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EMERALD CITY TO “KANSAS”: Linda Janssen on seeing the Wizard of Expat Life and returning home

Linda Janssen author photo; the Ruby Slippers (CC); corn path (Morguefiles).

Linda Janssen author photo; the Ruby Slippers (CC); corn path (Morguefiles).

Welcome to “Emerald City to ‘Kansas,'” a brand new series in which we focus on expatriate-into-repatriate stories. To kick it off, we are delighted to have Linda Janssen at the Displaced Nation for the first time. As many of you know, she blogs at Adventures in Expatland and is the author of  The Emotionally Resilient Expat. Until recently, she was an expat in the Netherlands. Without further ado, here is Linda’s riff on the classic tale.

—ML Awanohara

Follow (your own) yellow brick road…

For me, moving abroad has always been a matter of “not if, but when”simply a natural evolution of how life has unfolded. I’m married to an adult Third Culture Kid, and we both have studied and worked in and around the international arena throughout our careers. We always looked for an opportunity to take the next obvious step of moving our family overseas to live in another culture.

I can certainly see The Wizard of Oz as an apt metaphor for what we were seeking (i.e., the movie’s characters searching for brains, courage, heart and home). We wanted to soak up as much knowledge, information andmost importantly—firsthand experiences about this incredible world we live in, and our place within that. We wanted to go beyond the “what if” stage of dreaming about making such a move, muster our courage to go outside our comfort zone and just do it. There was such a strong emotional pull to embracing the wayfaring soul within us, we felt compelled to heed this call of the heart.

Unlike Dorothy, though, I had a growing sense that home is wherever you make your life, and I looked forward to learning how that might carry over in a different culture.

“You’ve always had the power, my dear, you just had to learn it for yourself.” – Glinda

Throughout the years we lived in the Netherlands and during these early months of repatriation, I’ve reflected continually on lessons learned—many of which will reverberate for the rest of our lives. In that respect, I think the overarching insight I’ve taken away from our cross-cultural experience is that lessons are never simply learned and put away. We learn and relearn and learn anew from our life experiences; like the turning of a kaleidoscope, the prisms offer us alternative perspectives and new ways of viewing ourselves and our lives.

Living in another culture afforded wonderful opportunities to learn to live more in the moment amid the barrage of new experiences, a deeper sense of our common humanity despite nuanced differences, and even some difficult challenges. It taught me about a tiny slice of our world, but also so much more about myself and my place in it.

Another lesson that echoes is the importance of relationships, not only of family and friends, but of pushing yourself out of your comfort zone to make the connections with others which ground you in your life. It’s easy for us to fall into the trapoften unconsciouslyof feeling as though we’ve got these social/emotional connections covered. It’s when we’re complacent about developing new relationships that we risk being blindsided by loss of people and places which matter to us, or of biding our time until the next move.

There’s no place like home?!

In some ways, yes, absolutely, there is a sense of belonging experienced in returning to our own culture. But there can also be moments of alienation and feeling apart from or not in synch with aspects of that as well. We’ve found treating repatriation as we would a new cross-cultural experience has helped, because both we and the people/culture around us have changed in the intervening years, and I think that’s a healthy attitude to have throughout life.

Returning to the United States has deepened my understanding that while home does have elements of place within it, it is our loved onesfamily and closest friendsthat make a place “home.” We feel that this is our home-base, where we want to be and return to, from which we will launch ourselves on new adventures in the years ahead. We’re part of a larger global community, and that’s reflected in our connectedness with others here and around the world, and my husband’s and my recent decisions to pursue careers in international consulting.

“Not in Kansas any more” feelings?

So far, there haven’t been any particularly cataclysmic events to speak of, more a series of small moments when we’re reminded we’re in new territory. After all, life is a series of cross-cultural experiences, isn’t it?

* * *

Thank you, Linda! And thanks for being so willing to trade the Alice in Wonderland meme (something your blog has in common with ours) for the Wizard of Oz! Readers, any comments or questions for the extraordinary Linda? After reading this, I am harboring the suspicion that Linda is actually Glinda—the Good Witch of the expat world! On that note, be sure to check out her book, The Emotionally Resilient Expat, which is chock full of material about how to engage, adapt, and thrive across cultures.

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, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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An expat’s thoughts on flying and the journey “home”

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Photo credit: A Windram

This is my third attempt at writing this post. The previous two attempts were quickly aborted; I had tried drafting them during two separate flights back to the UK, but quickly gave up in frustration.

Flying—for me, at least—is not conducive to creativity (if hastily scribbled blog posts can be described as such). I can never settle on a flight, I can never forget that I am 30,000 feet above the earth trapped in a metal tube powered by 36,000 gallons of jet fuel.

But, of course, flying remains an occupational hazard for the expat. No matter how long you may have been away, the call home is at some point unavoidable. After an absence from “home” of nearly three years, over the last few months I’ve had to make two trips back. One for reasons pleasant; one for reasons unpleasant.

Flying, when you think about it, and when I am flying I find I would much rather not think about it (those 36,000 gallons of highly flammable jet fuel remain heavy on my mind), is astonishing. Indeed, it is so astounding that we have to go out of our way to avoid that fact and focus on the banal. The aviation industry is helpful on this point. You wait in a terminal, shitty retail and even shittier food your scant choices to kill time, but it helps numb you, I suppose. Makes you unthinking about the journey ahead, your entry into the heavens.

When I was flying back for more pleasant reasons I began reading French philosopher Michel SerresAngels: A Modern Myth. Serres opens his work with a fictional couple meeting at an airport. He a traveling inspector; she a doctor at the airport medical center. For Serres, the couple see angels when they look around the airport:

I see angels—which, incidentally, in case you didn’t know, comes from the ancient Greek word for messengers. Take a good look around. Air hostess and pilots; radio messages; all the air crew just flown in from Tokyo and just about to leave Rio; those dozen aircraft neatly lined up, wing to wing on the runaway, as they wait to take off; yellow postal vans delivering parcels, packets and telegrams; staff calls over the tannoy; all these bags passing in front of us on the conveyor, endless announcements for Mr X or Miss Y recently arrived from Stockholm or Helsinki; boarding announcements for Berlin and Rome, Sydney and Durban; passengers crossing paths with each other and hurrying for taxis and shuttles while escalators move silently and endlessly up and down . . . like the ladder in Jacob’s dream . . . Don’t you see—what we have here is angels of steel, carrying angels of steel, carrying angels of flesh and blood, who in turn send angel signals across angel air waves . . .

I don’t see any angels sitting around me in the terminal, and I don’t think our messages are worth conveying across the world. I would have enjoyed reading the Serres anywhere other than here, in a terminal.

“Business or pleasure?”

For the expat, the answer is neither. I am going home. I am leaving home. I am leaving the present. I am returning to the past.

On the plane, I put the Serres away and try to read a book (The Journey of Theophanes: Travel, Business, and Daily Life in the Roman Middle East) about a Roman lawyer journeying to Antioch. Over six months he slowly makes his way, noticing the slight changes in geography. Compared to that, what I am doing seems a cheat. I put the book away. I can’t concentrate enough, there’s slight lurch in the plane’s movement that suggests we are beginning to enter turbulence. I just try to watch Iron Man 3 instead.

I am going home. I am leaving home.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, a TCK Talent interview by monthly columnist Elizabeth Liang.

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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Happy Halloween! A cauldron of 6 cautionary tales for the intrepid traveler

Image: Lake View Cemetery / MorgueFile.com

Yesterday’s Halloween post by Anthony Windram, about the top 5 ghostly settings from literature and film, got us thinking again about the ghostly and ghoulish, the mystical and macabre, the dark and demonic.

Our thoughts, however, did not turn towards the new and original, but to the jaw-clanging skeletons in the Displaced Nation’s very own Crypt.

At which point…someone (Kate Allison?) suggested that we pile all of our Gothic Tales of Old into a cauldron and chant “Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble.” All was going well until one of us—must have been the American—broke in with:

Stirring and stirring and stirring my brew…

Just as she screeched “O-o-o-o-o, o-o-o-o-o”, 6 apparitions arose from the pot: 6 terrifying tales from the Displaced Nation’s deep dark past. Each said they were there to teach travelers a lesson.

And here is what they told us:

1) The Ghost of the Mysteriously Misplaced Post

I am the ghost the represents the post titled The Displaced Nation’s Halloween post is…mysteriously displaced!, composed on Halloween night two years ago by ML Awanohara, whose blood was curdling because:

Kate Allison was supposed to post today, for Halloween…but then, pouf, she vanished without a trace!

As readers who are paying attention know, Kate has now posted 80+ episodes in the life of a fictional British expat family living in New England, called Libby’s Life. Two years ago she vanished before uploading the latest episode because of a freak snowstorm in Connecticut, her adopted home.

She finally resurfaced on On All Saint’s Day—in a MacDonald’s! (Has she gone native, or what?)

Travelers, here is the lesson I’m here to impart for your sake: Truth is stranger than fiction, where so’er you roam.

2) The Ghost of Quizzing Others on Their Supernatural Sightings

Hello there, I am the ghost that arises from THE DISPLACED Q: On your travels … have you ever seen a ghost?, which was composed by Tony James Slater just over a year ago. He impressed with his self-knowledge when he said: “I’m about as psychic as a cheese.” But then he went on to say:

And then, just occasionally, I have dreams when I’m visited by the spirits of people I’ve lost….

Is there any wonder there were no comments and no likes on his post? He scared the bejeezus out of most of his readers.

Still, point taken, and I’m here to impart an important lesson that you international travelers may not have fully considered: As you traverse the world, bear in mind that any ghosts you meet will be people you know (and left behind), not strangers.

3) The Ghost of Compiling a Master List of Grim Reapers

Greetings, I have emanated from the post called Grim Reapers around the globe: 7 creatures that say “Time’s up!”, composed by Kate Allison just over a year ago. Kate reported on the surprising number of cultures that maintain some version of the mythological conniving female who lures men to their deaths.

As frequent visitors to this site will know, Kate has a way with words. For instance, she described
Sihuanaba of Central America as follows:

Seen from the back, she’s an attractive woman with long hair; from the front, it’s a horse. (No jokes about Sex and the City, please.)

But even Kate’s rather offbeat humor could not dissuade from the freakishness of some of these figures.

As far as lasting lessons, this will have to suffice: Next time you get lost in a canyon, try blaming an ancient ghoul. Depending on where you’ve landed, as well as gender, you may just about pull it off.

4) The Ghost of Delivering a Screed against Princess Diana Dolls

A cheery hello to one and all, I am the ghost of Anthony Windram’s EXPAT MOMENTS: The Doll Collection, which he wrote almost exactly a year ago.

As anyone who came across it may recall, Mr. Windram was most distressed to find himself at a bed-and-breakfast in NEW England (he is from Jolly Olde) where the innkeeper has put her prized collection of “individually authenticated” Princess Diana dolls on display in the sitting room. He tossed and turned all night, even heard scratchings at his door.

Now, as regular visitors to this esteemed site know, Mr. Windram is no fool. On the contrary, he has has a mighty brainbox. Which is why I’m so stunned that he allowed himself to be frightened by a set of Lady Di figurines. I’m sure they were only there to cover up the fact that the house is haunted—by a young and rather vigorous ghost, which is how ghosts tend to come in America (just ask Libby). The real take-away, then, particularly for those who venture into the New World: Avoid American B&Bs like the plague if you want a decent night’s sleep.

5) The Ghost of the Expat Criminals Exposé

ML Awanohara showed some temerity in writing a post entitled What did Agatha Christie know? Expats make great criminals back when this blog first started.

As the ghost that arose from this post, I’m here to say she hit the proverbial coffin nail soundly on the head with this assertion:

Just as we don’t like to think of rats being part of the animal kingdom, we don’t like to think of conmen, pirates, gangsters, and terrorists being part of the group we have loosely defined as “global voyagers” … But trust me, they are a part of it — as are murderers.

Which leads us to the lesson I’ll impart today: Just because you’re in a part of the world where marrows tend to thrive, don’t assume the likes of Hercule Poirot will turn up and save you.

6) The Ghost of Finding Travel Inspiration in Margaret Drabble’s “Red Queen”

Not long ago compared to other posts in this collection, ML Awanohara wrote FOOTLOOSE & FANCIFUL: Margaret Drabble’s “The Red Queen”, explaining how her views of Korea had shifted after reading a book by Dame Drabble depicting a period of bloodshed and horror in the 18th-century Korean court. A real-life tale made more vivid by Drabble’s considerable fictional powers, in which the Prince is a homicidal maniac, and his father, the King, a stern Confucian. The King ultimately decides to murder his son in a style so dramatic that ML couldn’t get it out of her head next time she went to Korea. She remains haunted to this day.

As the ghost of this post about a ghost, I find myself torn. On the one hand, what kind of person would read Drabble—that serious, hip, intellectual British novelist, who likes to come across as one’s brainy, Cambridge-educated best friend—to get a handle on what the Koreans are really like? Apples and oranges—or marmite and kimchi, I should say.

On the other—and this is the lesson I’ve come to deliver: Never hesitate to use a Cambridge-educated Brit as a resource for novel sightseeing ideas.

* * *

Readers, have we got you thinking twice about those travel plans? Do let us know in the ca-ca-comments. Hey, at least we spared you the horrors of Sezin Koehler’s 15 films that depict the horrors of being abroad, or otherwise displaced; Tony James Slater’s 5 travel situations that spell H-O-R-R-O-R!; or Kate Allison’s Global grub to die for, including a rather scrumptious recipe for fried tarantula, which goes down a treat in Cambodia.

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 the week’s posts from The Displaced Nation, with our weekly Alice Award, book giveaways, and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

 

The Displaced Nation selects its top 5 chillingly atmospheric Halloween locations from literature & film

From greedy children holding up whole neighborhoods to blackmail as they seek a cheap fix for their addiction to stores selling cheap plastic masks and covering their aisles in fake cobwebs, I’ve always found Halloween to be tedious time of the year. Everything ends up looking more crappy than creepy. As the day lacks its own miserly Ebenezer Scrooge-figure I would be more than happy to fill the role.

Of course, that makes me a poor choice indeed to write a Halloween-themed post for The Displaced Nation, but we can all take solace in the knowledge that as I write this I have the lights in my living room turned off and I am ignoring the pleading of the legions of candy junkies knocking on my door asking for one last Hershey hit.

But enough whinging, Windram. Now for my picks for atmospheric locations that can send a chill down your spine:

1) Whitby, United Kingdom

Quite understandably Dracula is associated with Transylvania, but the Yorkshire coastal town of Whitby is also heavily featured in Bram Stoker’s novel as the site of Dracula’s shipwreck.

Stoker visited Whitby in 1890 and was struck by the atmospheric fishing town. It is easy to see why with the ruins of Whitby Abbey high atop the east cliff overlooking the town it is visually spectacular, which makes it a wonder why the Whitby portions of Stoker original novel have so often been ignored by filmmakers adapting Dracula. John Badham’s 1979 adaptation is one of the few movie Draculas to try and depict Whitby, though unfortunately even here the use of the Whitby storyline is disappointing as the Cornish coast in fact stood in for the Yorkshire coast. This adaptation also has Frank Langella as Count Dracula, so make of that what you will. It’s certainly not obvious casting, I’ll give them that.

2) Geneva, Switzerland

Sticking with a Gothic theme, let’s focus our attention on that other horror mainstay: Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley.

Frakenstein was inspired by Shelley’s stay in Geneva, and large parts of the novel are also set there. Of course, modern, clean, ever-so-slightly-dull Geneva is not the inspiration, but rather the Villa Diodati, a country house on the shores of Lake Geneva. It is here that famously the Shelleys, Byron, and Dr Polidori challenged each other to come up with a horror story. From this challenge Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein.

For an appropriate bit of campy Halloween schlock, Ken Russell’s film Gothic (1986), which is about the events of that challenge, is well worth a watch.

Equally, Benjamin Markovits’ novel Imposture, about Dr Polidori and his writing of the short story “The Vampyre” during that same challenge, is recommended.

3) A field of susuki grass, Japan

This entry is something of a cheat. This is an entry about the 1964 Japanese film Onibaba (literally, “Demon Hag”), which has no specific setting beyond Medieval Japan; but it’s one of the few horror films I’ve found genuinely affecting.

This is a very brief and unsatisfying summary of the film, but during a civil war two women, one old and one young—living in poverty in an area thick with reeds—kill soldiers who find themselves lost near their home, taking their possessions to sell. The older woman is worried that the younger woman, who is having an affair with a neighbor recently returned from the war, will soon be leaving her so she will have to fend to herself. When the older woman kills a samurai wearing a demon mask, she pulls the mask off the corpse (his face is disfigured) and wears it pretending to be a demon so as to scare the younger woman. Once she puts on the mask, however, she is unable to take it off.

Wow, that summary really doesn’t do the film justice. The film’s director, Kaneto Shindo, was especially keen for the film to be shot in a field of susuki grass, which they found near a river bank in Chiba Prefecture. That setting really makes Onibaba visually arresting. Claustrophobic, but also surreal and languid, these grasses heighten the tension, which is why I feel justified in adding a susuki grass field in Japan to this list.

4) Maine, USA

Obviously this is in reference to the frighteningly prodigious novelist Stephen King, a Maine native and someone who in his work has made use of the fictional Derry, Maine.

With its atmospheric coastline, rocky and dramatic, it’s easy to see how it has inspired King in a similar way to how east cliff in Whitby inspired Stoker a century before.

5) Georgetown, Washington, DC, USA

Or, more specifically, the stone steps that are on M Street in Georgetown, which were made famous in the classic horror film The Exorcist (1973). May the power of Christ compel you to visit! Word of warning: The steps are pretty steep, so if you’re heart starts beating fast, it’s probably the cardio-vascular workout you’re getting rather than any ghoulish happening.

* * *

Readers, literature and film are of course packed with thrills and chills. Have I missed anywhere you think belongs in the Top Five? Let me know in the comments…

STAY TUNED for next tomorrow’s Halloween posts, and prepare to be scared!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of the week’s posts from The Displaced Nation, with our weekly Alice Award, book giveaways, and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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After 6 years, this expat still finds his adopted home utterly enchanting

Michael in CuritibaLand CollageMany of us “international creatives” are attracted to the world’s major cities. Take me, for instance. I live in, and write about, São Paulo, the largest city in Brazil, and in the Southern Hemisphere. Today I’m happy to introduce a fellow expat who has ventured out as far as Curitiba, the largest city in Brazil’s South Region. B. Michael Rubin has a creative job, and he also finds Curitiba, a forerunner of the eco-city, a source of daily enchantment.

—Andy Martin

My first night in Curitiba, I awoke at 3:00 a.m., jet lagged after too many hours of solo travel with a ridiculous amount of luggage. I got up and drank some water, and it was then I noticed birds singing outside my window. I wondered if all expats were greeted by nocturnal serenades.

In the morning, surprisingly, it seemed the same birds were still singing. I could hear their melodious songs even though my apartment was on the tenth floor, making them a flock of super-birds.

The conclusion of an American on his first expat experience: the birds here are so happy they can’t stop singing; they must think they’re in paradise.

Adam and Eve discovered that paradise can be transitory, but after six years I have no desire to leave the lovely city of Curitiba, in the Brazilian state of Paraná.

Through the Curitiban looking glass

As every expat ascertains, adjusting to a new world is not easy; it’s a challenge simply to be polite in a foreign culture. I’ve learned to say “Excuse me” when I enter someone’s home, and that it’s acceptable to kiss a woman I’m meeting for the first time.

I’ve discerned it’s impolite to ask anyone to close her window at home or in the car, even on a cold winter day in the south of Brazil. Unfortunately, this lesson was revealed while asking my frail Brazilian mother-in-law why she had her apartment windows open, as she sat buried under a mountain of blankets.

For expats, daily life is an adventure in wonderment. I wonder how no one expects a tip herenot the taxi driver, the barber, or the pizza delivery guy.

I wonder how the price of everything is negotiable, and when I negotiate with an offer of cash, I can still pay with a credit card if I don’t want parcelas [paying in installments]. When I pay a doctor, I get a discount if I don’t request a receipt.

I marvel at the everyday site of twenty people in a Curitiba restaurant having a pleasant family lunch. In the US, this only happens at a wedding or a funeral because twenty family members don’t live in the same city. If they did, there would be trouble.

There is always more mystery…

Living in a new world becomes easier when we focus on the similarities—aren’t we all humans sharing the same planet? There’s a crazy comfort in knowing Brazilians are as preposterous as everyone else.

In other words, every country is a mystery.

For instance, I can’t explain how Brazilians have so effortlessly embraced the 21st century: Forty years ago, no one in Curitiba had a telephone, a car, or had been on an airplane.

I don’t understand politics in Brazil. How can a country govern itself with more than thirty political parties? In the US, two parties are sufficient to create chaos.

Meanwhile, the electronic banking system here is outstanding. Americans don’t believe me when I tell them it’s possible to pay the mortgage at an ATM.

Another wonderful mystery: In the days of the military government, Curitiba “elected” a visionary urban planner to be mayor for 12 years. It is a rare opportunity when an urban planner/architect runs a city. During that time, Jaime Lerner built one of the best urban bus systems anywhere; established mandatory recycling for all homes and businesses; created the first outdoor pedestrian mall in Brazil; and expanded a park system that made Curitiba one of the greenest cities in the world. Senhor Lerner was so good at city planning that the population has doubled in 40 years. Who knew.

After I’d survived my first melodic night in Curitiba, my future wife suggested a leisurely walk around the neighborhood. Having moved from New York, I was accustomed to seeing the homeless camped out on sidewalks. I remarked that I hadn’t seen any in Curitiba. “Don’t worry,” she said, “you will.”

Sure enough, a few minutes later we entered the local mall, and I observed three young men in the mall’s restroom brushing their teeth. My girlfriend, however, refused to accept my homeless sighting, a trio no less, and insisted we wait nearby.

When the three men emerged from the restroom, I noticed they were very well-dressed for homeless. “See, they work in the mall,” she said, with a look of “I thought Americans were smart?”

It was my first, but not my last, moment of supreme cultural stupidity. Men in their twenties brushing their teeth at work. Who knew.

The myths are true!

Today, I know that my wife keeps a toothbrush in her office so clients won’t see food in her teeth. For the same reason, women in the supermarket on Saturday morning are in full make-up and high heels with silk scarves that match their nail polish.

Like the proud, beautiful city of Curitiba, Brazilians are a proud, beautiful people.

The myths I’d heard are true. Who knew.

* * *

Readers, your turn! Do you feel similarly enamoured of your adopted land, or has the enchantment worn off? Please leave your thoughts for Michael and me in the comments!

B. Michael Rubin is an American living in Curitiba, Paraná, Brazil. He is the editor of the online magazine Curitiba in English.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s interview with this month’s featured author, Cinda MacKinnon!

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 (from left): B. Michael Rubin in João Pessoa (no, he doesn’t have a photo of himself in Curitiba!) and the Curitiba tubo, courtesy marcusrg via Flickr (Creative Commons license CC BY 2.0). We think it doesn’t take much imagination to see the cylindrical, clear-walled tube bus stations as the Curitiban equivalent of Alice’s rabbit hole or looking glass. After all, the city’s Rapid Bus Transit System (Rede Integrada de Transporte, or RIT) is rather wondrous: the first of its kind in the world.

FOOTLOOSE & FANCIFUL: Margaret Drabble’s “The Red Queen”

Welcome to Footloose & Fanciful, an occasional series of posts where we talk about books, films or other art forms that have inspired us to travel to new places or appraise familiar places with fresh eyes.

I’m probably not the best person to kick off this series. As much as I adore fiction, I’m not one to travel on a whim, because of something I read in a book. Especially not these days, when my expat years, spent in England and Japan, are behind me and I have to take time off from work. Typically, I arrive at my destination and collapse in a heap of exhaustion. It’s not until I’ve had a good rest that I am able to take in my surroundings. I peer out the window and say: “Really, I’m in xxx?!”

At that point I go to the other extreme, manically trying to find out as much as possible about where I’ve landed, visiting bookstores with an English-language section to stock up on translated novels, expat memoirs, the lot…

The second time I went to Seoul, South Korea, though, was different, and I’ll make that the subject of today’s post. That trip marked a rare time when a book had piqued my interest in a country to the point of influencing what I wanted to do and see and talk about during my stay.

Finding the soul of Seoul

I said my second visit to Seoul. The first had occurred a few years before. It followed the typical pattern. I arrived tired and unprepared, although on that occasion, I got an immediate lesson in the local culture.

Just as my husband and I were landing in Incheon International Airport, the news was breaking that Dr. Hwang Woo Suk—a veterinary researcher who had achieved world fame by cloning an Afghan hound named Snuppy—had falsified his latest results to make it look as though he’d made advances in human cloning.

“It’s a very Korean story,” some Korean friends of my husband’s informed us. I wasn’t sure what they meant, but little by little, I pieced it together. The Korean government, desperate to project a modern, high-tech face to the world, had turned Dr. Hwang into a national hero. He appeared in many of their promotional campaigns. The post office sold stamps to commemorate his research, and Dr and Mrs Hwang enjoyed a decade of first-class tickets on Korea Air, because of his status as “national treasure.”

Interestingly, our Korean friends were reluctant to condemn him outright. He’d been under a phenomenal amount of pressure to produce results and bring his country greater glory. If you were under that much pressure, you’d probably be tempted to skip a few rounds of clinical trials, too, they seemed to be saying.

I had to think about that for a while. Already, I was inclined to feel sorry for the Koreans because I knew how they’d suffered under Japanese rule. They are the Central Europeans of Asia, if you will. Just as the Hungarians, Poles and Czechs have had to put up with Germany and Russia, the Koreans, due to being sandwiched between China and Japan, have had to put up with incursions from both.

Gradually, I came round to the Korean point of view. My thought process went something like this:

Okay, the Koreans have been victims of some bad geography. But then why do they make things so much worse for themselves by setting such impossibly high standards? What Dr. Hwang did was wrong, a violation of ethical standards in medical research. But, okay, if I can feel sorry for all the Korean schoolchildren cramming like crazy for exams, I guess I can spare a bit of sympathy for Snuppy’s creator…

After arriving home from that trip, I was eager to read more about the country (I hadn’t found much in translation in Seoul’s bookstores).

That was when I happened upon the novel The Red Queen, by Margaret Drabble.

Seeing Korea in shades of red

A novel on Korean history by one of the writers I’d most admired when living in the UK: what could be a more perfect bridge between the two parts of my expat life?

The Red Queen of the book’s title refers to Lady Hyegyong, a Korean woman who lived in the 18th and early 19th centuries. She was plucked from obscurity to marry the Crown Prince of Korea, Sado, who turned out to be…a HOMICIDAL MANIAC, I kid you not.

The reason we know all of this is that Lady Hyegyong left behind a diary, and Part 1 of the novel is Drabble’s version of that document, which she based on JaHyun Kim Haboush’s translation of The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyong: The Autobiographical Writings of a Crown Princess of Eighteenth-Century Korea.

In Part 1, the Crown Princess tells us about what it was like to live with a husband and in a court where daily, several dead bodies would be carried out of the palace (whenever Sado felt agitated or depressed, he would seek relief by murdering his servants) or reports would arrive of another court lady being raped. After he murders his concubine, he starts harassing his own sister, too.

At about this point, I concluded that the only thing worse than discovering you’re married to psychopath would be to find out you’re confined with him in a palace, from which there’s no escape. Terror within a claustrophobic setting must be the worst kind there is!

The story has a further twist. The Crown Prince’s father, King Yongjo, turns out to have been deeply Confucian. He is the kind of Korean parent who sets impossibly high standards for his son, which—it is hinted in the Crown Princess’s diaries—may be part of what triggers the son’s madness.

In the end, the cruel father proves more than the psycho son’s match. On a hot day in July 1762, he summons Sado and orders him to get into a heavy wooden chest, ordinarily used for storing rice or grain. The lid is shut and locked, and Sado is left to starve. It takes eight days.

The Crown Princess is traumatized all over again at witnessing her father-in-law execute her husband in such a cruel manner.

In part 2 of the book, an Oxford academic travels to Seoul with the Crown Princess’s diary in hand (which has been sent to her anonymously via Amazon.com) and finds parallels between her own life and hers. Professor Halliwell feels that the Princess “has entered her, like an alien creature in a science-fiction movie.” She becomes possessed by her—just as I was by the end of the book, just as I’m sure Drabble was, which was what inspired her to create (in her words) this “transcultural tragi-comedy.”

More questions than answers

I went back to Korea for a second time not long after reading the novel, accompanying my husband on some work he had there. So moved had I been by Drabble’s book that I was determined to find a way to pay tribute to the Red Queen, so called because of all the blood that flowed during her husband’s reign.

But here’s the strange thing. All of my attempts to find out about Lady Hyegyong came to naught. My Korean friends said I needed special permission to visit Changgyeong Palace, where this tragic series of events took place. They did not seem to want to engage in a conversation about this period of their history.

I left Korea with more questions than answers: Do Koreans repress this part of their past, and if so, what does that tell us about them? Is my previous view of them as helpless victims all wrong? Did other countries walk in and take over because Korea had weakened itself through its impossibly high Confucian ideals, which had led to total anarchy by the end of the 18th century?

But the weirdest thing is, I wasn’t that surprised by the Korean reaction. While the Western part of me applauds Drabble for resurrecting Lady Hyegyeong as feminist hero, one who lived long enough to write her tale (the existence of her memoirs, incidentally, served to refute later attempts to restore Sado to a position of honor in Korean history books), the Asian part thinks that poor Lady Hyegyeong must feel displaced in Drabble’s novel. Relationships are, after all, a central theme to Confucianism. The husband is the head of the household and the wife is obedient to him, full stop.

This inner dilemma of mine, along with the spirit of Lady Hyegyeong, which Drabble portrays so vividly in her novel, still haunts me to this day…

* * *

Readers, have you ever read a book that has colored your impressions of a place in weird ways? Also, if you would like to contribute to this new series—perhaps an uplifting tale of being inspired by a book set in the idyllic Tuscan countryside would be in order after this rather macabre story?—please don’t hesitate to get in touch: ml@thedisplacednation.com.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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Notes and fears on living an expat life in the digital age

imageSome loose thoughts on expat life in the digital life, partly inspired by a Frank Bruni article in The New York Times:

Note 1: The late night scribblings on a post-it note of a random neurosis

That being away from my home country for a prolonged period only serves to make me an oddity there, and that as time moves forward the image that I have of home is from when I emigrated. Everyone and everything else has moved on. Me: obsolete, anachronistic, no longer conversant in the local idiom, a visitor from 2007. I’m still operating Britain iOS 6 when everyone else have updated to Britain iOS 7.

Note 2: Recent Article I read

“Traveling Without Seeing” by Frank Bruni. Published in The New York Times on September 2, 2013. In it Bruni laments the digital world we live in, how it alters our ability to experience travel in a foreign country.  What does this say about expat living? What is it to be an expat in a digital world? How dangerous can the “cocoon” Bruni writes about be?

“Before I left New York, I downloaded a season of “The Wire,” in case I wanted to binge, in case I needed the comfort. It’s on my iPad with a slew of books I’m sure to find gripping, a bunch of the music I like best, issues of favorite magazines: a portable trove of the tried and true, guaranteed to insulate me from the strange and new.

I force myself to quit “The Wire” after about 20 minutes and I venture into the streets, because Baltimore’s drug dealers will wait and Shanghai’s soup dumplings won’t. But I’m haunted by how tempting it was to stay put, by how easily a person these days can travel the globe, and travel through life, in a thoroughly customized cocoon. . .

I’m talking about our hard drives, our wired ways, “the cloud” and all of that. I’m talking about our unprecedented ability to tote around and dwell in a snugly tailored reality of our own creation, a monochromatic gallery of our own curation.”

Note 3: Availability of media: finding the Test score

Bruni downloads The Wire. Expat living need not be terrifying in the digital world, you need not let go. My apartment and digital habit is a curation of my own making, one that ties me to a notion of Britishness that I wouldn’t, other than a PBS viewing habit, have been able to maintain with as much ease twenty years ago. With only a cursory knowledge of technology it is possible to keep watching British television. British newspapers are easily available. In The Lady Vanishes there is a running joke about a buffoonish double-act on a train across Europe who in vain try to find out what the Test Match score is. I watch highlights on YouTube. If I don’t let go, am I actually an expat?  Am I no better than those British expats that sit in the Spanish sun drinking McEwans and eating eggs and chips? My media diet remains resolutely British in a way that wouldn’t formerly have been possible.

Note 4: Recollection of a joke heard on a podcast

The current England football manager, Roy Hodgson, has had a long (and varied) career managing abroad. When he returned to the UK to manage in the Premiership I remember a joke being made on Football Weekly, a Guardian newspaper podcast that is a regular feature in my digital cocoon, that Hodgson’s voice was that of an old cockney gent, the sort of voice you never encounter in London anymore but that was ubiquitous in the 50s and 60s. The inference was that the UK had moved on and in returning Hodgson was like a time traveller coming from Britain’s recent past. Is that the lot of the expat? You move somewhere exotic, but also find yourself stuck in aspic at that moment you left? Does that digital “cocoon” help or does it make it worse? This is that random neurosis again (see Note 1).

Note 5: Breakfast, Southern California, August 2013

Staying in a hotel in LA. Pleasant chat with some British tourists over the hotel’s breakfast buffet. Alarmingly they don’t believe me when I say I’m British, too. I’ve never had this before. They mention some pop culture references I do not get and talk about the Olympics. Realize they are talking about a shared experience I didn’t share in. Maybe they were right to be disbelieving about my nationality. After all, I’ve politely engaged tourists in conversation – how un-British can you get?  Digital cocoon breaking?

Note 6: 30,000 feet above Greenland, September 2013

Embarking on what will be the first trip home in nearly three years. Wonder if anyone else, like the tourists, will not think me British.

Note 7: Passport control, Heathrow, September 2013

I carry my baby daughter through passport control. I hand over her UK passport.

Note 8: Kings Cross, September 2013

imageFirst trip “home” in nearly three years. Struggling with suitcases into lift (writing that rather than elevator feels more a grumpy affectation than a reflex now) at King’s Cross. Press button for . . . “mezzanine level”. Mezzanine level? King’s Cross has a mezzanine now? Walk out of lift onto this mezzanine. wanting to discover more This is not my grimy King’s Cross. All that digital curation and this passed me by. The station has been poncified.. Wonder where the prostitutes  hang out now.

Note 9: Gregg’s

When did all the Gregg’s bakeries appear? There seems to be one on every street corner now. I know they’ve been around a while, but they seem to have been multiplying like rabbits.

Note 10: Coffee shop, London, September 14, 2013

I’m waiting for my order to be taken. It’s one of those moments where the term “inordinate” seems to be appropriate. An actual look at my phone (one of those devices that allows my curation and that had been tricking me into thinking I was still au fait with home) reveals that it’s only been three minutes, but that feels inordinate when you’re at the counter, the only customer, waiting to be served and two servers chat amongst themselves and do other tasks rather than make eye contact and acknowledge me. Not even a “sorry about the wait, we’ll be with you in a moment.” This is that British customer service foreigners used to tell me about and I thought they were exaggerating about. God, I’ve never felt so American as at this moment.

Note 11: Rhythm is a dancer . . . you can feel it everywhere

You notice that you are out-of-step, not in line with the rhythm of your home. You’re off the pace, don’t know the right moves. Of course, that would come in time. This is a dance you can relearn, but, for the moment, does it make you feel foreign.

Note 12: Living without seeing

Bruni’s piece (Note 2) is concerned with the traveler – “traveling without seeing”. My worry is living without seeing. A willful effort to cocoon myself away from the culture I find myself in, and attempting to curate that which I’m from. It leaves me an outsider to both.

Note 13: Passport control, SFO, September 2013

I carry my baby daughter through passport control. I hand over her US passport.

 

 

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Thoughts on the Booker, and 5 Booker Prize winners for expats to read

salmanI passed a miserable morning at Barnes and Noble. Suffering a vexatious bout of man-flu and with teething baby daughter in tow, I thought a visit to my local bookstore might be cheering and – after three days stuck at home – a pleasant change of scenery. I was wrong. Almost as quiet as a morgue, a few pensioners sipping overpriced Starbucks coffee, a handful of stragglers who sit reading in the fiction aisles, but who appear not to be purchasing anything. I noticed books on angels reduced to clearance, kitten calendars for 2014, a survivalist magazine, and, most disturbingly of all, a whole display table given over to the writings of Bill O’Reilly.

For the tens of dozens of O’Reilly books there, I could find only one copy of Bring Up the Bodies, the most recent winner of the Man Booker Prize.

That may change in my little corner of American suburbia after last week’s announcement that the Man Booker Prize would be expanding its selection criteria to include American writers from 2014 onwards. Of course, the future eligibility of American writers for the Booker does not open the Pulitzer for British writers; like our extradition treaty with the US, it is not an entirely equitable agreement.

In the interest of fairness, I should add that this change to widen the Booker from being a prize for British and Commonwealth (as well as Irish and Zimbabwean) authors is not just about including Americans, although you would be forgiven for thinking that was indeed the case if you had read any of the handwringing articles in the British press over fears that the Yanks will end up dominating the prize in future. Instead, there is a compelling case to be made that this is a necessary change. That as there is so much interesting writing in English being written all over the world, it would be wrong to discount it on account of the writer’s passport.

As Sophie Hardach wrote in The Atlantic, as English becomes more inclusive so too must the Booker, and in doing so better reflect the increasing diversity of the UK. ” All over London, Spanish-staffed coffee chains sit next to West Indian chicken stalls and Turkish hairdressers. Britain is becoming more like America: a magnet to migrants from all over the world. This includes migrant writers, and not ones just from former colonies.”

ritesofpassageOf course, the more cynical have pointed that all laudable claim for being inclusive are  just a smokescreen and the change in eligibility is an attempt to counteract the recently created Folio Prize set up to compete with the Booker and which is open to writers in English regardless of their nationality.

Anyhow, being aware of the nature of this site, I thought I would include five Booker winning novels that I feel might be interesting for an expat to read.

Midnight’s Children (1981) – Salman Rushdie 

Not just any Booker winner, but the winner of the Booker of Bookers, a sort of literary equivalent of Countdown’s champion of champions tournaments. A magical realism take on Indian independence, it is a richly evocative novel with a main character and narrator whose life is intertwined with that of his home nation.

The Siege of Krishnapur (1973) – J.G. Farell

The second novel in Farell’s loose Empire trilogy detailing the decline of the British Emprire. Based upon the Indian rebellion of 1857, it is, at times, a surprisingly funny novel.

Rites of Passage (1980) – William Golding

Living thousands of miles from home is easy in the jet age. That 6,000 mile journey can be traversed in a ten hour flight. The account of a young British artistocrat’s journey on a warship as he makes his way to Australia in the early 1800s may give current expats pause for thought.

oscarThe Inheritance of Loss (2006) – Kiran Desai

A fairly recent winner, one of the major plots in this work follows the journey of Biju, an illegal immigrant in the US.

Oscar and Lucinda (1986) – Peter Carey

Like Rites of Passage, this novel also tells the tale of a young Englishman traveling to Australia in the nineteenth century, don’t let that fool you, however, as they are both very different novels. My personal favorite of Carey’s works.

“Unenthusiastic about enthusiasm”: On Sarah Lyall, the relief of being a returning expat, and never getting over the feeling of cultural discombobulation

CulturallyDiscombobulatedFor today’s post ML Awanohara (doyenne of this particular piece of the interweb) suggested that Sarah Lyall‘s recent piece in The New York Times (“Ta-Ta, London. Hello, Awesome”) might provide me with a suitable topic to chisel out a post for the Displaced Nation.

I’ll be honest and admit (though I never articulated this to ML) that I was rather resistant and a tad unenthusiastic to the idea. I’d previously skim-read Sarah Lyall’s book, The Anglo Files: A Field Guide to the British, and found myself irritated by her observations about her life as an American transplant to London.

In short, I didn’t enjoy it. I was left uncharmed and felt it had about it an omnipresent smug tone.

Bill Bryson did it best

Recently, I’ve had a similar reaction with British academic Terry Eagleton‘s new book, Across The Pond (goodness, even the title sounds like another sub-Bryson knock-off), about his thoughts on living in America.

So I’m an equal-opportunity offender on this matter.

Perhaps foreigner-writing-about-their-adopted-home is a sub-genre that is not for me, which is unfortunate considering that’s the very subject of my personal blog, Culturally Discombobulated (now that I think of it, it sounds like a sub-Bryson knock-off, too). Having read Lyall’s article, I suppose she would call this attitude typically English: at once self-loathing and arrogant.

So I decided I would ignore ML’s suggestion and instead write another Capital Ideas post. As I was about to start writing it (well, start thinking about writing it, if I’m going to be entirely honest), I noticed in my inbox an email from my wife telling me to read this article.  Like Sarah Lyall, Mrs W is an American who has spent time living in London before returning to the US.

Putting my initial reservations to one side, I decided to see just what I was missing.

I must admit, Sarah’s right about L.G.

First, a little bit of background: Sarah Lyall has been The New York Times London correspondent for 18 years. Her article this week was about her repatriation to her home country.

I’ll be honest. Unlike when I read her book, The Anglo Files, I found myself more charmed by her writing and observations. This could be the result of the shorter form of a newspaper article, my mellowing, or far more likely our common enemy that is Loyd Grossman—Sarah’s wish on first moving to the UK was that she wouldn’t end up sounding like her more famous compatriot.

Readers who have not spent any considerable time in the UK are probably oblivious to L.G.’s existence. A television presenter (who was host of the original MasterChef, which other than name bears scant resemblance to Fox’s Gordon Ramsey vehicle) as well as a range of pasta sauces (I’ve no idea why, given that he’s not a chef), Loyd Grossman is in possession of the oddest transatlantic accent. It’s preppy New Englander meets Sloane Square yuppie, and just hearing it makes you want to declare class war.

For all of us in clear and present danger of one day developing a transatlantic accent, Loyd Grossman is a stark and terrifying cautionary tale.

…and about us?

Sometimes when I am reading a foreigner’s perspective on the British, I am struck by how awful we sound—a complete bunch of miserable bastards that have developed a carapace of irony and delight in popping positivity like it were a balloon at a child’s birthday party.

Is it any wonder Sarah got a bit fed up with our lack of enthusiasm:

…Britons are not automatically impressed by what I always thought were attractive American qualities—straightforwardness, openness, can-doism, for starters—and they suspect that our surface friendly optimism might possibly be fake. (I suspect that sometimes they might possibly be right.)

Once, in an experiment designed to illustrate Britons’ unease with the way Americans introduce themselves in social situations (in Britain, you’re supposed to wait for the host to do it), I got a friend at a party we were having to go up to a man he had never met. “Hi, I’m Stephen Bayley,” my friend said, sticking out his hand.

“Is that supposed to be some sort of joke?” the man responded.

The pursuit of happiness may be too garish a goal, it turns out, in the land of the pursuit of not-miserableness. After enough Britons respond with “I can’t complain” when you ask them how they are, you begin to feel nostalgic about all those psyched Americans you left behind.

After reading this piece, my wife said that she’d forgotten that so much of my personality was cultural. “I thought,” she said, “that it might be time for you to have some therapy, but then I realized you’re just British—no amount of therapy can fix that.”

* * *

I’ve not experienced what it is like to repatriate yourself back home. I do know, however, that many of you have. Do let me know in the comments below what struck you about moving back and what you missed about the adopted country you left.

On a Royal Future and the Royal Spawn

photo(1)From a Brit-in-America perspective

Good writing returns to you; it can illuminate moments or thoughts that you have an imprecise grasp on.

Over the last week, as an Englishman in America, I’ve had to avoid discussion about that news, that little baby. Though I wish him personally the best of health, my issue is more about his future, that it has been mapped out from the moment of conception as the head of state, my head of state on account of his lineage.

I’ll admit that outing myself as a small “r” republican (though I’m in two minds as to whether that is the right description for me as I don’t confess myself as being overly thrilled that any of the current crop of British politicos being invested with the title of “President”—even if that office is largely ceremonial) seems churlish when I’m dealing with the natives here in America who keep bringing that news up to me.

Anyway, the piece of writing that I’ve been returning to over the last week, a piece that acts as a counterpoint to some of the more banal Royal Baby conversations that I’ve have to endure in the United States, is Hilary Mantel’s essay for the London Review of Books: “Royal Bodies”. Surprisingly, it managed to achieve something very rare indeed—it’s a piece of literature that has also been written about in the British tabloid press.

Of course, the British tabloids don’t turn their attention to literary matters because they admire the style, but because they have the opportunity to manufacture a controversy. This case was no different. Mantel’s humanizing essay (initially delivered as a lecture and is mostly concerned with Anne Boleyn) about the mundane demands that we place on royalty was spun as FRUMPY WRITER DISSES OUR KATE. Politicians are always eager to jump on a popular bandwagon and provide an empty soundbite, so it was of little surprise when Cameron and Miliband joined in the critique.

If, however, any of those outraged had bothered to read the essay they would have found that this double Booker-prize winning author has taken an even-handed and nuanced view on royalty.

There is one insight of Mantel’s in particular that I’ve been returning to over the last week. I must admit that as a very recent father myself, I am a little resentful of the coverage—a little resentful that one baby has a future mapped out for it based not on any meritocratic qualities he might have. Mantel gets to the root of the issue when she says that we entrap our royalty, condemning them to live as exotic creatures within the shabby, carpet-fraying world of British institutions.

Poor George, one week old and his life will be measured out in an endless procession of hospital openings, civic events, and all those bloody awful Royal Variety Performances. The French, by comparison, were merciful to their royalty: they just guillotined them. We make ours watch Joe Pasquale.

If you haven’t read Mantel’s essay, at least read this passage, where she compares royal persons to pandas:

I used to think that the interesting issue was whether we should have a monarchy or not. But now I think that question is rather like, should we have pandas or not? Our current royal family doesn’t have the difficulties in breeding that pandas do, but pandas and royal persons alike are expensive to conserve and ill-adapted to any modern environment. But aren’t they interesting? Aren’t they nice to look at? Some people find them endearing; some pity them for their precarious situation; everybody stares at them, and however airy the enclosure they inhabit, it’s still a cage.

A few years ago I saw the Prince of Wales at a public award ceremony. I had never seen him before, and at once I thought: what a beautiful suit! What sublime tailoring! It’s for Shakespeare to penetrate the heart of a prince, and for me to study his cuff buttons. I found it hard to see the man inside the clothes; and like Thomas Cromwell in my novels, I couldn’t help winding the fabric back onto the bolt and pricing him by the yard. At this ceremony, which was formal and carefully orchestrated, the prince gave an award to a young author who came up on stage in shirtsleeves to receive his cheque. He no doubt wished to show that he was a free spirit, despite taking money from the establishment. For a moment I was ashamed of my trade. I thought, this is what the royals have to contend with today: not real, principled opposition, but self-congratulatory chippiness.

And then as we drifted away from the stage I saw something else. I glanced sideways into a room off the main hall, and saw that it was full of stacking chairs. It was a depressing, institutional, impersonal sight. I thought, Charles must see this all the time. Glance sideways, into the wings, and you see the tacky preparations for the triumphant public event. You see your beautiful suit deconstructed, the tailor’s chalk lines, the unsecured seams. You see that your life is a charade, that the scenery is cardboard, that the paint is peeling, the red carpet fraying, and if you linger you will notice the oily devotion fade from the faces of your subjects, and you will see their retreating backs as they turn up their collars and button their coats and walk away into real life.

Of course, all of the above is written with the benefit of thinking about these issues for a full week. My initial thoughts as featured on my personal blog were a little harsher. For completeness, I include them below.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Thoughts on the Royal Spawn or why I hate it when Americans attempt to engage me on the Royal Family

When I was 14 my Dad died, something that nobody—outside of immediate family and friends—gives two shits about. A few years later, a guy who I’ve never met loses his mother. All very sad, but acquaintances and strangers here like to bring up this death in conversation and tell me about how sorry they are for his loss.*

In my late-20s I got married. All very nice, but again, nobody—outside of immediate family and friends—really gives a flying monkey toss about it. Why should they? A little bit after me that guy I’ve never met and who’d lost his mother got married himself. Great for him, I wouldn’t begrudge him his happiness, but yet these same curiously odd people who corner me at parties and insist in trying to engage in small talk when silence really would be preferred tell me about lovely his wedding.**

A few months back, I became a father. It has been earth-shattering to me, but beyond immediate family and friends, nobody really gives a fuck. Now that guy I don’t know, who lost his mother and had a wedding, has also become a father. I’m not surprised by the news as over the last few months overly familiar troglodytic morons when they hear my voice have been asking me how his wife is doing with the pregnancy.***

I’ll be clear, only if they name him Eadwig, Harthacnut or Rylan will I be interested in the royal sprog—though fair play to the fetus for landing himself such a cushy gig.

Commiserations to Carol Ann Duffy , who is now going to have write an excruciating poem.

For the next month I will be trying to live clandestine in the US in order to avoid having excruciating conversations with people who get really excited about nonsense like this. I think I’ll put on a French accent.

*In fairness, strangers might be stopping him to tell him how sorry they are about my loss.

** Again, in fairness, he is probably cheesed off with the number of people droning on about my wedding to him.

*** If we ever meet, we’re going to laugh about this. Complete strangers were constantly asking him about how my wife’s pregnancy was going. Must be some crossed wires, we’ll say.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, the first in our TCK TALENT series.

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