The Displaced Nation

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How to give Cupid’s Day an expat theme, whether you’re coupled up or not

Valentines Day 2016

Some expats may be glad they are living far away from home on Valentine’s Day: what a mushy holiday! Whereas others may be pining over love they’ve left behind…or haven’t yet found, but keep searching for, on their travels.

Now, I suspect that those in the first two categories equal or outnumber those who are enjoying new loves and ways of celebrating love! But no matter what category you are in, I hope I’ve got you covered with this list of ways to spend an expat-themed Cupid’s Day.

What to eat

Valentine’s Day is the perfect excuse to discover the aphrodisiac foods your new country offers. That’s how Displaced Nation founder Kate Allison saw it when she created this list of seven foods to seduce your valentine (or not), wherever your home and heart may be. The choices range from the predictable (oysters and chocolate) to the exotic: ever tried Coco de Mer?

Not in the mood? Join a party going out for a Chinese New Year’s feast. While there, reflect that this is the kind of meal that would be wasted on two people. Telegraph Travel has helpfully provided a list of where to celebrate in Chinatowns around the world.
oysters to chinese food

Where to go

Hey, you’re an overseas traveler, so what’s to stop you from booking a flight to one of the world’s most romantic destinations? A family of three who have traveled nonstop for a decade have narrowed the list of places with a certain je ne sais quoi to six.

Tahiti tops that family’s list, but if you’re someone who prefers urban beauty and sophistication, you might want to check out the world’s 50 most beautiful cities, as curated by two Condé Nast Traveler editors.

Or perhaps you’re envisioning a romantic drive to a picturesque small town, where you and your beloved can stroll hand in hand down the street and enjoy each other’s company at a leisurely pace? Smarter Travel offers a list of 10 such towns in North America, and Condé Nast Traveler has just published a list of the 10 most romantic small towns in Italy (the ultimate setting for romance, surely?).

Not in the mood? Try traveling solo. Fourteen editors at AFAR magazine recently collected their personal stories to argue that everyone, without exception, should travel abroad on their own, on the grounds that:

There is nothing quite as daunting or exhilarating as setting foot all alone in a place you’ve never been before.

lovey dovey to solo travel

What to read

This being a site for displaced creatives, I mustn’t neglect the romance that can be found in books, both fiction and non-, about overseas adventures. Expat author Tracy Slater has made it easy for me: she recently compiled a list of six romantic books with an expat theme in a post for WSJ Expat. She says her choices reflect love’s many moods: from sweet to sultry to bitter and beyond.

For “sweet” (and let’s keep it to sweet, since we’re celebrating Cupid’s Day), she suggests reading Where the Peacocks Sing: A Palace, a Prince, and the Search for Home, a memoir by Alison Singh Gee. It’s a modern-day fairy tale about how a Hong Kong-based journalist with a flair for fashion and a taste for high-born British men finds her prince, a humble foreign correspondent from India. She moves with him to the family “estate,” a crumbling palace in the Indian countryside, and all kinds of cross-cultural adventures ensue.

Not in the mood? Console yourself with the newly translated (from the French) How to Talk About Places You’ve Never Been, by Pierre Bayard, who is a French literature professor and psychoanalyst. Among other things, Bayard argues that the travel you do in your own mind is superior to any other and that all travel, really, is a search for self.
pro and no romance books

* * *

By the way, if none of the above appeals and you’re still feeling empty hearted, I suggest you study the results of the InterNations survey showing the top 10 places for expat romance.

According to the latest findings, you may want to move to the Philippines, Thailand, or Ecuador if the idea is to hook up with a local resident. Only promise me one thing: you’ll read my Cross-cultural marriage? 4 good reasons not to rush into it… post before you let the relationship get serious!

ML Awanohara, one of the Displaced Nation’s founders and its current editor, often composes pieces of this kind for the weekly Displaced Dispatch. Why not subscribe as a Valentine’s gift to yourself and/or encourage your beloved to do so as well?

STAY TUNED for more fab posts.

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Photo credits: All photos are from Pixabay.

Top 10 diverting holiday posts for expats and world travelers

Top 10 diverting holiday posts 2015

‘Twas the night before the night before Christmas, when all through the house, creatures were stirring…because they had jet lag!

This is how I imagine many of you expats and world travelers may be feeling at this point in the holiday season. If that description fits—or even if you’re simply remembering with a mix of relief and nostalgia (as I am) how you once were in that category—the following “holiday” posts may give you a much-needed injection of Christmas spirit. At the very least, they may divert you long enough so that you can sleep again.

I’ve chosen some of them with the thought of bringing you back to Christmases past, when your world was more predictable; others because I think they help to provide perspective on your present life of travel and adventure; and still others to stimulate thoughts about what kinds of Christmases we globetrotters can look forward to in future.

Posts (pun intended) of Christmas Past

1) Dreaming of a white Christmas? Check this out, Lonely Planet, by Roisin Agnew (14 December 2015)
Are White Christmases becoming a thing of the past because of global warming? Some of us may be losing sleep over this question ever since the climate summit was held in Paris. Visions are now dancing in our heads of melting ice flooding the world’s major cities. Also keeping some of us awake is the strongest El Niño in 50 years, which has brought mild, humid weather to North America. Today, Christmas Eve, it’s 70°F in New York City! Meanwhile, the UK and Ireland have been experiencing the ravages of Storm Desmond. Don’t despair yet, though. According to Roisin Agnew, there are still a few places with a reasonable probability of snow this year. (Agnew is a journalist at Lonely Planet Online and founding editor of Guts Magazine, for new Irish writers.) Try this quiz before reading: Which is the one state in the United States with a near 100% chance of a White Christmas?

2) Rick Steves’ European Christmas (Rick Steves Christmas pledge special, published on YouTube May 14, 2014, but an evergreen, so to speak!)
In this hour-long TV special, European travel authority Rick Steves invites his American audience to accompany him back to the old country, to the original Christmas customs that various immigrant groups brought to the United States.

3) The Sweet and Sticky Story of Candy Canes, by Rebecca Rupp, National Geographic Online (22 December 2015)
How did candy canes come into being? We actually don’t know very much about them—but can make an educated guess that they’re a displaced European treat. Read this, and visions of sugar plum-flavored candy canes may dance in your head when you at last drift off…

Posts of Christmases Present

4) Americans Try Norwegian Christmas Food (A production of the Embassy of the United States in Oslo, 21 December 2015)
Witness the somewhat goofy reactions of staff at the U.S. Embassy in Oslo as they try traditional Norwegian Christmas dishes such as lutefisk, smalahove, cabaret and more. Comments Siobhán O’Grady of Foreign Policy magazine: this short video “looks more like it belongs on Buzzfeed than on the diplomatic mission’s YouTube channel.” Hey, but at least it fits with the YouTube tradition of posting videos about people sampling other cultures’ foods for the first time.

5) Rupert the Expat Reindeer (UKinUAE, 14 December 2015)
Another embassy video! This one is part of the British Embassy in Dubai’s effort to ensure that British expats in the UAE behave themselves in the run-up to Christmas. Inspired by the Johnny Marks classic “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” the lyrics follow the story of a group of expatriate reindeer who get a crash course in getting to know the local laws, customs and climate the hard way. They learn about alcohol licenses, drinking in public, wearing appropriate clothing and the use of offensive language. No red noses, guys, okay?

6) “On a Christmas visit, expat thoughts turn to ‘going home,'” by Nicolas Gattig (Japan Times, 23 December 2015)
If you’re one of the expats who has gone all the way home for Christmas, will you also use it as an opportunity to consider whether you will go home for good: as in, repatriate? Nicolas Gattig has returned to San Francisco with with that in mind, only to find himself wondering whether he, and the city, has changed too much for a 2016 reunion…

Posts of Christmas Future

7) Life as a modern expat: Happy (virtual) holidays, by Melanie Haynes in the Local Denmark (14 December 2015)
Some expat families still choose to juggle complicated travel schedules—and will go to any length to set up a family Christmas tree, even if they find themselves rendezvousing in a place like Roatán (see Julia Simens’s recent post). But relocation expert Melanie Haynes has decided it’s time her child got used to celebrating virtual Christmases with his extended family. She and her husband are Brits but have become permanent expats in Copenhagen. Both sets of grandparents are expats, too—one in France and the other in the United States. She now arranges to have her son open his Christmas gifts from his grandparents on Skype “so they can share his delight firsthand.” The way she sees it, her family is simply building a new tradition:

As a child, my husband and I held Christmases that followed a very familiar and lovely pattern with all our family coming together for the day. Now, Christmas for us and our son is very different but just as special.

Is the Haynes’s virtual Christmas the wave of the future?
8) Happy Holidays! (BostonDynamics, 22 December 2015)
Now it’s time to look even further into the future, when technology leads us to the point where robots have inherited the Earth. How will robots, and the last remnants of homo sapiens, celebrate? According to a tech firm in Boston, Santa and his reindeer will still be delivering presents—but don’t be surprised if Santa is female!

9) Star Wars Should Give Power to the Dark Side, by Scott Meslow (The Week, 23 December 2015)
While we’re on such cosmic themes, it’s time to contemplate whether the universe portrayed in the new Star Wars, easily the biggest of this Christmas’s blockbusters, has enough moral nuance. As we who’ve traveled the world know perhaps better than anyone else, every country on Planet Earth has shades of gray, so why should other planets and galaxies be any different? Hollywood scriptwriters, however, remain blissfully unaware, having chosen to sustain a world where good guys have blue lightsabers and bad guys have red ones.

As Meslow puts it:

Compare Star Wars to Game of Thrones, which forces the viewer to interrogate their perspectives on heroes and villains until the lines between them barely exist. There’s no reason Star Wars can’t do the same.

Post of Christmas Past, Present & Future

10) A Christmas WISH LIST, by Cinda MacKinnon (22 December 2015)
Cinda MacKinnon and her novel, A Place in the World, have been featured several times on the Displaced Nation. As the book’s title suggests, anyone who grows up among several cultures, as Cinda did, or who has chosen an adult life of repeat expat experiences (as I have), may have trouble finding their place in the world, especially at Christmas. However, the final wish on Cinda’s list, for peace on earth, is one that belongs to all people, however displaced—and to Christmases past, present, and future. I for one am extremely grateful for that reminder, Cinda!

* * *

So, readers, if you are still reading at this stage and haven’t drifted back to sleep, does that mean you have other posts in mind that should be on the list? Do tell in the comments! And to all of you who celebrate Christmas: on behalf of the Displaced Nation team of writers, I’d like to wish and yours the happiest of times on December 25th. Oh, and don’t forget to extend the celebration into Boxing Day, a lovely tradition I picked up while living in the UK!

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, and much, much more. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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WORLD OF WORDS: At least know the meaning of “gauche” before you travel abroad

Marianne Bohr in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris—is she reading or indulging in reveries about words?

Marianne Bohr in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris—is she reading or indulging in reveries about French words?

Columnist Marianne Bohr, whose first book, Gap Year Girl, came out in September with She Writes Press, recounts some of the bad elements she and her husband encountered during their travels.

When living in or even just briefly visiting a country not your own, bad behavior often involves words. Or sometimes, the lack of them.

Over the course of the adult gap year I took with my husband to explore Europe, we frequently witnessed what we considered bad behavior by expats or tourists. There’s no excuse for being in a country without learning the basics of its culture and at least a modicum of words for pleasantries. To do otherwise selfishly places you and your mother tongue at the center of the language universe and disrespects the country and the people you’ve chosen to visit.

Rude Americans in the City of Light

Our 365 days of travel began with a month in Paris. In the space of two evenings, we observed very different, yet equally disappointing, back-to-back dining experiences. The food was terrific but our neighbors were not. Both incidents involved Americans in the City of Light for long stays.

Parisian cafe bad elements

Photo credit: Parisian bistro at night, by La Citta Vita via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

The first took place in a bright busy bistro where we were seated next to a retired married couple from Reno, Nevada. They had been coming to Paris for six weeks at the end of every summer for several years.

The second was in a dim crêperie where we sat across from a middle-aged man and woman from U.S. parts unknown (although her accent gave her away as coming from the deep south). He taught something somewhere to students in Paris and she stated indignantly as we ordered our drinks that she, “could not take another year over here—twelve months was more than enough.” Everyone has a story.

Some of the two couples’ background they shared with us and other bits we overheard. What absolutely amazed me—in fact made me wince—was that none of these four Americans even attempted to speak French to the wait staff.

I completely identify with not knowing a language; we traveled through multiple countries whose languages eluded me, yet we always learned to say hello, please, thank you and you’re welcome.

But all four of these people had spent significant time in France. Would it have been so difficult to read off the menu and say, “la salade” and ”le poulet” instead of “the salad” and “the chicken?” Could the guy who’s been teaching here for a year at least have learned to say, “l’addition, s’il vous plaît” instead of “the check, please?” Might they all have been able replace, “Thank you—goodbye,” with “Merci—au revoir?”

I’m sympathetic towards tourists who travel for brief visits, but after six weeks every year and a full twelve months in Paris, there’s simply no excuse. That’s behaving badly in my book.

Blatant bad behavior in Aix

Well into our sabbatical year having traveled through 20 additional countries, we were back in the pleasures of France. And yet again, we found ourselves observing a more blatant brand of bad behavior.

We had settled in the stylish university town of Aix-en-Provence at the height and in the heat of a south-of-France summer. One of our favorite pastimes was sitting for long mornings under the dense shade of sycamores—les platanes—their green canopies arching over appealing squares filled with tiny bistro tables. The unique mosaic of the sycamores’ peeling bark intrigued us—uneven patterns of pastel yellows, tawny russets, avocado greens and dull grays—and we never tired of studying the colors.

Aix plantanes

But on one morning, our idyllic interlude under royal sycamores was marred by the manners of plebeians.

Enjoying cafés au lait, croissants, and the daily chatter of French summer school students in the outdoor shade, we were startled when an Eastern European quartet of two tanned Moms and their Mini-Me daughters, each one more rude than the other, unceremoniously marched onto the terrace.

There were no “bonjours” and no smiles in response to the sweet greetings of the waitress. The women’s bravado more than upset the drowsy morning ambience.

All were similarly clad in skinny jeans, patent leather stilettos and Jackie-O shades with “spoiled” plastered across heavily made-up faces. Distressed that the cafe served no food for breakfast and when politely urged, as we had been, to run up the street to the local boulangerie for croissants, the most vocal of the four retorted brusquely and loudly in accented English, “What, the French don’t eat breakfast? Ridiculous.”

We so wanted to see her wobble up the cobblestoned hill in search of pastries in those heels.

stilettos in Aix

Rather than rebuke the vocal twenty-something for bad behavior and creating a scene, however, her mother barked an order for orange juice—“freshly squeezed.” The OJ not forthcoming, they settled loudly for espressos, plopped down in their chairs and insolently picked up their Blackberries with identical pouts.

Bad-mannered people come from all corners of the world, and, unfortunately, they sometimes chose to sit next to us.

* * *

Thank you, Marianne, for sharing these horror stories! I agree, more people need to join your world of words!

Readers, have you ever met the tourists from hell, and were they using English in a non-English-speaking country at the time? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Marianne C. Bohr is a writer, editor and French teacher whose book, Gap Year Girl: A Baby Boomer Adventure Across 21 Countries, was published in early September (She Writes Press). She married her high school sweetheart and travel partner, and with their two grown children, follows her own advice and travels at every opportunity. Marianne lives in Bethesda, Maryland, where after decades in publishing, she has followed her Francophile muse to teach French. She has an author site where she keeps a blog, and is active on Facebook and Twitter.

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GLOBAL FOOD GOSSIP: Upon repatriation, a chance to hatch my first farm-to-table plan (the coop came first!)

Global Food Gossip 062315
Serial expat—and now repat—Joanna Masters-Maggs is back with some tasty global food gossip to share—this time a rather entertaining chicken-and-egg story (but the coop came first).

“Right, that’s it, no more chickens,” muttered my husband darkly as he finished putting in the last stake supporting the electric fence which now circled a large part of our garden. “You’d think these eggs were gold plated.”

I had always wanted chickens and, returning to the English countryside after nearly twenty years of living abroad, I seized the opportunity, investing in a proper, farm-style coop. No silly Dutch barns or Irish caravans for me—this was to be serious stuff.

“What kind of chickens do you keep?” asked the friendly guy from the animal feed shop from whom I was buying a vast bag of hay and a substantial sack of layers meal (poultry feed).

“Er, well,” I muttered with embarrassment.“I don’t actually have any yet…but soon.”

“Well,” he smiled kindly, “you’d do worse than looking up Andy at Oak Farm, he’s got all sorts.”

The chickens arrived a week later. All went well, two more arrived and the eggs began to come….until…

The Girls...minus poor Abby (supplied).

The Girls…minus poor Abby (supplied).

Why did the chicken cross the road? (Don’t ask…)

One afternoon, I went out to check on my girls, to discover that one, Abby (a Wyandotte), was missing—and so too was Sophie, my gorgeous German Shepherd.

Nearly hysterical by now as I couldn’t possibly contemplate life without Sophie, I ran up and down the road in front of the house and down the lane calling and calling the dog. She always comes.

But this time it took fifteen minutes. When she at last emerged from the ditch behind the hedge—quiet but gleaming and bright eyed—I knew.

We never found traces of Abby and it was easy to convince ourselves that a fox had stolen the unfortunate bird, but, hours later, my husband caught Sophie, red in tooth and claw, with Keira, a light Sussex.

Dinner that night was chicken. “It’s not Keira, honestly.”

The atmosphere was bleak. Something had to be done and so the electric fence was organized. We now rest easy that Sophie won’t help herself to another expensive free-range chicken lunch. She clearly remembers her meal with relish—and I still occasionally catch her gazing wistfully at The Girls. But she now knows, and an electric shock serves to reinforce the lesson.

But the flavor? Just eggs-traordinary!

The eggs are worth all the trouble. Unless you have tasted an egg straight from nesting box to plate, you have not, I am sad to say, tasted egg.

A feast of poached eggs on toast at Joanna's house (supplied).

A feast of poached eggs on toast at Joanna’s house (supplied).

In England it isn’t easy to buy battery eggs any more. Free range is the thing in all supermarkets; many only stock free range.

Should you decide to stand firm against spending extra for your eggs, you might feel it prudent to hide the box under some curly kale as you complete your perambulations around the aisles, such is the disapproval you might attract.

Hardly a nest egg…

Yes, I have eaten my share of free-range eggs and so feel myself qualified, albeit poorly, to make two observations:

1) A free-range egg from a supermarket is not the same as the eggs The Girls produce. I think it may have more to do with freshness than free-rangeness. Freshly laid, my girls produce eggs with thick whites, which do not spread when they are cracked. It is very easy to poach them perfectly since they hold together well. Of course, it goes without saying that the yolks are deeper in colour and of a more unctuous texture.

2) It’s simply not clear how free-range eggs can be produced for any profit, even at the prices supermarkets charge. I have—thank you, Sophie—nine chickens. I am lucky if I get four eggs a day. Four. I have to feed these girls both regular feed and little treats and put cider vinegar in their water for strong shells. Then I must buy them straw, which I like to change daily both for hygiene and for their comfort and dignity—they are ladies, please. Then there is the cost of the coop and galvanized feeders and water dispensers. Then, of course, the electric fence. My girls aren’t even close to paying me back in eggs. Not close.

I suppose if I was of a suspicious mind, I would question how free range does a chicken need to be for her eggs to be sold as such. Does she range wantonly over the garden trampling peonies and pecking at pyrocantha with shameless disregard, or she rather more constrained? If so, exactly how constrained? Does she live outdoors, indoors? I just don’t know. The frightening thing is that, like so many others standing in the egg section of Waitrose, I’m not alone in not knowing what, precisely, is meant by “free range”.

There is also the matter of the moulting season, during which hens lay few eggs in order to conserve all protein for the growth of a new winter feathers. As my friends said, “Moulting season? But there are always eggs in Waitrose.”

He makes a fair point. How does that work? I’ll tell you how it works in Hambridge: I get no eggs, but I carry on caring for the princesses.

Still, let’s not brood over it!

Happily, like my chooks, I don’t have to exhaust myself worrying about these things. I have The Girls, the eggs, the sheer joy of feeling connected to food production albeit in such a small way. It feels so wholeseome to watch my family enjoy our own eggs. It is so snobbishly gratifying, too, to know we are eating probably amongst the world’s most expensive hens’ eggs.

Where’s is the champagne, darling?

colorful bountiful eggs

* * *

Readers, we invite you to continue the food gossip! What do you make of Joanna’s eggs-perience? Of course if you’re American your thoughts will be turning to turkey at this point, but surely you, too, can spare a few moments to think of the humble chicken? Let us know in the comments…

Joanna Masters-Maggs was displaced from her native England 17 years ago, and has since attempted to re-place herself in the USA, Holland, Brazil, Malaysia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and France. She describes herself as a “global food gossip”, saying: “I’ve always enjoyed cooking and trying out new recipes. Overseas, I am curious as to what people buy and from where. What is in the baskets of my fellow shoppers? What do they eat when they go home at night?”

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Wonderlanded with Dr. Karen V., scholar of linguistics and creator of a comic strip series on expat life

Welcome back to the Displaced Nation’s Wonderlanded series, being held in gratitude for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which turns 150 this year and, despite this advanced age, continues to stimulate and reassure many of us who have chosen to lead international, displaced, “through the looking glass” lives.

This month we travel
d
o
w
n
the hole with Karen V., a Spaniard who describes herself as an expat, linguist and skeptic. Her sociolinguistic adventures began ten years ago when she moved to Berlin, followed by Zürich, Madrid, Savonlinna and most recently Hamburg.

She speaks Spanish, German and English fluently and can communicate in French and Finnish.

But if Karen is in no uncertain terms a scholar, the only thing I knew about her before eliciting her participation in our Wonderlanded series was that she produces a comic strip series called “Expat Gone Foreign,” which depicts the adventures of a black-haired girl called tXc. The series—which Karen describes as “a graphic journey through culture clashes, social awkwardness, language-related phenomena and life itself”—has its own Website and products. It has attracted many social media followers.

In my backings and forthings with Karen for today’s post, she assured me that tXc is her (though her eyes aren’t nearly as big), and all of the anecdotes in the strips are real situations that have happened to her over the years.

That said, Karen assured me that today we would be wonderlanded with her, not with tXc—that is, until the very end, when tXc will make a special appearance.

Also, the phantasmagoria of images we will see during our journey through Karen’s wonderland were created by her, a first for this series.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to jump down the hole after Dr. V. Apart from anything else, I’m curious to hear her vision of Alice as a manga character.

* * *

Karen: Thank you, ML, and greetings, Displaced Nation readers. Before we begin our plunge, here is a little more background on me. I was born and raised in a small city in Southern Spain and became interested in languages and foreign cultures at a young age, mostly due to the interaction with the many tourists who visit the region and expats who live there. My curiosity would peak whenever my family and I went camping along the Andalusian and Portuguese coast during the summer holidays. There was something different about the lobster-looking Brits abundantly smeared in sun lotion holding their sangrías with little umbrellas, or the sock-and-sandals-wearing Germans sitting in the shade reading those huge newspapers and filling every crossword book. But there was more to it than their mere appearance. They spoke, gesticulated and interacted in a different manner than the locals; and it seemed to me that their language was just a doorstep into a whole new microcosmos of proxemics, social norms and unfamiliar mindsets. An intriguing foreignness. As I attempted to interact with these outsiders, I realized I relished the challenge of having to decipher sociolinguistic puzzles with pieces that were different than the ones I was used to playing with.

Eventually that curiosity led to becoming widely interested in languages and foreign cultures, getting into the field of linguistics and ultimately, stepping off my doorstep into the unknown…into the proverbial rabbit hole.

…after a few minutes it seemed quite natural to Alice to find herself talking quite familiarly with [the Dodo, the Duck, the Eaglet, the Lory, the Mouse, etc.], as if she had known them all her life.

When I first relocated to Berlin for university, I felt as if four million citizens were rowing in a boat simultaneously, all of them sailing in the same direction. That said, I don’t recollect my first experience of the city as being disorienting. Rather, I was relieved and exhilarated, as if I had finally gained the required space to explore and develop myself. My stranger self in the company of other million strangers, I felt at ease amidst complete unfamiliarity in the vibrant big city. The new everyday life was packed with novelty, strangeness and excitement. A mixture of emerging patterns waiting to be understood. A prophylactic change against stagnation.

Cheshire Cat to Alice: “[W]e’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

On my first day of university, I met a Finnish girl who seemed overwhelmed by the academic system and referred to it as pure chaos—a statement I didn’t understand until I moved to Finland four years later. Whereas I was utterly pleased by the German orderliness, she conveyed the impression of being rather irritated. It was a clear illustration of two individuals whose accustomed grounds were being torn apart—in this case, in two opposite directions; an example of how the societal life design in which we grew up outlines our boundaries of normality and acceptability.

Alice to the Cheshire Cat: “It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”

After having lived in the same country for the most part of your life, it’s fair to assume that moving abroad involves a great deal of discordance coupled with an unsettling feeling of disconnection from the world. However, this wasn’t the case of my pioneer relocation abroad, but rather the trial I experienced when I temporarily had to move back to my home country after the first year in Berlin. It was a reverse culture clash and probably one of the hardest transitions. Returning to Spain meant bringing back the personal development and acculturation that had occurred during my time in Berlin and trying to fit it in the home environment, an environment so deeply familiar and yet that now seemed uncanny in so many aspects. I realised no one could possibly come back and pick up as the same person one was before leaving. Navigating the new set of circumstances meant facing the original issues that fostered the decision to leave in the first place. My solution was to try to recreate “wonderland” around me. I surrounded myself with German exchange students and spotted the local stores where I could get imported products. I learnt to bake dark rye bread with pumpkin and sunflower seeds—brunch became a Sunday ritual in my shared flat. I would wake up every morning listening to Berlin radio stations, watch Stromberg at night and skype with the friends I left behind. It worked until the time was right to venture into Wonderland again.

Alice to herself: “I almost wish I hadn’t gone down that rabbit-hole—and yet—and yet—it’s rather curious, you know, this sort of life!”

The first time I got sick abroad was during my first week in Switzerland. Patients in Switzerland receive their medical bills by post after being treated, and I still didn’t have any written proof that I was living there. I had to wander around Zürich for hours until I found a doctor who was kind enough to deal with my feverish cold. Unsurprising fact: he was also an expat.

Recipe for a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party

I would serve seafood for the main course and chocolate chip cookie cake for dessert followed by lychee cocktails. I would invite American filmmaker David Lynch; English composer Michael Nyman; German-born Swiss literary giant Hermann Hesse; linguists Vyvyan Evans and Edward Sapir; Vanessa Yves (the heroine of the American horror series Penny Dreadful); German author of fantasy and horror E.T.A. Hoffmann; Oscar Wilde’s gothic hero Dorian Gray, and my good and displaced friend Ginger. I can’t think of a better combination of people for throwing a tea party. 🙂

Alice muttering to herself: “It’s really dreadful, the way all the creatures argue. It’s enough to drive one crazy!”

Since Germany has become my permanent place of residence and I have adapted to its interactional patterns, one of the things I struggle with when I visit Spain is talking to people. It takes me a couple of days to adjust to the fast conversational pace, the high volume, the close proximity, the somewhat intrusive physical contact and the fact that being interrupted doesn’t mean rudeness but cooperation and interest on the listener’s part. Likewise, many a time have I returned to Germany after my holidays in Spain and noticed people would be staring at me for being the loudest person in the room, so…back to keeping it down a notch.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

I find extremely interesting the way some people change fundamentally when they switch from one language to another. It’s not just the linguistic code, but also their voice register, their body language and even their emotions and opinions; as if one weren’t the same individual anymore but had rather suddenly shifted into a new identity. I have been told to manifest this behaviour a couple of times and I was skeptical at first, so I watched myself in mute videos to ultimately confirm their hypothesis.

Advice for those who have only just stepped through the looking glass

If you have ventured into the rabbit hole, there’s no turning back. The displacement or dépaysement (fr. the feeling of being disoriented or not at home, in a foreign or different place) will be recurrent, and it’s something you have to come to terms with. Finding yourself geographically rootless, a part of everywhere and nowhere, can result in restlessness and distress. I dare say it’s not an exclusive phenomenon of international relocation, but moving to a foreign country definitely enhances its scope. Take it from me and others who have been to Wonderland and back: one gradually turns into a patchwork of identities, a broken jigsaw, a mixture of places and cultures, an odd individual made of bits and pieces from everywhere and hence nowhere.

But there are always two sides to the coin. Should you experience any sense of bereavement resulting from your leaving, consider all the independence, freedom and professional as well as personal development you have gained by doing so. Picture yourself in a parallel universe in which you had never left and examine that hypothetical self. Would you rather be that person? I don’t think so. You are becoming the best version of yourself, embracing life at its fullest from its many a different angle, participating in a conscious awakening.

As Lewis Carroll writes at the end of Alice’s adventures:

“So she sat on with closed eyes, and half believed herself in Wonderland, though she knew she had but to open them again, and all would change to dull reality.”

Bonus: Alice as manga character

The cartoonist in me envisions a black-haired Alice who, after having spent a while in Wonderland, crawls back to the surface wielding a large scythe and haunts citizens for explanations as to what happened. She eschews the proper lady stylings of her literary counterpart, having both a voracious appetite and a temper.

Ta–dah! tXc is here!

92 Wonderlanded P

* * *

Thank you, Karen! Being wonderlanded with you was…beyond curious! I have to confess, there were a few times when I wondered whether you had become a creature of wonderland yourself…but I of course mean that as a compliment! Readers, any responses to Karen’s story? How about to her visuals and to the glorious appearance of tXc as Alice in Wonderland (or should that be Expatland)? Please leave in the comments. And don’t forget. If you want to keep in touch with tXc’s expat adventures, be sure to visit Expat Gone Foreign site, like the comic strip series on Facebook, and follow along on Twitter. ~ML

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts.

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Wonderlanded with Rosie Milne, Asian Books blogger and author of a new historical novel about two early expat wives

Alice goes through the looking glass[https://www.flickr.com/photos/centralasian/5485576189/], illustration by John Tenniel, uploaded to Flickr by Central Asian (CC BY 2.0)https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/; book cover art; Rosie Milne in Singapore with her papier-mâché Alice (supplied).

Alice goes through the looking glass, illustration by John Tenniel, uploaded to Flickr by Central Asian (CC BY 2.0); book cover art; Rosie Milne in Singapore with her papier-mâché Alice (supplied).

Welcome back to the Displaced Nation’s Wonderlanded series, being held in gratitude for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which turns 150 this year and, despite this advanced age, continues to stimulate and reassure many of us who have chosen to lead international, displaced, “through the looking glass” lives.

This month we travel
d
o
w
n
the hole with Rosie Milne, an Englishwoman who has lived in various places, mostly within Asia, but right now can be found in Singapore.

I first discovered Rosie Milne through an article she worte for Telegraph Expat about romantic novelists who’ve been inspired by their expat surroundings. I noticed in her bio blurb that she runs the Asian Books Blog.

Then recently I had the pleasure of her getting in touch with me to feature a description of the Displaced Nation for the Blog’s Sunday Post.

As Rosie and I began backing and forthing by email, I spontaneously decided it might be fun to be wonderlanded with her.

Now, having spent many years living in Asia myself, Singapore, where Rosie lives now, isn’t exactly my idea of wonderland. I know it comes out tops for expat destinations on various surveys, but for me Singapore is a nice place to visit (great food and shopping) but for living? Much too safe and predictable; Asia Lite.

But Rosie has lived all over Asia, including in my former home of Tokyo (Asia Heavy!). She has also thought deeply about what it’s like for women to “pass through the looking glass” into Asia, having just completed a novel, Olivia and Sophia: a fictionalized account of the adventures of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore, as seen through the eyes of his first and second wives. (It’s due out in November from Monsoon Books.)

We’ll get to read a couple of excerpts from that work in the next post, but first let’s find out what it’s like to be wonderlanded with Rosie!

* * *

Rosie Milne: Thank you, ML, and greetings, Displaced Nation readers. To give you a little more of my background: I was born in London. I worked in publishing there before moving to New York, where I wrote my first novel, How To Change Your Life, about an editor of self-help books trying to follow the advice in a self-help book.

I then moved to Hong Kong where I wrote my second novel, Holding the Baby, about four sisters with differing attitudes to motherhood—one of them, unable to have biological children, adopts from China.

I then had short spells in Sydney and Tokyo, before moving to my current home, Singapore, where I wrote my new novel, Olivia & Sophia, which features two early forerunners of a type of modern expat woman: the trailing spouse.

“I don’t understand you,” said Alice. “It’s dreadfully confusing!”

In Tokyo language was impenetrable—I did try to learn, but more-or-less never got beyond being able to give my address. There was a big earthquake within a few days of my arrival. There were young adults on the streets dressed as cartoonish characters. I had my first, and last, taste of sashimi chicken – the most revolting food I ever tasted….

Lost in Tokyoland. Photo credits (clockwise from top left): Untitled[https://www.flickr.com/photos/bernatagullo/89651149/], by Bernat Agullo via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/]; Japanese city at night[https://www.flickr.com/photos/photones/6471199389/], by Takuma Kimura via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); Untitled[https://www.flickr.com/photos/kylehase/3458873955/], by Kyle Hasegawa via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/]; 鶏のたたき (chicken sashimi),[https://www.flickr.com/photos/spilt-milk/4578639904/] by yoppy via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/].

Lost in Tokyoland. Photo credits (clockwise from top left): Untitled, by Bernat Agullo via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); Japanese city at night, by Takuma Kimura via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); Untitled, by Kyle Hasegawa via Flickr (CC BY 2.0);
鶏のたたき
(chicken sashimi), by yoppy via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

“Consider anything, only don’t cry!” said the Queen.

I think expats, amongst the luckiest people on the planet, should resist succumbing to pools of tears.

“No,” said Alice. “I don’t even know what a Mock Turtle is.”

I am quite often wary about fish, but usually, when I try the dish, or fish, in question, I enjoy it.

Recipe for a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party

I would serve vodka and gherkins. As to the guest list…how about Jesus, and Richard Dawkins. The Buddha and Darwin. The Ayatollah Khomeini and Einstein…should make for interesting conversation, although language might be a bit of a problem.

Language might be a bit of a problem at Rosie Milne's tea party. Photo credits (clockwise from top left): Ice cocktail[https://pixabay.com/en/ice-cocktail-glass-drink-alcohol-681547/] via Pixabay; Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Illustrator: Rackham, 1907) The Mad Tea-party[https://www.flickr.com/photos/43021516@N06/4382428537/], by Special Collections Toronto via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/]; Sad pickle[https://www.flickr.com/photos/healthserviceglasses/3382360977/], by John Bell via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/]. Insets: Albert Einstein during a lecture in Vienna in 1921[https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Albert_Einstein_1921_by_F_Schmutzer.jpg]; Ayatollah Khomeini[https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mehdi_Bazargan_Ayatollah_Khomeini.jpg], by Alain DeJean—both images via Wikimedia Commons (CC0 1.0)[https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en].

Language might be a bit of a problem at Rosie Milne’s “tea” party. Photo credits (clockwise from top left): Ice cocktail via Pixabay; Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Illustrator: Rackham, 1907) The Mad Tea-party, by Special Collections Toronto via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0); Sad pickle, by John Bell via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0). Insets: Albert Einstein during a lecture in Vienna in 1921; Ayatollah Khomeini, by Alain DeJean—both images via Wikimedia Commons (CC0 1.0).

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

I am terrible at giving advice.

Alice had begun to think that very few things indeed were really impossible…

If I hadn’t lived in Singapore I doubt I’d have written Olivia & Sophia—an account of the life of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore, told through the fictionalised diaries of his two wives. Olivia & Sophia predate Alice, but they must often have felt wonderlanded. In an era when the voyage from Europe to Asia took anything up to ten months, when letters were the only means of communication with Home, when Europeans died like flies in the East, their sojourns abroad saw them fall down the rabbit hole far more comprehensively than any modern expat. I hoped to use the novel to explore parallels between an early age of globalisation, and our own age, between the effects of a financial crisis then, and of the recent crises in the global economy, between the lives of expats then, and expats now, and so on…

Bonus: Alice as manga character

Why not make Alice Japanese? She could cultivate kawaii. And the white rabbit could be kawaii, too. The setting could be Tokyo, the rabbit hole could be the Tokyo subway…

Photo credits: Tumbling down the rabbit hole…[https://www.flickr.com/photos/luxtonnerre/2482551243/], by LuxTonnerre via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/]; Pink bunny-shaped roadblock (Narita)[https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pink_bunny-shaped_roadblock.jpg] via Wikimedia Commons (CC0 1.0)[https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en]. Inset: Through the Rabbit Hole[https://www.flickr.com/photos/ipdegirl/8197732984/], by Jenni C via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/].

Photo credits: Tumbling down the rabbit hole…, by LuxTonnerre via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Pink bunny-shaped roadblock (Narita) via Wikimedia Commons (CC0 1.0). Inset: Through the Rabbit Hole, by Jenni C via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

* * *

Thank you, Rosie! Being wonderlanded with you was a curious experience, that’s for sure! Readers, please leave your responses to Rosie’s story in the comments. And stay tuned for her writing samples showing what it was like to be wonderlanded back in the day of Sir Stamford Raffles! ~ML

STAY TUNED for the next fab post: an example of how Rosie writes about a wonderlanded experience.

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GLOBAL FOOD GOSSIP: Back in Britain, I can’t find a strong cup of black tea to save my constitution

Global Food Gossip 062315
Serial expat—and now repat!—Joanna Masters-Maggs is back with some tasty global food gossip to share, this time about England’s favo(u)rite drink.

“I’m not doing this again if you can’t stop going on about the tea,” declared my husband with a generous dose of irritation.

“But, really, it’s terrible,” I said. I couldn’t stop myself, you see, and his outrage was by now fully stirred.

“Okay, I’m leaving, that’s it.” He got up and headed for the door.

So ended our little tea break experiment.

Now that we have returned to England, my husband is working a great deal at home. It was my idea that, since he is talking to people around the world a lot in the evenings, we take a tea break together during the quieter mornings.

Though we are living in rural South Somerset, there are plenty of places we can choose. Our local pub does morning coffee and afternoon tea, with scones if you please. And there are little tea shops and cafes scattered around neighbouring villages.

I was ready to enjoy myself sampling them all.

Only now it seems I will do so alone, or not at all.

Food, glorious food! Sandwiches, cakes, full breakfasts…

Many of these places are serving wonderful sandwiches on hand sliced granary or flavourful white, chock full of local hams, cheeses, sausages and bacon.

Homemade cakes, too, are the order of the day.

Also noteworthy is how many of our local establishments realizing the potential in serving early breakfasts to those on their way to work. No longer is a “full English” only to be found in hotels or transport cafes, now you can enjoy one on shabby chic china while sitting at a distressed French provençal style table on a Cath Kidston cushion. You find people of all professions—from drivers to office workers, farmers to solicitors.

Breakers sandwiches cakes oh my

Photo credits (clockwise from top left): Georgian Tearoom, Topsham, by BazzaDaRambler via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); All-day yummy English breakfast via Pixabay; High tea for two at Tallula’s Tearooms, by Jessica Spengler via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

It’s a lovely thing, but this brings me back to the tea. Surely, sandwiches, cakes—and now bacon-and-eggs with their many accompaniments—demand hot and strong tea? My husband believes I am the one out of step in being so unhappy with a spineless brew. But I cannot believe, I just cannot. What has happened to my compatriots in the years I have been away? Why are we accepting such mean servings of tea in our pots—and paying for it, too? Where is our backbone, our firm upper lip?

All I want is a good cup of spine-bracing black tea!

Keep calm and drink strong tea

Photo credits: Keep calm and drink tea! by Graham Hills; English Breakfast Tea, by Mark Hillary—both images via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Nowadays, instead of getting a nice pot of tea, we are offered a menu of teas: green ones, black ones, Chinese, Indian… We are told that these are special and tend to feel a little uneasy about demanding a little more of them. Perhaps two teabags in a pot is a little greedy, gross even.

There is, of course, a place for different tea from different places made with different temperatures of water and intended to be less bodied and more fragrant that the black teas I am primarily talking of. And the English are very interested in food and drink from far flung places and get much pleasure from experimenting with it.

But surely that doesn’t mean that we should allow our own food culture to be degraded?!

I’ve been away too long to know when the current tea culture sprung up, but to me it seems a little awkward. Extensive menus with flowery language makes me uncomfortable, and certain paraphernalia seems to try just too hard—muslin muslin tea bag with a stick instead of a string anyone?

Give me loose leaves and a little tea strainer any day! I truly believe, that as free chickens give better eggs, liberated leaves will give us happy tea. Leaves need space to develop. We must take time to give our tea leaves the correct environment to do their work.

Give Me a Tea Strainer Any Day

Photo credit: Straining, by Dave Crosby via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

The Americanization of British tea culture

What bothers me most is the uncomfortable realization that all this fancy talk and tea hides the truth that the American way has for some incomprehensible reason, taken over our own.

How have we fallen for this? America simply is not a tea-drinking culture.

How well I remember my first pot of American university tea. Tea warmed in the coffee maker and a cheap tea bag removed from its individual yellow paper back and hopefully dunked in the water and dangled in the vain hope it would tint and flavour the water.

Except for the presence of a spotty badly dressed student, tea is now made like this worldwide—even in Britain. We, too, are making tea like an 18-year-old American student whose only electrical appliance is a cheap coffee maker.

Interestingly, the only person I knew in my year at college in America did a fine job with a tea bag, but she knew well the need for a quick addition of boiling water. When I discovered her father was from Yorkshire, it all began to make sense—particularly her deft “mashing” technique with the back of a spoon. You see, a tea bag can be rescued if you remain mindful of the important things.

For the record, here’s what works (and why)

For me the recipe for a fine cup of tea was, and still is, a spoonful of tea leaves per person and one for the warmed pot. Onto this would be poured, boiling water, boiling. The pot would be lidded so it could be covered and left for a good five minutes before pouring.

The addition of milk and sugar is a personal thing, but the tea itself has to be strong, with a deep colour—and body.

Aunties Tea Shop Menu

Photo credit: Auntie Eileen’s Tea Shop, by Duncan Hall via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Back here in the England of 2015, cafes and hotels seem to think it elegant to offer our tea in a gimmicky and deconstructed manner. A pot of hot water and a paper-wrapped tea bag on a saucer. But in all that show the importance of boiling water is lost. Bring it quickly to the boil, warm the pot and then use it. Don’t boil and re-boil or boil for protracted period of time—but do make sure it is boiled and recently so.

While I’m in full flow, I’d like to add a quick grumble about the tea bags and strings. Why are these so often twisted around the handle of the pot? First, the leaves are confined to a bag then the bag itself is prevented from moving freely.

How in all of this can the tea properly infuse? It can’t.

A “No More Tea Bags” Manifesto

Since my husband has long since taken refuge from this rant, let me finally call for an end to the tea bag, particularly the irritatingly trendy ones, along with kettles that boil. Let me also call for a generous amount of tea in the pot.

Let’s say goodbye to tea that looks as though it has had a fright and welcome back to the kind of tea you need when you have had a nasty shock or need a comforting and strong arm, which happens to all of us at some point…

Call for an end to teabags

Photo credit: Last of Mom’s Tea, by Alan Levine via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

* * *

Readers, we invite you to continue the food gossip! Can you relate to Joanna’s disappointment at finding England’s tea a shadow of its former self? Be sure to let us know in the comments!

Joanna Masters-Maggs was displaced from her native England 17 years ago, and has since attempted to re-place herself in the USA, Holland, Brazil, Malaysia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and France. She describes herself as a “global food gossip”, saying: “I’ve always enjoyed cooking and trying out new recipes. Overseas, I am curious as to what people buy and from where. What is in the baskets of my fellow shoppers? What do they eat when they go home at night?”

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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CULTURE SHOCK TOOLBOX: The 5 top tools for handling the culture shock roller coaster

Photo credits: HE Rybol in Germany; book cover art (both supplied).

Photo credits: HE Rybol in Germany; book cover art (both supplied).

For her column this month, transitions enthusiast H.E. Rybol presents some of the material from her book, Culture Shock: A Practical Guide. For those who are new to her column, H.E. is the product of a German dad and a French mom. She was raised as a Third Culture Kid and has lived in the United States, Luxembourg, England, Spain, Switzerland and Singapore. She currently resides in Luxembourg.

Hello, Displaced Nationers. This month I want to take you into the (sometimes too rapidly beating) heart of culture shock.

As those of you who have experienced it will know, culture shock is about a series of ups and downs. On the down side, a traveler may feel:

  • alienated
  • anxious
  • disconnected
  • nervous
  • vulnerable

On the up side, they may feel:

  • curious
  • excited
  • free
  • happy
  • fully alive

If you are a regular reader of this column, you’ll know that for the past few months I’ve been quizzing expats about their experiences with culture shock so that I can add to, as well as sharpen, the tools for easing the condition that I’ve collected in my so-called culture shock toolbox.

This month I’m going to share a few ideas that you can find in my book, Culture Shock: A Practical Guide; but first let’s do something to put us into a culture-shocked state of mind. To that end, I’ve devised a quiz based on one of my own experiences.

In fact, what happened was that I continued helping until another Singaporean man walked by and said, in a rough tone: “Only a foreigner would do that.” He pressed his palms together, bowed slightly, and thanked me. I could see my helping was making the man with the flyers really uncomfortable, so I stayed just a little longer and then, wishing him good luck and smiling kindly (which he probably didn’t see as he barely looked at me!), left. Later I asked my local friends to help me interpret this rather strange (to me) encounter. They told me Singaporeans are cautious and tend to mind their own business. Is that because of they live in a nanny state? Maybe, maybe not…

Photo credit: Marina Bay Shoppes, Singapore, by David Jones[https://www.flickr.com/photos/davidcjones/11389053863/] via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)[https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/].

Photo credit: Marina Bay Shoppes, Singapore, by David Jones via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Raw…but exhilarating!

When we go into culture shock, we are in free fall. Having exited from our comfort zone, we are stripped straight down to our core. Oftentimes we lose confidence in our ability to meet the most basic needs: What do I eat? Where do I sleep?  Who do I connect with? Where do I belong? Will I be safe?

Cognitive dissonance is a big part of the problem. Our ideas and the reality we find sur place don’t match—which can feel threatening.

But leaving our comfort zone also propels us into a moment of accelerated growth. As we slowly begin to make sense of all the new sights, sounds, smells, tastes, textures—and interactions with others—we expand our minds to incorporate new perspectives. There is potential for us to learn compassion, kindness and gratitude. The experience may feel raw—but it can also be exhilarating.

Photo credit: Roller coaster via Pixabay.

Photo credit: Legoland roller coaster in Denmark,via Pixabay.

Some of you readers should know me well enough by now that you can predict the next step: I can hardly wait to open my toolbox and offer you some tips for achieving this potential for growth.

5 tools for handling the culture shock roller coaster:

1. Consider the benefits: The term “culture shock” often evokes negative connotations. But let’s turn that on its head and pretend for a moment we don’t need a toolbox. Simply ask yourself:

How have challenging cultural transitions positively impacted my life?

2. Use food as an icebreaker: Food is a great way to learn about a new country and connect with people over a shared need. Say, how about getting out those cooking tools? 🙂

3. Communicate: “Please”, “thank you”, and a smile go a long way in someone else’s culture. Learn some basic phrases in the new language before you take off. For sure, a small phrase book, pocket dictionary or app ought to be in that toolbox. While you won’t end up having an in-depth conversation about political or social issues right away, at least you’ve made a start. Also, given that most communication is nonverbal, don’t be afraid to use your hands and feet—always fun no matter how clumsy it might feel! Find out about body language. What’s the polite way to hail a cab? Beckon someone to come over? Is it rude or polite to look someone directly in the eyes? Observe.

4. Slow down: Treat the fact that you are entering a new culture as an opportunity to slow down and take it easy. Take time to adapt and go of any preconceptions. Think of this tool as a pressure valve: open it up and let go all of that stress and pressure out. Don’t force yourself to visit as many sights as you can—even if you feel obliged to do so. The point is to enjoy yourself, isn’t it? Allow yourself time to fully experience this transition.

5. Practice the art of being grateful: Seeing life from a different perspective is a wonderful way to learn to appreciate what we have been given, on the road as well as in the home we’ve left behind. Here are some of the things I’ve become grateful for while traveling:
• hot water
• clean water
• a bed
• access to fresh food
• restrooms
Mostly, though, I’m grateful for the kindness of strangers, conversations I had with people I met along the way, friends I made, lessons I learned—and the privilege of having had the opportunity to experience all this in the first place. As often as possible, use the tools you have at hand to open your mind to the good things that surround you.

* * *

Readers, I hope this has you “fixed” until next month. Until then. Prost! Santé!

Editor’s Note: The above post was adapted from Chapter 1 of H.E. Rybol’s Culture Shock: A Practical Guide. It is followed by six chapters full of tips:
1. How to deal with craving comfort
2. How to process new information
3. How to cope without autopilot
4. How to deal with difficult situations
5. How to deal with alienation
6. How to unite both worlds within yourself

H.E. Rybol is a TCK and the author of Culture Shock: A Practical Guide and Culture Shock Toolbox. She loves animals, piano, yoga and being outdoors. You can find her on Twitter, Linkedin and Goodreads. She recently launched a new Web site and is now working on her second book.  

STAY TUNED for the next fab post.

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Wonderlanded with Lene Fogelberg, award-winning poet, writer, and double open-heart surgery survivor

There’s something from Alice in Lene Fogelberg’s story. Photo credits (clockwise, from top left): NecoZAlenky (original Czech film poster for Something from Alice) via Wikimedia Commons; Lene Fogelberg author photo (supplied); operating room via Pixabay.

Welcome back to the Displaced Nation’s Wonderlanded series, being held in gratitude for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which turns 150 this year and, despite this advanced age, continues to stimulate and reassure many of us who have chosen to lead international, displaced, “through the looking glass” lives.

This month we travel
d
o
w
n
the hole with Lene Fogelberg, a Swede who has lived in quite a few places but right now can be found in Jakarta, Indonesia.

With her long red hair and blue eyes, she looks a little like a Swedish Alice. What’s more, her biography of her early years is not dissimilar to that of Alice Liddell, the muse behind the Lewis Carroll story. Growing up in a small town by the sea, Lene was full of curiosity about the wider world and also in love with words. Describing her youth in a recent guest blog post, Lene says that for her,

written words danced lightly as feathers on the page. I loved to read and made weekly visits to our small town library, the bicycle ride home always wobbly with the heavy pile of books on the rack.

But while similarities are rife to Carroll’s Alice, the “wonderlanded” story Lene lived as an adult in fact comes closer to Czech director Jan Švankmajer’s surrealistic interpretation in his 1988 film, Něco z Alenky.

Něco z Alenky means “something from Alice,” and Lene ended up taking something from Alice’s story when, after moving to the United States with her husband and children, she found herself being wheeled through a rabbit warren of hospital rooms into an operating theatre. As in Švankmajer’s film, she was in a bizarre dream rather than a classic fairy tale.

Strangely, from the time she was young Lene had suspected there was something wrong with her heart. She even harbored a not-so-secret fear of dying young, trying to make the most of each moment. But Swedish doctors repeatedly dismissed her concerns, treating her like a hypochondriac.

And then, it happened: her worst nightmare came true. Shortly after arriving in America she went to have a physical so she could get an American driver’s license—and the American woman doctor informed her she had a congenital heart condition and only a week to live.

Lene survived two emergency open-heart surgeries to tell her story: quite literally! Her memoir (and first book), Beautiful Affliction, is out this week from She Writes Press. Until now, Lene had written in Swedish, mostly poetry, for which she has won some awards. But even though she chose to write her memoir in English, she retains her poetic style, as we will see later in the week when we publish a short book excerpt.

But before that happens, let’s have Lene will take us down into her rather harrowing rabbit hole. True, she’s had some reprieve since since recovering from her surgeries and moving to Jakarta—but only some, as Jakarta is the kind of place where you have to take your life into your own hands to cross the street. But I’m getting ahead of the story—over to Lene!

* * *

Lene Fogelberg: Thank you, ML, and greetings, Displaced Nation readers. Just to give you a little more of my background: I grew up in the south of Sweden, in a small town by the ocean. As ML says, I often stood looking out over the ocean following the waves in my imagination, wondering about all the exciting places in this world. In my youth I spent a couple of summers in France studying French and falling in love with this beautiful country.

As newlyweds my husband and I moved to Germany as students for a year, where I learned the language and took care of our newborn baby (just three months old when we arrived). After Germany, we moved back to Sweden and stayed there until my husband’s employer offered him a position in the United States. We moved to a small town outside of Philadelphia, called Radnor. That became the scene of my life-threatening health crisis. How it erupted and played out is the topic of my book, which, as ML mentioned, came out this week.

We spent a year and a half in the United States in total and then moved back to Sweden for a couple of years. Nearly four years ago we relocated to Jakarta, but in December we will be moving again: to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

“Stop this moment, I tell you!” But [Alice] went on all the same, shedding gallons of tears…

After moving to the US there was a huge pool of tears because of the drama that unfolded in the weeks following the transition. My husband and I had to have physicals prior to getting our American driver’s licenses, and as soon as the doctor put the stethoscope to my chest she reacted to the sound of my heart. It turned out I had a fatal congenital heart disease and that I’d lived longer with this disease than anyone the US doctors had ever met.

Beautiful Affliction story

As Lene attests in her newly published memoir, her “rabbit-hole” experience was full of heart, tears and physical drama. Photo credits (clockwise from top left): Front and back cover art for Lene’s book (supplied); Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland illustration by Milo Winter (1916), via Wikimedia Commons; The White Rabbit’s House, by Kurt Bauschardt via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

[S]he felt a little nervous about this; “for it might end, you know,’ said Alice to herself, ‘in my going out altogether, like a candle. I wonder what I should be like then?”

The events that unfolded are covered in my book Beautiful Affliction, which is a crazy story, full of heart and physical drama, not unlike Alice’s own confrontations with her changing body.

“Where should I go?” –Alice. “That depends on where you want to end up.” –The Cheshire Cat

Although my physical crisis was great, Jakarta has been one of the biggest challenges in a “wonderland” sense. The city is chaotic, with heavy traffic that is always jammed, making it difficult to navigate. I was shell-shocked for the first six months.

“Oh, I beg your pardon!” [Alice] exclaimed in a tone of great dismay…

Here in Jakarta where the population is mostly Muslim I try not to show too much skin. I wear clothes with sleeves and never skirts shorter than the knees.

skirt and shoes Alice in Wonderland

Photo credit: Alice shoes, by Shimelle Laine via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

“Well, then,” the Cat went on, “you see, a dog growls when it’s angry and wags its tail when it’s pleased. Now I growl when I’m pleased, and wag my tail when I’m angry.”

Greeting people here in Indonesia can be a minefield. The safest bet is to put my hands together and say, “Namaste.”

“There’s certainly too much pepper in that soup!” Alice said to herself, as well as she could for sneezing.

I love nasi goreng and all the Indonesian dishes—but without the chili, which is too spicy for me.

Nasi Goreng Hold the Chili

Photo credits: Nasi goreng (fried rice), by Tracy Hunter; (inset) Nothing is real, nibble and drink me…, by Wonderlane. Both images via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Recipe for a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party

I would invite my family and friends from Sweden and serve all the delicious fruit that can be found here in Indonesia. I know how you can long for sunshine during the long, dark Swedish winters and I would love to give them all a vacation full of sunshine and fruit smoothies.

Tropical Tea Party

Photo credits: A Swedish Mad Hatter [my description], by Rodrigo Parás via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Fruit stall in Bali, by Midori via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0).

“Well!” thought Alice to herself. “After such a fall as this, I shall think nothing of tumbling downstairs!”

I am getting more and more courageous. I guess living abroad gives me a sense of “I can do this” and when faced with challenges I can now say to myself: “You have been through worse.”

Advice for those who have only just stepped through the looking glass

Stay busy so you don’t lose yourself to too much introspection. Especially if you are a traveling spouse coming with your expat partner. Make friends who can go with you to explore your new country. And whenever you go on excursions, try to learn the language so you can speak with locals and really get to know the country more than from a tourist’s point of view. The feeling of discovering gems of knowledge that are not in the tourist guides, like a local saying, is very rewarding and makes you feel connected to your new “home”.

Alice had begun to think that very few things indeed were really impossible…

My next writing project is a novel that takes place here in Jakarta. It is a hilarious and heart-breaking story where I combine the ancient myths of Java with modern society and where East meets West. The first draft is basically finished and I hope to follow up my debut book with this story. It is kind of crazy and sometimes I wonder why I am writing it, but I am in love with the characters so I keep going. It is very much a fruit of my “down the rabbit hole” feelings. I would say that most of my writing comes from a place deep inside where I feel like I have discovered something unsettling with the world we live in and, because I need to pinpoint it, I write about it, in an effort to grasp it.

* * *

Thank you, Lene! Being wonderlanded with you was a moving experience. I sense you are a very special person to have survived so much and still be full of curiosity about the world. Readers, please leave your responses to Lene’s story in the comments. And be sure to tune in later in the week when we feature a sample of her writing! ~ML

STAY TUNED for the next fab post: an example of how Lene writes about her wonderlanded experience.

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DIARY OF AN EXPAT WRITER: How I spent my summer vacation

Diary of an Expat Writer
American expat in Hong Kong Shannon Young quit her day job a year ago to become a full-time writer. Here’s the latest entry in her expat writer’s diary.

Dear Displaced Diary,

It’s still blazing hot here in Hong Kong, but the kids are heading back to school and expats are returning from home leave visits to their families across the globe.

Speaking of school kids: In the tradition of every good elementary school student, I thought I would report to you on how I spent my summer vacation.

Every July since moving to Asia in 2010, I’ve boarded a plane for the US and headed to Arizona, where my parents and siblings live, or to Oregon, where my grandparents live. From the moment I stepped off the plane, I would enter a whirlwind of visits, barbecues, catch-ups, family dinners, appointments, Five Guys runs, overdue conversations, and late-night chocolate-chip-cookie-baking hangouts.

This year, however, I stayed put in Hong Kong. A friend was visiting during the two weeks when my whole family is normally in Oregon, and I knew I needed to focus on my writing in order to hold to my publication schedule. I was a full-time teacher for five years, but I gave that up a year ago, remember? As a writer, I get to keep working right through the summer!

All work…

I mentioned in my last diary that I’m taking a part-time teaching contract this fall. I don’t yet know exactly how the part-time hours will affect my writing schedule, so I’m buckling down to finish the remaining books in The Seabound Chronicles, a post-apocalyptic adventure series set at sea, as soon as possible, which as you know I write under the name Jordan Rivet. My goal is to have all four books out in time for Christmas. Over the course of the summer I finished, edited, proofread, formatted, and uploaded the full-length prequel Burnt Sea. It officially went live on August 30th!

Burnt Sea_live on Aug 30

I found that despite the stifling conditions of summer in Hong Kong, I wanted to work more and more, including on weekends. I typically write for five hours a day, five days a week, but adding in three hours or so on some Saturdays and Sundays helped to up my game. When it is hot and rainy by turns, installing myself in an air-conditioned coffee shop feels like the sensible thing to do!

Hong Kong summer collage

Photo credits (top to bottom): it’s been a long rainy life, by Jaume Escofet; Big Buddha, Po Lin Monastery on Lantau, Hong Kong, by Robin Zebrowski, and Cafe, SOHO, Hong Kong, by Stephen Kelly; Rainy day in Hong Kong, by Jeremy Thompson. All via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

This summer I also completed two substantial revisions of the final book in the Seabound Chronicles, one in July and one this past week. This included writing the actual ending scenes to the series, which was pretty cool. A few people are reading the draft right now, and I’ll be ready to dive into another round of revisions when I get their feedback in mid-September. The full series is weighing in at 306,000 words!

…and some play

Writing is a lot of fun, but sometimes it’s good to step away from the work to have other kinds of fun. I took a break to show our friend around (although she did some solo sightseeing as well). We got to revisit some of the great Hong Kong sites, fitting in jaunts to Lamma Island, Stanley, the Big Buddha, and other famous Hong Kong attractions–and eateries. I love any excuse to go to Din Tai Fung (a chain that originated in Taiwan, it specializes in soup dumplings).

Through the prompting of some very active friends, we also went hiking (taking one of the toughest walks in Hong Kong on what turned out to be the hottest day in 130 years!) and spent a weekend on Lantau, one of the large outlying islands. We stayed in an old village, very atmospheric, where we trekked through a river to get to a kite-surfing lesson and spent a day enjoying the waves at an out-of-the-way beach.

It was a nice reminder that Hong Kong is home to wonderful natural beauty, and it doesn’t actually take that long to escape the concrete jungle.

Hong Kong Natural Beauty

Photo credits: Kite-surfing beach on Lantau Island and view of the greenery (supplied).

…and some play/work

Another bit of fun was when Kevin Kwon, the author of bestselling novel Crazy Rich Asians, now being made into a film, came to Hong Kong for a Q&A session at the KEE Club. The event was the first weekend in August, and any other summer I would have missed it. Instead, I got my book signed and listened to the charming and unassuming author talk about his work. (The visit was part of his tour for the sequel, China Rich Girlfriend, which, incidentally, was announced in the Displaced Dispatch.) He told us he is working on the next installment in the series.

Kevin Kwan Talk HK

Photo credits: Kevin Kwan book cover art; Kwan at the KEE Club in Hong Kong (supplied).

Which reminds me that in addition to lots of writing, I crammed in time for plenty of reading this summer. Highlights included:

I’ve always read a lot, but I’m finding that it’s more important to carve out time than it was in the days when I had a long commute every day. I believe my upcoming part-time job will involve a fair bit of commuting, so I’m looking forward to having built-in reading time again. I read to learn and I read for enjoyment, and there are never enough hours in the day…

All in all, it has been a successful summer full of literary pursuits and unexpected adventures…

…with a plot twist!

It turns out I’m going back to the US after all! My husband noticed an eye-wateringly affordable Cathay FanFare, so just last week I booked a ticket home. I left on August 30th, so I was actually in the sky when the people who pre-ordered Burnt Sea saw the book pop up on their Kindles.

I’m looking forward to a quick visit that will mostly involve monopolizing the attention of my eight-month-old nephew. I’ll hang out with my siblings, eat a whole bunch of American food, and be ready to dive into the fourth draft of the Seabound finale when I return! I enjoy pushing through the work, but sometimes it’s important to step away and enjoy a bit of downtime, too.

But enough about me! What did you get up to this summer, Displaced Diary? What was your favorite summer read? Do you have any amazing adventures to report?

Shannon Young
AKA Jordan Rivet
www.shannonyoungwriter.com
JordanRivet.com

* * *

Shannon, I must confess that I never made it all the way through a Tokyo summer, it was just too hot and humid! I’m impressed that you made it until August 30th. Readers, do you have any summer achievements worth sharing on your creative pursuits? Please leave in the comments. ~ML

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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