when their complexion does little to favor this combination.

A UK equivalent might be the “Oompa Loompas” you see walking around with silly amounts of fake tan on their faces and bodies, or the women with so much make-up they look like they’re wearing masks.

At least we Brazilians have no need for a fake tan, thanks to our relentlessly hot and sunny climate. Indeed, it’s almost impossible to avoid the sun in this part of the world.

Call in the fashion police

For me the biggest difference in style relates to the price/availability of clothes. In the UK you have a choice depending on your budget: designer or High Street. People who don’t have much money can still be stylish as the High Street provides inexpensive knockoffs of the latest looks.

In Brazil, by contrast, clothes tend to be VERY expensive. The so-called popular stores are not cheap, and the quality of the garments they sell is rather poor.

Also, because we’re in the Southern hemisphere, European Fashion Weeks are showing autumn/winter collections while we are boiling at 30+ºC. By the time the latest seasonal styles arrive here, they feel outdated.

There are exceptions, of course, but I do regard British women as more stylish than us Brazilians.

Having said all that, I would caution against making too much of the differences between British and Brazilian women. In the end, most of us women, regardless of nationality, tend to enjoy looking and feeling good. And, as we all know, every woman has her own unique beauty or appeal — which at some level has little to do with her country of origin.

* * *

Thanks, Georgia! Readers, any questions for her? Are you, too, sensitive to beauty and fashion differences between your country of origin and where you are living now (or have lived)? Please share in the comments!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, also on fashion and beauty.

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Expats, here’s how to enrich your lives in 2013: Choose a mentor or a muse!

Expats and other world adventurers, let me guess. You have you spent the past week making resolutions about

  • staying positive about your new life in Country X;
  • indulging in less of the local stodge;
  • giving up the smoking habit that no one is nagging you about now that you’re so far away from home;
  • and/or taking advantage of travel opportunities within the region that may never come your way again

— while also knowing full well that at some point in the not-distant future, you’ll end up stuffing your face with marshmallows (metaphorically speaking).

Never mind, it happens to the best of us, as psychologist Walter Mischel — he of the marshmallow experimentrecently told Abby Hunstman of the Huffington Post. Apparently, it has something to do with the way impulses work in the brain. The key is to trick the brain by coming up with strategies to avoid the marshmallow or treat it as something else.

Today I’d like to propose something I found to be one of the most effective strategies for turning away from the marshmallows you’ve discovered in your new home abroad or, for more veteran expats, turning these marshmallows into something new and exotic. My advice is to find a mentor or a muse in your adopted land — someone who can teach you something new, or who inspires you by their example to try new things…

Trust me, if you choose the right mentor +/or muse, benefits like the following will soon accrue:

1) More exotic looks — and a book deal.

Back when I lived abroad, first in England and then in Japan, I was always studying other women for style and beauty tips. I made a muse of everyone from Princess Diana (I could hardly help it as her image was being constantly thrust in front of me) to the stewardesses I encountered on All Nippon Airways. Have you ever seen the film Fear and Trembling, based on the autobiographical novel of that name, by the oft-displaced Amélie Nothomb? On ANA flights, I behaved a little like the film’s young Belgian protagonist, Amélie, who secretly adulates her supervisor Miss Fubuki. I simply couldn’t believe the world contained such attractive women…

The pay-off came upon my repatriation to the US. With such a wide array of fashion and beauty influences, I’d begun to resemble Countess Olenska in The Age of Innocence — with my Laura Ashley dresses, hair ornaments, strings of (real) pearls, and habit of bowing to everyone.

Is it any wonder my (Japanese) husband-to-be nicknamed me the Duchess? (Better than being the sheltered May Welland, surely?)

My one regret is that I didn’t parlay these style tips into a best-seller — unlike Jennifer Scott, one of the authors who was featured on TDN this past year. While studying in Paris, Scott was in a mentoring relationship with Madame Chic and Madame Bohemienne. (The former was the matriarch in her host family; the latter, in her boyfriend’s host family.) Mme C & Mme B took her under their wing and taught her everything she knows about personal style, preparation of food, home decor, entertaining, make-up, you name it…and is now imparting to others in her Simon & Schuster-published book.

2) More memorable dinner parties.

As mentioned in a previous post, I adopted actress and Indian cookbook writer Madhur Jaffrey as my muse shortly after settling down in the UK. I was (still am) madly in love with her, her cookbooks, even her writing style.

And her recipes do me proud to this day.

Right before Christmas I threw a dinner party for 10 featuring beef cooked in yogurt and black pepper, black cod in a coriander marinade, and several of her vegetable dishes.

It was divine — if I say so myself! To be fair, the guests liked it, too…

3) Improved language skills.

Now the ideal mentor for an adult seeking to pick up a new foreign language is a boyfriend or girlfriend in the local culture — preferably one with gobs of patience. The Japanese have the perfect expression for it: iki jibiki, or walking dictionary.

Just one caveat: If you’re as language challenged as Tony James Slater, it could prove a headache and, ultimately, a heartache.

Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained…

(Married people, you might want to give up on this goal. I’m serious…)

4) A fondness for angels who dance on pinheads.

After seeing the film Lost in Translation, I became an advocate for expats giving themselves intellectual challenges. Really, there’s no excuse for ennui of the sort displayed by Scarlett Johansson character, in a well-traveled life.

It was while living in the UK as a grad student that I discovered the extraordinary scholar-writer Marina Warner, who remains an inspiration to this day. Warner, who grew up in Brussels and Cambridge and was educated at convent school and Oxford University, is best known for her books on feminism and myth.

After reading her book Monuments and Maidens, I could never look at a statue in the same way again!

In her person, too, she is something of a goddess. Though I’d encountered women of formidable intellect before, I found her more appealing than most, I think because she wears her learning lightly and has an ethereal presence, like one of the original Muses.

Booker prizewinner Julian Barnes has written of her “incandescent intelligence and Apulian beauty” (she is half Italian, half English). The one time I met her — I asked her to sign my copy of her Booker Prize-shortlisted novel, The Lost Father — I could see what he meant.

I was gobsmacked.

Major girl crush!

(Don’t have a girl crush? Get one! It will enrich your life immeasurably.)

5) Greater powers of mindfulness — and a book deal.

Third Culture Kid Maria Konnikova was born in Moscow but grew up and was educated in the US. She has started the new year by putting out a book with Viking entitled Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes. Who would guess that a young Russian-born woman would use Conan Doyle’s fictional creations, Holmes and Watson, as her muses? But, as she explains in a recent article in Slate, she has learned everything she knows about the art of mindfulness from that master British sleuth:

Mindfulness allows Holmes to observe those details that most of us don’t even realize we don’t see.

So moved is she by Holmes’s example — and so frustrated by her own, much more limited observational powers — Konnikova does the boldest of all thought experiments: she gives up the Internet…

So does her physiological and emotional well-being improve as a result? Does her mind stop wandering away from the present? Does she become happier? I won’t give it away lest you would like to make Konnikova this year’s muse and invest in her book. Hint: If you do, we may not see you here for a while. 😦

6) The confidence to travel on your own.

We expats tend to be a little less intrepid than the average global wanderer: we’re a little too attached to our creature comforts and may need a kick to become more adventuresome. But even avid travelers sometimes lose their courage, as Amy Baker recently reported in a post for Vagabondish. She recounts the first time she met a Swedish solo traveler in Morocco, who had lived on her own in Zimbabwe for 10 years. This Swede is now her friend — and muse:

She was level-headed, organized and fiercely independent — all characteristics that I aim to embody as a female traveler.

With this “fearless Swedish warrior woman” in mind, Amy started venturing out on her lonesome — and hasn’t looked back.

* * *

Readers, the above is not intended as an exhaustive list as I’m hoping you can contribute your own experiences with mentors and muses abroad: What do you do to avoid the “marshmallows” of the (too?) well-traveled life? Who have you met that has inspired you to new creative, intellectual, or travel heights? Please let us know in the comments. In the meantime, I wish you a happy, healthy — and most of all, intellectually stimulating — new year!

STAY TUNED for next week’s posts.

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LESSONS FROM TWO SMALL ISLANDS — 2) Keep calm and learn to enjoy imperfection

I must have been born with a melancholy nature, because it didn’t take me long to work out that we live in an imperfect world.

Imagine my discomfort, then, when I realized that many of the people who surrounded me in my nation of birth — my fellow Americans — were obsessed with having perfect teeth, perfect bodies and a perfect appearance during their brief time on this earth.

“What’s that about?” I thought to myself at a relatively early age (I was around 6, already on the way to driving my mother, an eternal optimist, crazy). “We’re all going to grow old and die regardless.”

By the time I reached adolescence, I decided that the need to be flawless was my birth nation’s fatal flaw. It was our best feature — hey, no one can deny how good we look flashing those orthodontically-enhanced smiles — but also our worst. The list is long of fabulously talented Americans who have perished in the pursuit of physical perfection.

That lists always begins with Marilyn Monroe — a pretty and bright young thing who ruthlessly remade herself into a sex symbol, and died at age 36. (Among other things, she got work done on her nose and chin to create her classic, timeless look.) And culminates in Michael Jackson, for whom it apparently wasn’t enough to be blessed with good looks and an extraordinary musical talent. No, the King of Pop felt compelled to have lots of plastic surgery — even if it meant destroying his career and himself.

Endearing little imperfections (England)

It’s a pity Marilyn and Michael were never offered the chance to study abroad in England, that’s all I can say. My prolonged stint as a graduate student at a British university soon cured me of any lingering fixations on fixing my looks.

Why bother when the people around you seem so oblivious? None of the Brits I knew seemed to mind that the politicians who were gracing their TV screens had funny eyebrows (cue Michael Heseltine), dowdy outfits (cue Shirley Williams) or speech impediments like rhotacism, pronouncing the sound r as w (cue the now-departed Roy Jenkins).

And not just politicians but also British actresses seemed much less interested than their American counterparts in their looks. On the contrary, such glamorous types appear to thrive on their imperfections — Kate Winslet proudly flaunting her curves, Helen Mirren daring to be sexy despite having wrinkles.

And now we have the English singer Adele (Laurie Blue Adkins), who is fond of saying things like: “Fans are encouraged that I’m not a size 0 — that you don’t have to look a certain way to do well.”

Have I mentioned teeth yet? An American journalist once complimented the comedian Ricky Gervais on being prepared to wear unflattering false teeth for his role as an English dentist in the film Ghost Town — only those were his real chompers! As Gervais told a BBC reporter:

He was horrified that I could have such horrible real teeth. It’s like the biggest difference between the Brits and the Americans, they are obsessed with perfect teeth.

Imperfection is perfection (Japan)

And then I reached my second small island, Japan, which I soon came to see as the Land of Melancholy — and hence as a kind of spiritual home for someone of my proclivities. I instantly appreciated the fact that Japanese revere the cherry blossom not so much for its beauty as for the brevity of that beauty. The blossom lasts just a few days before its petals scatter to the wind.

The Japanese aesthetic that attracts so many of us in the West is based on this notion of flawed beauty. We’re talking wabi-sabi here — the value derived from the Buddhist teaching on life’s impermanence. Wabi-sabi stands in stark contrast to the Greek ideals of beauty and perfection found in many Western countries. (Hey, those Greeks have a lot to answer for, besides their spendthrift ways!)

A good example is the tea ceremony bowl: not quite symmetrical, rough in texture, and often deliberately chipped or nicked at the bottom. You turn it around slowly to appreciate its hidden beauty, a kind of diamond in the rough…

And did I mention teeth yet? Japan is the land of REALLY crooked teeth. Even some young girls who don’t have crooked teeth apparently are asking their dentists to give them a fang-like yaeba (snaggletooth) as they think it’s charming to be imperfect. Japanese celebrities too, are imperfectly perfect.

Don’t overcultivate your garden

On the face of it, the English cottage garden has very little in common with the Japanese garden — the former full of flowers and exuberance, the latter much more subdued and restrained.

But I think they are alike in one important respect: both embrace imperfection. As California horticulturalist and lover of English gardens Mary Lou Heard once said:

The thing about a cottage garden is that it is not perfect. It is not a sterile place; there is always a lot happening and changing.

Not sterile — I like that. It means that something is breathing, growing, alive…and probably imperfect. To my way of thinking, as informed by my long expat life, a row of perfect brilliant white teeth looks a bit like a row of tomb stones, and a facelifted face, like a death mask.

A Japanese garden celebrates imperfection as well — but by using elements that have a natural, rough finish. If the garden features a wooden bridge, for example, it will be made of planks of different sizes, and the wood itself will have crooked edges or knobs.

For the Japanese, the point is not to restructure reality but to embrace its quirks. That’s why they’d rather see pile of rocks in different colors and sizes than a statue surrounded by carefully landscaped bushes.

My takeaways

As I mentioned in my first post in the series, “Keep Calm and Carry On,” repatriating to the United States has been a feat of Olympian proportions. Clearly I left it a little too long! But at least I stayed away for long enough that, upon coming home again, I have conquered the part of me that says I must always be striving for physical perfection. I no longer fear looking imperfect.

Thus, while my countrymen and women engage in excessive exercising, crash dieting, and surgical enhancements, I am free to sit back and enjoy the beautiful — precisely because it is imperfect — world we live in.

This means I’m not keeping up with the Kardashians. And for a long time, I assumed Mitt Romney was from central casting, not an actual presidential candidate. (I understand he has a problem of coming across as real enough, even among mainstream Americans, which is saying a lot. If I were his image consultant, I’d suggest growing his eyebrows to look more like those of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. Now that would give him some character.)

If you are a fellow American and are reading this, I suggest that you, too, try weaning yourself off our nation’s physical-perfection kick. Here are a few scenarios close to some I’ve experienced, with pointers on appropriate responses:

1 — The dentist says that in his opinion, you’d look a lot better with straight teeth. Keep calm and inform him that you’ve learned to enjoy nature’s little imperfections. If he persists, then say you were actually thinking of getting a snaggletooth, and does he happen to have any expertise in that area? If not, then whip out a photo of Ricky Gervais’s fangs to show him. (Notably, I did not take my own advice on this. Shortly I returned to the Land of the Straight Teeth, I succumbed to my dentist’s suggestion that I get braces again!)

2 — A woman stops you on the subway to point out you have a run in your stockings, or a work colleague comes up to you to tuck in the label hanging out the back of your blouse. Keep calm and tell them you’ve learned to appreciate life’s little imperfections, and they, too, may wish to get some wabi-sabi in their lives.

3 — You’re picking a mini-labradoodle puppy, and your husband wants to get the one that looks “normal,” but you like the one whose markings have asymmetry, because of her parti-colored poodle father. Keep calm and instruct your husband that the one with the strange spots is much more beautiful, and that one day people will make offers to take her away from you. (True story — my imperfect dog is perfection itself! And no, that is not her in the photo…)

* * *

So, tell me: does any of this make sense, or has living abroad for so long rendered me totally bonkers?!

STAY TUNED for Thursday’s post, another in our new “Expat Moments” series, by Anthony Windram.

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Image: MorgueFile

Ask Mary-Sue: Dyngus Day and other great excuses for partying

Mary-Sue Wallace, The Displaced Nation’s agony aunt, is back. Her thoughtful advice eases and soothes any cross-cultural quandary or travel-related confusion you may have. Submit your questions and comments here, or else by emailing her at thedisplacednation@gmail.com.

Well, hello there, Mary-Suers. Hope you and yours had an EGGciting Easter (or Passover, though forget the egg-pun if that was the case).

I have to admit to being pooped by Easter weekend! It was one thing after the other in the Wallace household, and that means plenty of work for me, with hubby Jake nowhere to be seen (if the Easter bunny gave away charcoal to the undeserving, like a certain Mr Claus does, then that’s what hubby Jake would have gotten yesterday). So I was left to cook the ham, supervise the little ones when they made a total mess with the egg dying, and organize the egg hunt that we put on in our garden for all the neighborhood kids. Jake just kept watching the golf on TV, telling me someone called Bubba had won — I was unimpressed, let me tell you. If we had a dog house (we don’t, the dogs sleep on the bed with us), that’s where Jake would have been last night.

Anyhoo, you’ve probably had enough of my yapping when there’s your problems to solve, so let’s get on with them — two on this month’s theme of partying, and one a holdover from last month, when I was bombarded with questions on fashion and beauty.

__________________________________________

Dear Mary-Sue,

I am an American living in Poland. I’ve found it interesting to celebrate Easter here, though to be honest, I have my doubts about Dyngus Day, which is celebrated the Monday after Easter (what we used to call Easter Monday back in the town where I grew up in Kansas). On Dyngus Day, the men chase after the ladies with squirt guns, buckets, or other containers of water. They also  hit them on the legs with switches or pussy willows. Ladies allegedly get their revenge the following day by throwing crockery at the men.

What do you make of this custom? I think it all sounds rather pagan — more like a rite of spring than a proper Easter celebration. Would love to get your opinion.

Wendy from Wichita via Warsaw

Dear Wendy,

I’ll be honest, I’m not impressed. Sounds like the sort of shenanigans that my younger, trashy brother Dan and his wife Sandy get up to in Ringling. Dan’s always off getting drunk at the local dive bars, I know for a fact he and his buddies there have organized wet T-shirt competitions. Put Dan near a pert, pretty thing and he’ll bring out his water gun.

Once she finds out, his wife Sandy lets him know precisely what she thinks of him. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that she’s thrown a fair few pieces of crockery in her time. Can’t say I blame her, but my sympathies end when one of them comes asking if I can “loan” them the money to bail the other one out.

Is Warsaw like Ringling, Wendy? Think I may have to give it a miss, or open a bail bond there — sounds like I’d make a fortune!

Mary-Sue

———————————-

Dear Mary-Sue,

I’m an English expat in the US — an experience that to be honest has made me even prouder of my British heritage. I’ve just now learned that today is Winston Churchill Day in the US, to celebrate the day in 1963 when our great PM was made an honorary US citizen (posthumously). Looking around, though, I don’t see much sign of celebration, and I’d like to do my part in changing that, for instance, by hanging up a Union Jack flag outside my house. Can you suggest any other measures I could take that would appeal to my new American friends? Perhaps a little party might be in order?

Harry from Harrow on the Hill via Hoboken, NJ

Dear Harry,

Own it completely. Organize a shindig centered around Sir Winston. Perhaps you could hit a cigar bar where you could all smoke like ol’ Winny and maybe indulge in a few brandies. When nicely lubricated, you could then, in the spirit of greater national understanding and that there’s no hard feelings, head to your nearest German restaurant for bratwurst, wiener schnitzel and beer.

Mary-Sue

———————————-

Dear Mary-Sue,

I can’t sleep! I recently spent a week in Rome and did some serious window shopping and all I saw was bald mannequins! Just have a look here

I have a hair appointment tomorrow: Should I go bald?

Anon

Dear Anon,

As George Santayana so wisely put it, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Do we really want to repeat the mistakes of the early 1990s?

I lived through Sinéad O’Connor once, I won’t do so again. If I catch you, Anon, all bald and tearing up a photo of the Pope on Letterman, I will be VERY disappointed.

Mary-Sue
___________________________________________

Anyhoo, that’s all from me readers. I’m so keen to hear about your cultural issues and all your juicy problems. Do drop me a line with any problems you have, or if you want to talk smack about Delilah Rene.

Mary-Sue is a retired travel agent who lives in Tulsa with her husband Jake. She is the best-selling author of Traveling Made Easy, Low-Fat Chicken Soup for the Traveler’s Soul, The Art of War: The Authorized Biography of Samantha Brown, and William Shatner’s TekWar: An Unofficial Guide. If you have any questions that you would like Mary-Sue to answer, you can contact her at thedisplacednation@gmail.com, or by adding to the comments below.

STAY TUNED for Tuesday’s post. Mary-Sue has heard it’s going to be great.

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CLEOPATRA FOR A DAY: Fashion & beauty diary of Third Culture Kid Tiffany Lake-Haeuser

Let’s all line up and curtsy to the 16-year-old German-American Tiffany Lake-Haeuser, who has just disembarked on the shores of The Displaced Nation. Born in New York City to German parents, this Third Culture Kid returned “home” to Germany when she was six and then at age 13, moved with her family to Abu Dhabi, UAE. Now back in Frankfurt, she divides her time between this city and Paris, where her father currently resides. Today she will play the role of Queen of the Nile and let us in on the fashion and beauty secrets she’s collected from her travels.

BEAUTY STAPLES

I’ve become a big fan of black eyeliner after living in the Middle East. (The real Cleopatra would approve!) The more conservative Arab women in Abu Dhabi and the rest of the UAE don’t wear eyeliner, but those who are more modern or Westernized often wear quite a lot. They all have such nice eyes and long eye lashes, so it always looks striking. Eyeliner easily takes an ordinary make-up to something special.

BEAUTY TREATMENTS

Living in the Middle East also taught me that eyebrow shaping helps frame the face and makes people look elegant. Even though it’s painful, I get my eyebrows done regularly.

And from my various travels, I’ve learned how important it is to take care of one’s skin and hair, especially since those are two things people notice right away when they they meet you.

HAIR

My hair has been very long, but I recently had it cut to much shorter. I have pretty much done everything with my hair from long to short to all different kinds of bangs. The only thing I haven’t done is dye my hair, because I am afraid it will be damaged.

FASHION

My favorite piece of clothing from my travels is not so exotic. It’s a big dark blue woolly cardigan that I bought at the Urban Outfitters in London. I love that sweater because it is so comfortable. Sometimes it can be hard to combine with an outfit, but I’ve discovered some ways I think work well.

LINGERIE

I have never bought lingerie in any country other than my own but I would imagine South America to have nice lingerie so I would definitely keep an eye out for that if I ever travel there.

JEWELRY

My favorite piece of jewelry is a ring my mom bought me at a market in Sharjah (the capital city of Sharjah, one of the emirate states). It has a black smooth stone and a silver frame; the stone is slightly bigger, too. I really like the fact that it doesn’t come from a store that mass produces their stuff, but instead it’s different and individual.

WEARING RIGHT NOW

I am wearing a pair of black jeggings, which I recently got at the German clothing store People’s Place. In my opinion, they are flattering and you can never really go wrong with a comfy pair of skinny jeans. I am also wearing a light green sweatshirt, which is the softest piece of clothing I own (also from People’s Place), and a slightly cropped pastel-pink shirt. It’s also amazingly soft — it’s from a Roman boutique called Brandy Melville, their store in New York City. For accessories I have on a feather necklace from the Urban Outfitters in Frankfurt and a black flower ring that comes from a small jewelry store on the outskirts of Frankfurt.

DAILY FASHION FIXES

I always read Glamour magazine, especially since it has so many versions: German, British, American and Australian. I like to see the differences in fashion around the globe. (British and French magazines have the most cutting-edge fashions, though.) And I read a lot of fashion blogs: for instance, Birds of a feather flock together — by Cailin Klohk, an 18-year-old half-Irish, half-German girl who lives near Frankfurt — and Snakes Nest (an American one).

Actually, I created my own blog at the end of last year as my dream now is to become a fashion journalist. It’s called Girl on the Run. I chose the name because of my many moves and travels, which makes me feel like life never stands still and I am constantly discovering new things.

STYLE ICON

Alexa Chung is very present across Europe — I think she has a beautiful and individual style. She mixes some pieces no one would think of to mix, yet they work so wonderfully together. Also, she seems to follow her own instincts instead of being a slave to current fashion trends.

STREET FASHION

I like to go to the Zeil/Hauptwache area in Frankfurt to people watch; there are so many different kinds of people and fashion-forward styles. I especially like to look at people’s bags as I have a slight obsession with bags.

TOP BEAUTY/STYLE LESSON FROM TRAVELS

From all my travels, I have learned that it is important to follow one’s own tastes and cultivate one’s own style instead of just mimicking fashion trends. There are so many beautiful ways to dress in the world, and seeing them has really opened my eyes and made me open to experimenting with what really suits me.

Tiffany Lake-Haeuser is an 11th-grade student at Frankfurt International School with an ambition to become a fashion journalist some day. For more of her fashion impressions and beauty advice, follow her blog, Girl on the Run, which she plans to update regularly now that it’s spring break!

STAY TUNED for Monday’s post, a celebration of The Displaced Nation’s one-year anniversary!

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Images: (clockwise beginning with large picture on left): Tiffany Lake-Haeuser on the balcony of her father’s apartment in Paris, sporting her shorter hairdo; applying eyeliner; her Emerati ring (a gift from her mother); and a side view of her beloved cardie from London (Urban Outfitters).

An Italian with a passion: How to live the Dolce Vita, with Barbara Conelli

Barbara Conelli is a woman on a mission — a mission to bring, as she puts it on her website, “Fantastic Fearless Feminine Fun into women’s lives.”

A prolific writer, with one book already published (Chique Secrets of Dolce Vita, a journey through Italy), another coming out in May, and other writing credits galore, Barb “invites women to explore Italy from the comfort of their home with elegance, grace and style, encouraging them to live their own Dolce Vita no matter where they are in the world.”

While many of you will be familiar with her writing and blog, others will know Barb from her popular Chique Show at Blog Talk Radio, where she interviews authors and talks about life in and her passion for Italy.

Today, though, it’s Barb’s turn to be interviewed.

Thank you, Barb, for agreeing to be interviewed! Can you tell us a bit about your background — where you were born, where you grew up, where you studied?
I was born in London to an Austrian mother and an Italian father. My background was incredibly multicultural and the fact that I had relatives in different countries who spoke different languages encouraged me to start learning the languages they spoke, and when I did, I realized some of the relatives were much nicer when I didn’t understand them. But it was too late; at that time I was already speaking eight languages and traveling around the globe, a passion that turned out to be totally incurable. I tried hard to be a homebody but it never worked.

A chronic gatherer of knowledge, I studied at several universities in Spain, Portugal, Italy and the US, and when I got my second PhD I realized the academic career was totally killing my creativity and my soul. (As you can see, realizing important stuff too late was a pattern in my 20s.)

Although I’ve had many homes away from home, Italy has always been my real home. Grandma Lily, my paternal grandmother, made sure I grew up to be a real Italian – food-loving, high-spirited, untameable, capricious and addicted to shoes. I frequently visited my cousins in Italy already when I was a kid, and when I got my heart-broken by an Italian at the age of sixteen, I knew there was no turning back. I was an Italian. Until today I’m not sure whether it’s a blessing or a curse. (Thanks, Grandma Lily!)

You split your time between New York and Milan, correct? When did you move to Milan, and why there in particular?
That’s right! Grandma Lily was born in Milan. She left the city and the country with her parents when she was a little girl and she never went back. However, the city stayed in her heart. I visited Milan many, many times, but I decided to actually get a place there and make it my home when I started to think about writing a book about the city. I wanted to really live it, breathe it, be it. I couldn’t live in Tuscany and write about Milan. That would have made me a tourist, not a Milanese. And I wanted to be one with the city and become familiar with its many faces.

Your first book, Chique Secrets of Dolce Vita, was published last year, and your second, Chique Secrets of Dolce Amore, is due to be published in May. Can you tell us a little about your new book?
Yes, I’d love to! I’m so excited because my editor has just sent me the final version of the manuscript, and I’m totally in love with the book! In Chique Secrets of Dolce Amore, I share my unexpected encounters with the capricious, unpredictable and extravagant city of Milan, its glamorous feminine secrets, the everyday magic of its dreamy streets, the passionate romance of its elegant hideaways, and the sweet Italian art of delightfully falling in love with your life wherever you go. This book is very informative and contains lots of factual information about the city, but at the same time it’s very poetic, lyrical and romantic. It shows that Milan is the perfect city to have a love affair with.

And what happens after Dolce Amore? Another book? Can you give us any hints?
There are several exciting projects I’m working on. Later this year, I’m planning to publish a collection of selected articles and essays I’ve written about Milan and published in magazines and on my blog. I’m also putting together a travel anthology that’s going to be released in the fall, with travel essays and short stories written by sixteen amazing, wonderful authors.

As far as my Chique Book series is concerned, with Chique Secrets of Dolce Amore I’m leaving Milan and venturing into Rome. The next book is titled Chique Secrets of Dolce Far Niente, and in this book I’m going to reveal the hidden face of Rome and share with my readers the Roman art of pleasant, carefree idleness.

My books always have a deeper message and I love using the city I write about as “the stage of life”, a creative space where we can learn, grow and get to know ourselves. Milan is about loving your life and finding beauty in simple, everyday things. Rome is about being fully present in your life instead of exhaustingly focusing on doing, doing, doing.

Something that comes across loud and clear in the reviews of Dolce Vita is your talent for writing descriptive prose and storytelling. What made you decide to write non-fiction rather than a novel?
A good question! I’ll be honest with you: I am working on a novel (okay, looks like I’ve just come out of the closet and admitted I’m a shadow novelist). However, I find writing fiction much less appealing. I love exploring the real world, I love talking to people, I enjoy discovering their stories, understanding what makes them tick. I’m incredibly curious and inquisitive, and I always look deeper, beyond the obvious, the visible. My readers often say that when they read my book, they feel they’re actually there with me, experiencing the same things, tasting the food, submerging themselves in the atmosphere. My books are like a magic carpet that takes you to beautiful places enabling you to live a beautiful adventure sitting in an armchair and wearing your jammies. I truly believe that being able to give this to the reader through the pages of my book is a miracle, and it makes me endlessly happy.

What audience did you have in mind for Dolce Vita when you first wrote it, and did you end up attracting those sorts of readers?
It’s an interesting question. I write primarily for women and I wanted my book to appeal to experienced, avid travelers as well as to those who dream of Italy and desire to explore this beautiful country. I definitely succeeded in connecting with my audience and I’m very grateful for my fabulous readers and fans from all around the world who give me lots of love, support, encouragement and wonderful feedback. However, I was very surprised to see that my book attracted also many male readers who totally enjoyed my writing. I just love that.

To which aspects of your writing have readers responded the most?
When you read the reviews, there seems to be one strong common denominator: “I felt I was really there with the author.” I’ve been so touched by this, and I feel very blessed because it means I’ve been able to get my message across and bring Italian beauty, charm and grace into the lives of many women. This is my definition of success – doing what you love and touching other people’s hearts by sharing your passion with them.

Have you written anything else?
I have two previously published books on relationships and self-love, based on my coaching career. I have also written screenplays for TV shows and scripts for TV talk shows. And I’m a movie translator – I have translated and subtitled over 800 feature films, shows and documentaries for major movie studios, TV channels and distribution companies. I have also translated several fiction and poetry books. Yes, I’m a typical “slasher” – a multi-talented person with many careers. But if you ask me who I truly am, my answer is I’m a writer and traveler. That’s my soul’s calling.

I first heard you — and heard of you! — on your blog talk radio show, the Chique Show. How long has the Chique Show been running?
Chique Show has been broadcasting for about a year. It has gained incredible momentum and today, just 12 months later, we have over 5,500 listeners, recently adding more than one hundred new listeners every week.

Is a radio talk show something you have always wanted to do?
When it all started, it really wasn’t my goal or dream to be a radio hostess, although I had always found this medium fascinating. Chique Show was meant to be just another platform to promote my new book but I immediately fell in love with it, and today it’s much bigger than I ever imagined. Chique Show is a great connector, a wonderful opportunity to meet new people, and my way of giving back and bringing authors closer to their readers.

How would you like to see it evolve?
I would love Chique Show to become a featured, branded show that would broadcast every day on a variety of topics. You know, one of my mottos is the words of Donald Trump: “If you’re going to think anyway, think big.” And Eleanor Roosevelt’s: “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” I’m a visionary, and there’s not just a branded radio show on my vision board, but also a magazine and TV channel. I love challenging myself and pushing my own boundaries. My mum says I decided I was going to be a success story already as a toddler. I’ve always been stubbornly creative and free-spirited.

You’ve had a lot of guests on the show. Have there been any particularly memorable moments?
You know, I really love those moments when my guest and I totally click. When we find a topic we’re both fascinated about, we chat, we laugh. There’s a fantastic vibe and irresistible energy that totally fill the radio waves, and our listeners can feel it. We are just wonderfully connected.

I’ve also had deeply moving moments on the show when my guests opened up and talked about their life experiences, their struggles, their pain, and how they managed to overcome adversity and follow their dreams.

One of my favorite shows is the interview with author Lyn Fuchs that you featured here on Displaced Nation a couple of months ago. I love smart, talented, open-minded and humble people who are not afraid to do their thing and stand out from the crowd. Lyn is one of those people and having him on the show has been a real pleasure.

Is there anyone you would *love* to interview on your show — a “fantasy” interviewee, as it were, be they alive or dead?
Leonardo da Vinci: the most fantastic “slasher” in history. I wrote about his years in Milan in Chique Secrets of Dolce Vita, and I find him fascinating. I believe his genius is still undervalued. Madeleine Albright, a lady who epitomizes feminine power and wisdom. And Grandma Lily — the sage of my family.

With March being Fashion Month, many of our recent posts have been fashion- and style-related. Now, if you’ve actually read any of those posts, you’ll have realized that three of us anyway are the last people on earth who should be advising on fashion. I poke fun at haute couture, Anthony’s fashion advice begins and ends with chinos and a shirt, and Tony’s staple apparel is shorts and T-shirts. As someone who has made her home in two of the world’s fashion capitals, can you give us any tips about where a couture-challenged person can start?
Okay, my fantasy’s running wild here. Chinos make me think of Indiana Jones (a.k.a. Harrison Ford at his best). And shorts and a t-shirt? Matthew McConaughey. Hot, sexy, juicy! (May I join your team like right now?)

I love fashion because to me it’s yet another expression of creativity and art. It’s also one of the easiest ways to say who you are. You can use fashion to make a statement and I’m totally non-judgmental when it comes to people’s choices.

The best piece of advice is, be yourself. You don’t need to choose one style or color palette and stick with it forever. Fashion is a game and it’s meant to be played and enjoyed. Fashion is not created by designers, it’s created by you, every single morning.

In my closet, you’d find little black dresses and faded jeans, pantsuits and colorful skirts, white shirts and t-shirts with wild patterns. Lots of scarves and hats and other accessories. My wardrobe has as many faces as I do because I may be different every day but I always insist on being myself.

To sum it up, stop flipping through fashion magazines and show the world how beautifully unique you are!

OK, so we’re following your advice and doing a bit of retail therapy in two continents. Where would you suggest as first stop for shopping in Milan?
I suggest you leave your Lonely Planet Guidebook in your bag and start exploring. I love Milanese vintage stores, visiting them is a real adventure. I can recommend “Cavalli e Nastri” in Via Brera, or Oplà in Via Vigevano. For original jewelry, Vigano in Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle. And a Borsalino hat is a must!

And then we take a transatlantic flight and go shopping in New York…where’s our first stop there?
Tiffany & Co., of course! Okay, just kidding. The Tiffany store in both Milan and New York plays a very important role in the last chapter of Chique Secrets of Dolce Amore where it turns into a spicy matchmaker. Plus, I love Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

I almost never shop for clothes in New York but I love New York bookstores. I live on Broadway and I’m addicted to the Strand Book Store at the corner of Broadway and 12th Street.

And on Saturdays, I love going to the Greenmarket at Union Square, the most wonderful outdoor market in New York whose atmosphere reminds me of Italy.

Splitting your time between two countries as you do, do you find it difficult to settle into the ways of one country after a length of time in the other?
Actually, it’s funny because when I come to Milan, my friends usually tell me: “Stop being so American!” It takes me a few days to slow down and return to the spirit of la dolce vita. It always reminds me how fast we actually live in the States, and how we allow life to just pass us by.

When I return to New York, it takes me about a week or two to get used to the bustle of the city. I love New York, it’s an incredibly vibrant city, but it can truly wear you down. You need to manage your energy really well and set your boundaries. Although New York is said to be the city that never sleeps, a New Yorker needs to get some sleep at least every now and then.

What aspect of Italy would you like to transplant to New York life — and why?
The art of taking the time to actually live. Experiencing life with gratitude and a sense of awe. The sweetness of human experience. Achieving great things is wonderful, but your life needs to be balanced, and that’s what New York sometimes misses. We need to stop and smell the roses more often.

What about vice versa? Any aspect of New York life you would like to transplant to Italy?
The glitz, the flashiness and the flamboyance. New York is a self-confident brat and it would be fun to see more of that in the easy-going, laid-back Italian way of life.

You’ve traveled extensively — have you discovered any other places where you’d like to live for a while?
After living in Middle East, Africa, in the Australian outback, in stunning European cities and wonderful metropolises of this world, I would like to create one more home-away-from home in French Polynesia. Sleep, eat, dance, swim in the ocean and write books. My idea of writer’s heaven.

Your suggestion about joining the TDN team? Yes — on condition we can all descend upon your new home in French Polynesia… Heaven indeed. Thanks, Barb, for talking so honestly to us!

We will hear more about Barbara Conelli in a few weeks, when we review her new book, Chique Secrets of Dolce Amore, and subscribers to the Displaced Dispatch can look forward to another exciting giveaway!
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Image: Barbara Conelli

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