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DEAR MARY-SUE: One expat’s horror story is another’s delight

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

Shoot! Is it October already? I don’t know how the time flies. I don’t know about you, but I’m not a big fan of fall. Who would be living in Tulsa. It just gets grey here, no burnt ochres like in Vermont. In fact, I wouldn’t know a burnt ochre if I saw one. Is it like a vole (please don’t feel the need to write in. I’m not that stupid. I know it’s not a rodent). Anyhoo, on with this month’s questions.

Dear Mary-Sue,

I can’t resist asking you: how does the Wallace household celebrate Halloween? I can imagine it’s quite an occasion!

– Ian (a British fan of yours) in Iowa

Dear Ian,

Well I can tell you that we don’t celebrate Halloween like the Larsons across the street. She gives out fruit to the kids in the neighborhood. Why would you even do that? It’s just cruel, isn’t it?

No, it’s a time of excess over at the Wallace household. That’s why I wake up the day after Halloween and don’t have to worry about finding the trees outside my house covered in toilet paper.

I buy plenty of Reese’s peanut butter cups because who doesn’t love them? I hear in Europe they have what they call food mountains when they have too much of a particular food source, well let me tell you that the Wallace household ends up with a Reese’s peanut butter cup mountain come Halloween.

You should come along and grab yourself a treat.


Dear Mary-Sue,

My wife and I have lived in the United States since last May, and I must say, she is throwing herself into the life here with considerable vigour. She is now talking about hosting a Halloween party for some of our fellow expats, and inviting a few of our American neighbors. She has suggested that she and I dress up as an Elephant and a Donkey, in celebration of the American election season. No pun intended, but that would make me feel a bit of, well, an ass, to use the local dialect.

I wonder if I could talk her into going as a Milkman and Pregnant Lady instead? At least that would be true to our native (British) culture.

– Stephen in St. Louis

Dear Stephen,

So let me guess this right regarding your Halloween costumes, your wife was to be satirical and you want to be lewd? Gee, what is it with you Brits. You always think your jokes are funny and yet they always just seem to be about sex. Just go as something horror related and stop trying to over think it. If you really want to be true to your native culture why not go as King George III. Bam! Yes, I went there.


Dear Mary-Sue,

My husband writes mystery books for a living. He and I have decided to live in England for a few years while he does research on his latest story. He insists that we look for an old isolated cottage somewhere deep in the heart of the countryside, where he can be free to write. But I feel certain that those oldy-worldy thatched roof places may be haunted. And what if I have to stay in a house like that on my own, should he be called up to London to meet his agent or give a talk.

Do you think I’m strange to be so afraid of (admittedly English) ghosts?

– Susan of Savannah, Georgia, soon to be of Suffolk, East Anglia

Dear Susan,

If you’re going to be living in East Anglia I’d be more concerned with the living than the dead. They’re a scary in-bred bunch, though coming from Georgia you should be able to handle it. I kid, I kid…well not about East Anglia.

Dear Mary-Sue,

Do Westerners see Western ghosts, Chinese see Chinese ghosts, and Africans see African ghosts, or can we see each other’s?

– Just Curious

And does Just Curious see ghosts of low intelligence?


Dear Mary-Sue,

When I first saw the farmhouse in Tuscany that my husband and I are now renting while we look for a place to live for our retirement, I thought to myself: Frances Mayes, eat your heart out! However, we’ve just now found out from one of our neighbors that a murder took place here about ten years ago — and ever since, the house has always been rented to expats. I’m thinking we should consult with the local Catholic priest about whether he could perform an exorcism — casting out evil spirits and all that. But my husband says, don’t be silly — it just adds to the atmosphere.

What do you advise?

-Victoria of Vulterra (formerly of Wellington, NZ)

Dear Vicky,

First thing I would be doing is renegotiating a lower rental fee and not thinking about calling the local Padre.

Dear Mary-Sue,

In my opinion, Asian ghosts are far freakier — and hence scarier — than Western ones. Especially the Japanese kind. I mean, what’s a vampire compared to a wailing Asian woman with a very pale face and long, jet black hair? Actually, I’m scaring myself even as I write this…

– Ted of Tsukuba (formerly of Texas)

Dear Ted,

Yeah, I mean Casper has nothing on the Krasue from Thai legend. Now that’s freaky. I’d like to see Stephen in St Louis go to his party dressed as that.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s 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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DEAR MARY-SUE: Can you tell me how to stomach other countries’ bizarre food obsessions?

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

Well, this month I’ve been asked to deal with your food-based queries. That’s pretty easy for this gal! I love to chow down. Not in a Paula Deen kinda way, you understand, but I sure do love a refined meal and am pretty well known on the Tulsa culinary scene.


Dear Mary-Sue,

Fermented salted herring — how does that sound to you as a national dish? [Not great. Think roadkill cooked up in the finest Ozarks tradition sound preferable, if I’m being honest – M-S]  As an American living in Northern Sweden, I have yet to acquire the taste let alone abide the smell. However, a friend at my new church has invited me to a party where they’ll be serving surströmmingsklämma — that’s a sandwich made with slices of surströmming (the name for this fish — quite a mouthful, too, though at least it’s not fermented!) between two pieces of the hard and crispy kind of bread they love so much up here. The bread is buttered and there is a further layer of boiled and sliced or else mashed potatoes.

What to do? Do I accept my friend’s invitation or pretend to be busy “settling in”?

– Mary-Louise from Umeå, Sweden

Dear Mary-Louise,

You don’t have to pretend to be Anthony Bourdain if you don’t want to be. Look at Samantha Brown, she travels all the world and never once leaves her comfort zone or experiences something new.

Also, you’re in Sweden, not some village in the third world where they are honoring you by offering you a slice of roast anteater rump. I’m sure you won’t be insulting anyone by politely declining. Just be graceful and say you’re not big into fish.



Dear Mary-Sue,

I know you’re very pro-USA, but as an English expat who has just spent his first summer in the United States, I haven’t been able to get the hang of some of your summer desserts.

Take, for instance, strawberry shortcake — overly sweetened strawberries on a sweet biscuit, which should actually be called a scone. Whose bright idea was that? I guess that person hadn’t heard of strawberries and cream?

Moving right along to that traditional American Girl Scout favorite, s’mores. The chocolate and graham crackers are fine, but a roasted marshmallow — that’s OTT. Please, sir, can I have no-more?

I could go on about the American obsession with eating ice cream in a wide variety of sickening flavors, when there’s absolutely nothing wrong with chocolate and vanilla (okay, strawberry, too, if you like) — but I’ll stop there.

Here’s the thing, old girl [??????? M-S]. I would love to tell my various American hosts that nothing beats a tall glass of Pimm’s on a summer’s day, and a slice of summer pudding, but I’m guessing that wouldn’t go down too well.

Nigel of Nevada

Dear Nigel,

Old girl??! Why, aren’t you a little slice of honey pie? I’d certainly like to beat you with a tall glass of Pimms. It actually isn’t too difficult to get hold of a Pimms cup here in the land of the free. As for the rest of your letter: yeah, we like our desserts to be sweet. What a surprise!



Dear Mary-Sue,

I’m originally from Winnipeg, in Manitoba, Canada, and am teaching English in Korea. The other day one of my students went so far as to tell me that the reason the Korean economy has gotten strong is because they all eat so much kimchi.

I wanted to tell him that I think there’s something strange about a nation being so obsessed with what is essentially spicy fermented cabbage.

I mean, can’t they think of anything else to brag about?

– Sally from Seoul

Dear Sally,

First Mary-Louise’s problems with fermented fish and now this. I don’t know what it is with foreigners and fermentation — seems crazy to me. The Mary-Sue rule is that unless you’re fermenting something that I can make into a mimosa or margarita, then it’s best not to bother.

My hubby, Jake, is always going off to the Korean barbeque in town. If the owner is sending back all the money he makes off dear ol’ hubby, well, it’s probably that that’s keeping the Korean economy strong.



Dear Mary-Sue,

Oh. My. God. Do people really eat this stuff? I’m an American student staying with a British family as part of a semester abroad, and they SERIOUSLY just offered me the most foul-tasting stuff imaginable on toast. I thought I was going to spit it out. I mean, it was soooo salty! And then they presented the jar to me as a GIFT! What am I supposed to do with it?!?!?!?

– Patti in Plymouth

Dear Patti,

I’m assuming you’re talking about Marmite. I wouldn’t worry too much, it probably won’t make it past customs when you return to the land of milk and honey.



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

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

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post by Jack Scott.

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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