The Displaced Nation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How could you not feel at ease?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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RANDOM NOMAD: Maggie Eriksson, Displaced Californian in Sweden and Student of Swedish

Maggie_pmPlace of birth: Arcadia, California, USA
Passport: USA & Sweden
Overseas history: Sweden (Landskrona, Malmö): 2005 – present.
Occupation: Unemployed and looking for a job. Meanwhile, I’m studying more Swedish since I’m far from fluent.
Cyberspace coordinates: Mag Wheels (Posterous) and @magsinsweden (Twitter handle).

What made you give up California for Sweden?
My husband is Swedish. After working for five years at the California lab for a small pharmaceutical company, he really wanted to go back home. We started the process in 2003, and a couple of years later, in spring 2005, we finally made the move.

How did the pair of you meet?
He was working as a chemist in Sweden and the company transferred him to their lab in California. We met on a Yahoo message board — he was looking for people to meet in California before he moved. I had been online dating a bit, and when I saw his message I replied. We started to exchange e-mails, then letters and phone calls. After six months we met in real life. 🙂 We dated for a few months and got engaged soon after. We have been married for 12 years. We have no children but share of life with our seven-year-old border terrier named Jake.

What things about Sweden did he miss when living in your part of the world?
Besides his family and friends, he missed Swedish Christmas, Swedish candy, the country’s socialized health care, and its four seasons.

So now you’re displaced. Do you share that fate with anyone else in your immediate family?
No! I’m the only one in my family that lives between cultures.

You’re also job searching in a foreign land. Are jobs hard to come by in Sweden?
Without fluent Swedish, finding work is very hard, especially if you want something more than a temp job. I worked in the retail industry in the States. It took me six years to find a job in that field — and then I was laid off last spring.

Since so many Swedes speak better English than us native English speakers, companies will hire the Swede over the expat. That said, even without Swedish, expats who have good IT skills, a university education and are young may find more doors open to them in this market than someone of my background.

Since we live in Malmö, I’ve now extended my search across the Øresund Bridge, to Copenhagen, Denmark. The job market is better over there.

In March of this year you’ll have been in Sweden for eight years. When have you felt the most displaced?
When I first started learning Swedish — and was facing all the challenges that come with learning a new language. For a long time, I didn’t understand anything people were saying around me. And even now, after almost eight years of living here, I don’t feel like myself when attempting to speak the language.

When have you felt the least displaced?
When I became a citizen and went to the lunch for new immigrants, where I was given an official certificate saying that I’m SWEDISH!

You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from the country where you’ve lived into The Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
Difficult… From Sweden I think I would bring this little book of Swedish verbs that I carry around since I always get the verb form wrong! 😉 From California — well, it’s impossible to pick just one thing as there’s so much of everything!

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

I’ll make you a casual dinner of pyttipanna, similar to bubble and squeak in the UK. It’s a dish made with fried potatoes, onions, and bell peppers. Sometimes you eat it with a fried egg. Most people put ketchup on it.

As you’re such a diligent student of the Swedish language, can you donate a Swedish word or expression to the Displaced Nation’s argot?
Actually, I’ll lend you two:
1) Fika — it refers to a taking a break with a coffee and an open-face sandwich or pastry. Most Swedish people have it once or twice a day. I think you would enjoy it.
2) Farthinder — that means speed bump. I love this word. It makes me laugh every time I see a signpost for one.

This month, we’ve been focusing on the need for mentors: people who teach us what we need to know, or remind us of things we have buried deep. Have you found discovered any new mentors, whether physically present or not, in your life abroad?
I have met people along the way that I would never have been friendly with in my old life in California. Living abroad has given me a new appreciation for people from other cultures whom I’ve gotten to know by having dinner with their families or joining in their celebrations. For instance, I have a friend from Iraq who has been wonderful to me when I was really struggling to fit in and get Sweden. She moved to Sweden with her kids in the 1990s.

If you had all the money and time in the world, what topic(s) would you choose to study in your adopted country?
Well, I’m already studying Swedish, but assuming I were fluent, I would study the history of Scandinavia. I would particularly like to learn more about the people who have come from other places to live in Sweden. How do they adjust to the life here? I love my adopted country but still find it a culture shock in many ways!

Which part of the culture is still shocking?
To be honest, I think it’s the Swedes themselves. Most Swedes are very reserved and it’s hard to befriend them. People don’t talk to each other on the bus or in shops. As a American I have always been very friendly and will chat up a stranger. But now I very rarely do it.

Readers — yay or nay for letting Maggie Eriksson into The Displaced Nation? True, she and her Swedish hubbie have a special chemistry, which must help to alleviate the symptoms of displacement — but could she have picked a more different place to live from California? Doubtful… (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Maggie — find amusing!)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s thought-provoking guest post by Andy Martin, comparing the forcibly displaced to those of us who’ve made the choice to be displaced.

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: Maggie Eriksson outside her flat in Malmö, Sweden (October 2012).

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.

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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Catching up with this year’s Random Nomads over the holidays (2/3)

RandomNomadXmasPassportWelcome back to the holiday party we are throwing for the expats and other global voyagers who washed up on our shores in 2012. Remember all those Random Nomads who proposed to make us exotic meals based on their far-ranging meanderings? Not to mention their suitcases full of treasures they’d collected and their vocabularies full of strange words… How are they doing these days, and do they have any exciting plans for the holidays? Second in a three-part series (Part One here).

The second third of 2012 brought quite an intriguing (albeit as random as ever) bunch of nomads our way — intriguing because most of them have had experience with spouses from other cultures, suggesting that the point made by one of their number, Wendy Williams, about the globalization of love has some validity. They are:

  • Wendy Williams, the Canadian who is as happy as Larry living with her Austrian husband and their daughter in Vienna.
  • Suzanne Kamata, an American writer who went to Japan on the JET program, married a Japanese man, and made her home on Shikoku Island.
  • Isabelle Bryer, a French artist who feels as though she’s on a permanent vacation because of landing in LA — she’s lived there for years with her American husband and family.
  • Jeff Jung, formerly of corporate America but now an entrepreneur who promotes career breaks from his new base in Bogotá, Colombia.
  • Lynne Murphy, the lovely lexicologist who landed in — I want to say “London” for the alliteration, but it’s Sussex, UK. And yes, despite not being the marrying type, she now treasures her wedding ring of Welsh gold!
  • Melissa Stoey, the former expat in Britain who, despite no longer living in the UK, has a half-British son and remains passionate about all things British.
  • Antrese Wood, the American artist who is busy painting her way around Argentina, having married into the culture.

I’m happy to say that three of this esteemed group are with us today. What have they been up to since nearly a year ago, and are they cooking up anything special for the holidays?

Wendy_Williams1) WENDY WILLIAMS

Have there been any big changes in your life since we last spoke?
Yes, I’ve spent less time at my desk and more time travelling since the publication of my book, The Globalisation of Love. Given the title, I guess I should have expected it.

Where will you be spending the holidays this year?
Since I have “gone native” in Austria, I will be skiing during the holidays. Yipppeeee!

What do you most look forward to eating?
I most look forward to eating a Germknödel, which is a big ball of dough filled with plum sauce and covered in melted butter. Apparently, it has 1,000 calories and I savour every last one. If no one is looking, I lick the plate.

Can you recommend any books you came across in 2012 that speak to the displaced life?

  1. A Nile Adventure — cruising and other stories, by Kim Molyneaux — a light-hearted story of one family’s journey to and adventures in Egypt, both ancient and modern.
  2. Mint Tea to Maori Tattoo!, by Carolina Veranen-Phillips, an account from a fearless female backpacker — is there anywhere she hasn’t been?!
  3. Secrets of a Summer Village, by Saskia Akyil: an intercultural coming-of-age novel for young adults, but a cute read for adults, too.

Have you made any New Year’s resolutions for 2013?
More time with friends & family and more writing, the two of which are completely counter-productive in my case.

Any upcoming travel plans?
I am only happy when I have a plane ticket in my pocket so there are always trips planned. Didn’t René Descartes write, “I travel, therefore I am” — or something like that? The year will start with Germany, Ukraine, Spain and Canada.

SuzanneKamata_festive2) SUZANNE KAMATA

Have there been any big changes in your life since we last spoke?
I sold my debut YA novel, Gadget Girl: The Art of Being Invisible, about a biracial (Japanese/American) girl who travels to Paris with her sculptor Mom, to GemmaMedia. It will be published in May 2013. I was also honored to receive a grant for my work-in-progress, a mother/daughter travel memoir, from the Sustainable Arts Foundation.

How will you be spending the holidays?
We are planning a little jaunt to Osaka between Christmas and New Year’s, but mostly, we’ll be staying at home.

What’s the thing you most look forward to eating?
I’m looking forward to eating fried chicken and Christmas cake, which is what we traditionally have here in Japan on Christmas Eve. There are all kinds of Christmas cakes, but my family likes the kind made of ice cream.

Can you recommend any books you came across in 2012 that speak to the displaced life?

  1. The Girl with Borrowed Wings is a beautifully written contemporary paranormal novel featuring a biracial Third Culture Kid. The author herself, Rinsai Rossetti, is a TCK. She wrote this book when she was a student at Dartmouth. It’s unique and lovely and captures that in-between feeling of those who live in lots of different countries.
  2. I also enjoyed I Taste Fire, Earth, Rain: Elements of a Life with a Sherpa, by Caryl Sherpa, an American woman who went on a round-the-world trip and fell in love with a Sherpa while trekking in Nepal.
  3. Oh, and Harlot’s Sauce: A Memoir of Food, Family, Love, Loss, and Greece, by Patricia Volonakis Davis.

Do you have any New Year’s resolutions for 2013?
Hmmm. Exercise more (same as last year). Also, I resolve to finish a draft of my next novel.

Last but not least, any upcoming travel plans?
Yes! I’m planning on taking my daughter to Paris.

Jeff at Turkish Embassy3) JEFF JUNG

Have there been any big changes in your life since we last spoke?
Since the interview, I launched my first book, The Career Break Traveler’s Handbook. It’s available online at most major book stores in both print and e-versions. And, we’re on the verge of launching Season 1 of our TV show, The Career Break Travel Show, internationally. It includes adventures in South Africa, Spain, New Zealand and Patagonia. We’re just waiting for the new channel to launch.

How will you be spending the holidays this year?
After spending a quiet Christmas in Bogotá, I’ll head off to Washington, DC for my best friend’s wedding on New Year’s Eve. Then I’m off to Texas to see my parents for about ten days.

What’s the thing you most look forward to eating?
As far as food goes, I’m most looking forward to turkey and my dad’s award-winning BBQ.

Can you recommend any books you came across in 2012 that speak to the displaced life?
This year I read Dream. Save. Do., by Betsy and Warren Talbot. It’s a great book to help people achieve whatever goal they have.

Speaking of goals, any New Year’s resolutions for 2013?
Personally, I need to drop a bit of weight. I spent too much time writing and editing in 2012! Professionally, I want to see The Career Break Travel Show find its audience so we can head out to film Season 2!

Last but not least, any exciting travel plans?
I plan to travel for the filming of our second season (countries still to be determined). I also have the chance to go to Romania to volunteer at a bear rescue with Oyster Worldwide. It’ll be a mini-career break for me. I can’t wait.

* * *

Readers, this lot seems just as productive, if not more so, than the last one! Any questions for them — don’t you want to know their secret?

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post by the Displaced Nation’s agony aunt, Mary-Sue — she wraps up 2012 by paying a visit to several of this year’s questioners: did they take her advice?!

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: Passport photo from Morguefiles; portrait photos are from the nomads.

Catching up with this year’s Random Nomads over the holidays (1/3)

RandomNomadXmasPassportThe holiday season is here — the perfect time for the Displaced Nation to catch up with the expats and other global voyagers who washed up on our shores in 2012. Remember all those Random Nomads who proposed to make us exotic meals based on their far-ranging meanderings? Not to mention their suitcases full of treasures they’d collected and their vocabularies full of strange words… How are they doing these days, and do they have any exciting plans for the holidays? First in a three-part series.

In the first part of 2012, quite an array of Random Nomads arrived at the Displaced Nation’s gates, including:

  • Toni Hargis, a Brit married to an American and living in Chicago (she goes by the moniker “Expat Mum”);
  • Megan Farrell, an American married to a Brazilian and living in São Paulo;
  • Liv Hambrett, an Australian moving cities in Germany to be with her SG (Significant German);
  • Lei Lei Clavey, an Australian working in New York City’s fashion industry; and
  • Annabel Kantaria, an Englishwoman living in Dubai (one of the Telegraph Expat bloggers).

Unfortunately, Liv and Lei Lei cannot be with us today as they’ve both headed back to their native Australia. Lei Lei is living in Perth with her boyfriend — and still feeling somewhat displaced as she’s from Melbourne. (Still, her mum, one of our featured authors, Gabrielle Wang, is glad she’s a little closer.)

Liv — who has moved her blog, A Big Life, over to her portfolio site — says she is “now hopelessly pulled in opposing directions by my home country and adopted home, Germany.” Back with her family in Sydney, she is planning a return to Germany in early 2013. Between now and then, SG will have completed his maiden voyage to Oz to pay her a visit.

But now let’s start the party with the three Random Nomads who still qualify as expats. What have they been up to since nearly a year ago, and are they cooking up anything special for the holidays?

ToniHargis_Xmas1) TONI HARGIS

Have there been any big changes in your life since we last spoke?
Yes, I got a new gig writing for BBC America’s “Mind the Gap” column, which is very exciting. I have also just completed a 55,000-word manuscript for a new expat book which should be coming out late Spring 2013. Can’t give any more details at the moment I’m afraid.

Where will you be spending the holidays this year?
We have been going to Copper Mountain, Colorado for the last few years and this year will be the same.

What do you most look forward to eating?
My husband goes mad cooking “skier’s dinners” as he calls them — gumbo, lasagna, chili etc. He will also probably take care of most of the Xmas dinner. Unfortunately, I usually suffer from mild altitude sickness so food isn’t always at the top of my list!

Can you recommend any books you read in 2012 that speak to the displaced life? 
Yes, I read three great books this year on that theme, all from Summertime Publishers:

  1. Expat Life Slice by Slice, by Apple Gidley, which is memoir style and chronicles her (so far) amazing expat adventures.
  2. Finding Your Feet in Chicago, which is a great book for newly arrived expats to the Windy City, by Veronique Martin-Place.
  3. Sunshine Soup: Nourishing the Global Soul, by Jo Parfitt, which came out in 2011 and is a lovely novel set in Dubai about expat women there. (Jo is the founder of Summertime Publishers.)

Do you have any New Year’s resolutions for 2013?
Hmmm…. I try not to make resolutions because it can just be a set up for failure and bitterness (just kidding). There will be a lot of background work to do on my upcoming book, so I suppose my resolution should be to keep my energy levels up and work hard while not ignoring my children for too long!

Last but not least, do you have any upcoming travel plans?
Other than Colorado, I have no definite plans but there will be the annual summer trip to England and perhaps a trip somewhere else in Europe if we can fit it in.

meganfarrell_xmas2) MEGAN FARRELL

Hi there, Megan. Have you had any big changes since we last spoke?
I am currently writing a book, titled American Exbrat in São Paulo: Advice, Stories, Tips and Tricks to Surviving South America’s Largest City, which will be available via Amazon in the next few weeks. And we moved from Jardim Paulista to Higienópolis. The Higienópolis neighborhood feels much more family friendly to me, without losing options for great restaurants and activities.

How will you be spending the holidays this year?
For the holidays, we will be visiting Petrópolis (Brazil’s “City of Emperors” and a lovely mountain resort) and Búzios (known for its magnificent beaches and crystal-clear water), both towns in the state of Rio de Janeiro. I am looking forward to the beach and mountain time.

What’s the thing you most look forward to eating?
Churrasco (Brazilian style barbecue)!

Can you recommend any books you came across in 2012 that speak to the displaced life?
Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Capetown, by Paul Theroux. I’m also reading Eat, Pray, Love again, but this time in Portuguese (Comer Rezar Amar).

Do you have any New Year’s resolutions for 2013?
I do. My resolutions are to spend more time working on my writing projects and further develop my business. I currently guide executives and managers in their business communications to help them gain advantages in the global market, but I really need to expand my marketing strategy. I also have a large list of São Paulo experiences I have yet to enjoy.

Do you have any upcoming travel plans?
I’m hoping to get back to the States early this year and hit not only Chicago but also Los Angeles and New York City.

AnnabelKantaria_Xmas3) ANNABEL KANTARIA

Have there been any big changes in your life since we last spoke?
None to speak of.

Where will you be spending the holidays this year?
We love to spend Christmas in Dubai as the weather is exactly how a British summer day should be: clear, sunny, blue sky and temperatures of about 28°C (around 82°F).

What’s the thing you most look forward to eating?
We always have a big Christmas lunch in the garden with friends. This year another friend is playing host to us. I feel very lucky as she is practically the “Martha Stewart” of Dubai and I just know the food, decor and company will be divine. I’m vegetarian, so I won’t be eating turkey — I think we’re barbecuing this year.

Can you recommend any books you came across in 2012 that speak to the displaced life?
I read a new book called The Expats, by Chris Pavone, but I was more inspired to revisit old favorites such as White Mischief, by James Fox.

Do you have any New Year’s resolutions for 2013?
To finish writing my book, find an agent and/or publisher and get it published!

Any upcoming travel plans?
We usually go away in the February half-term holidays. Last year we visited family in Kenya before taking a few days in the Seychelles. This year I’m looking East — maybe Thailand, Malaysia (I’ve always wanted to go to Langkawi) or perhaps Bali.

* * *

Readers, before we lose these three Random Nomads to their various holiday (and half-term) adventures, do you have any more questions? Perhaps some of you are wondering, like I am, how they manage to be so productive — each of them has children but also a book to publish in 2013!

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

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

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Images: Passport photo from Morguefile; portrait photos are from the nomads.

RANDOM NOMAD: Bart Schaneman, Experience-hungry Newspaper Editor in Seoul

Place of birth: Scottsbluff, Nebraska, USA — I was raised on a farm nine miles east of town. I had an incredible childhood.
Passport: USA
Overseas history: South Korea (Jeonju, Seoul, Jeonju, Seoul): 2006-08; 2008-09; 2010-11; 2011 – present.
Occupation: National editor for the Korea JoongAng Daily, an English newspaper in Seoul; and author of Trans-Siberian, a travelogue about a trip on the the world’s longest railway.
Cyberspace coordinates: Bart Schaneman (Tumblr blog) and @bartschaneman (Twitter handle).

What made you abandon your homeland for Korea?
I left because I wanted experiences. I wanted material to write about. I wanted to travel and get out of America. I didn’t want a mortgage. I didn’t want to get trapped. I didn’t want to wait until I was too old to see the world.

Was anyone else in your immediate family displaced?
I’m the only person in my immediate family who doesn’t live in the region called the Great Plains.

Tell me about the moment during your stay in Korea when you felt the most displaced.
I don’t really have a moment like that. Korea’s an exceptional place. It’s safe. The people are kind and educated. It gets easier to live here as a Westerner all the time. I’m here by choice — it gets lonely, and I miss my family, but I don’t really question why I’m here. There were minor annoyances about how things are done differently than what I was used to when I first got here. I don’t really notice those anymore. People here move to their left on the sidewalks. That’s not too hard to get used to.

When did you feel the least displaced?
Every time I go home I remember how lucky I am to live in a foreign country. Not that Nebraska or the Midwest is a bad place. I love it and I hope I’ll be lucky enough to get to live there again someday. It’s just very familiar. Difficult to find interesting. In Asia, I’m rarely bored with my surroundings. I value that more and more as I get older.

You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from each of the countries where you’ve traveled or lived into The Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
Kimchi. But only from Korea. It’s not right anywhere else.

We are therefore looking forward to the meal you are invited to prepare for Displaced Nation members, based on your travels. What’s on the menu?

I’m going to serve you all a bowl of chamchi kimchi jjiggae: tuna and kimchi soup. It will make you feel like you can flip over cars after you eat it. Great when you’re sick or hungover.

And now can you offer a Korean word or expression for the Displaced Nation’s argot?
The most important word to understand in Korean culture, to my mind, is jeong. It doesn’t translate directly, but the closest way to describe it is as a type of deep bond that is formed between people over time that helps you care for someone. You might not see an old friend frequently any more, or you might not be romantic with your partner, but you have jeong for them so you still want to help them when they need you. It explains a lot about the Korean mind and Korean society.

Earlier this month we did a poll on expat voting. Do you still follow your home-country politics?
I work as a journalist so I pay attention to American politics. Koreans pay attention as well. I’ve heard it said by people here that when the U.S. coughs the whole world gets sick. Most of my co-workers are from the U.S. and very well informed.

Do you vote despite living abroad?
I vote when I like the candidates, but I don’t vote if I don’t like what’s offered.

Were you surprised at the 2012 outcome?
I’m always surprised at how divided America seems around election time. People I love and trust can think about the world in an extremely different way than I do. That’s more surprising to me than who won the election.

The American Thanksgiving took place last week. What do you feel most thankful for in your life right now?
I’m lucky to have the life I have. I’m healthy. I’m alive. I don’t need much more than that. No complaints from me.

Readers — yay or nay for letting Bart Schaneman into The Displaced Nation? He may have us all eating kimchi, but at least he can amuse us with tales of the Trans-Siberian! (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Bart — find amusing!)

STAY TUNED for another episode in the life of our fictional expat heroine, Libby.  Yes, this time she really is posting! Last week, the washing up after her Thanksgiving dinner took longer than expected…! (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

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

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Img: Bart Schaneman in the Boseong Tea Fields in Boseong, South Korea (May 2011).

RANDOM NOMAD: Patricia Winton, Crime Writer, Expat in Rome & Lover of La Dolce Vita

Place of birth: In a farmhouse belonging to my paternal grandparents near Pelham, Tennessee, on a snowy December night
Passport: USA
Overseas history: Italy (Marina di Pisa, Livorno, Rome): 1969-70; 1970-71; 2002 – present.
Occupation: Crime Writer. My protag is an Italian American journalist rebuilding a career as a food writer in Italy. She first appeared in “Feeding Frenzy,” one of the mystery stories in Fish Tales: The Guppy Anthology, edited by Ramona DeFelice Long (Wildside Press, 2011). She’s waiting in the wings in an as yet unsold manuscript, set in Rome. She will solve another crime in the novel I’m beginning next week (for National Novel Writing Month), set in Florence.
Cyberspace coordinates: Italian Intrigues — Notes about life in Italy, food and wine, mysteries and crime (blog); Novel Adventurers — Seven writers blog about their passion for culture, travel, and storytelling (collaborative blog); @patriciawinton (Twitter handle); and Novel Adventurers (FB page).

What made you abandon your homeland for Italy?
I had the opportunity to come live in Italy when I was quite a young woman, and I lost my heart to the land, the people, and the cuisine — not to mention the wine. I talked about coming back to live for years, but life intervened. Following 9/11 (I worked a block from the White House at the time), I really felt my mortality and decided it was time to make the move. Or to stop talking about it.

Was anyone else in your immediate family displaced?
One of my sisters lived in Panama for three years. Another lives in New Mexico, a state that many people think is a foreign country. One classic example: New Mexicans had trouble trying to get tickets to the Atlanta Olympics and were told to go the the Mexican consulate. The situation is so ridiculous that New Mexico Magazine runs a monthly column called “One of Our 50 Is Missing.”

Tell me about the moment during your various stays in Italy when you felt the most displaced.
“Bureaucracy” may be a French word, but the Italians invented it. If you don’t believe me, I invite you to consider the Biblical story of Christmas: a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed, each to his own city.

Getting together the paperwork to file for permanent residency was a nightmare. After almost a year of compiling documents, it all came down to what the Italians saw as a discrepancy: my passport lists my place of birth as Tennessee while my birth certificate, issued by the state of Tennessee, listed my place of birth as Pelham. Getting that sorted out took six months. During the interregnum, every document including my permission to stay expired. I couldn’t renew anything until the residency question was settled.

When did you feel the least displaced?
It’s always at table. On the edge of a Tuscan vineyard enjoying homemade pasta and good wine, sharing laughter with friends. Before a roaring fire in a chilly stately home with simple chicken and salad, but more laughter and wine. With a group of strangers in at a local market luncheonette, querying a table-mate about her meal and being offered a share.

You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from each of the countries where you’ve traveled or lived into The Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
A morsa di prosciutto (prosciutto holder). While most prosciutto crudo sold in Italy as elsewhere is machine-sliced, traditional purists want it cut by hand. To hold the ham steady, it’s placed in the morsa, a large clamp that hold it, while a knife is used to slice.

Hmmm… I hope it won’t be deployed by the murderer in one of your crime novels as an instrument of torture! I understand that when you first went to Italy, you learned to make pasta by hand, and then took a pasta machine back to the United States, where you taught many others how to make it, while also writing a food column for a newspaper. We are therefore looking forward to the meal you are invited to prepare for Displaced Nation members, based on your travels. What’s on the menu?

Indeed, I’ll be serving a traditional Italian meal:
Antipasto (appetizer): Fiori di zucca faraciti (zucchini blossoms stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies, dipped in batter and fried)
Primo piatto (first plate — traditionally the pasta, rice, or soup course): Gnocchi di Zucca alla Gorgonzola (pumpkin dumplings with gorgonzola sauce)
Secondo piatto (main course): Grigliata Mista di Pesce (mixed fish grill)
Contorni (vegetable accompaniment): Finocchio (fennel)
Frutta: Pesca (peach)
Dolce (dessert): Tiramisù
Bevande (drinks): Acqua minerale frizzante (fizzy mineral water); and Falanghina (white wine made from one of the oldest grapes grown in Italy)
.

And now can you please suggest an Italian word or expression for the Displaced Nation’s argot?
One that I’m currently enjoying is in gamba, meaning “in the leg.” In general, it means “to be an expert” or “to be good at what you do.” But it means so much more. I wrote an extensive piece about the phrase at Novel Adventurers recently.

Halloween is nearly upon us, and many of our posts of late have been about horror and that sort of thing. Tell me, do you keep up American Halloween celebrations in Rome?
I haven’t really celebrated Halloween since I was a child. I spent much of my adult life working on political campaigns. With Halloween falling days before the election, I never seemed to get organized for it. Here in Italy, it’s a relatively new holiday and more for adults than children, really. Children dress up for carnival, wearing their costumes to school for days before Martedì Grasso (Italian for Mardi Gras).

There are Halloween-related items for sale (plastic Jack O’ Lanterns and such), but no pumpkins for making Jack O’ Lanterns. Those are reserved for cooking. If I do anything to celebrate, I cook pumpkin, either as a vegetable or as part of the primo piatto.

Also in keeping with the season, we’ve started exchanging expat horror stories on the site. What’s the creepiest situation you’ve encountered on your travels?
The creepiest thing that ever happened to me occurred many years ago on a train from Munich to Florence. It started off pleasantly enough. I shared a compartment with five or six other people. A couple of them spoke only German. One woman spoke Italian and German, a man spoke German and English, and I spoke English and Italian. We had a polyglot conversation, with people translating for others and listening to see how much of the foreign tongues we could decipher. It was lots of fun. They all left the train before I did, and each warned me to be careful on my long journey as they descended one by one.

Alone, I moved near the window, and the rocking of the train lulled me to sleep. Quite some time later, I was awakened by the conductor turning on the lights to check tickets. I discovered that I had been joined in the compartment by a man who was in the act of pleasuring himself in the dark while I slept.

Now THAT’s creepy! Readers — yay or nay for letting Patricia Winton into The Displaced Nation? Not only can she cook, but she can tell a shocking story! (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Patricia — find amusing!)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, another horrifying Displaced Q by Tony James Slater!

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

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Img: Patricia Winton (author photo)

Talking with author Sonia Taitz about home, abroad, and the healing properties of travel

Today we welcome Sonia Taitz to The Displaced Nation’s interview chair.  Sonia is an author, playwright, and essayist; her writing has been featured in publications such as The New York Times, The New York Observer, and O: The Oprah Magazine. She is also a regular guest on NBC’s TODAY show, CNN, and National Public Radio.

The Watchmaker’s Daughter is Sonia’s third book, published today. A memoir of growing up as the child of European holocaust survivors, The Watchmaker’s Daughter has already received glowing reviews, such as this from New Yorker and Vanity Fair cultural critic James Wolcott:

A heartbreaking memoir of healing power and redeeming devotion, Sonia Taitz’s The Watchmaker’s Daughter has the dovish beauty and levitating spirit of a psalm…A past is here reborn and tenderly restored with the love and absorption of a daughter with a final duty to perform, a last act of fidelity.

Intrigued? So were we. You’ll be happy to hear that Sonia has agreed to participate in this month’s prize draw, and has let us have a copy of The Watchmaker’s Daughter for October’s giveaway. See the end of this interview for details of how to enter the draw!

But now, over to Sonia.

Sonia, welcome to TDN. Could you tell us a little about your early life?
I was born in New York City. My parents had emigrated here from Germany, where they lived as displaced people after World War II.

And what was your parents’ reaction when they first arrived in America? How did the country make them feel?
They felt they had found refuge and harbor at last. When they saw the Statue of Liberty, they understood, for the first time in their adult lives, that they could be safe in the world.

Growing up in America must have been full of cultural contradictions for you. As a TCK and child of Holocaust survivors, did you feel at home in or removed from American culture?
Both. I felt American in contrast to my parents, to whom I had to translate things big and small (various cultural revolutions; why you don’t wear socks with sandals). At the same time, I felt different from American children whose parents were not from somewhere else. There was a deep rift between the “light” attitude shown on television (my strongest link to the culture) and the serious and weighted way my parents tended to see the world. I lived on both sides of that rift. Sometimes it was tiring; sometimes it was exciting.

You helped your parents get over their trauma of being in the concentration camp through travel. Where did you go, and how did you react to the other cultures?
I left my safe milieu in NY (we lived in a cozy Jewish immigrant neighborhood) and crossed the Atlantic to the Old World, Europe. My parents had experienced deep and savage hatred in Lithuania, under the Nazi regime, and both had survived ghettos and concentration camps. They had seen neighbors turn their backs on them, or even turn against them. To my parents, America was free of these horrors. Here, everyone had a chance. Here, no one could ever round you up and kill you. Europe, they felt deeply, was a checkerboard of blood-hatreds, and they had rejected it as much as it had rejected them. So that’s where I went at 21, sure that the world was no longer as bad as they had thought – that it was, in a sense – safe to trust again.

Although I traveled to Germany (and later, to Lithuania), my journey centered on Oxford, England, where I studied for two years. And while I made many close friendships there, I did feel displaced. I was frightened by the depths of snobbery, prejudice, and even hatred that I sometimes felt – not only directed toward Jews like myself but toward blacks, “Asians” (as they indiscriminately called anyone from Pakistan to Polynesia), and even Southern Europeans. I particularly remember the phrase “the wogs start at Calais.” And the student I fell deeply in love with had parents who rejected me as a “Jewess.”

You might be wondering how all this was helpful to my parents. The story is told in my memoir, The Watchmaker’s Daughter, but the upshot is, I married the Englishman, and everyone ended up happy ever after.

You say your journey centered on Oxford, England — in fact, you did a degree at Oxford University. How did you find living in the UK, and what were the biggest adjustments you had to make?
I loved it and I hated it. There was no place more seductive, in the sense of misty fog, the flowing river Isis on which proud swans drifted, dreamy willow trees and – on the inside – fireplaces, hot mulled wine, the tinkling sounds of poetry and a golden sense of age. But it was all very foreign to me. My culture (not only Jewish but American) was louder, franker, more ambitious, less resentful. Where I came from, you openly tried to succeed, and could crow about how and what you did to “make it.” In fact, we cheered the rags-to-riches hero. England liked to dampen this enthusiasm. I got in over my head sometimes, and I remember feeling lost and bereft. My currency wasn’t worth the same in this place. But learning to adapt to another culture was intriguing. Travel can make you feel rootless and alone – but it can also make you soar. Best of all is when you come to feel at home in somewhere you once thought so strange. I did, eventually, come to that place.

I think everyone at this site knows what you mean by that. So — do you still like “soaring”? Do you still like to travel? 
I love to travel, and still feel that it is the best way to understand the world – and the world inside you. Wherever I go, I try to be porous, to float, to leave my safety zone and almost pretend I live somewhere new. I eat the food, listen to the music, even try to speak the language. Being comfortable is not my main goal in life – it is to experience and learn. So I feel exhilarated as a traveler, even with the physical or emotional discomforts that come with it.

Where is your home now — and where do you feel most “at home”?
I feel most at home in my hometown, Manhattan, where all cultures are enthusiastically represented (it’s a world tour in itself). I also love to go to a small lakeside cabin, less than an hour from the city. You don’t need to be in Switzerland or Kenya to feel the overall majesty of the world.

You married a non-Jewish man, an Englishman. How did you both adjust to the religious differences, as well as the cultural ones?
When we met each other, it felt less like a culture “gap” than opposites attracting. The man in question had always been interested in the Jewish Bible, which he knew better than most. He confessed that he had always had “envious aspirations” towards the Jewish people. But in a real sense, even after more than 25 years of marriage, he is still very English (in attitude and accent), and his sense of being Jewish feels different to him than my own. He doesn’t have the weight of being “of immigrant stock,” or of being the child of refugees, castaways. After all, Americans tend to be intimidated by English people, and not the other way around. My husband has been embraced by this culture.

After your own experience, what do you now see as the biggest challenge facing someone who is marrying into a different culture?
The problem usually manifests in the broader family sense. Between the man and woman, there may be only perfect love, but you do have to add parents and, later, children to the mix. My parents were as horrified as his by our romantic “exogamy.” Although they came to love my husband, he was not the “nice Jewish boy” they had dreamed of. And then, when there are children, new questions arise — how do you raise them? That seemed easier in my case; my husband was now Jewish and wanted, as I did, to raise them in that tradition. But even so, his parents had to deal with the fact that we did not celebrate Christmas. Our children have to deal with the paradox that while they are Jewish, their English family is not.

Our October theme is based around the tales of regret by those who travel. Do you have any regrets about traveling or studying abroad? What would you do differently — if anything?
Unlike Edith Piaf, I regret so much. While my parents grew to love my husband, and – most movingly – his parents and mine grew to love each other, my going away caused immediate hurt. I still can feel guilty about my taking that step away. My parents were immigrants with a tiny remnant of a family. Yet, I had sailed off to explore the world, leaving them far behind. On the other hand, that is what children do. Mine are beginning to do the same, and I try not to hold them back.

I also wish I had been more sensitive to my husband’s parents. They didn’t want me for their son, and I thought that made them prejudiced and “bad.” I mixed them up with those who had hurt my parents and millions of other Jews. Now that I have raised children, worried about whom they dated and how it would impact our family, I understand both sets of parents better. Youth makes us callous and cocky, and now, I hope, I am neither.

Could you tell us about your memoir being published today, The Watchmaker’s Daughter? Is this always something you’ve wanted to write?
The memoir is something I had wanted to write since my parents died. For many years after they were gone, I couldn’t put pen to paper about anything. Still, thoughts about our odd and interesting lives began to form. Death gives a shape to existence – a beginning, middle, and a punctuated end – and I began to see a story coming through. A circle away and back home. The classic Ulysses story, but seen from the eyes of a little girl in a Jewish ghetto in New York City, and the larger world she longs to understand. After the voyage, the return.

What made this book almost impossible to write was the duty I felt to be fair to everyone in the story, while doing justice to the story itself. This wasn’t my personal journal either – I wrote it as a coherent work that would resonate with others, regardless of their background. I needed to transmit what I had experienced and learned. I wanted to give the reader a tale of suffering, love, redemption, and renewal.

You have also published a novel, In the King’s Arms, about an American Jewish woman who goes to England and marries into the aristocracy. How much of this was based on your own life? Did you find it easier to write the memoir or the novel, and why?
The novel takes my real trip to Oxford and enhances it with far more dramatic plotlines. Many characters are invented, others are conflated from different people. Much of the drama that happens in that book never happened to me (although funnily, many people assume it did).

I found both the novel and memoir enjoyable to write. Novels are fun; you can play with your characters and make them say or do anything you want. I love this freedom to create a new world. Memoirs are deeply rewarding in that emotional chaos is translated, ideally, into art. It’s a darker assignment, but a deeply satisfying one. Notice that I didn’t respond to the question of which was “easier.” I guess I enjoy intense engagement, which may be why I like travel, or the difficult task of writing.

What audience did you have in mind for In the King’s Arms? Did you end up attracting those sorts of readers, and to which part of the story had the audience responded the most ?
I felt the novel had a universal theme — young love, Romeo and Juliet, the sorrows of the broken heart. All sorts of people have responded to it in all kinds of ways. Some find it very English, comparing it to Evelyn Waugh. Some find it as Jewish as Philip Roth. Some treat it as a satisfying read, and others as a moral fable.

Were you surprised at the book’s reception?
The biggest surprise was that people responded to it at all. The book had almost been published 25 years ago, but the contract had fallen through, and I had thought it would never see the light of day. To see it come back to life, be read, and even garner critical praise, was the biggest and happiest surprise.

Do you hope to attract another kind of audience with The Watchmaker’s Daughter?
I hope to attract a bigger and more diverse audience than a small literary novel tends to. I am now decades older than the author of the novel, and I hope this book reflects that.

You’re a very diverse writer, and have had some theatrical works produced at the Oxford Playhouse and at the National Theatre in Washington, DC. Could you tell us a little about them?
The Oxford experience was one of the greatest ones of my life; I was given license to write a play that would be seen not only by the sophisticated body, but also by the London press. My husband-to-be acted in it (he was part of the Oxford University Dramatic Society), and it was an incomparable experience to watch him onstage giving life to my work. It was my first full-length play, my first public experience as an artist.

The play at the National Theatre was part of a series that took place on Monday nights, when theatres are typically dark. Our troupe – author, actors, director — took the train down from New York, rehearsing all the way. The audience was great — the play was a farce about jealousy, kind of madcap and packed with complicated jokes and stage business – and they responded well to all of it. People who go to see new plays are adventurous, and people who’d go on a Monday night to see one they’d never read about are even more so.

And finally: what next? Are you working on another book or play, and if so, can you tell us anything about it?
My next book is a tragicomic novel based on a real public figure (a very famous actor), but the story is largely invented. Starting with his childhood, I create the background that made this man become an unbalanced anti-Semite. His father abuses him mentally and physically, and is a nightmarish tyrant. As a teenager, the boy falls in love with a Jewish girl from a good family, but something happens that affects both their lives. The novel is called DOWN UNDER, and it’s been a real treat to bring this story to life.

We’re already looking forward to it! Thank you, Sonia, for being so honest and giving us such an insight into your life and your writing. We wish you and The Watchmaker’s Daughter every success.

To win a copy of The Watchmaker’s Daughter, you can:

We will announce all the winners in a couple of weeks!
.

STAY TUNED for Monday’s post, Anthony Windram’s musings on films, horror and the displaced 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!

Related posts:

Images: Sonia Taitz author photo; The Watchmaker’s Daughter book cover.

RANDOM NOMAD: Larissa Reinhart, Former Expat, Midwestern Southern Belle & Crime Novelist

Place of birth: Silvis, Illinois USA (I’m actually from nearby Andover, but it’s too small to have a hospital!)
Passport: USA only — but I’m on my third edition!
Overseas history: Japan (Yokohama, Kameoka, Nagoya): 1995-96; 1998-99; 2008-10.
Occupation: Mother and author of the Cherry Tucker Mystery Series. I’m also working on a mystery series set in contemporary Japan.
Cyberspace coordinates: The Expat Returneth — Sharing my life overseas, my life at home, and the other world that lives between my head and paper (blog); Larissa Reinhart: Writing mysteries and romance south of the sweet tea line (author site) @riswrites (Twitter handle); Larissa Reinhart (FB page); and Larissa Reinhart (Good Reads).

What made you leave the United States to live in a faraway land?
I’ve always wanted to live overseas. Before I got the chance to do it physically, I traveled through books — for instance, The Crane Maiden, by Miyoko Matsutani, and The Laughing Dragon, by Kenneth Mahood (I have passed them to my children). When I got older, I loved Elizabeth Peters mysteries, which are set in Egypt.

Was anyone else in your immediate family displaced?
My family is firmly rooted in Illinois, but was always interested in other cultures. My father was a history teacher, and I had a good understanding of geography and world history from him. I also had a grandfather who loved to travel. As a kid, I read his National Geographic collection and was fascinated by the countries he visited, particularly Egypt. He probably would have loved to have been displaced, but had to wait until retirement to travel.

Tell me about the moment during your various stays in Japan when you felt the most displaced.
My husband had a scholarship from the Monbu-shō to study at Keio University, so I applied to the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Programme — and ended up getting to Japan a few weeks before he did. I lived with a homestay family. They spoke no English. I spoke no Japanese. They were very sweet, but they swung between helicopter-parent smothering and leaving me for long periods of time alone in a tatami room. I had horrible jet lag and felt so isolated and helpless. Once I moved into an apartment, my jet lag abated and I began enjoying myself. I had traveled to Egypt previously — but hadn’t experienced that kind of debilitating jet lag that comes with a 13-hour time difference. It’s a killer!

When did you feel the least displaced?
We have two young daughters from China. Four years ago, we took them to Nagoya to live for a couple of years. We saw it as a chance for them to experience life in Asia at a time in their lives when it was still easy to move around and adjust. They loved Japan. By the end of our two years, we all wanted to stay, but unfortunately couldn’t. There is no one particular instance, but lots of little, everyday moments we hark back to and can’t seem to reproduce back here — our family living comfortably in our tiny house, walking to shops and restaurants in the neighborhood, my children riding their bikes with the local kids to play at the neighborhood park…

You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from each of the countries where you’ve traveled or lived into The Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
A ceramic tanuki (Japanese raccoon-dog). Japanese families and businesses keep them in front of their doors to welcome guests. It’s similar to the Maneki-neko (beckoning cat), but more fun because of their sake bottle and large kintama (golden testicles), which are meant to bring good fortune.

Hmmm…moving right along: You are also invited to prepare one meal based on your travels for other members of The Displaced Nation. What’s on the menu?

I like Japanese bar food, so we’ll have a meal based on that.
Appetizer: Edamame (boiled & salted green soy beans) and a Grapefruit Sour to drink. My favorite bars in Japan will give you a glass of ice, seltzer, and shōchū (grain alcohol) and a half-grapefruit with a strainer for you to squeeze the juice into the glass. Really refreshing.
Main: A bunch of Japanese tapas dishes — yaki-gyōza (fried potstickers), tebasaki (grilled wings), pari pari renkon chips (spicy, deep fried lotus root), tsukune (grilled chicken meatballs), and yakitori (skewered grilled chicken)
Dessert: Japan isn’t big into dessert, so we’ll have a savory bowl of ramen instead. And maybe another Grapefruit Sour. Or two.

Yum, you’ve brought me back to my own izakaya days… And now can you please suggest a Japanese word or expression for the Displaced Nation’s argot?
Chuto-hanpa. It literally means half-measure, but is used to describe doing something half-assed. I love this word.

We’re getting into a bit of a Halloweeny mood at the Displaced Nation. Tell me, did you keep the American Halloween tradition alive while living in Japan?
We did celebrate Halloween in Japan with our children. It’s becoming popular there in terms of decorations and parties (we even found an American-type pumpkin for $20), but trick-or-treating is an oddity. You don’t request gifts from people — certainly not door-to-door. Our neighbors would deliver snacks in a plastic jack-o-lanterns to our house instead. One expat friend arranged a trick-or-treating excursion for the children as part of a Halloween party. But first we mothers delivered bowls of candy to the businesses and homes in the area so that, when we brought the children round to trick-or-treat, they would have something to give them. People probably thought we were crazy, but at least they found the children in costume adorable.

Also in keeping with the season, we’ve started exchanging expat horror stories on the site. What’s the creepiest situation you’ve encountered on your travels?
It was on a trip to Thailand. My husband and I hung out on a beach at Koh Samui for a few days. To get back to the mainland, we had to hike across the island to catch a boat. We were proceeding along the dirt road, chatting…when I felt something grab my arm. Without breaking stride, I glanced down and saw a monkey, teeth bared, ready to bite me. Suddenly it flew off my arm, and I screamed. It had been chained to the side of the road, and was ripped away as it reached the end of its tether. Its vicious eyes and sharp teeth will forever be burned in my memory. That nasty monkey must have been someone’s pet. My husband saw it standing next to its stake before it jumped on my arm. Too busy talking, I totally missed it and walked within its perimeter. You can bet I have remained vigilant for monkeys ever since. I had a close call with some snow monkeys in Nagano, as well. I am not a fan.

The first book in your Cherry Tucker mystery series is called Portrait of a Dead Guy. That sounds a little creepy. Is it?
It’s actually a humorous mystery, but the idea of painting a coffin portrait is creepy even for my heroine, a sassy Southern artist named Cherry Tucker. However, she’s desperate for a commission, which is why she offers her services. The dead guy has been murdered, and his stepmother felt that a final portrait would be a fitting commemoration. Cherry ends up as another potential victim of the murderer because of her proximity to the corpse. That said, she does have one spooky scene at night in a funeral home, alone with the dead body, which ends badly.

Painting a portrait of a dead man — how did you think that one up?
In truth, coffin portraits are not all that unusual, depending on your culture. Many cultures use a portrait of the deceased with their memorialization. I know a family friend who was asked to photograph a coffin portrait to send to the deceased’s family in Asia. They would probably place the photo in a family shrine and burn incense for a specific number of days along with other rites.

Tell me about your plans for the Japanese mystery series.
I’m a humorous mystery writer, so I look at the lighter side of crime. Did you know that the Japanese love mysteries? I think it’s because they have so little crime. I have another Southern heroine for the Japanese series, which will bring an interesting cross-cultural twist. I love the interplay of cultures.

Say, what is this thing about you and Southern ladies? Aren’t you an Illinois girl? Is this another displacement?
It is another displacement! We moved to Georgia between trips to Japan, about fifteen years ago. Small town South is very similar to small town Midwest, except for the Southerner’s extravagant use of hyperbole and simile in conversation. I can’t imagine living anywhere else in the U.S. now, although I can place myself in some foreign spots quite easily. 🙂

Readers — yay or nay for letting Larissa Reinhart into The Displaced Nation? She has an affinity for dead bodies, true — but in a humorous sense! And she doesn’t monkey around… (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Larissa — find amusing!)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, an interview with another former expat author.

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: Larissa Reinhart inside a subway station in Nagoya; her favorite tanuki (cute or creepy?); her book cover.

RANDOM NOMAD: Jessica Festa, Backpacker, Offbeat Traveler & Locavore

Place of birth: Long Island, New York, USA
Passport: USA — but I’m planning on starting the papers for my Italian passport soon (my grandparents were born there).
Overseas history: Australia (Sydney): 2008. I’ve also backpacked through western Europe (for partying and food!), South America (for surreal landscapes and hiking trails), and Southeast Asia/China and Ghana (for volunteer projects).
Occupation: Freelance travel writer. I have my own site and also write for Gadling, Viator and Matador, among others.
Cyberspace coordinates: Jessie on a Journey — Taking you beyond the guidebook (travel-zine); @JessonaJourney (Twitter handle); Jessie on a Journey (FB page for backpacking community); and Jessie on a Journey (Pinterest).

What made you leave the United States for the Land of Oz?
I chose Australia for studying abroad because I wanted to be able to communicate in English — it was my first time going abroad alone.

On your site you describe yourself as a “natural backpacker.” How did you find living in one country?
It’s so different living somewhere than just traveling to it. When you have a part-time job, class schedule, gym membership, local hangout, go-to grocery store, etc, you really begin to feel a strong connection to a place. Sydney is such a great city. That said, I did not give up my backpacking habit entirely. I also traveled a lot through Australia when studying!

Tell me about the moment on your travels when you felt the most displaced.
I had many moments like that when I did a homestay for a month in Ghana, in West Africa. I was doing orphanage work, and absolutely loved the experience — but the culture is just completely different. Especially in city areas, it’s very loud and chaotic, and people will shout at you and grab your skin to feel if it’s real. They don’t get many tourists, so they’re just curious and wanting to get to know you — but sometimes it got a little too intense.

When have you felt the most comfortable?
In Sydney. I actually called my family crying the night before my flight back to New York, saying I had a new home and would not be returning. I had this camaraderie with my neighbors and so many connections to the community, I really felt like a local.

You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from each of the countries where you’ve traveled or lived into The Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
My collection of paintings, jewelry and handcrafted items:

  • Ghanaian artwork and wooden masks
  • Handmade jewelry from Sydney and Bolivia
  • A handwoven purse from Peru
  • Alpaca socks from Ecuador
  • Banksy artwork from the UK
  • Masapán (bread dough art) from Calderón, Ecuador
  • A hand-sewn water-bottle holder from Thailand

You are also invited to prepare one meal based on your travels for other members of The Displaced Nation. What’s on the menu?

Appetizer: Locro, a thick soup with potatoes, avocado, cheese and vegetables from the Andes.
Main: A pesto pasta with some kind of meat mixed in from the Cinque Terre in Italy.
Dessert: Salzburger Nockerl, a sweet soufflé from Austria.
Drink: Malbec wine from Argentina.

I wonder if you could also add a word or expression from one or more of the countries you’ve visited to the Displaced Nation’s argot.
“No worries” from Australia. Such a great phrase for life. I have it tattooed on my foot!

This week you received a “Food Alice” from the Displaced Nation for your post about the first time you tried cuy, or guinea pig, in Ecuador — you said your dinner reminded you of your pet guinea pig, Joey, named after a school crush. So, does food play a big role in your travels?
For me it’s about trying new things. It doesn’t need to be in the fanciest restaurant or prepared by a Michelin chef, just something truly local. For example, in South America while many of the other backpackers went to guidebook-rated restaurants, I always opted for the tiny, simple, dimly-lit local hangouts. I ate 2- and 3-course meals for a $1, and the food was fresh and local. It was exactly what everyday people in the community were having, and that was important to me.

If you were to design a world tour based on food, what would be your top five recommendations?
1) Mendoza, Argentina — try asado (barbecued meat) with a glass of Malbec.
2) Cinque Terre, Italy — try the pesto pasta that I served to you in my meal!
3) Naples, Italy — try the pizza.
4) Cuzco, Peru — try the cuy (guinea pig) or, if you’re too squeamish, the lomo saltado: strips of marinated steak served over white rice and with French fries.
5) Munich, Germany — try the brätwurst. It is like no other sausage I’ve ever tasted, and tastes so much better in Germany!

To be honest, I’m not so sure about going to Cuzco for cuy.
Really? I love it. I’m planning to go back, and possibly move, to Peru or Ecuador in March. I’m already looking forward to getting my fill of cuy again!

Readers — yay or nay for letting Jessica Festa into The Displaced Nation? At least she’s not planning to serve us guinea pig for dinner — that’s a mercy! (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Jessie — find amusing!)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, which will most likely be on food. (No, we haven’t finished gorging ourselves yet!)

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

Related posts:

img: Jessie Festa enjoying one of the biggest and best empanadas in all of Peru, at the Point Hostels in Máncora (May 2012).

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