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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1) More exotic looks — and a book deal.

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

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

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

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

2) More memorable dinner parties.

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

And her recipes do me proud to this day.

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

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

3) Improved language skills.

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

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

Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained…

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

4) A fondness for angels who dance on pinheads.

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

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

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

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

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

I was gobsmacked.

Major girl crush!

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

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

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

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

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

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

6) The confidence to travel on your own.

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

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

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

* * *

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

STAY TUNED for next week’s posts.

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EXPAT MOMENTS: What to wear for an Independence Day Party

Another in our series focusing on little moments of expat experience — moments that at the time seemed pifflingly insignificant.

As far as I can gather, the main advantage of Independence Day for many people seems to be the opportunity to dust off and wear that stars-and-stripes leather jacket that they bought back in 1979.

Wishing to get into the Independence Day spirit, it was clear that I also needing something “appropriate” to wear if I wanted to blend in successfully so I headed over to Target, a fine American corporation that would hopefully have even finer American clothing for me to purchase.

Finding the Target employee that looked the most patriotic — the telltale signs are a sensible haircut, good posture, and a strong jaw line — I asked where I might find the most patriotic T-shirts in store. Leading me to a selection of T-shirts featuring the stars and stripes, it was difficult for me to contain my disappointment with this somewhat anemic selection.

“Hmmm, do you have anything more patriotic?” I asked.

The patriotic youth seemed a little confused, a look that made him seem increasingly un-American.

“I was,” I said, “looking for something with a little more pizzazz. Something more OTT. I was kinda hoping you’d have one where Jesus is cradling the liberty bell while a bald eagle looks down approvingly?”

He just stared back at me. I’d been wrong about him. His jaw line was not as strong as I’d thought, his posture a little crooked, and his hair-style now I was closer was greasy and ostentatious.

“Why would we have that?” he sneered.

“Because you love this country — that’s why!”Though difficult, I tried to calm myself down and keep my temper in check. “Okay, have you got anything with a bald eagle in full flight in front of the stars and stripes, but, and this is the important bit, with a kick-ass explosion going on behind the flag? No? Nothing?”

“Have you tried Wal-Mart?”

I wandered off disappointed. This must have been how Benedict Arnold felt. You try and give this American lark a try, but you just end up getting kicked in the teeth. And that was when I saw the above little number, which I decided would from now on be my Independence Day T-shirt.

A version of this post first appeared on Culturally Discombobulated

STAY TUNED for Thursday’s post, in which Kate Allison debunks some common myths about the UK vs the USA.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endearing little imperfections (England)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Imperfection is perfection (Japan)

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

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

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

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

Don’t overcultivate your garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

My takeaways

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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Image: MorgueFile

Wedding celebrations: Who does it better, Britain or America?

We’ve spent the last two weeks looking at festivals and parties around the world, and today it’s time to take a glimpse at nuptial celebrations, with a guest post by Meagan Adele Lopez. As an American who once lived in the UK — she also has a British boyfriend — Lopez can be considered an unofficial expert on British versus American weddings.

Please don’t invite my British beau and me to a wedding unless you really want us to come — we are more than likely going to reply “yes”!

Many have made that mistake. For some reason, it is impossible for us to say “no” — perhaps we are living vicariously through the bride and groom (going to a wedding is much cheaper than throwing one, let’s be honest).

Over the course of four years we have been invited to 28 weddings, 23 of which we will attend/have attended. These weddings span four countries (Wales, England, Dominican Republic and the USA) and 14 cities.

I wish I could say I was a professional wedding guest, getting paid to attend these lavish affairs. But no, we just happen to have many friends who are getting engaged at this time of my life. Some are even going through their second weddings.

One of the many benefits of dating a British guy is being able to attend British weddings — complete with hats, fascinators, castles and tail coats. I’ve become a bit of an expert on both.

So, I’ve been keeping a running tally of the best things that British and American wedding celebrations have to offer. Right now Britain is winning, but only by one, so that could change!

4 great things about British weddings

1) Less financial outlay for bridesmaids
It’s kind of atrocious that Americans still “invite” their best friends in the world to have the “honor” of becoming a bridesmaid only to pick out the most expensive dress they can find, make their best friends pay for it, and take them on a lavish bachelorette party that they must also pay for.

The British have it right. I mean, if you’re paying £25,000 on a wedding already, why not shell out an extra thousand to make your poor bridesmaids happy? After all, they didn’t choose to get married, you did.

2) Betting on the speeches
Let’s face it — sometimes speeches at a wedding can be really, really hilarious and entertaining. They can be so entertaining and hilarious that you have no idea how much time has gone by, whether or not you’ve eaten, or if the dancing has even happened yet. But, a lot of times, they can be painful and long, and somewhat boring. So, what better way to keep the crowd entertained than by going to each table and getting the guests’ bets on how long the speeches will last?

Personally, I love speeches and find it fascinating to see how each person tackles this challenge to charm a crowd of 150 people — 20 of whom you probably know personally. However, knowing that I have the chance to win a pot of 200 quid makes it that much better!

3) The Groom’s Speech
I actually find it a travesty that American grooms aren’t made to give a speech. Perhaps it’s because a woman marrying a British man knows that this one speech might be the only time she will hear her husband tell her how gorgeous, wonderful and amazing she is, and how he is the luckiest man on the planet. After all, British men aren’t known for being overly flattering or sentimental. I blubber like an idiot, wiping the mascara from my eyes, when I hear a doting British man, for the first (and probably only) time, open up to his friends and family about why he is truly in love with this woman.

But I’m sure most brides who marry a British man will tell you that the groom’s speech is one of the best moments of their wedding night. For me, as a guest, it beats the father’s speech and even the first dance. Perhaps the vows are the only thing that trump it.

4) Romantic venues
I’ve attended weddings in a ninth-century castle, in a tenth-century church, in an old manor house in Sussex, on a farm in the West Country, in a hotel where prime ministers stay, and next to a marsh in West Wales. Something about a British wedding makes it that much more romantic. Of course, it’s every girl’s dream to get married in a castle, but in Great Britain, you actually can!

3 great things about American weddings

1) Open bar
The first time I truly found out about the horror that is a cash bar at a wedding, I was invited to just the evening part. You see, my boyfriend and I had been together for over a year, but since the groom had never met me, he didn’t think it important to invite (ah hem, “pay”) for me to come to dinner, or attend the ceremony.

Apparently, it’s quite normal in England for a significant other not to be invited to the entire evening with their partner if they have never met the girlfriend. Being an American, I was already incredibly offended — especially since we had traveled an hour to be there, stayed in a really expensive hotel (the only one in the entire town), and paid for two separate £40 cab rides to the venue from the hotel (since we weren’t leaving together). So, you can imagine my dismay when I got to the reception and had to pay for my own drinks! I understand that not everyone can afford to have an open bar, but I most certainly prefer the American mentality that when you invite a guest, they are to be treated as such.

2) The women’s speeches
In Great Britain, traditionally, the speeches include the Father of the Bride, the Groom and the Best Man. I agree with all of these choices for speeches, but I have to admit, I did find it a teeny bit sexist that no women spoke at weddings the first time I saw it happen. Most British women don’t mind since they would rather the attention be off of them for the night, but what happened to the Maid of Honor? Why can’t she throw in a speech?

Women bring a different take to speech land, and I definitely prefer the American tradition of allowing us to speak.

3) Creative venues
Where the British score points for tradition, history, elegance and romance, American weddings score points for creativity, grandiosity and variety. Obviously, America is a much bigger country with many more choices for venues, and many more options for good weather. I have been to a wedding on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, at a museum in the middle of downtown Chicago, a country club in Maryland, and by a river at a historic house in Austin, Texas. The possibilities are truly endless in America, and always keep you guessing. While many British weddings have struck me as being similar, it’s hard for me to say that any American wedding has resembled another. This is also probably due to the diversity of the American population and the variety of religions in this country.

Combining the two traditions — still working on that!

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that with all of these weddings I didn’t think about how I would like my half British, half American wedding to go…but I simply can’t admit to what I dream of just yet. Call it superstition or what have you, but until I get engaged I won’t disclose my dream wedding. My worst nightmare is having my dream wedding down on paper, and then it never happening!

In the meantime, I’ll continue to break down the weddings I go to and figure out which bits I want to keep for myself.

Editor’s note: This post is adapted from a post that appeared on Smitten by Britain: “British vs. American Weddings” (25 January 2012).

Question for readers: Have you been to weddings in the country where you live? How do they compare?

MEAGAN ADELE LOPEZ is the author of Three Questions: Because a quarter-life crisis needs answers, which was featured in February on The Displaced Nation. You can learn more about Lopez and her book at her author site and by following her on Twitter: @meaganadele.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, an interview with first-time novelist Martin Crosbie. (Sign up for our Dispatch to be eligible for the giveaway of his book, A Temporary Life!)

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

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

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

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

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

__________________________________________

Dear Mary-Sue,

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

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

Wendy from Wichita via Warsaw

Dear Wendy,

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

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

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

Mary-Sue

———————————-

Dear Mary-Sue,

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

Harry from Harrow on the Hill via Hoboken, NJ

Dear Harry,

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

Mary-Sue

———————————-

Dear Mary-Sue,

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

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

Anon

Dear Anon,

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

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

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

Mary-Sue
___________________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

BEAUTY STAPLES

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

BEAUTY TREATMENTS

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

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

HAIR

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

FASHION

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

LINGERIE

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

JEWELRY

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

WEARING RIGHT NOW

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

DAILY FASHION FIXES

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

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

STYLE ICON

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

STREET FASHION

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

TOP BEAUTY/STYLE LESSON FROM TRAVELS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why you can’t help being jealous of new author and Parisian style guru Jennifer Scott

Before getting started, I have to say something, something rather catty — which is that Jennifer Scott makes me jealous.

I’m jealous in part because she has self-published a book, Lessons from Madame Chic: The Top 20 Things I Learned While Living in Paris, that is doing very well for itself. Nearing the top of Amazon’s Paris Top 10 list, it has just been reviewed by The New York Times (Thursday Styles) and featured in The Daily Mail.

But a much bigger part of the reason for my jealousy of Scott is that she’s such a quick study.

Let me explain. As an American woman who lived in England and Japan for many years, I could identify with many of the lessons Scott picked up from immersing herself in the everyday life of a fine French family: that there are other — more stylish and more sensible — ways to cook and eat, keep house, entertain, wear clothes and put on make-up than those we’ve been taught in our native land.

But just how long was Scott in Paris? Six months! C’est incroyable!

It took her just six months to pick up so many life lessons? At first I wondered: can it be because the French are such good teachers? Scott after all benefited from exposure not only to her host family, whom she calls Famille Chic, but to her boyfriend’s host family, Famille Bohemienne.

But then I decided that, no, the French aren’t so much great teachers as Scott is an avid learner. You see, there is something else she gets right, exquisitely right, with this book — she captures the moment when an expat goes from feeling uncomfortably displaced to deciding she can take something of value away from the experience. Scott may be ignorant, but she isn’t arrogant — an observation that does not by any means apply across the board to newbie expats. (Dare I say, the combination of ignorance and arrogance is an American speciality, especially when we venture abroad!)

There is an incident at the heart of the book that conveys this evolution in Scott’s thinking — I speak of the moment when Madame Chic (the redoubtable matriarch of Famille Chic) turns to her American charge and says: “That sweater does not look good on you.” Stunned by her host mother’s frankness, all Scott can think of to say, in English, is:

Really? But it’s a silk and cashmere blend.

But it’s not the quality Mme Chic has in mind but the color:

It does not suit you at all. It washes you out. You look…sallow.

For Scott, this is the beginning of an epiphany. She feels wounded but then has to concede that Mme Chic could be right — she’s never liked the sweater (it was a gift) but more importantly, why is she bothering to wear colors that don’t suit her?

For the past four years — initially through her blog, The Daily Connoisseur, and now through her new book — the precocious Scott has been making the case for rejecting the typical American life of mindless consumerism. As she learned at the well-manicured feet of Mme Chic, it’s important to make sure the clothes you wear, the food you put into your body, and the items you bring into your home are things you love and that actually suit you. What’s more, living a well-edited life frees up our time for other — artistic, cultural, intellectual, philanthropic — pursuits.

Such sage advice — and from one so young! But enough of my giving vent to the green-eyed monster. It’s time I introduced you to its object — or shall I say, bête noire? — the très très charmante Jennifer Scott. She graciously agreed to answer some of my fashion- and style-related questions, along with a few that relate to the concerns of the Displaced Nation’s “citizens.” The following are some highlights from our exchange. Enjoy — and see if you don’t end up with a case of Scott envy as bad as mine!

The decision to write a book on refined and elegant living

Thank you so much, Jennifer, for agreeing to this chat and also for generously offering to provide two signed copies of your book as a giveaway to Displaced Dispatch subscribers. Let’s start by having you talk a little about your background — where you were born, what you studied and why you went to Paris.
I grew up in the Inland Empire of Southern California, studied theatre and French at the University of Southern California and currently reside in Santa Monica. My junior year of college I studied abroad in Paris, which was a life changing experience and prompted me to write my memoir/lifestyle book, Lessons from Madame Chic.

What made you decide on the format of a how-to book — which as you say is also something of a memoir on your semester abroad?
Since 2008 I’ve been keeping a blog called The Daily Connoisseur, where I explore all facets of how to live well. I did a series on my blog, “The Top 20 Things I Learned While Living in Paris,” where I examined the lessons I learned in Europe and shared how I translated those lessons to my California lifestyle. The series was so popular, I realized there was a strong interest in the application of these lessons — not just in the lessons themselves — so I decided to record my observations in a book.

What audience did you have in mind for the book?
The audience I had in mind was anyone who wanted to live a more refined and elegant lifestyle. I know this sounds broad and general but it’s true. Sure, different parts of the book appeal to different people and age groups, but overall the message is that life should be lived beautifully and passionately and I think that is a universal message.

What portion of the book — the fashion and beauty tips, the lifestyle advice, the memoir — have readers responded to the most?
Most readers say the last third of the book, the section on how to live well, inspires them the most. But I get a lot of great feedback on the beauty, fashion and diet portions of the book, too.

Capsule wardrobes, clothing collections, colors & other tips

I really liked your advice about the capsule wardrobe of 10 core items, based on how Madame Chic and her family dressed. But many of us who’ve been expats in other countries eventually find ourselves drawn to native fashions — sometimes to the point where we start building collections. Last week, for instance, long-time expat Anastasia Ashman told of her collection of silk kebayas (long, fitted jackets) from Malaysia. Are fashion collections a no-no?
I think the idea of a fashion collection is very cool. I don’t personally have one but if you have traveled, or if you live abroad and find yourself drawn to a cultural fashion piece, I say, why not? My only advice would be to make sure your collection is not verging on becoming clutter. Still keep a discerning eye.

Another famous displaced American woman, of course, was Jackie O. What about her habit of buying ten sweaters in different colors — thus saving time and/or disappointment when the style is discontinued, or in the case of international travelers, for fear that you’ll never get to that part of the world again?
This mentality can be tricky and I say that from firsthand experience! A few years ago I realized I was buying everything in threes. If I liked something, I would buy it in three colors for fear I would never find something like it again. I found that the multiple purchases just became clutter in my wardrobe and oftentimes I would change my mind down the line and decide I didn’t actually like the pieces that much after all! I would suggest practicing restraint here as well.

I enjoyed the passage of the book where you recalled Mme Chic criticizing you for wearing the wrong color. When I had my “colors done” in Japan, I was told in no uncertain terms never to wear fuchsia! At the same time, though, I can relate to another remark made by Anastasia last week. She said that because color choice reflects the place where ones live, people like her, who’ve gone back and forth between very different cultures, find themselves varying their palettes rather widely.
I do agree that color choice can be influenced by geography, but I believe one should always go with their passion rather than trying to conform too much. If you love color, by all means you should wear it, even if everyone around you is in a sea of black. Style is about being happy and comfortable with what you are wearing, if you are trying too hard to fit into your surroundings, it doesn’t come off as natural.

Skincare and diet

Moving on to skincare, in your book you mention how careful you are to apply SPF to your face, neck and décolletage — but is that a habit picked up in the U.S. or in France? I was under the impression that French women liked their suntans!
Applying sunscreen is a habit I picked up in the United States but I do believe French women protect themselves on a daily basis with sunscreen as well — they perhaps aren’t so zealous about it as we are. Although everyone is different. I remember when I spent six weeks in Cannes, I loved to observe this French woman (a local) who went to the beach everyday to sunbathe. She was a deep bronze color and her skin was quite leathery so she clearly wasn’t concerned about wearing SPF!

I also identified with the part of your book where you say that French people stay thinner than Americans do by not snacking in between meals. Likewise, I learned to snack less when living in both England and Japan — I lost weight in both countries! That said, I also got into the habit of taking afternoon tea breaks, sometimes with a biscuit (cookie). In your view, is teatime permissible? (Please say yes as it’s a founding principle of The Displaced Nation!)
I adore tea time! I actually spend a good part of every year in England, as my husband is English, and we have tea and some sort of cake or biscuit every day during this charming ritual. Tea time is enjoyable and if you relish it and take it in moderation (only one slice of cake and not two) there is nothing wrong with it. Maintaining a healthy attitude towards eating and not beating yourself up over small pleasures is key. The French equivalent of tea time would be the goûter, which is taken at 4:00 p.m. and can consist of anything from a cup of tea and a slice of cake, to a hot chocolate and a biscuit. Delightful.

The impact of repatriation

Like me, despite your love of foreign countries, you’ve chosen to live in the United States. Have you changed your mind about any of the fashion principles you learned in France since coming back here, or do they still hold fast?
I still utilize the fashion tips I picked up in France through the years — especially the French concept that comfortable doesn’t have to equal frumpiness.

For me, one of the biggest changes I’ve made since coming back to the U.S. concerns shoes. Though I never lived in France, I had somehow imbibed the French preference for ballet shoes or low-heeled pumps, instead of athletic shoes. I don’t think I owned a single pair of sneakers when I first arrived back here! In the past couple of years, though, foot pain and aging have made me concede that athletic shoes are much healthier for the foot, especially when one travels and does a lot of walking…
By necessity, I have to wear an orthotic most days. I still wear chic day shoes like ballet flats and driving loafers, but buy them in bigger sizes so my orthotic fits. Voilà! Comfort and practicality meet style. I love being comfortable but for me it’s about being creative and going about it with style. There are so many comfortable yet stylish alternatives to traditionally comfortable things like sneakers, sweat suits and yoga pants.

So are there any fashion or beauty ideas that American women get right?
American women have great style and get a lot of things right! I think where we go wrong is in editing our wardrobe. We have too many things in our closets and sometimes that clouds our fashion identity a bit.

Cross-cultural marriage and the California life

Moving on to another topic of interest to many “citizens” of The Displaced Nation: cross-cultural marriage. You’ve chosen to marry an “eccentric” Englishman, as you call him in the book. What do you think is the biggest challenge about marrying someone of another culture?
The biggest challenge, for me, is food! My husband and I have very different tastes in food. He loves traditional English food like roasts, fish and chips, shepherd’s pies and other hearty dishes. I tend to like lighter fare. I also adore Mexican cuisine as it plays a big part in California culture and he is not so into it. So when we cook dinner at home, it is always a compromise.

One more question from an expat perspective: have you completely readjusted to living in the United States, or do you still pine for Europe?
I have definitely adjusted back to American culture. I love my Californian lifestyle — which is why I’ve chosen Santa Monica as my main place to live. It’s been over a decade since I’ve lived in France but I still travel to Europe every year. I enjoy taking the best lessons I learn from these travels and incorporating them into my life back home. This is really what my book is about. And doing so has helped me to lead a very rich existence, indeed.

Next is a mystery…?!

Finally, what’s next on the writing front — are you currently working on another book?
My next book is a mystery called Divina Wright and the Case of the Missing Rubies. It is a stylish, vintage take on a modern mystery.

Thank you so much, Jennifer Scott, for engaging in this tête-à-tête! Readers, do you have your own questions for youthful connoisseur? Hurry up, before she gets invited to host her own style series on Cable TV. (Reeooow. Hisssss… I can feel another crise de jalousie coming on!)

STAY TUNED for Wednesday’s interview with another displaced style maven (but providing an Italian perspective!), Barbara Conelli.

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RANDOM NOMAD: Annabel Kantaria, British Expat in Dubai

Place of birth: London, UK
Passport: UK
Overseas travel history: United Arab Emirates (Dubai): 1998 – present.
Occupation: Former journalist and one of four official expat bloggers for The Weekly Telegraph
Cyberspace coordinates: Telegraph Expat blog (Annabel Kantaria) and @BellaKay (Twitter handle)

What made you leave your homeland in the first place?
Despite being 100 percent British, I never felt at home in England. As young as six years old I used to wake up feeling “displaced.” I was unable to identify that feeling until I moved to Dubai and realized that the feeling had gone. To be honest, I think “home” could be anywhere that has a positive attitude, hot sun, blue sky and a glittering sea.

Was anyone else in your family “displaced”?
My father grew up in India as the child of expat parents and so my own childhood in England was full of stories of hill retreats, jungles, hot sun, ayas and curries. My mother was born to expat parents in Romania. My aunt emigrated from the UK to Canada.

My husband, whom I met at university in the UK, is also displaced — I don’t think it’s a coincidence we ended up together. Of Indian origin, he grew up largely in Kenya and did his secondary schooling and university in the UK. We were married in Nairobi and then lived in the UK for one year. My husband went to Dubai on business, brought me back a book about Dubai and said “Let’s move there!” I didn’t need any convincing. We sold our house and cars, and shipped all our possessions over and have, so far, never looked back. 🙂

So you’ve felt the most displaced in your homeland?
Yes. Growing up in England, I felt like an alien. Throughout my teenage years I plotted my escape. I knew I would leave as soon as I could. It was just a matter of when, where and with whom. Even now, when I go back, I feel like a foreigner.

Is there any particular moment in Dubai that stands out as your “least displaced”?
Probably the first weekend after my husband and I moved to Dubai — when we sitting on the public beach watching the sun go down and the sand turn from white to pink and listening to the azaan (call to prayer) echo across the beach. I had that first flutter of “This is home! We’re not on holiday!” excitement, which still continues, even after 14 years.

You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from your adopted country into The Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
A plastic mosque alarm clock that wakes you with the azaan [see photo inset].

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

Emirati food revolves largely around meat and I am a vegetarian, so I would have to broaden it to include other Middle Eastern cuisines. Rather than three courses, I’d offer you a selection of mezze (small dishes):

We’d wash it down with a rich red wine from Lebanon’s Château Musar, Ksara or Kefraya.

For dessert I would offer you a delicious Umm Ali — an Egyptian version of hot, bread pudding, served with a little vanilla sauce. And, of course, a cardamom-laced Arabic coffee to finish.

And now you may add a word or expression from the country where you live in to The Displaced Nation argot. What will you loan us?
Inshallah (If it’s God’s will) — it’s the word you hear the most when you want to get something done and you’re begging for a commitment that it will be. It’s also a word that UAE expats use, in their transient lives, to acknowledge that they aren’t entirely sure of what may happen next. “We’ll be staying here for two years, Inshallah.”

This month we are looking into beauty and fashion. What are the best Emirati beauty secrets you’ve discovered?
From observing highly groomed Arab ladies, I’ve learned the value of the perfectly shaped eyebrow – something to which I’d barely paid any attention in England. I’ve also discovered the joys of a good scrub in the hammam. It’s not Emirati per se, but does have a long history here. And although you don’t often see a UAE national lady without her shayla (rectangular headscarf), the beauty salons are full of Emirati ladies having their hair blow-dried — I’ve learned to get my hair professionally “blown” before any major social event. It gives you an instant polish that makes all the difference.

What about fashion — any beloved outfits, jewelry, or other accessories you’ve collected in the UAE?
Emirati ladies put a lot of thought into accessories such as sunglasses, handbags and shoes, given that the rest of them is covered by the abaya (robe-like dress or cloak) when out in public. I’ve picked up their habit of using a great handbag to pull a look together. I also have a beautiful, jewelled black thobe (ankle-length garment traditionally worn by Arab men) that doubles up as a great evening dress.

Editor’s note: Annabel Kantaria was awarded one of The Displaced Nation’s “Alices” for a post she composed about the need for “behavior lessons” before working in the UAE.

Readers — yay or nay for letting Annabel Kantaria into The Displaced Nation? Tell us your reasons. (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Annabel — find amusing.)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s installment from our displaced fictional heroine, Libby, who is once again on her own while her feckless husband clocks up more hotel points and air miles — perhaps he intends to be present at the birth of their twins via Skype? (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

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img: Annabel Kantaria at a polo match in Dubai; inset: her plastic mosque alarm clock, which she proposes to bring into The Displaced Nation.

CLEOPATRA FOR A DAY: Fashion & beauty diary of former expat Anastasia Ashman

Continuing our feature, “Cleopatra for a Day,” we turn to Anastasia Ashman, an American whose love of the exotic led her to Southeast Asia (Malaysia) and Istanbul, Turkey to live (she also found a Turkish husband en route!). Having just moved back home to California, Ashman opens her little black book and spills the fashion and beauty secrets she has collected over three decades of pursuing a nomadic life.

BEAUTY STAPLES

Like Cleopatra, I’m into medicinal unguents and aromatic oils. My staples are lavender and tea tree oil for the tropical face rot you can get in hot, humid places — and for all other kinds of skin complaints, stress, headaches, jet lag, you name it — and Argan oil for skin dryness. I take them everywhere. I also spray lavender and sandalwood on my sheets.

When living in Southeast Asia I liked nutmeg oil to ward off mosquitoes. (I know that’s not beauty per se but bug-bitten is not an attractive look, and it’s just so heavenly smelling too, I suppose you can slather it on your legs and arms for no reason at all.)

I didn’t even have to go to Africa to become dependent on shea butter for lips and hands, and I like a big block of cocoa butter from the Egyptian Bazaar in Istanbul for après sun and gym smoothing — less greasy than shea butter, which I usually use at night.

I’m not really into branded products. When you move around it’s hard to keep stocking your favorite products and I find companies are always discontinuing the things I like so I’ve become mostly brand agnostic.

I just moved from Istanbul to San Francisco, and I got rid of almost everything I owned so I’m seeing what basics I can live with. Because to me, basics that do a wonderful, multifaceted job are the definition of luxury. You’ve got to figure out what those basics are for you.

Oh, and when I am in Paris, I buy perfume. Loved this tiny place in Le Marais that created scents from the plants on the island of Sardinia. And wouldn’t you know it, the second time I went they’d gone out of business. Crushing.

My favorite perfume maker in Paris at the moment — very intriguing perspective, lots of peppery notes and almost nicotiney pungencies — is L’Artisan Parfumeur. I’ve got my eye on their Fou d’Absinthe.

In another life, past or present, I know I was involved with perfume…

BEAUTY TREATMENTS

Believe Cleopatra would drink them dissolved in vinegar? In Malaysia I used to get capsules of crushed pearls from a Chinese herbalist down the street from my house — apparently they’re good for a creamy-textured skin.

I’ll take a facial in any country. I like Balinese aromatic oil massages when I can get them, too, and will take a bath filled with flowers if I’ve got a view of the jungle. Haven’t yet had my chance to do a buttermilk bath. I also do mud baths and hot springs where ever they’re offered, in volcanic areas of the world.

Another indispensable: the Turkish hamam. It’s really great for detoxification, relaxation and exfoliation. When living in Istanbul, I’d go at least once a season, and more often in the summer. It’s great to do with a clutch of friends. You draw out the poaching experience by socializing in the steamy room on heated marble benches, and take turns having your kese (scrub down) with a rough goat-hair mitt. You hire a woman who specializes in these scrubs, and then she massages you with a soapy air-filled cotton bag, and rinses you off like a mother cat washes her kitten.

Soap gets in the eyes, yes.

I own all the implements now, including hand-crocheted washcloths made with silverized cotton, knitted mitts, oil and laurel oil soaps, copper hamam bowls (for rinsing), linen pestemal (wraps or towels), and round pumice stones. (For haman supplies, try Dervis.com.)

DENTAL CARE

I’ve had dental work done in Malaysia and Turkey and was very satisfied with the level of care and the quality and modernity of the equipment and techniques. I got used to state-of-the-science under-the-gum-line laser cleanings in Malaysia (where my Taiwanese dentist was also an acupuncturist) and worry now that I am back to regular old ineffective cleanings. I’ve had horrific experiences in New York, by the way, so don’t see the USA as a place with better oral care standards.

In general, I like overkill when it comes to my teeth. I’ll see oral surgeons rather than dentists, and have my cleanings from dentists rather than oral hygienists.

ENHANCEMENTS

Turkey apparently has a lot of plastic surgery, as well as Lasik eye surgery. One thing to consider about cosmetic procedures is the local aesthetic and if it’s right for you. I didn’t appreciate the robot-like style of eyebrow shaping in Istanbul (with a squared-off center edge) — so I’d be extra wary of anything permanent!

HAIR

I’ve dyed my hair many colors — from black cherry in Asia to red to blonde in Turkey — and had it styled into ringlets and piled up like a princess and blown straight like an Afghan hound. That last one doesn’t work with my fine hair, and doing this style before an event on the Bosphorus would make it spring into a cotton candy-like formation before I’d had my first hors d’oeuvre.

I’ve had my hair cut by people who don’t know at all how to handle curly hair. That’s pretty daring.

I looked like a fluff ball for most of my time in Asia, because I tried to solve the heat and humidity problem with short hair and got tired of loading it up with products meant for thick straight Asian hair.

Now that I’ve relocated to San Francisco (which, even though it’s close to my hometown of Berkeley where I haven’t lived in 30 years, I still consider “a foreign country”), I’m having my hair cut by a gardener, who trims it dry, like a hedge. Having my hair cut by an untrained person with whatever scissors he can find is also pretty daring!

FASHION

On the fashion front, I have an addiction to pashmina-like shawls from Koza Han, the silk market in Bursa, the old capital of the Ottoman empire and a Silk Road stop. I can keep wearing them for years.

I also have a small collection of custom-made silk kebayas from Malaysia, the long, fitted jacket over a long sarong skirt on brightly hand-drawn and printed batik, which I pull out when I have to go to a State dinner and the dress code is formal/national dress. (It’s only happened once, at Malacañan Palace, in Manila!)

I have one very tightly fitting kebaya jacket that is laser-cut velvet in a midnight blue which I do not wear enough. Thanks for reminding me. I may have to take out the too-stiff shoulder pads.

LINGERIE

I like state-of-the-art stuff that does more than one thing at once and find most places sell very backward underthings that are more about how they look than how they fit, feel, or perform. Nonsense padded bras, bumpy lace, and stuff that is low on performance and high on things I don’t care about.

I got an exercise racerback bra at a Turkish shop and had to throw it away it was so scratchy and poorly performing. No wicking of sweat, no staying put, no motion control. But it had silver glittery thread — and (unnecessary) padding!

JEWELRY

I like most of the jewelry I’ve acquired abroad and am grateful to receive it as gifts, too. All of my pieces have some kind of story — and some attitude, too.

From Turkey: Evil-eye nazar boncuğu pieces in glass and porcelain; silk-stuffed caftan pendants from the Istanbul designer Shibu; Ottoman-style enameled pieces; and an opalized Hand of Fatima on an impossibly fine gold chain. This last piece is what all the stylish women in Istanbul are wearing at the moment.

From China: White pearls from Beijing, pink from Shanghai and purple from Shenyang.

From Malaysia: I got an tiny tin ingot in the shape of a turtle in Malacca, which I was told once served as currency in the Chinese community. I had it mounted in a gold setting and wear it from a thick satin choker.

From Holland: A recent acquisition from Amsterdam are gold and silver leather Lapland bracelets with hand-twinned pewter and silver thread and reindeer horn closures. They’re exquisite and rugged at the same time.

WEARING RIGHT NOW

Today’s a rainy day of errands so I’m wearing a fluffy, black cowl-necked sweater with exaggerated sleeves, brown heathered slacks, and black ankle boots. They’re all from New York, which is where I’ve done the most shopping in recent years.

My earrings are diamond and platinum pendants from Chicago in the 1940s, a gift from my grandmother.

I’ve also got on my platinum wedding and engagement rings. They’re from Mimi So in New York.

DAILY FASHION FIXES

I liked FashionTV in Turkey, which was owned by Demet Sabanci Cetindogan, the businesswoman who sponsored my Expat Harem book tour across America in 2006.

The segment of Turkish society interested in fashion is very fashion forward. I enjoyed being able to watch the runway shows and catch interviews with the designers.

If I could draw and sew I’d make all my own clothes but I am weak in these areas. In another life, when I get a thicker skin for the fashion world’s unpleasantries, I’ll devote myself to learning these things and have a career in fashion design.

STREET STYLE

In Istanbul, Nişantaşi is somewhere you’d see some real fashion victims limping along in their heels on the cobblestones and Istiklal Caddesi, the pedestrian boulevard in Beyoğlu, would be a place to see a million different looks from grungy college kids to young men on the prowl, with their too-long, pointy-toed shoes.

TOP BEAUTY/STYLE LESSONS FROM TRAVELS

In fact, I’m still assimilating everything — and everywhere — I’ve experienced in terms of fashion and beauty, but here are a few thoughts:

1) Layering: I learned from Turkish women to layer your jewelry and wear a ton of things at the same time. Coco Chanel would have a heart attack! But the idea is not to wear earrings, necklace, bracelet and rings all at once, but lots of necklaces or lots of bracelets or lots of rings at the same time.

2) Jewelry as beach accessory: During the summer Turkish wear lots of ropy beaded things on their wrists during a day at the beach — nothing too valuable (it’s the beach!) but attractive nonetheless. Jewelry stands feeding this seasonal obsession crop up at all the fashionable beach spots. Dangly charms and evil eyes and little golden figures on leather and paper ropes.

3) A little bling never hurts: I’ve also been influenced by the flashiness of Turkish culture, and actually own a BCBG track suit with sequined logos on it. This is the kind of thing my Turkish family and I would all wear on a plane or road trip. Comfortable and sporty, but not entirely unaware of being in public (and not at the gym). Coming from dressed-down Northern California, it was difficult to get used to being surrounded by glitzy branded tennis shoes and people wearing watches as jewelry, but I hope I’ve been able to take some of the better innovations away with me. I know I’m more likely to wear a glittery eye shadow now that I’ve lived in the Near East.

4) The need for sun protection: It was a shock to go from bronzed Los Angeles to can’t-get-any-paler Asia and then to the bronzed Mediterranean. In Asia I arrived with sun damage and then had lots of people helping me to fix it — I even used a parasol there. Then in Turkey everyone thought I was inexplicably pale and I let my sun protection regimen slip a bit. I’m back on the daily sunblock.

5) What colors to wear: I also used to get whiplash from trips back and forth between California and Southeast Asia in terms of color in clothing. In Malaysia the colors were vivid jewel tones — for the Malays and the Tamils especially. The louder the print, the better. Around the same time I was living in that part of the world, I witnessed a scuffle between shoppers at C.P. Shades in my hometown Berkeley, fighting over velvet granny skirts in moss, and mildew and wet cement colors. That kind of disconnect wreaks havoc on your wardrobe, and your sense of what looks good. Right now I’m trying to incorporate bright colors into my neutral urges. I’m still working it out.

Anastasia Ashman is founder of GlobalNiche.net, a work-life initiative for cultural creatives and mobile progressives that she calls “creative self enterprise for the global soul.” (Global Niche recently held a Webinar “Dressing the Inner You,” featuring psychologist and author Jennifer Baumgartner talking about the cultural displacement that shows up in one’s dressing style.) A Californian with 14 years of expatriatism under her belt, Ashman was the director of the online neoculture discussion community expat+HAREM and coeditor of the critically- and popularly-acclaimed expat lit collection that inspired this community, Tales from the Expat Harem: Foreign Women in Modern Turkey. Catch her tweeting on Pacific Standard Time at @AnastasiaAshman.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, a contrarian perspective by Anthony Windram on this month’s fashion and beauty conversation.

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: (clockwise beginning with top left): Anastasia Ashman holding her own with the ever-glamorous Princess Michael of Kent, in Turkey; with her sister Monika, rocking the traditional Turkish Telkari silver jewelry, Anatolian shawl and requisite deep Bodrum tan; displaying her hamam collection — including traditional silver hamam bowl and hand-loomed linen pestemal towels; and sporting ringleted hair (along with some fashion flair!) at the Istanbul launch of Tales from the Expat Harem.

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