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Are Brit international creatives better than their Yankee counterparts?

NYC_Awindram_pmWhen Chariots of Fire screenwriter Colin Welland won his Oscar in 1981, his acceptance speech began with him somewhat obnoxiously and ungraciously proclaiming: “The British are coming!”

Unlike Paul Revere, this wasn’t intended as a dire warning to fellow Americans, but was rather a British boast about perceived creative superiority over the transatlantic cousins.

Ultimately, the renaissance of British cinema that Welland envisaged did not materialize, but though that particular “British invasion” did not in the end occur, the US has since . . . oh, let’s say since 1812 . . . endured a number of British invasions: from Dickens’s arrival in Boston in 1842, to Oscar Wilde’s statement to a US customs officer that he had nothing to declare but his genius (which I would certainly not advise anyone that they should try to use that line in JFK), to the Beatles’ first performance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 (considered the beginning of the British Invasion in music).

If David Carr’s recent column in the New York Times, entitled “British Invasion Reshuffles U.S. Media,” is correct, then we may be in the grip of another one. The genesis for this piece has been John Oliver‘s recent, perfectly competent portrayal of a bamboozled substitute teacher on The Daily Show.

Carr’s contention is that at the moment “everywhere you look in the United States media landscape, you find people from [Britain]”:

Piers Morgan came from Britain to take over for Larry King, the Wall Street Journal is edited by Gerard Baker, a British newspaper veteran, and the chief executive of the New York Times is Mark Thompson, who spent his career at the BBC. Anna Wintour has edited Vogue for more than two decades and, more recently, Joanna Coles took over Cosmopolitan, which defines a certain version of American womanhood.

NBC News recently looked to the mother country for leadership and found Deborah Turness, the former editor of Britain’s ITV News. ABC’s entertainment group is headed by Paul Lee, also formerly of the BBC, and Colin Myler, a Fleet Street alum, edits the New York Daily News.

The list goes on, but the point is made: when it comes to choosing someone to steer prominent American media properties, the answer is often delivered in a proper British accent.

But, as the title of this post asks, the British better at being international creatives than their American counterparts? Are we more fearless?

The examples that Carr puts forward are compelling, even if we may have to suspend our imagination and hope our stomachs do not turn too much in allowing Piers Morgan to be considered a “creative.”

However, I am unconvinced in a post-Leveson world that there is inherently anything better or more attractive about British media operators when set alongside their American counterparts.

Of course, that does not alter that it is inarguable that New York media finds itself with a number of prominent Brits.

Carr hits on one of the main reasons for this — London:

“Los Angeles, New York and Washington all have their domains, while in Britain, there is only London, a place where entertainment, politics and news media all live in the same petri dish.”

In an increasingly international world, a world in which the super elite can be found in a select number of super cities, it is only to be expected that large New York media empires would be selecting from a fairly small pool. They’ll look to New York and London — the two major English-speaking super cities.

It is perhaps a complete misconception that for the purposes of this question we think in terms of America and Britain, as if to make out an otherness between each party, when they share status as super city elites.

The true “other” would be the newspaper man from Minnesota or the TV station manager from Louisville. I know from my own anecdotal experience of MBA grads from top US business schools that the majority that I know are in New York or London. This is just the new normal — it is hardly surprising that it is reflected in New York’s media executives.

It is also noticeable to anyone who has spent any time in the UK that while a struggling, gasping industry, print media is more alive in the UK at present than it is in the US.

The result of this is that they are a large number of British candidates that would be attractive to US companies in the position to headhunt a new executive.

A final factor is the attraction of “success” in the US for Brits. I don’t say this lightly, but take a look at Piers Morgan’s twitter account . . . I know, I know . . . awful, isn’t it? However, a quick look through a random selection of Morgan’s twitter will soon reveal a man who enjoys boasting — or if I’m being more generous, teasing — other British celebrities who have no profile in the US.

Success in the US seems greater, somehow. There is a pull there that is irresistible. There is romance to it. “If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere.” What do all the many American CEOs heading boardrooms in London get to sing to themselves?

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, an interview with our featured author of the month, Rosie Whitehouse.

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img: awindram

NEW VS OLDE WORLDS: Would you rather chat about weather with a rugged Aussie or a whingeing Brit?

Libby Collage New&OldRegular readers of the Displaced Nation are treated every other week to a new episode in the life of fictional expat Libby Patrick, a 30-something British woman who has relocated with her spouse to a town outside Boston. Her diary, Libby’s Life, by Kate Allison, is replete with observations about life in New England vs. England. In the weeks when Libby isn’t published, we are featuring posts by writers who are sensitive to the subtle yet powerful differences between new and “olde” worlds. Today we hear from an occasional contributor, Kym Hamer, whose thoughts on the topic immediately drifted to the ten winters she has spent in her adopted home of London. Hmm…is that because her native Melbourne now has highs of 8°C, or 46°F (and overnight lows of -1°C, or 30°F)?

—ML Awanohara

Kym Outdoor Entertaining Australia Day 2008As an Australian who moved to the UK in 2004 and who continues to make London her home almost ten years on, I can’t really afford to have any quarrel with the weather.

It is one of the quintessential British-isms, this obsession with weather, and it is the question I find myself in the midst of most debate aboutalways at the first meeting and often well into several years of cross-cultural friendship.

The stereotype of Australia’s big blue skies, fresh-faced outdoorsy-ness and neighbourly games of cul-de-sac cricket prevails so strongly in the British psyche, that any suggestion that all is not what it appears Down Under comes across as churlish, un-conversational and bordering on arrogant ungraciousness.

It’s not worth arguing: the Brits like to be right about this.

But what has struck me most about these conversations is that they usually occur in overheated pubs, lounge-rooms, Tube carriages and lifts with the protagonists sitting or standing around in their shirtsleeves complaining about the cold.

I have never met a nation so unwilling to put a jumper on.

(Which reminds me of a rather bad joke: what do you get when you cross a kangaroo and a sheep? A woolly jumper!)

Wrap up warm, but not too warm

I’ve been caught out myself, rugging up [putting on lots of clothes in anticipation of going somewhere bl**dy freezing] upon leaving the house on a chilly morning. Silently congratulating myself on my toasty (sometimes even thermal) attire, I find myself wishing I could dispense with three quarters of it half an hour later.

And let me tell you, it’s a royal pain to carry around a heavy winter coat and quite embarrassing to sit sweating profusely in a job interview because everything you could have possibly taken offand still remain decent, let alone remotely “put together”has been shed.

So I’ve learnt to avoid the thermal underwear and to dress in layers. More or less like a pass the parcel parcel.

Tuning into the daily weather forecast on the radio as I open one sleepy eye each morning, I’ve learnt that it pays to double check that the light spring coat hanging at the ready should not be replaced by something more…or less.


But the biggest lesson I’ve learnt is this: it’s the extremities that matter and the right hat, scarf and gloves can make all the difference.

As the temperature and wind chill factor pas de deux through London during any given month, the right “weight” of this essential triumvirate can have me either swanning about in a state of slightly disheveled fabulous-ness or looking as though I’ve been dragged through a damp hedge backwards.

As such I have acquired:

  • several right “hats”
  • a range of pashminas—from warm woolly to just to keep the chill off on a “summer” evening
  • many suitable scarves (they are defined by being more slender in shape than a pashmina)
  • not one but two perfect pairs of gloves—a heavy-duty, super-warm pair and a lightweight purple leather set.

Which reminds me how hacked off I was to lose one of the heavy duty duo in January—and must make a note to myself to buy the perfect replacement pair. I’ve learnt that’s harder than it sounds. Who knew such things would become so important to me?

And then there’s the bag. My handbag grew exponentially into a “tote” during my first few years in London, becoming big enough to stuff in one or any combination of this trio as I climbed up/down Tube escalators, entered offices and interview rooms, got on and off buses and hugged friends in the doorways of their toasty digs.

Thank goodness other essentialsphones, umbrellas, (e)bookshave gotten smaller.

“Bring something warm—if it’s dry we’ll be sitting outside!”

But when I am at home and the climate is just my own again, slippers and cozy throws abound, whether I’m curled up on the couch in the lounge room, cooking up a frenzy in the kitchen or tucked under the duvet in my bedroom. The heating does get turned on but only when a jumper just isn’t enough.

I am famous (or infamous?) for invitations tagged with “bring something warmif it’s dry we’ll be sitting outside.” Guests laugh knowingly and remark about taking the girl out of Australia and all of that.

But baby, when it’s cold outside, quite frankly you should already know the drill:

Put a bl**dy jumper on!

* * *

Thanks, Kym, for that impassioned account of what it’s like for an Aussie to live in the midst of limeys who’d prefer to moan about the cold instead of taking practical measures. And speaking of whingeing limeys, you’ve given us Yanks yet another reason to feel pleased that we declared our independence from Britain on this day 237 years ago!

Born and raised in Melbourne, Kym Hamer has worked in London in sales and marketing for nearly ten years. She writes the popular blog Gidday from the UK. Also follow Kym on Twitter: @giddayfromtheuk.

STAY TUNED for next week’s series of posts—and a Happy 4th of July Weekend, meanwhile, to US-based readers!

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Img: Photo of Kym Hamer entertaining outdoors, glass of wine in hand, in honor of Australia Day (January 26).

Portrait of woman from MorgueFile; Lighthouse (R) from MorgueFile; Lighthouse (L) from MorgueFile

NEW VS OLDE WORLDS: British husband and Brazilian wife swap cultural allegiances

Libby Collage New&OldThanks to Kate Allison, regular readers of the Displaced Nation are treated every other week to a new episode in the life of fictional expat Libby Patrick, a 30-something British woman who has relocated with her spouse to a town outside Boston. Her diary, Libby’s Life, is replete with rich observations about life in New England vs. England. In the weeks when Libby isn’t published, we are featuring posts by writers who are sensitive to the often subtle, yet powerful, differences between new and “olde” worlds. Today we hear from one of our regular contributors, Andy Martin. Those who caught Andy’s Random Nomad interview at the start of the year will remember that he’s a British social worker and football geek who followed his Brazilian spouse back to her native São Paulo.

—ML Awanohara

AndyMartininUK_pmA few weeks ago I made my first trip home to the UK since moving to São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, in February 2012.

Prior to leaving I started to ponder how I’d feel once I touched down in London.

After such an extended period of time, I guess it’s only natural to feel this somewhat apprehensive. Yet another reason for my intrigue was the number of times over the past year a Brazilian had asked:

Você tem saudades de Londres?

There is no direct translation for “saudades“—which probably says a lot about how us English speakers struggle to express our feelings. Broadly it translates as something like:

having a deep sense of nostalgia or longing for something or someone*

To such beautifully expressed enquiries of my sentiments about home, my typical response has been some muttered utterance like “Na verdade, não,” which basically means: “No, not really.”

What did I say above about us English speakers being expressive?

Or perhaps that’s just me.

Delighted to be in the new world…

Yet, on the whole those two words do sum up my thoughts about home. Sure, I miss friends and family—but the place? As I said, “Na verdade, não.”

I’ve lived in London, walked its streets and drank in its pubs for most of my life, so why would I be so desperate to go back?

Perhaps it is because I know that we’re likely go back to settle there eventually.

Alternatively, perhaps it’s not that I don’t miss London, more that I am happy with my lot here in São Paulo.

Which I am.

…while my wife is attached to the old one!

Ironically, it is actually my wife who is the one who most wants to return “home” to London after she finishes her degree at the end of this year**. This surprises most people, who assume that my Brazilian wife is the one who wants us to stay in Brazil, when it’s actually the opposite.


Part of it, I guess, can be put down to the opportunity each of us has to explore the unknown.

When I traveled around South America in 2007, I had never before left Europe. Likewise, until she went to Buenos Aires in 2008 (where we met), she had never left Brazil.

Both of us had only really ever known one way of life.

Now, with my wife having spent three years in London and us now having spent almost 18 months in São Paulo, we both seem to have come to appreciate and adore the things about each other’s countries that the other takes for granted or even dislikes.

The predictability, and quaintness, of London

For my wife São Paulo is a stressful city, with its inadequate infrastructure having a tendency to make life more complicated than it needs to be.

On top of this it’s a place that for her, because of the fear of crime, constantly leaves her feeling on edge.

Conversely, London is a place where she says she feels safe and where life is made easier by things working as they should—even if it that isn’t always the case.

For example, it still amazes her that a train can be scheduled to arrive at, say, 10:27 a.m. and then on the whole it actually arrives and departs at 10:27 a.m.

Additionally, coming from a land that was “discovered” as recently as 1500 by the Portuguese, she finds Europe’s long history fascinating—the fact that there are buildings in London older than the country of Brazil itself being a prime example.

I’ll be honest, in some ways I probably felt the same when I first arrived in Brazil. My initial posts on my own blog, The Book is on the table, whilst written with my tongue firmly in cheek, could possibly also be seen as me just being another gringo moaning about stuff—the subtext being that “everything back home is much better.”

As time went on, I realized that I didn’t want to be or become one of those moaning expats. Of course, it is natural to compare things when you move or go abroad. Likewise, there’s nothing wrong being critical if it’s fair and balanced.

But to make a habit of it isn’t good for one’s mental health. It ends up making you bitter and unhappy with your new environment. It’s also the quickest way to feeling homesick.

Even worse, such comparisons can easily drift into self-righteous rants asserting one’s cultural superiority—a throwback to the attitudes of our colonialist ancestors that did no one any good back then and will do no one any good now.

The unpredictability, and beauty, of Brazil

Around the time I realized that moaning and comparing are pointless enterprises, I started to feel a genuine affection for Brazil, something that has been reflected in my blog posts over the past 6-9 months.

Firstly, it would be hard not adore a country and continent that shares my passion for futebol.

Additionally, I found it easy to get used to a relaxed, slower pace of life in this part of world, which is not hard to complain about when it’s touching 30°C (86°F) for most of the year.

We have a swimming pool in our apartment block, something that is unthinkable in the UK, and there’s 4,500 miles of stunning coastline to pick from to go to on holiday.

Then, there’s the fact that if I want to go out for a beer or meal I know the bar or restaurant won’t be shut by midnight, as they so often are in London. If I want to stay out sipping a beer until 4:00 a.m., I can.

I’m also enjoying, although also a little frustrated by, the challenge of learning Portuguese, and as someone who studied Sociology and Social Anthropology and then later worked with migrants as a social worker, living in Brazil provides the perfect opportunity to explore South America, its indigenous history and the legacy of immigration after its colonization.

Additionally, the continent’s history of revolution and resistance against oppression also matches my own rebellious tendencies and political values—something I didn’t always have an outlet for in the UK.

Finally, it might sound a little condescending but I’ve now come to embrace some of the things I once moaned about. Living in London is great, and I appreciate my wife’s perception of the quality of life, but all the things I mentioned above provide an alternative quality of life. In other words, there’s more to life than just functioning public services.

Brazil may be frustrating sometimes, but it certainly makes life just a little bit more interesting—though my wife is yet to be convinced by that argument.

Maybe at some point I’ll change my mind and the novelty of life in Brazil will wear off—there is certainly enough evidence to suggest that might be the case. However, for the time being, whenever a Brazilian affectionately ask about my longing for home, I’ll continue to mutter: “Na verdade, não.”

*It’s extremely convenient in these situations having a translator as your wife.
**As a compromise I’ve so far managed to negotiate us staying until at least the end of the World Cup next year, using these two strong arguments: 1) I love football; and 2) Living in São Paulo meant we missed the Olympics in London.

* * *

Speaking of the Olympics, the handing over of the torch to Brazil at the end of the London Olympics certainly showed you the contrast between old and new worlds! Readers, can you relate to this couple’s frequent twists and turns in their cultural allegiances?

STAY TUNED for next week’s series of 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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Img: Photo of Andy Martin taken during his recent trip to the UK, at a wedding.

Portrait of woman from MorgueFile; Lighthouse (R) from MorgueFile; Lighthouse (L) from MorgueFile

NEW VS OLDE WORLDS: Does Australia up the ante on British cultural stereotyping?

Libby Collage New&OldThanks to Kate Allison, regular readers of the Displaced Nation are treated every other week to a new episode in the life of fictional expat Libby Patrick, a 30-something British woman who has relocated with her spouse to a town outside Boston. Her diary, Libby’s Life, is replete with rich observations about life in New England vs. England. In keeping with the Libby tradition, we have started a series of occasional posts by writers who are sensitive to the often subtle, yet powerful, differences between new and old worlds. This month’s contribution is from Russell V J Ward, who made his first appearance at the Displaced Nation as a Random Nomad interviewee. Ward’s popular blog, In Search of a Life Less Ordinary, chronicles his overseas moves first to Canada and then to his wife’s native Australia. The couple now lives in Sydney with their infant son.

—ML Awanohara

RUSSELL_WARDWhen I left my native Britain to live in Canada and then Australia in search of a life less ordinary, I anticipated thriving on the energy I would find in a system that is more open to people who work hard, regardless of class or race.

The Old World with its long history and class traditions held me back and frustrated me. The New World, by contrast, would provide a sense of unfettered opportunity.

This hope has largely been borne out. But I’ve also faced some adjustment challenges, which I’ll talk about in today’s post.

An eye (as well as mouth) opener

The first time I visited a dentist in Sydney was also the first time I learned about Australian attitudes toward certain immigrant groups.

As a rule, I don’t mind going to the dentist’s. I find that most dentists are of the chatty sort, making me feel comfortable and not particularly averse to the fact they’ll shortly be rummaging around in my mouth looking for any signs of badly behaving teeth.

On this occasion, I was laid out horizontally waiting for the dentist to examine my pearly whites. As he leaned over to begin his work, he asked if I was house hunting yet and, if so, how it was going.

“Pretty good,” I replied. “We’re looking at a few options but we’re thinking the North Shore might be a good place to call home.”

“You should look at houses in the west of Sydney,” he said. “Lots of big, grand houses out near Penrith way. Built for wogs. Depends if you like your woggy houses. Lots of concrete and ornate metal railings. Not my thing, but some people love those wog houses.”

I was floored. Did I hear him right? Had he just said what I thought he said? Should I have said anything back? Reprimanded him for saying something so racist and unprofessional in front of me? 

In the end, I smiled awkwardly and said nothing, unsure of the territory I was in and concerned that I might be in danger of overreacting. With the conversation grinding to a halt, he continued with my check-up.

This encounter took place not long after I arrived in Australia, almost seven years ago. I soon found out that a “wog” is in fact a person of Greek or Italian descent, not quite the meaning it has in the UK.

That said, it wasn’t used in a particularly positive light so I remained troubled by what I’d heard.

The Canucks get it more right

It wasn’t the only such occurrence over the years but, more often than not, I put these incidents down to the Aussie sense of humour or credited it to the way things were done and said here.

Besides references to “wogs” and “lebos” (those of Lebanese descent), jokes about “Abos” (Aborigines) are fairly commonplace. Less common, but also prevalent, are negative comments about folk from other cities and countries (us Brits top of the list of course, closely followed by the Yanks and the Kiwis).

So, in those early weeks and months of living in Australia, I realised I should probably “put up” and “shut up” if I wanted to fit in—but I still felt uneasy. Hadn’t I left the cultural stereotyping of the UK behind for the new world?

I’d also stopped at Canada in between, a country that I think gets it rightor more right than the UK, and certainly Australia, does.

Those who’ve followed my blog may know that I previously posted on how Canada and Australia are separated by more than just water. (The post in fact appeared on Maria Foley’s blog, I was an Expat Wifepart of an Expat Dispatches series.) My view was that Australia preaches tolerance, whereas Canada believes in accepting a person, wherever they’re from or whoever and whatever they are.

How much will (should) I tolerate?

Not so long ago, I read an article by a fellow expat in Australia, Lauren Fritsky, in the UK Telegraph, “Seeing in black and white in Australia.” Originally from the East Coast of the U.S., Lauren expressed her unease and embarrassment at hearing what she perceived as racial “icebreakers” in public. She noted her struggles with the apparent lack of political correctness in Australia and the ease with which some of these terms are used by the local population.

Reading this piece was a reality check: I realised how accustomed I’d become to these casual, throwaway, offhand remarks when they do occur. In fact, I often brush them off as unintentional slurs or said without bad feeling behind them. I mean, what’s so bad about giving a Kiwi or a Yank a bit of stick about where they’re from? And the Poms have been ridiculed for years, much as the Lebos and Westies have.

The problem is that, although these words are as much a part of the light-hearted Aussie vernacular as the barbie or the ute, they sometimes come very close to crossing the lineand often, as is the case with the use of choco or Abo, they do.

It’s important to understand the psyche here, the fact that the culture is based on the premise that “anything goes” and “anyone is fair game”. From the camaraderie at the bar to the casual BBQ setting, the light-hearted work environment to the jovial yet die-hard sports rivalries, all combine to create a “no worries, mate” attitude, inspired by a society that goes with the flow without giving a damn what you might think of them.

Yet to this day I still get tiny flashbacks to my former university days spent in the heart of the multicultural British Midlands, where racist taunts and cultural insensitivity tended to be the norm rather than the exception.

The question remains as to whether the basic attitude of tolerance in Australia is good enough to carry the nation forward in today’s many-cultured world.

There’s quite simply no place in such a beautiful land for ugly attitudes and ignorant opinions, and I can only hope that the odd experience or encounter I’ve had along the way isn’t held by the many but by the inconsequential few.

* * *

Thank you, Russell, for such a thoughtful treatment of this controversial topic. Readers, can you relate to Russell Ward’s experience? Has the cultural stereotyping you’ve encountered in your adopted country made you think twice about settling there? Or have you been tempted to turn a blind eye, putting it down to cultural differences?

A Basingstoke lad born and bred, Russell Ward now has dual citizenship with the UK and Australia. As reported on his blog, he recently left his cubicle job to join an Australian-based team of social media professionals, which permits him to work from home most of the time. That said, he and his family are currently training their way across Canada to TBEX Toronto, courtesy of the Canadian Tourist Commission! A version of the above post originally appeared on Ward’s own blog. We thank him for tweaking it on our behalf.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s “Capital Ideas” post, by Anthony Windram. (Hint: His choice of city pays tribute to the winner of the Eurovision Song Contest 2013, which ended on Saturday.)

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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Portrait of woman from MorgueFile; Lighthouse (R) from MorgueFile; Lighthouse (L) from MorgueFile

Eight months into my expat life, two roads diverged and I — I took the one home

Kat Collage_dropshadowToday we welcome back Kat Selvocki to the Displaced Nation. She wrote for us once before: a travel yarn about spending Christmas in Europe with friends. She had just been toiling in the farmlands of Iceland as a volunteer, and was about to head Down Under to begin a new life as a yoga instructor in Sydney. Now, just over a year later, she is back in the United States. What happened? Here is Kat’s repatriation story.

— ML Awanohara

As my year-long working holiday visa for Australia began to wane, I started considering my options.

Or rather, my option.

I teach yoga: a career that doesn’t generally allow for work sponsorship. I also had a rocky relationship with my Australian boyfriend.

The only I way I could feasibly stay in Sydney was to enroll in a course.

I’d heard tales from other expats of reasonably-priced options — reasonably-priced meaning anything under $8,000 a year — but knew in my heart it wasn’t going to work. I no longer had that kind of cash in the bank, and even if I had, you wouldn’t catch me spending it on some ridiculous “business basics” class.

It wasn’t that I necessarily wanted to stay; I just wasn’t sure I wanted to uproot my life after spending just eight months building a new life in Australia. There were places I still wanted to visit in that vast country, things I still wanted to do. And I loved the classes I was teaching.

But then I got glandular fever — commonly known in the US as mono, or the kissing disease. A month into fighting overwhelming exhaustion, all I wanted was for things to be easy again. In the end, it was having a such a debilitating illness that drove me over the edge.

I bought a plane ticket home.

The three emotions of repatriation

First came relief:

  • No more comments about how my tattoos, taste in music, or style were “too American.”
  • No more complicated calculations to figure out when friends or family would be available to Skype.
  • No more job rejections on the basis of not being a citizen.
  • And most importantly: central heating in abundance — finally, I’d stop getting sick so often!

Self-doubt followed. I’d spent years wanting to live as an expat, and when I finally had the opportunity, I’d been utterly miserable.

Had I failed, or not tried hard enough?

Should I have fought to stay longer, or at least until the end of my visa?

Were my reasons for leaving the right ones?

Why hadn’t I applied for that job working at a roadhouse waitress in the Outback, so that I’d at least seen more of the country?

Next up: fear. As I headed off to Oxford, UK, at the end of last year, to spend Christmas with friends before returning to the States to seek work, the wheel had come full circle. As reported on this blog in December 2011, I’d spent my first Christmas away from family, in Europe, on my way to a new life in Australia.

Whereas before I’d been full of excitement and anticipation, this time I was full of worry. I worried about how welcoming people would be when I returned. So many of my relationships had disintegrated while I was away, and I wasn’t sure if that was because of distance or because people were fed up with my use of Aussie slang in our conversations … or was it all my whining about being so bloody tired? (Hm, there’s that slang again!)

I had no idea whether finding work would actually be any easier, especially considering the much higher unemployment rate in the US.

I didn’t know how to talk about my time in Sydney without sounding bitter or depressed — but was also afraid that even if I sounded upbeat, people wouldn’t care to hear about it.

Old habits die hard…

I’d always believed that if something doesn’t work, you can simply head back to the place you were before.

Suddenly, I wasn’t so sure about that.

I had decided to move back to Seattle, a city where I’d lived eight years earlier. But would that be a terrible mistake? I pictured trying — and failing — to recreate the life I’d loved before.

Last time I wrote for the Displaced Nation, I reminisced about the four months I’d spent living in Prague on a study abroad. What I didn’t report was the depression and reverse culture shock I battle against upon returning to the United States.

If that were true after a mere four months, what impact would a year-and-a-half away have? Would I be feeling even more out of place? I dreaded the long readjustment.

I also worried about money, and whether I had enough to get settled again quickly.

…or do they?

As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. (Except for the money concerns. Then again, I’m convinced that no matter how much I’d saved before returning, I still would have worried.)

From the moment I stepped off the plane, it was as if someone had flipped a switch inside of me. Even though things had changed — something that was particularly evident in New York City, which I passed through on the way to the West Coast (I’d lived there after Seattle) — it all felt normal. Easy. Almost as if I’d never left. My internal map and compass worked again; I knew where I was and where I was going.

And I still believe that — even though, two months after returning to the States, I continue to look the wrong way when crossing the street.

* * *

Thanks, Kat, for sharing your story. I found it very moving. Readers, any comments, questions for Kat — any similar stories to share?

Kat Selvocki — badass yoga instructor, photographer, writer and traveler — is currently kicking ass and taking names in Seattle after returning from her expat adventures. Learn more about her on her Web site: You can also follow her on Twitter: @katselvocki.

STAY TUNED for the final post in our fashion and style series, by the ever-so-stylish Kate Allison! (Well, she certainly has flair!)

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

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images: (clockwise, starting top left) Chelsea Market, NYC; Capitol Hill, Seattle; Circular Quay, Sydney; Chelsea Market, NYC; The Rocks, Sydney; in the air when flying from Sydney to Melbourne; Pioneer Square, Seattle. Center shot of Kat Selvocki was taken in Seattle. All photos are Kat’s with the exception of the Circular Quay in Sydney, which came from Morguefiles.

Citizenship limbo: How long-term expat life has impacted my status back home

England-Korea_ValerieAh, the no-man’s land of the expat life — if you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you haven’t been abroad for long enough. Nor would you, I’m afraid, qualify for Displaced Nation citizenship. One person who does know what I’m talking about, and would more than qualify, is Valerie Hamer. She likes to refer to herself “British by birth and a nomad by choice.” Here is her bittersweet tale of where that attitude has taken her…

— ML Awanohara

Having lived in Asia for nearly 13 years, I’ve grown accustomed to the standard opening line: “Where are you from?”

However, as the years have passed, my factual auto response of “England” has made me uneasy.

I consider myself a global nomad: an international citizen, albeit one with a passport identifying my roots in the Commonwealth realm.

Plus, I dislike labels of any kind because they invoke stereotypes: and when it comes to nationality there are only so many questions — do you have afternoon tea at 4:00? do English gentlemen really wear bowler hats? — a person can take!

Not British any more…except at the core!

The truth is, I don’t feel particularly British (whatever that really means) anymore.

In fact, I’m so out of touch I have to spend time online researching current UK news on weather, music, sport fashion and politics — because knowing these things is what is expected of me.

Foreign is what I am all about after all, and that isn’t ever going to change.

The blurring of one’s national identity happens over time. In the first couple of years of the expat life, we crouch on the edge of our host culture, secure in the knowledge that the familiar is only a plane ride away. We make cross-cultural comparisons, some of them invidious; have adventures; reminisce; and sometimes escape for brief periods of intense reunion with the motherland. The possibility is always open for ending the foreign adventure and resuming the life left behind.

Over time, however, the attachment to the homeland fades and in the process, most long-term expats mutate into something closer to the global citizen. Take my case: I am now a quasi-fraudulent impersonation of a bona fide English woman.

But, even though I have lived abroad for over a decade, I have never seriously doubted my citizenship. Great Britain is, after all, the place where I was born and raised. The island I could return to on my terms, without fear of any impositions on my status or freedom.

After all, I continue to be a British citizen, right?

No right to investment

Not quite, as it turns out, for while I have been busy living as a temporary resident of South Korea, times have been a-changing back home in Britain.

A standing joke amongst my family and friends is that I manage to devalue the currency of any country I choose to live in. I have the same effect on UK interest rates, too, which is why I’ve made a habit of checking out the best deals and making the necessary transfers every time I visit.

Suddenly, though, this became impossible! New government rules have outlawed British non-residents from investing their cash in the country. How dare we?!

I chose a Korean bank instead, where thankfully I haven’t confronted similar issues — though it should be no surprise to hear that the interest rate dropped by half during my first year in the scheme!

Little right to health care

I rarely get ill, but sometimes I’ll make a quick trip to the doctors when back in England. Most health care services are free at source, and even temporary visitors can make use of any emergency facility. Those of us with family in England can see a general practitioner as long as a family member is on the books.

It’s never been a problem until now.

Last summer I called the office of the GP my father uses and was interrogated quite fiercely by the receptionist. I won’t bore you with the details: suffice to say, as a non-resident I need to be close to death before the medical profession will give me the time of day.

I can’t complain about being denied access to a system I don’t pay into, but the experience further defined me as an alien in a place where I used to belong.

No right to drive?!

One area that shouldn’t be a problem is driving in the UK, right? Last summer I decided to hire a car for my visit. I hadn’t been behind the wheel for ten years but had kept my license updated, registered to my family’s UK address.

After shelling out for a couple of refresher lessons and an expensive insurance policy, I felt confident that all was good — and it was, that is, until I discovered quite by accident that the insurance had actually been useless.

Who knew that my UK license grants only permanent residents the right to drive? Living outside the country means you forfeit the permission to use, or even renew, the license.

It makes sense when you think about it — but the assumption that we are good to go without an international permit is pretty widespread among us British expats.

* * *

These are just a few examples of show how ignorant I was of the gradual erosion of my rights to access UK services and systems — an ignorance I suspect I share with many other displaced Brits.

Ultimately, those of us who occupy a liminal space between two cultures need to come to terms with the idea that we may truly belong in neither.

* * *

Readers, any comments or questions for Valerie? Can you relate to her “floating world” status?

Valerie Hamer is a global nomad with a severe coffee addiction and a love of the written word. Her first book, Picky, Sticky or Just Plain Icky? A Blind Date Conversation: South Korea, came out last year; we gave it a two thumbs up. Hamer writes a popular blog, Faraway Hammer Writing, which is named for how people in Asia tend to pronounce “Valerie Hamer”. You can also follow her by that moniker on Twitter: @Farawayhammer.

STAY TUNED for another guest post, by Kat Selvocki. Last time we heard from her, she was on her way to start a new life in Australia. And now…

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images: (clockwise, starting top left) Ploughman’s lunch (courtesy Flickr); traditional Korean meal; Korean marchers; Seoul (courtesy Flickr); Thames view of London; Queen’s Guards marching; Valerie Hamer. (Non-Flickr photos from Morguefiles.)

Where’s the fairest of them all? Fashion & Style in Brazil vs. Britain

It’s March, a month when residents of the Displaced Nation turn to fashion ideas, beauty tips and other frivolities we’ve gathered from our travels. To kick off the discussion, we’re delighted to have Georgia Campello as today’s guest. She is married to our newest contributor, Andy Martin — and apparently more qualified to comment on such topics than he. A Brazilian (the couple currently live in São Paulo), Georgia has also lived in Britain. How do the beauty and fashion standards compare?

— ML Awanohara

According to my humble observations of my home country (Brazil) and the country where I once lived as an expat (Britain), and trying not to generalize too far, I think it’s fair to say that Brazilian and British women possess somewhat different ideals of fashion and beauty.

Of course they do, I can hear you say. What can women who live in a country known for sunshine and beaches have in common with the female occupants of a rainy, overcast island? It doesn’t snow in Brazil (and in most places it doesn’t get cold at all), so you are not going to see many women in woolly hats, gloves and scarves. Similarly, women in the UK rarely appear in shorts, a t-shirt and flip flops — except on the rare days when the sun suddenly shines.

Yet it’s also true that Britain and Brazil produce many of the world’s most famous beauties: Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Lily Cole; Gisele Bündchen, Alessandra Ambrosio and Adriana Lima.

And even on the level of the ordinary commoner in each of these countries — by that I mean, those of us who aren’t tall, size-zero goddesses — in my experience, we have similar everyday beauty routines: shower every day, shampoo/conditioner, moisturizer, some make-up, some sort of hair styling and off we go… (Is that not the case for most women?)

Have you had a Brazilian?

But hey, it is not that simple.

It seems that Brazilians have put a little more thought into it; at least regarding new procedures and technologies. What do you get before wearing a bikini? That’s right, a Brazilian. It’s even in the Oxford Dictionary!

Have you had a Britain? It doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it?

A quick Google search starting with “Brazilian” will also get you a Brazilian blow dry and even a Brazilian butt lift.

It’s funny how adding this adjective attaches credibility to such a wide range of treatments. Maybe because Brazilian women are associated with beautiful, half-naked, sun-kissed, beach babes with gorgeous bodies dancing samba.

Well, sorry, guys; that is not the case for most of us.

The fakest of them all?

But I digress.

On the whole, most Brazilian women are indeed more concerned about the way they look and spend much more time/effort/money than most British women do on changing their looks rather than enhancing their natural assets. While women in Britain may flirt with the idea of changing their looks to something other than what they were born with, in my native country they go a little further. Brazil is in the Top Three for plastic surgeries, whereas the UK is 17th.

And you don’t even have to go under the knife. It’s easy to find grown women in Brazil wearing braces to correct their teeth. Likewise, it’s hard to find a woman in Brazil who hasn’t changed her hair color and/or texture with some sort of chemical treatment. As a result, you can see a lot of blonde girls with straight hair all over the place, even when their complexion does little to favor this combination.

A UK equivalent might be the “Oompa Loompas” you see walking around with silly amounts of fake tan on their faces and bodies, or the women with so much make-up they look like they’re wearing masks.

At least we Brazilians have no need for a fake tan, thanks to our relentlessly hot and sunny climate. Indeed, it’s almost impossible to avoid the sun in this part of the world.

Call in the fashion police

For me the biggest difference in style relates to the price/availability of clothes. In the UK you have a choice depending on your budget: designer or High Street. People who don’t have much money can still be stylish as the High Street provides inexpensive knockoffs of the latest looks.

In Brazil, by contrast, clothes tend to be VERY expensive. The so-called popular stores are not cheap, and the quality of the garments they sell is rather poor.

Also, because we’re in the Southern hemisphere, European Fashion Weeks are showing autumn/winter collections while we are boiling at 30+ºC. By the time the latest seasonal styles arrive here, they feel outdated.

There are exceptions, of course, but I do regard British women as more stylish than us Brazilians.

Having said all that, I would caution against making too much of the differences between British and Brazilian women. In the end, most of us women, regardless of nationality, tend to enjoy looking and feeling good. And, as we all know, every woman has her own unique beauty or appeal — which at some level has little to do with her country of origin.

* * *

Thanks, Georgia! Readers, any questions for her? Are you, too, sensitive to beauty and fashion differences between your country of origin and where you are living now (or have lived)? Please share in the comments!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, also on fashion and beauty.

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RANDOM NOMAD: Russell VJ Ward, A Bloke from Basingstoke with a Bloomin’ Extraordinary Life

Russell Ward Collage_pmPlace of birth: Basingstoke*, Hampshire, United Kingdom
Passports: UK & Australia
Overseas history: Canada (Vancouver and Ottawa): 2003-06; Australia (Sydney, New South Wales): 2006 – present.
Occupation: Civil servant in New South Wales (state) government; blogger; wannabe fiction writer and entrepreneur — currently setting up a corporate writing business.
Cyberspace coordinates: In Search of a Life Less Ordinary (2012 finalist in the Best Australian Blogs competition); In Search of a Life Less Ordinary (Facebook page); @RussellVJWard (Twitter handle).
*Basingstoke (aka Amazingstoke) is a small commuter town in the south of England that is occasionally voted one of the less preferred towns in Britain — though not by me!

So tell me, how did a bloke from Basingstoke end up in the lovely harbour city of Sydney?
As much as I like Basingstoke, displacement came easy! I always had a burning desire to experience life in a country different to my own. I wanted to explore new environments, opportunities and activities. I was initially drawn to Canada as my grandfather was Canadian, and I had a long-held desire to explore this great country. I left England in 2003 in pursuit of less stress, more emphasis on the greater outdoors, and for a healthier and fuller way of living life. In Canada I lived by mountains and the snow. I blame my Australian wife for the subsequent move to Australia — she wanted to come back home for a while, and knew I was a soft touch for living by the ocean. These days, when spending every available minute doing something, anything, by the beach, I blame her and curse her and blame her some more…

Is anyone else in your immediate family “displaced”?
My grandfather is my opposite number. He met my grandmother while serving with the Canadian Army in Europe during World War II and married her while based in the UK. He returned to Canada several times but ultimately lived out the rest of his life in England.

And wasn’t your wife also displaced at some point? Otherwise, the pair of you would never have met…
Yes, my wife was working in England for a year, while also spending time with her English family (her mother is English and moved to Australia when she was 12). We met in my home town at the gym of all places — she always used to go to the same classes as me.

It sounds as though you’re living the dream in Sydney, but I can imagine you’ve had your displaced moments. Which one stands out?
It occurred just after we arrived in Sydney with our two dogs. I was walking them at a small park opposite our rental house. The younger pup was playing under a tree with his ball when I noticed something dangling out of the tree immediately above him. As I got closer, I realized said dangly thing was a humungous python wrapped around a branch, with its head swinging perilously close to my dog’s own. Thankfully, he’s an obedient little guy (my dog, not the snake) so he came to me as soon as I called. I remember standing there muttering over and over to myself: “What have I done? Where have I taken us? Did I just see a python hanging from a tree?” It became even more surreal when an elderly couple strolled past the tree while out for their morning walk. “Watch out for the python!” I called out. “Oh, don’t worry about him,” the white haired gent replied. “He’s just a harmless diamond python.” I knew then that I was truly displaced … and a lonnnnnnng way from Kansas, Dorothy.

When have you felt the least displaced?
The moment last November when our son, Elliot, was born. Australia was now his place of birth and it suddenly had a new, much more personal, meaning for me. This wild and rugged, unashamedly and devastatingly beautiful country will always be his home, wherever we are as a family in the future. He is an Australian first and foremost — and I’m incredibly proud of having provided that for him.

I’ve seen some of Elliott’s baby pix on Facebook and I must say, he’s adorable! No wonder you’re a proud papa! Besides your wife and new baby, you may bring one precious item or curiosity you’ve collected from the country (or each of the countries) you’ve lived in to The Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
From Canada: A bowl of poutine — a bowl full of french fries coated with brown gravy and topped off with curd cheese (which is a strange thing to be carrying in your suitcase and no doubt illegal to carry on your travels, but there you go). I’ve always had a penchant for the odd hot chip or fry. When I landed in Canada and somebody introduced me to this delightful French-Canadian dish, I knew I’d found my manna from heaven. Poutine. The very word itself makes me salivate.
From Australia: Probably a pair of budgie smugglers, which, though I’ve never worn — I can never quite get my head around the concept of wearing — would remind me of Oz as the majority of Australian men over the age of 40 wear them. FYI, the budgie smuggler — otherwise known as the “tighty-whitey” or “banana hammock” — is Australian slang for men’s tight-fitting Speedo-style swimwear. It’s something I shall never be seen wearing unless on a desert island by myself.

Don’t even think about it once you’re inside The Displaced Nation. We like to keep a sense of decorum. Next question: Can you donate any words or expressions from your travels to our displaced argot?
From Canada: It has to be “eh?”. “Canada, eh?” is something of a legendary sentence! “How’s it going, eh?” Used often and everywhere, it’s cute, quaint and so very Canadian. I also adore the way Canadians say “out”. Next time you’re near a Canadian, ask him or her to say it and you’ll see why.
From Australia: I’m going to avoid the “g’day” and “no worries” stereotypes and go with “ah yeah” — which I’m told I say all the time and which my friends tell me sounds very Australian. I think I probably used to say it in Amazingstoke, but years later, with the Aussie twang, it sounds less Jude Law and more Steve Irwin.

Let’s move on (or back) to food. You are invited to prepare a meal for the Displaced Nation, based on your travels. What’s on the menu? No poutine, please, we’re displaced!

Appetizer: From Canada — okay, no poutine but possibly a serving of waffles with Canadian maple syrup. I know, it’s not all that healthy and it’ll fill you up as a starter, but it was either that or the BeaverTails (fried dough pastry that resemble a beaver’s tail).
Main: I’ll revert to my current Australian habitat and chuck a couple of steaks with a few prawns on the barbie. (I know it’s an overused cliche — but one I’ve found to be true of life in the land down under.)
Dessert: I’ll whip up a key lime pie — a taste acquired from my short period of time working in the US. The pie was served on my arrival and, after seven hours of cattle-class airplane food, was quite easily the most delicious thing I’d tasted all day.
Drinks: I could share a few schooners of Australian lager, but instead I’ll opt for a jug of iced tea for the non-alcohol drinkers out there — I used to consume it by the gallon when living in Vancouver.

A theme we’ve been exploring this month, in honor of Valentine’s Day, is cross-cultural love. Thanks to your Aussie wife, you qualify! Tell me, what’s your idea of a romantic evening for two — and has it changed since the time when you were an unattached male who hadn’t yet left Britain?
It’s quite similar to when I lived in Britain: i.e., dinner for two, flowers, chocolates, a card and so on. In other words, fairly traditional. The difference now is the setting. In Sydney we’ll sit by the water at a local restaurant, maybe at the edge of the sand on one of the Northern Beaches. The sound of the ocean can be quite soothing … but is it an aphrodisiac, I hear you ask? Next time, I’ll order the oysters and let you know!

😀 Our other theme of the month is film, in honor of the Oscars. Can you recommend any films that speak to the situation of expats and their displacement?
A film I watched recently that I’d thoroughly recommend and which completely spoke to the expat situation was The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. It’s a British comedy-drama about a group of retirees who travel to India to take up residence in what they believe is a newly restored hotel. The most interesting part for me was the way in which the different characters deal with their displacement, especially to such a polar-opposite country to their own. Some cope well, others not so. And the parallels with everyday expat living are apparent throughout.

That’s actually one of the films we nominated for this year’s Displaced Oscars — results to be announced in our Dispatch on Saturday! We’ll be sure to register your vote before then.

So, readers — yay or nay for letting Russell Ward into The Displaced Nation? Among other contradictions, he’s an Aussie citizen but can’t seem to cope with nonpoisonous snakes and refuses to don a budgie smuggler. And he claims to be loyal to Basing/Amazingstoke, but wants to serve us Canadian (sweet) iced tea. (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Russell — find amusing!)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, a review of Jeff Jung’s new book on mid-life career changes involving travel and the expat life.

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

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Images (top to bottom): Banner from Russell VJ Ward’s blog; with his wife on Sydney Harbour (2010); photo he uses for his blog — taken in Launceston, Tasmania, in 2011; wearing Canadian mittens on Avalon Beach, Sydney, just before the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics — his way of showing his Canadian friends that he was supporting their athletes: “You should have seen the looks I got from the locals; it was a 35 degree Celsius day and I looked like a madman!”

Is it cooler to be married to someone from another country? Yes, particularly if they’re Brazilian!

Is it cooler being married to someone from another country? In my experience, it’s often everyone else who seems to think so, although maybe that’s because I happen to be married to someone from a country whose people are perennially voted the coolest nationality on the planet.

Typically, as soon as I mention that I’m married to a Brazilian the almost universal reaction is:

“Cool! I’ve always wanted to go to Brazil!”

Such reactions inevitably tend to be informed by the idealized images most people have about Brazil and Brazilians:

  • Carnaval
  • Samba
  • Football
  • Exotic beaches frequented by beautiful people wearing minuscule pieces of beach attire.

Brazil is, of course, far more complex than this. It’s as equally well-known for its

  • Favelas
  • Drugs
  • Gang violence
  • And…errr…films about favelas, drugs and gang violence.

Naturally though, people tend to assume that I probably haven’t married a gun-wielding, drug-pusher from the favelas, and so it’s the cool, beach-loving Brazilians they tend to envisage whenever I mention my marital status.

So, in everyone else’s eyes at least, my story of marrying the Brazilian girl I met in Argentina is way cooler than that about the girl they met in their local boozer in London.

And to be fair, it is a pretty cool story.

Cool as in mind-expanding

Yes, the samba, the beaches and the football (especially the football!) make life exciting, but what’s even cooler is that marriage to a Brazilian woman has been a life-changer — in a good way. For instance:

1) My horizons have been broadened immeasurably.
I’ve learned to view things through the eyes of someone who’s experienced them within another country and culture. Thus, things you may have previously found exotic, unusual or irrational become familiar, normal and logical.

2) I now see “cultural differences” in a positive light.
True, cultural differences have the potential to make a relationship fractious. But in our case, these cultural differences help to fill in certain gaps that we’d always looked for in the people we’d dated.

As a self-conscious Brit (British stereotype No 1: tick), I find it appealing to have a naturally sociable and confident wife (Brazilian stereotype No 1: tick), who is able to take control of social situations in which I’d otherwise feel uncomfortable. Her effortless sociability is the perfect counterbalance to my stuttering inability to engage in anything other than mindless small talk with most strangers.

By the same token, she appears to have found it a pleasant surprise to encounter a man who was a little less “forward” than what she had been used to in Brazil.

That, and the fact that I was the only man she’d ever met who could cook, I imagine.

3) I also think that cultural differences are often overdone.
Despite the perceived and real differences between our countries and cultures, there are occasions when I realize that in many ways, my wife and I aren’t all that different. As a football geek, I’ve found my wife’s interest in watching football one of life’s great blessings (Brazilian stereotype No. 2: tick; British stereotype No. 2: tick). I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve come home to find her watching a game on the telly.

Cool as in constant adventure

Another cool thing about marrying someone from another country is that life becomes more adventurous — at times rather literally. For example:

1) I’ve had the opportunity to learn and explore a culture and country with what effectively amounts to having a free tour guide.
And, let’s face it, where would you rather go when you have to go and visit the in-laws: Brazil or another boring town in England?

2) I’ve now embarked on the adventure of learning another language.
This is something I’d always wanted to do but was too lazy. Also, language schooling is pretty appalling in the UK — I can barely remember any of the French of German that I learnt all those years ago.

Whilst it’s still a work in progress, my Portuguese is now at least functional — and improving everyday.

3) I’ve been able to do something I always wanted to do, live abroad.
Indeed, my language learning has been significantly aided by our recent relocation from London to São Paulo. Would I have done this without my wife? Maybe not, because of circumstances and/or apprehension of moving countries on my own. For me, the option to live in Brazil was instantly made more manageable by my wife being from the country we moved to — my own personal relocation advisor if you will. As explained it my Random Nomad interview, it makes me feel a lot less displaced.

But, not always as cool as it sounds

However, despite how cool all this sounds it’s not to say that marrying someone from another country doesn’t come without its own particular challenges. Here are two that really stand out for me:

1) The early days weren’t easy.
Once we’d both returned home, following what was effectively a holiday romance, there was the little issue of us both living in different continents — a mere 6,000 miles apart.

And then, once we’d decided to give the whole (very) long-distance relationship a go, there was the feeling, similar to the one expressed by fellow Brit James Murray in his column last month, that the few weeks here and there we occasionally managed to spend together consisted mainly of getting re-acclimatized, rather than enjoying each other’s company.

And, of course, there were the usual issues that complicate long-distance relationships: loneliness, uncertainty, jealousy, lack of communication, etc. Fortunately, we had the Internet — a relationship like ours would have been unimaginable 15 years ago.

2) UK immigration laws — need I say more?
When my wife made the crunch decision to move to the UK, there was the added complication of the navigating a Kafka-esque immigration system that does its best to keep out anyone deemed to be from a “developing country.” Four years, various visa refusals, threats of deportation and thousands of pounds later, my wife was finally able to settle her status permanently in the UK.

Rather ironically, as soon as she received permanent status, we scarpered from the economic crisis in Europe to the relative calm in Brazil — where they’ve been far happier to accept me as a resident.

But hey! That’s pretty cool, too.

* * *

Readers, having witnessed Andy’s valentine to his Brazilian wife, what do you think? Are you in a cross-cultural relationship and if so, do you perceive similar benefits? Or are you more jaded than he is — suspecting that the challenges can outweigh the benefits once the “cool factor” wears off? Please leave your thoughts in the comments!

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, when a Random Nomad with a finely-tuned sense of romance joins us!

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Baby, it’s cold outside — so why did I choose to become an expat in Boston?!

James_Murray_fireThe Displaced Nation got through January without grousing too much about the winter doldrums. But our monthly guest columnist James Murray, a displaced Brit in Boston, will not let the same be true of February. Enjoy his short post — he was too cold to write more!

Winter seems to me a bloody silly time to start any kind of resolution.

Want to jog? Why not start when you can venture outside without the high-density wool coat?

Want to write every morning? In fingerless gloves I assume?

About the only kind of resolution I can imagine keeping is a commitment to a higher standard of personal cleanliness, because I just feel like taking hour-long hot showers most of the day.

Winter just makes you want to be elsewhere. Anywhere but here — and the problem is that this applies to whichever “here” you happen to be inhabiting.

So it’s nothing personal, Boston, when I tell you each and every balls-contractingly cold morning what you can do with your damn winter.

Just like it was nothing personal when I told New Zealand that it should get its shorts-clad arse in gear and install some insulation because let’s face it, it doesn’t matter how mild it is outside; seeing your breath in the morning is a severe disincentive to removing your head from under the covers.

Winter has the effect of making you wonder if you’ve made some kind of mistake — whether you’d be happier in a far distant land where they don’t have the subtle divisions of “chilly,” “cold” and “freezing”; where their scales start at “mild” and only go upwards.

But the project for this year is, as far as possible, staying put. The tangent-curved graph depicting our rapidly climbing heating bill will not deter us; the face-paralysing wind will not stop us from riding our bikes like the foolish pseudo-hippies we are; the desaturated colours of the lifeless trees will not bring us down to the point where we won’t leave the house, and above all, the lure of foreign climes will not force us to quit the place we’ve worked so hard to get to.

After all, we have a secret weapon: a fireplace; and so we know that no matter how drearily the wind may whistle or how uncomfortably cold the bathroom tiles may get, we can still hunker down, roast our remaining chestnuts and hold out for Spring.

James Murray is a self-described “itinerant Brit.” After a stint in New Zealand, and some travel in Southeast Asia, he and his American girlfriend — now wife — are practicing “staying put” in Boston, where James is pursing a career as a wordsmith for marketing and fiction, and as a non-professional theatre director. He is also a Utopian idealist and SingStar enthusiast. You can find more about his views by reading his blog, Quaint James, and/or following him on Twitter: @quaintjames.

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

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img: James Murray stoking the fire (his own).

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