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Mark Hillary delivers reality check to gringos who moan about Brazil, in self-published book (2/2)

Mark Hillary Part 2 CollageIn Part 1 of my interview with Mark Hillary, a fellow Brit and amigo in São Paulo, we learned about what spurred him to write a book called Reality Check: Life in BRAZIL through the eyes of a foreigner.

A lively discussion ensued about what makes Brazil such a contentious country for expats (short answer: it’s a country of extremes).

Today I’ll ask Mark about his decision to publish Reality Check as an e-book. As I mentioned last week, Mark is well published in his chosen field of technology and globalization. He is a HuffPo columnist and has also blogged for Reuters about British politics. But Reality Check represents his first venture into the Amazon e-book platform.

I was curious about why he chose this route and also had some questions about his reading and writing habits generally.

* * *

Mark, Reality Check isn’t the first book that you’ve written. Can you tell us something about your other books?
It’s actually my tenth book. I used to be quite a senior IT manager in a bank, managing people all over the world. I had already started contributing articles to technology magazines while I was at the bank, and eventually I was sent off to India to help the company build up a big new office in Bangalore. I was hiring hundreds of technical team members and then trying to sell their services bank to other sections of the bank. It was quite an experience, especially as it occurred right at the beginning of the big push to India by many technology companies.

I wrote a book about it all, which was published by the respected German publisher Springer and well received in journals and newspapers such as the FT.

After that I carried on writing about the connection between work, technology, and globalization.

It’s impressive that you can span the range from big IT questions to a foreigner’s take on life in Brazil.
I’m interested in many areas, which is probably why my three times at university have included courses on computer science, business and management, and psychology. My earlier work on outsourcing naturally led me to how companies are changing and globalization, and this has naturally led onto my writing about being an expat. If there’s a connecting thread, it’s work and the changing nature of work in our time. That said, I wouldn’t want to only ever comment on a single topic. Life is a lot more complex than that.

You decided to release Reality Check in the Amazon Kindle format. Why did you make that decision?
I’ve been asked that question a lot. Six of my books were published using traditional publishers, and three were self-published via Lulu. And now, with the Brazil book, I’ve used the Amazon Kindle format. I went into some detail on the pros and cons of each of these methods in a recent Huffington Post article, but in short the important thing to remember is how the publishing market is changing. Obviously there is still a lingering sense of kudos with the traditional publishers. A novel published by Penguin is still seen as “better” than something self-published, but it doesn’t have to be. The platform and process of publishing itself has just been democratized and made available to all.

If you know how to write and you can market your work to an audience, then it is much faster to publish with Amazon or Lulu. And, not only can you reach a global audience instantly—you earn a far greater percentage of the sale price.

In the case of Reality Check, I wanted it to be available around the world as quickly as possible, and Amazon has a great system for doing that. Plus you don’t actually need a Kindle: iPads and phones are all being used to read this book.

Do you think it helps that you already had a following through your writings and other books?
Reality Check has has been in the Amazon top 20 books about Brazil since publication on September 1st, and yesterday when I checked, it was the number one book about Brazil and number two book about South America. So people have been noticing it.

I think it does help if you already have a following. It used to be that publishers and agents acted as the gatekeeper, so readers could be confident a book that ended up in the shops was good. Now anyone can publish any old rubbish, so there is no longer that guarantee of a published book being any good.

The much-celebrated poet Seamus Heaney is a good example. He has been lauded as one of the greatest writers of the past century, and he had plenty of work published by traditional publishers. But he was self-publishing new work before his recent death.

Do you plan to make Reality Check anything other than an e-book?
I’m planning to also release a paper version of the book, but it will not be until the second edition—planned to come out just before the World Cup football competition in June next year.

Are you working on any other writing projects at the moment?
The present one is about my own experience of ghostwriting. I’ve written for ambassadors and company CEOs, and I once had to help astronaut Neil Armstrong add a few jokes to his standard Apollo 11 speech. The work I have written for others to be delivered in their name has often, but not always, gone down well, and I wanted to explore that. And in the tech area, I’m working on a book project that aims to be a graduates’ guide to how you get a job in a job market where nobody wants to pay you a salary.

10 Questions for Mark Hillary

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

1. Last truly great book you read: I recently read all of Ira Levin’s novels back to back—all great; but I’ll go for Paul Trynka’s biography of David Bowie, which I just now finished.
2. Favorite literary genre: Dystopian novels: Burgess, Orwell, Ballard.
3. Reading habits on a plane: I read fiction and non-fiction and always carry my Kindle because it’s so much better for travel than lugging around a lot of books. This week I was on a plane and I read The Default Line, by Faisal Islam—about the financial crash of 2008 and what has happened since.
4. The one book you’d require David Cameron to read, and why: Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere: The new global revolutions, by Paul Mason. It’s a study of the various riots, uprisings and protests around the world, particularly in 2011. I think the UK has more unrest to come because living standards and earnings are in decline—the people are going to kick off again one day.
5. Favorite books as a child: Those by Roald Dahl, though everyone seems to think he was actually a nasty piece of work in real life.
6. Favorite heroine: Harper Lee. To Kill a Mockingbird was her only book and she never courted any publicity. It challenged racism over 50 years ago and still retains its power today.
7. The writer, alive or dead, you’d most like to meet: Oscar Wilde. He wrote 20th-century books and plays in the 19th century and despite his sad downfall, is still remembered and loved today.
8. Your reading habits: I mostly read in the evening. I don’t watch TV, other than for movies so that gives me more time. I tend to read one or two books a week unless I’m traveling a lot then it’s more just because of the endless time spent in airports or on buses.
9. The book you’d most like to see made as a film: The Drowned World, by J.G. Ballard. Life after the oceans have risen and the world we know now is flooded.
10. The book you plan to read next: Jesse Norman’s biography of Edmund Burke—already on the Kindle waiting for me.

* * *

Readers, any more questions for Mark? He may sound a bit intimidating, but in fact he’s very approachable and happy to answer any questions about e-publishing. (Though he doesn’t write fiction, he also has views on publishing platforms for novels.) Meanwhile, if you’re interested in Reality Check, you can purchase it on Amazon. I would also recommend becoming a fan of its Facebook page and following Mark on Twitter: @MarkHillary

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, by another Englishman who is also an expat albeit in California: 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: Mark Hillary surrounded by his traditional books and his e-book cover.

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Mark Hillary delivers reality check to gringos who moan about Brazil, in self-published book (1/2)

Mark_HillaryA little while ago I interviewed Megan Farrell, a fellow gringo in São Paulo, about the book she had written about “exbrat” life in the city. As far as I’m aware, Megan’s was the first book to be written about life in SP by a foreigner, although she seems to have started a new trend because within the last fortnight another has emerged: Reality Check: Life in BRAZIL through the eyes of a foreigner.

Reality Check is by Mark Hillary, a fellow Brit in São Paulo (he recently moved outside the city), who is an author, blogger, and advisor on technology and globalization. He has already published a number of books and is a contributor to Huffington Post, Reuters, The Guardian, and Computer Weekly.

Mark is also a friend of mine. We connected through Twitter just over a year ago. We eventually met at a local bar when—unsurprisingly, given his background in technology and social media—he organized a meet-up of gringos who had connected online but had yet to meet up in the flesh.

Since then he and I have continued to meet up, although less so since his move to the countryside. We had a particularly memorable trip in June to Rio to watch England play Brazil in football at the brand new Maracanã Stadium. (As anyone who follows my posts should recall, I’m a bit of a football geek.)

Over the past year Mark has written, in his column for the Huffington Post, a number of insightful articles about life as a foreigner in Brazil—most notably, “No HP Sauce, Endless Red Tape: Would You Want to Live in Brazil?, which responded to a gringo Facebook forum that had listed all the reasons why foreigners hated living in this country.

It was to my pleasant surprise, then, when Mark announced he had extended his account of life in Brazil and intended to publish it as an e-book.

Leaving aside my acquaintance with Mark (and the fact he gives a nod to my personal blog in the book!), I must say that I found Reality Check a very enjoyable read. It is a thoughtful and critical, yet balanced, account of his experiences in Brazil and of the country in general—and frankly, I’m rather annoyed that I haven’t written it myself.

Mark’s book also seems to be a good accompaniment to Megan’s. Whilst hers is a straightforward, step-by-step guide to life in São Paulo, his is a narrative providing a broad overview of gringo life. Either way, both books will be of use to those who are either moving to Brazil or perhaps are simply interested in finding out a bit more about South America’s largest and most populous country (it’s also the world’s fifth largest economy).

Anyway, enough of my wittering on. Let’s hear more from Mark himself.

* * *

RealityCheck_bookcoverHi, Mark. Congratulations on your new book and thanks for agreeing to this interview. First off, can you say a little more about what inspired you to write it?
As you already mentioned, I wrote the book in large part as a reaction to the negative posts about Brazil in online gringo communities. Everyone has their own reasons for moving and living away from their home country, but the majority of the groups I’ve encountered online are full of complaints about Brazilian food, prices, bureaucracy… Anyone who reads the posts made in the Facebook group for Gringoes.com would think that the UK and US offer a utopian paradise that would be madness to ever leave.

As you said in your intro, I wrote an article for the Huffington Post where I tried to give a more balanced view on life in Brazil.

Then I thought that, as someone who has rented and bought a home, started a company, hired people, and married a Brazilian, I could probably give a more detailed opinion on the experience—hence the book.

So being married to a Brazilian was what brought you to Brazil?
Yes, we were living in London, but after the financial crash in 2008 my business was much slower than before. By 2010 it became clear that there were many more opportunities for me to build a research and publishing business in Brazil than in the UK and so we moved just before the end of that year, nearly four years ago.

We recently featured another book about expat life in Brazil: American Exbrat in São Paulo, by Megan Farrell. Megan’s focus was on the “exbrat” community in São Paulo—i.e., those who are transferred here for work by a large company. My impression is that your focus is less specific and more of a broad overview of life in Brazil as a foreigner.
I’m not really interested in the exbrats. If a big company transfers someone to Brazil and they have their home taken care of and a driver to ferry them around, and they only ever go for a drink in expat pubs, then I don’t think they are experiencing the real Brazil. I’m not suggesting that the only authentic Brazil experience is living in a favela, but there are other kinds of foreigners here—journalists, teachers, people from all walks of life—who are constantly looking for ways to explore their new home.

Did you have a specific audience in mind when you wrote the book?
I really set out to explore some of my own experiences, with the expectation that people investing in Brazil or looking for a job here might have an interest in the book.

The book has only just been published (2nd September) so I guess it is a little early to tell, but how has it been received so far?
It is very recent, but there is already a very positive review from a Brazilian reader on Amazon. I started my author Facebook page when I published the book, and that community is growing by around a hundred people every day—so people are noticing it. One of the biggest newspapers in Brazil (Folha de SP) has been in touch to interview me about the book—despite my not having done any press promotion for the book due to my traveling almost every day since the publication!

Did you connect with São Paulo and/or Brazil in any new ways whilst writing the book?
It made me more determined to plug areas outside of Rio, which has a lot of friends already. I’ve really enjoyed living in both São Paulo the city and interior—SP needs a few gringo fans to speak out and remind people that the city is not just about concrete and cops murdering civilians.

You recently moved to the countryside outside São Paulo—how and why did that come about?
We spent two years living in the centre of São Paulo and just wanted to find something a bit quieter. I love it where we are now. There is a great sense of community; the neighbours all know each other. There is none of the security paranoia you find in the city centre, and there is some fantastic scenery on our doorstep.

Do you miss SP at all?
I miss being able to go out to see my friends in the city, or go to concerts by international bands that will only ever play in major cities. But we are planning to get a very small apartment in SP soon, so we don’t completely lose touch with it.

You mentioned the “security paranoia” in SP. In my observation, most of us gringos carry a fear that is at odds with how our Brazilian partners and/or friends feel. I enjoyed reading the section of your book covering this perception gap. Do you think that more positive accounts of Brazil by writers/bloggers like you and myself can help to shift these perceptions?
If people like you and me can get visitors to realize that they can walk down Avenida Paulista or along Copacabana Beach without fearing for their life, that would help. On more than one occasion I have met business contacts who flew into town and then were shocked when I suggested meeting away from their hotel. Standard advice from American and European companies is often to stay inside when in Brazil because of all the street crime.

The Brazilians, too, should play a part in correcting this situation. I don’t think we have much influence because we are seen as outsiders, but as more Brazilians get exposed to alternative cultures through travel, I hope it can change a little.

Last year I brought my wife’s teenage cousin on a trip to the USA, just to show her what life is like outside of Brazil. She found it incredible that you could walk up to the front of so many celebrity homes in Los Angeles—that anyone could walk into Sylvester Stallone’s garden. That’s unimaginable in Brazil.

What are you thoughts on foreign media portrayals of Brazil? Do you feel, for example, that persistent foreign criticisms of Brazil’s preparations for the World Cup and Olympics have been fair?
Every World Cup and Olympic games gets this negative press, so I don’t know if it is any worse than the last time. Anyone from the UK should be able to recall how the London Games were going to be a disaster right up to the week of the Games—the attitude seemed to change only when everyone saw that spectacular opening ceremony.

All I know from personal experience is that when you and I went to the Brazil v England football game at the Maracanã in June, the organization was superb. The stadium looked good, the public transport all worked, and the volunteers helping the crowd were great. I couldn’t fault it—so I’m really looking forward to the World Cup.

From the way you write so passionately about Brazil it is clear that you love living here, but there must have been the odd difficult moment when you wondered whether you’d made the right decision in fleeing the economically stagnant UK for your wife’s native land. When have you felt most displaced?
Sometimes the bureaucracy in daily life does get perverse and goes beyond just the criticism of a foreigner claiming that it all works better in Europe. Examples include having to pay someone to get my car registered to a new address or being fined for not paying my stamp duty on the day I agreed a mortgage with the bank—even though I paid on the day I got the documents myself. Sometimes I wonder if there is ever going to be any government that sweeps away this nonsense. I also fear that the job cuts created by improved efficiency means we are stuck with much of this.

Conversely, when have been your least displaced moments, when it all seemed to make sense?
I live in a really beautiful place now surrounded by a lot of wonderful people. Every morning when I take my dog for a walk then start work for the day I know I’m lucky to be here.

* * *

Readers, I will be talking to Mark again on Tuesday of next week, when we focus on his decision to self-publish his book. Any further questions for him, meantime? And don’t forget, if you’re interested in Reality Check, you can purchase it on Amazon. I would also recommend becoming a fan of its Facebook page and following Mark on Twitter: @MarkHillary

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

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: Mark Hillary’s author image and book cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

Injecting her own anecdotes, and photos, into the book

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

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

The topic of domestic servants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ten Questions for Megan Farrell

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

What’s it like to “come out” as a Third Culture Kid on stage? Elizabeth Liang tells all!

Liang Alien Citizen dancingAs reported here last month, Elizabeth Liang spent the month of May performing, at a venue in Los Angeles, a one-woman show about being a Third Culture Kid, or TCK. As some readers may recall, Liang is a self-described Guatemalan-American business brat of Chinese-Spanish-Irish-French-German-English descent. She was brought up by peripatetic parents in Central America, North Africa, the Middle East, and Connecticut. Many of us were curious about not only how she could pack all of that personal history into a solo stage performance, but also how the (mostly American) audiences would respond. Today is the day we get to find out. Take it away, Elizabeth!

—ML Awanohara

I had no idea what to expect from audiences when I opened my solo show, Alien Citizen, in Hollywood, California, on May 3rd (it closed June 1st).

Since the show is about my upbringing as a dual citizen of mixed heritage in six countries, I assumed it would appeal mainly to Adult Third Culture Kids (ATCKs) and people of mixed heritage—the people I wrote it for, since we rarely see our stories portrayed on stage or screen.

I wanted the show to be funny, but wasn’t sure if the humor would translate.

And I wanted people to be moved by the story.

Some pleasant surprises

As it turned out:
1) I was happily surprised by the composition of the audience. People of all backgrounds, ethnicities, and ages came to see my performance. Some were Americans who had never left their home state until college, others had moved domestically countless times as kids. By the same token, I was pleased that the audience did include ATCKs, global nomads, people of mixed heritage, expats, and immigrants.

2) Many of the houses were full. I had tentatively hoped the story would resonate with enough people to fill the house because the play is about identity, which everyone grapples with. That said, I didn’t expect everyone to empathize with my lifelong experience as an outsider of some kind and even feared that this experience would alienate some audience members… The full houses suggested that the show was actually resonating with most people. For this I must give credit to my director, Sofie Calderon, because she guided me to a brave and inclusive performance. I also take pride in the script, which I worked on for two years.

3) The audience laughed in the right places, mostly. I was astounded at the number of laughs I got in my preview performance. It was wonderful. This continued once the play got under way, although I did have a few quiet nights, when the audience was listening intently and smiling rather than laughing. (Then there was the night when a man in the front row fell asleep. This thickened my skin…after I considered quitting!)

4) The audiences were moved—not only at the end of the play where it was intended, but throughout the performance. People told me that they oscillated between tears and laughter for a large part of the performance—the highest praise I could have hoped for.

Nights to remember

The performance that stands out most for me was the first time my parents, brother, and aunt came to watch me. They had all traveled internationally or cross-country to see it.

My parents and brother are characters in the show, so I was unsure of how they might react. That night got some of the biggest laughs, and my family told me afterward that while they certainly laughed, they also wept throughout the performance because I was telling their story, too. The show brought back experiences they hadn’t thought of in years.

Opening and closing nights were wildly different and weirdly similar. I performed in abject terror on opening weekend, and while I kept it hidden from the audience, it was difficult to enjoy myself on stage. Through the run, I gained heaps of confidence, and was able to relax and “play” more.

However, the final show was reminiscent of opening night in that it wasn’t my best. An actor’s performance is like a speeding train with no seats—ideally, the actor makes a flying leap to catch it, hangs onto the rails, and rides it without falling. Sometimes, though, the actor has to sprint for some time to catch the train, using every skill s/he has—and then keeps slipping from the handrails and grabbing them again, never able to “coast” and enjoy the ride.

I was sorry that my closing night wasn’t a great ride for me, but the good thing about performing for different groups of people each night is that the audience has no idea of what to expect, yet the story remains the same. So closing night still managed to get a standing ovation, as had other nights.

Lessons learned from “coming out” on stage

Performing Alien Citizen was a “coming out” for me. Although I told the story as entertainingly as possible, the play explores the darker aspects of having a peripatetic childhood, being a child of color and mixed heritage in the socially segregated USA of my youth, and being a girl blooming into womanhood on the hostile sidewalks of North Africa and the cold campus of a women’s college in the States.

I had never told these stories publicly (and rarely in private) because I didn’t want to seem ungrateful for all of the wondrous experiences I’d had as a TCK (including life in North Africa and at college), but also because I’m accustomed to listeners failing to understand my point. Hearing negative stories, people tend to conclude that a peripatetic childhood is terrible, or that the country in question is not worth visiting. But that isn’t what I’m trying to say.

Alien Citizen was my attempt to pronounce that:

  1. Being a nomad, a kid of mixed heritage, and a girl can be hard.
  2. This doesn’t nullify the glorious experiences to be had from having any or all of these selves.
  3. The accompanying stories—positive and negative—have a right to be told. They are rarely told, they validate many people’s experiences, and they make a good yarn.

The overwhelmingly positive response of my audiences, night after night, taught me that my story is relatable and interesting, and that it’s a testament to my own strength as a human being, something I hadn’t known would be the case.

Doing the show also confirmed my belief that if a story is told with humor, people will listen to the darker side of it, and empathize.

I’ve been approached by universities in and out of state, as well as venues in Central America, to perform the show and teach workshops on how to create a solo show.

I hope to take the show all over the world.

I’m profoundly grateful that the world premiere of Alien Citizen has led to so many opportunities. I will also teach workshops in Los Angeles starting this fall.

* * *

Readers, I feel moved by this report even though I didn’t get to witness Elizabeth Liang’s deeply moving performance. (Elizabeth, please bring the show to New York so that I can see it!) How about you—any further questions for this brave and bold artist?

STAY TUNED for next week’s posts, featuring yet more international creatives as well as the latest episode in our fictional expat series, Libby’s Life.

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: Elizabeth Liang performing Alien Citizen in LA.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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img: Michelle Garrett

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 May 2013 Alices go to … these 4 international creatives

 © Iamezan | Dreamstime.com Used under license

© Iamezan | Dreamstime.com
Used under license

As subscribers to our weekly newsletter will hopefully have noticed by now, each week our Displaced Dispatch presents an “Alice Award” to a writer who we think has a special handle on the curious and unreal aspects of the displaced life of global residency and travel. Not only that, but this person has used their befuddlement as a spur to creativity. He or she qualifies as an “international creative.”

Today’s post honors May’s four Alice recipients, beginning with the most recent and this time including citations.

So, without further ado: The May 2013 Alices go to (drumroll…):

1) ADAM GROFFMAN, travel blogger and expat

Source: “How a children’s book inspired my wanderlust” in Travels of Adam
Posted on: 13 April 2013
Snippet:

You see, what I loved about this book as a kid is the focus on architecture and food in this utopian society. Each family is responsible for bringing a country’s culture to the island nation.

Citation: Many of us at the Displaced Nation attribute our abilities to tolerate and even embrace life abroad (the strange foods and drinks, the loneliness, the largely incomprehensible rules) from having taken to heart Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel, Through the Looking Glass, as kids. A good dose of literary nonsense has taken us a long way, and even to this day, we appreciate having recourse to Lewis Carroll’s great works to make sense of our rather curious lifestyles in countries other than those in which we were born.

Adam, we understand that you quit your job in Boston to travel the world and that you trace your own wanderlust to the 1947 American children’s book The Twenty-One Balloons, by William Pène du Bois, a story that in some ways is even more fanciful than Alice’s.

For those who don’t know it: The book begins when a schoolteacher, Professor William Waterman Sherman, becomes bored with his life and sets off on a journey in a hot air balloon called The Globe. He hopes the wind will blow him and his balloon all around the world. But instead he has a crash landing on the mysterious island of Krakatoa (Indonesia), where he discovers a utopian society started up by a group of wealthy families. Each family owns a restaurant of different types of foreign foods and all members of the island eat together at a different house, full of fantastic inventions, every night. Krakatoa being a volcanic island, the families are aware of the danger that the volcano could erupt at any moment (in fact its volcanoes erupted in 1883). Their escape plan consists of a platform made of balloons…

Adam, we love the idea of emulating a fictional character who favors balloon travel—the kind that begins without regard to speed and without a destination in mind. It’s also romantic to think that you expect to find, at best, utopianism, at worst, good food, in the course of your world wanderings. Perhaps it accounts for why you’ve landed your own “balloon” in Berlin, Germany’s creative capital and a city renowned for its architecture (only, how is the food there?).

2) TRACY SLATER, expat writer, author and blogger

Source: “What Does Home Mean When You Live Abroad?” in The Good Shufu
Posted on: 8 May 2013
Snippet:

I know how easy it is, when we live overseas, to lose our gimlet eye about home: to romanticize it, to see it as a kind of lost Eden, a place where we wouldn’t suffer the same disappointments or lonelinesses or defeats that we suffer in our expat lives.

Citation: Tracy, we would add to that something we learned from Alice, which is that part of the reason for cherishing the memory of home so much is that you can’t easily share what you love about it with the people you encounter in your new place. Alice experiences this when trying to talk about her beloved cat, Dinah, with the Wonderland creatures:

“I wish I hadn’t mentioned Dinah!” she said to herself in a melancholy tone. “Nobody seems to like her, down here, and I’m sure she’s the best cat in the world! Oh, my dear Dinah! I wonder if I shall ever see you any more!” And here poor Alice began to cry again, for she felt very lonely and low-spirited.

We also find inspiring your quote from the Egyptian writer and thinker André Aciman, that all exiles impulsively look for their homeland abroad. Even poor Alice suffered from that affliction—recall her trying to make herself at home at the Mad Hatter’s tea party, only to discover it is a less than civil gathering to what she is used to. First she is told there is no room for her at the table; then when she sits anyway, that her hair needs cutting. She is offered wine even though there isn’t any, and told to take more tea even though she hasn’t had any.

In fact, some of us can relate quite directly to this need to feel at home via a good cup of tea. TDN writer Kate Allison, for instance, has lived in the United States for many years but to this day fails to understand why Americans give her a cup of lukewarm water and a tea bag when she orders tea. And ML Awanohara, who lived in England before becoming an expat in Japan, often longed for English tea while sitting through the Japanese tea ceremony.

Tracy, we very much look forward to your forthcoming book, The Good Shufu: A Wife in Search of a Life Between East and West (Putnam, 2015), to help us make sense of such classic expat predicaments.

3) DANIELLA ZALCMAN, photojournalist

Source: “London + New York: A double exposure project”—an interview with Daniella by Austin Yoder on Matador Network
Posted on: 22 April, 2013
Snippet:

When [Daniella] moved from New York to London, she decided to create a series of double exposures to marry the spirit of both cities based on a combination of negative space, color, and contrast. Daniella’s double exposures create beautiful imaginary landscapes, and are captured entirely with her iPhone 4s.

“When I got to London, I knew that I wanted to capture not just the sensation of leaving NYC, but also of exploring a new city and making that environment feel like home.”

Citation: Daniella, we are enchanted by your idea of creating a composite of your beloved home city (New York) with your adopted city (London) to come up with an imaginary landscape. Indeed, we think it must be akin to the process Lewis Carroll used when creating Alice’s Wonderland—blending the bucolic English countryside surrounding Alice (she is sitting on the river bank considering making a daisy chain when the White Rabbit first appears) with the curious world that exists at the bottom of the rabbit hole, the familiar with the unfamiliar. When Alice awakens and reports her dream to her sister, the sister “half-believes” herself to be in Wonderland—if only she can suspend her disbelief for long enough to the sheep-bells tinkling in the distance as rattling teacups, the voice of the shepherd boy as the Queen’s shrill cries, and the lowing of the cattle in the distance as the Mock Turtle’s heavy sobs…

4) “SARAH SOMEWHERE”, world traveler and blogger

Source:On Freedom” in Sarah Somewhere blog
Posted on: 29 April 2013
Snippet:

I am not, by nature, a free spirit. I’m a worrier, a control freak and a chronic people pleaser. Letting go and trusting in the universe’s plan for me is not my default setting, nor is being content with what I have rather than continually striving for more. I still need some practice.

Citation: Sarah, your struggle with living life in the moment in Mexico puts us in mind of Alice, who, is constantly worrying about the impression she is leaving on the Wonderland residents, and finds it a challenge to enjoy the moment in a place as curious as Wonderland. We wish you luck in finding that sweet spot between total personal freedom and societal obligations. And, taking our cue from Alice’s sister, we envision a day when you’ll be telling stories about your adventures in Southeast Asia, China, Mexico and India to a group of children and inspiring them to follow their unique destinies:

she pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in the after-time, be herself a grown woman; and how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood: and how she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long ago: and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days.

* * *

So, readers, do you have a favorite from the above, and do you have any posts you’d like to see among June’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, another Jack the Hack column…

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

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

—ML Awanohara

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

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

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

An eye (as well as mouth) opener

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Canucks get it more right

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

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

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

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

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

How much will (should) I tolerate?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

For author Lana Penrose, expat “curveballs” come in threes

curveballToday we welcome back best-selling Australian author Lana Penrose, who last visited us in December to commiserate with those who were spending the holidays separated from their dearest and no longer nearest. Today’s occasion? The publication of Lana’s third memoir on her life abroad in Europe. Wait, did I just write “third”? Yes, this indefatigable Aussie managed to get a trilogy out of her expat experience, and is here today to explain.

—ML Awanohara

I’ve been asked to explain what motivated me to write my latest mini-memoir Addicted to Love, and it’s a very good question—one that I pose to myself often, particularly while in the throes of insomnia.

ToHelasandBack_dropshadowFor the uninitiated, I’m the author of To Hellas and Back, which chronicles my true-life tale of following the love of my life to the ends of the Earth (Greece) only to wind up losing my mind.

I then Nutbushed over to the UK to work for a world-renowned pop star and in the process wrote Kickstart My Heart, which details my attempt to negotiate my newly single life à la Bridget Jones—only with an axe through her head. As the book’s subtitle says: “A carnival of dating disasters”.

KickstartmyHeart_dropshadowNow these two books are rife with comedy, tragedy and my own human failings, so why scoop out what’s left of my heart and smear it across my shirtsleeve?

Like I said … a very good question.

More to the story…

The truth is that my story absolutely did not end with me leaving London to re-sample Greece after again being lured by love’s enchantment. In fact what happened next is something that I’ve kept close to my chest because it was downright shocking. I spent considerable time deliberating over whether I should share it at all.

AddictedtoLove_cover_dropshadowBut as many of you displaced writers know, the problem with being an author (one of the many!) is that you can’t seem to stop writing. And life has been more than accommodating in throwing me the odd curveball, the sort of material I feel compelled to purge away with my pen.

And so Addicted to Love was born: a mini-memoir that proves once and for all that truth really is stranger than fiction.

It’s set on the beautiful Greek island of Kythera, where I faced an impossible situation that I can’t go into here without issuing a spoiler alert … but rest assured that it’s gripping and you’ll digest it quite quickly, because it’s been described as “a page turner.”

Finally, an answer (of sorts)

But back to the original question: What motivated me to write this book? Well, thankfully (and unfortunately), experience has shown that there are many people who go through similar triumphs and tragedies to mine, particularly while traversing the globe. I like to connect with such people, and book writing is my way of holding out a hand and saying: “What—you, too?”and “You’re not alone.”

To Hellas and Back, Kickstart My Heart and Addicted to Love form a trilogy of the victories and pitfalls I experienced as an everyday person hurdling life abroad.

Each book can be read as a stand-alone, but I (predictably) suggest that you start at the very beginning to understand the depths of where I wound up.

* * *

Hey, Lana—you wound up here, at the Displaced Nation! That’s not the depths, surely? Readers, any questions for Lana or words of support? If you’re not familiar with Lana’s works, you can find the entire trilogy on Amazon or Smashwords. And don’t forget to follow her advice and begin at the beginning: by going to hellas and back!

Sydney-based (and no longer displaced) author Lana Penrose has had various incarnations, including music journalist, record company promotions gal, music television producer and personal assistant to an iconic pop sensation whose name shall never be revealed unless she’s subjected to Chinese water torture. She also once worked with the now-infamous Simon Cowell, which she today finds really odd. You can read more about her and her works on her author blog and/or follow her on Twitter: @LanaPenrose

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, when we’ll be revisiting one of the earliest themes on this blog, Alice in Wonderland, but from the perspective of an international creative.

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Image: MorgueFile

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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