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Why “exbrats” in São Paulo need their own book to appreciate life in Brazil’s largest city

MeganFarrell CollageThis week’s guest interviewee is Megan Farrell, who like myself is an estrangeiro (foreigner) in São Paulo and married to a Brazilianalthough unlike my good British self, Megan is American and also has a young daughter (sounds like far too much responsibility if you ask me!).

Megan and her family previously lived in New York, but she took a sabbatical from her job on Wall Street in 2009 to become a full-time mum. Then, when her husband was offered a job opportunity here in São Paulo in 2010, they decided it would be a perfect opportunity for Megan and their daughter to learn Portuguese, experience life in a different culture, and learn more about Dad’s home country.

I first came to know of Megan when I moved to São Paulo myself at the start of 2012 and found her blog Born Again Brazilian whilst doing some research for my own blog. Ever since, I’ve kept up-to-date with her tales and travails, and was pleasantly surprisedif not a little enviouswhen she announced earlier this year that she would be releasing a step-by-step guide for foreigners who are living (or planning to) in São Paulo: American Exbrat in São Paulo: Advice, Stories, Tips and Tricks for Surviving South America’s Largest City.

I say envious because a similar idea had occasionally cropped up in my mind, but having read Megan’s book, I’m actually rather glad I didn’t attempt it myselfthere’s no way I could have had done the topic justice to the same extent. Megan has done her research, even offering advice on visas, taxes and other mundanebut extremely importantdetails that a move to São Paulo can entail. She includes things I would definitely not have thought of or, to be honest, had the patience to cover.

My only quibble—which perhaps tells you more about me than it does about the book, which is excellent—is that it reflects the experiences of a small minority in Brazil: exbrats. As someone who loves history as well as current affairs, I tend to prefer books that provide a holistic overview of life in a particular country. What’s more, the life of the exbrat seems completely outside my realm of experience. Though a cynic might suggest that I’m on an extended holiday, I didn’t move to Brazil on an all-expenses paid work package.

And to be fair, Megan doesn’t fall into the “exbrat” category either: her husband is Brazilian so didn’t qualify for the relocation package that makes countries like Brazil so enticing to non-Brazilians.

So, who exactly are these exbrats? And why write a book for them? Megan and I had the pleasure of meeting up I person a few days ago and talking about the audience she had in mind for her book. The following are some highlights from our conversation.

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AmericanExbratinSaoPaulo_cover_pmHi, Megan. Tudo bem? Why did you decide to write a guidebook for non-Brazilians who come to live in Sao Paulo?
If you are making a move to a country such as Brazil, you need to have your expectations managed appropriately. Much of the pain my fellow expats have experienced has been because they were unprepared to deal with some of the idiosyncrasies of life in São Paulo.

What do you mean by an “exbrat”? Was the book specifically aimed at them?
I used “exbrat” because it feels rather fitting of the collection of people I’ve come across here. Expats, including myself, often stomp their feet over inconveniences they’ve encountered here, yet still expect and enjoy all the benefits of being in Brazil. Not necessarily in a pejorative way, but it felt very bratty to me. You also meet people who were previously army brats and were never able to shake their nomadic waysso “exbrat” is also an adult term for these foreigners.

So exbrats are primarily the foreigners who move to Brazil because of job opportunities?
Yes, the target audience is largely people who are moving to São Paulo or have recently arrived in the city for work, as well as human resource managers at companies who send employees to Brazil.

You included yourself just now in the “exbrat” category. But you are married to a Brazilian who didn’t get an expat package.
Believe me, some aspects of the things I’ve experienced here in Brazil have been a shock, as they probably were to you as well. So, while the book is definitely aimed at exbrats, I don’t think it’s too “exclusive.” There is an element of the “exbrat” in all of us. Some people are never able to get out of the exbrat cycle and as a result, fail to take advantage of the opportunities living in this country offers. My hope is that my book will give them a clearer picture of what to expect, and how they can prepare for that reality, so that they can get over the culture shock and go exploring. One of the world’s most fascinating countries awaits.

I think I know what you mean. I particularly remember reading in the book about your shock of attending an officially organized children’s “play-date” and there being seven paid staff to run it, as well as each child returning home afterwards with a crystal tea set as a parting gift!
Yes, exactly! That is far removed from my experiences in New York but is not so uncommon if you and your family start to mix in the same social circles with people towards the very top end of society in Brazilwhether that be through expat communities, your child’s school, or spouse’s workplace.

Has the book reached other audiences besides those who are moving to São Paulo? Perhaps people moving to other South American countries or those where English is not the first language?
Thus far the audience has been very specific to people moving to São Paulo, as opposed to other countries in South America—or even other cities in Brazil. It’s also attracted a few readers who work with Brazilians but in other countries.

Injecting her own anecdotes, and photos, into the book

Which section of the book are readers enjoying the most?
People tell me that they really enjoy the humorous stories I’ve included, which are based on some of my most painful and awkward experiences. For example, I tell the story of how I visited the same bakery for over a year before someone explained that because I wasn’t emphasizing the appropriate accent in the word pão (bread), to a Brazilian ear it sounded like I was asking for pau (penis)! Living in a non-English-speaking country provides plenty of opportunities for embarrassment or frustration, but when something goes wrong, I’m the kind of person who chooses to laugh, not cry.

Did you connect with the city in any new ways in the process of writing the book?
Definitely. I wanted the book to be as complete as possible (without taking ten years to write) and so I did more exploring on some of the subjects I wanted to include. Also, the photos in the book, minus a few I purchased the rights to, are ones I took. Much of the photography I already had in my collection. But there were gaps, so I had to get out and take pictures, which always gives you a second perspective on what you are seeingmore removed and analytical.

The topic of domestic servants

What was your most displaced moment when doing the research for the book, when you wondered why you’d embarked on this mission?
Trying to explain the culture of the people who might work in your homethe culture of the working poor in Brazil.

What do you mean when you say “culture of the working poor”? In your book you seem to suggest that household workers, who are of a far less lower rung on the lady in Brazilian society, are just taking advantage of the situation that they are in. Do you think this is cultural, or the impact of their socio-economic circumstances?
Half and half. I think it is definitely a Brazilian thing to try to take advantage of different situationsand this exists at all levels of society. For example, there’s the term jeitinho Brasileiro, which Brazilians use for situations in which they “creatively” try to get round complications in life.

However, yes, there is also a socio-economic component. If you are from a poor neighborhood and are working in the home of a rich family or person, it’s probably not too surprising that you might want to take advantage of your situation by asking for a loan or a raise.

From blogging to book-writing (she hasn’t looked back!)

Why a book instead of a series of blog posts?
Believe it or not, people still like reading books! HA. Over the past three years, since I’ve written my blog, I’ve received a number of questions about moving to São Paulo and life here. Most of the answers were already within the posts of my blog. I wanted to create a document that was more comprehensive, arranged by topic and easier to navigate. I also did a survey of my expat friends, and almost all of them said they would have purchased at least three books about moving to São Paulo before they camehad any actually existed. So I decided there was at least a bit of demand. Blogs are great, but sometimes you want to read a story from beginning to end. Plus, I’ve always just wanted to write a book.

What was the most challenging part of the book-writing process?
Editing. The editing process was a collaboration with my awesome friends, as well as my mother. It’s difficult to edit yourself. Actually, it is impossible to edit yourself. And when you have a pile of people helping you sort through the stories and facts, you get lots of opinions. But it was all good. However, I don’t think I can advantage of my friends again, so I’ll probably hire an editor for the next one.

Why did you self-publish the book?
A few of my writer friends encouraged me to try and find a publisher. But I just couldn’t figure out what a publisher was going to do for me that I couldn’t do for myself. I have a strong network and a background that includes marketing. I also don’t have the patience to go through a bureaucratic publishing process with an extended timeline. I knew that even if I did manage to find a publisher, I would not be their priority. The market for this is not on the level that would make a publisher move fast.

What’s next? Are you working on any other writing projects?
I am. I’ll probably update this book sometime in the next year. I also plan to write one for Rio. My husband is from Rio, and most of my experiences in Brazil (prior to moving to São Paulo) were in that city, so I know it pretty well.

You mentioned at the outset that you like broader books. I’d love to write something about Brazil as a wholeto counter the focus I put in this one on the expat life. It won’t be another step-by-step guide but a more of a general analysis, including politics, culture and so forth.

Finally, I’m working on some fiction stories that take place in Brazil. When living in New York, I did a screenplay course so have some experience in writing fiction. Currently, my idea is to write two series of short stories. The first will be based around Brazilian folklore, and the second, around some real-life episodes I’ve witnessed that are difficult to record in a blog or non-fiction format.

Ten Questions for Megan Farrell

Finally, we’d like to ask a series of questions that I’ve asked some of our other featured authors, about your reading and writing habits:

1. Last truly great book you read: Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, by Mo Willems. I have a five-year-old. But we’ve read it more than a hundred times and it still makes me laugh. Okay, Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late is another contender. Mo Willems is a genius.
2. Favorite literary genre: I’d love to lie and offer up a more intellectual answer, but my favorite genre has always been horror. I enjoy a good creepy tale. After that, humorous memoirs from people who have overcome great obstacles, like Jeannette Walls‘s The Glass Castle.
3. Reading habits on a plane: I’m most happy if I have a copy of The Economist with me on a plane
4. The one book you’d require President Obama to read, and why: I wish Michael Bloomberg would write a book that Obama could read, because I think the USA would benefit by being run more like a business. But since Bloomberg has yet to put pen to paper, I’d have to say Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In.
5. Favorite books as a child: I loved any book that involved a child in a new world. James and the Giant Peach. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The Little Prince. The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Pippi Longstocking.
6. Favorite heroine: Wonder Woman. I think if Brazil had a Wonder Woman, or the collection of super heroes that we have in the States as—albeit fictional—role models, people would emulate change for the good of the people. Brazil needs to believe in something other than futebol—but that seems to be in the process of changing, as Andy and I discussed last month on this blog.
7. The writer, alive or dead, you’d most like to meet: Hands down, Stephen King. I hope he doesn’t die before I get to meet him. I just need to figure out a way to do it that doesn’t involve stalking.
8. Your reading habits: I used to spend the weekends (sometimes all weekend) reading. But now that I have a child, I usually read right before I go to bed—in bed.
9. The book you’d most like to see made as a film: American Exbrat in São Paulo, of course!
10. The book you plan to read next: I suppose I should say Fifty Shades of Grey, because I haven’t read much of it and people keep bugging me about it. But if you’ve read Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty Trilogy (I only read the first), Fifty Shades is like reading Judy Blume. Yawn. I think I’ll wait for Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep. How could anyone resist a sequel to The Shining?

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Readers, as I said, Megan was a delight to meet in person, a sense of which I hope I’ve conveyed above. Any further questions? Have I pressed her too hard on the “exbrat” point?

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, a new episode in our “Location, Locution” series, by JJ Marsh.

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images: Megan Farrell’s author image and book cover; photo of Sao Paulo from MorgueFile.

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As an expat, is it my place to join another country’s political protest?

BrazilianProtest_ahpmJust after the street protests broke out in Brazil last month, Megan Farrell, an American who lives in São Paulo with her Brazilian spouse, contributed a guest post to the Displaced Nation.

Megan was very honest in admitting that she had previously taken little notice of politics or social issues in Brazil:

Being displaced … makes it easy to be in a bit of denial.

I, too, am an expat in São Paulo with a Brazilian spouse, albeit from the UK. Like Megan, I didn’t initially involve myself in Brazil’s latest political movement—but my reasoning was a little different from hers.

I’m someone who self-identifies as politically engaged and active. Back in the UK I was a union rep at my workplace and I’ve been involved in protest movements since my student days, the most prominent being those against the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Additionally, as a social worker and student of social sciences, it’s second nature to be socially and politically aware of what is going on around me, whether that be at home or elsewhere.

Why, then, would I be reticent to involve myself in the politics of the protests that were going on around me here in São Paulo?

Not my fight to fight

Despite broadly agreeing with the objectives of the early protests (about a rise in bus fares which as a daily user of public transport, by which I was directly affected), I felt that as a gringo and a guest of Brazil, it wasn’t my place to get involved.

To be honest, I even felt a little reluctant to use social media to post articles or comment upon what was happening, and when I was asked to cover the protests for a site in the UK, my first inclination was to turn it down.

As a foreigner I was sensitive to being seen by Brazilians as poking my nose into their affairs. Additionally, I was also quite aware that there is a lot of history and background behind these protests that I am only, at best, partly aware of.

On top of this, Portuguese is my second language, so whilst I can read it without too much problem, I was apprehensive of inadvertently misconstruing a tweet, newspaper article or blog post, and using ill-informed or partly understood information to inform my opinions.

Eventually, however, I went out on the streets.

What led me to change my mind?

What was my impetus for joining the protests? I think it was seeing the extent of the violence (rubber bullets, tear gas, etc) the police used against what was widely reported as peaceful protest in São Paulo on 13 June.

And it wasn’t just me. The harsh police response was a turning point for many Brazilians as well, because while it may have successfully extinguished the 13 June protest, it also had the converse effect of igniting far broader outrage across the city and the whole of the country. At the same time, it provided an opportunity for a far wider array of grievances to be voiced (most of which Megan notes in her article so I won’t go into them again here).

Once I’d been out on the streets I felt a little bit more confident about joining in the discussion myself. When a couple of photographs I’d posted got a bit of attention on Twitter, and Planet Ivy in the UK—an online news magazine started up by a team of young, adventurous journalists—asked me to cover the protests, I agreed.

A duty to inform the folks back home

My decision was largely influenced by my realization that people at home in the UK—as first my mum and then Planet Ivy made me aware—were largely unaware of what was going on.

In Megan’s post, she mentioned her disbelief at how her friends and family members in the U.S. were still sharing updates on Facebook about their morning meals, their cats, and sports teams:

How could this be? How could they just not care?

Like her, I had the sense of being in the middle of something big and important, and for a while just assumed that everyone else around the world must be aware of it as well.

If I stopped to think about it, of course, no one is ever as interested in an event who are on the scene. But once I realized that there were people out there who wanted or needed to know more, I thought I could do my bit to inform them.

Another motivating factor was the need to correct the widespread misperceptions of the Brazil’s situation—in particular, the negative press the country has been receiving in the UK with regards to its preparations for the 2014 World Cup.

Whilst a fair amount of that criticism has been justified, it occasionally feels as though the UK press has some sort of vendetta against Brazil, with every news story seemingly inferring that “this once again casts doubts about the safety of Brazil and its ability to host a major international event.”

Alas, I thought, even if I am a naïve foreigner living in and writing about Brazil, I could at least provide some insight about what is actually going on at street level.

A closer connection with my adopted land

As an aside to this, one interesting thing about the protests is that they’ve helped alter my perception of the connection I have with São Paulo and Brazil.

Obviously, through my Brazilian wife and my residency in São Paulo, that connection is now much deeper than before. However, and as mentioned in my last post, in the 18 months since moving here I’ve evolved from whining expat (or “exbrat,” as Megan likes to say) to being an avid proponent of my new home.

My decision to join in the nation’s protests—whether participating on the streets or discussing and sharing the issues with people online—was a kind of watershed moment, effectively making the transition complete.

Of course, I’ll always primarily consider myself a Londoner, a Brit and a European (a fact I’m constantly reminded of by my Brazilian friends and family, who refer to me as “the gringo”), but increasingly I feel just as proud to be quasi-Paulistano*.

*People from São Paulo refer to themselves as Paulistanos.

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COMING SOON: Andy’s interview Megan Farrell about her new book on expat life in São Paulo.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, from our travelogue writing coach Jack the Hack.

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images: Photo of protesters in São Paulo, June 2103, by Andy Martin. Go to his photo blog to see more.

An American writer in Brazil is transformed from “exbrat” to politically awakened expat

Sao Paulo June Protests CollageWell, the best-laid plans of mice and menand international creatives—often go astray. Today, instead of Andy Martin interviewing Megan Farrell about her excellent book, American Exbrat in São Paulo: Advice, Stories, Tips and Tricks for Surviving South America’s Largest City, Megan herself will post about the transformational effect that the protests in her adopted country are having on her world outlook. (Not to worry, barring further major events, Andy’s interview with Megan should appear next month.)

—ML Awanohara

For nearly a week solid, I was locked to social media sites, doling out information about the protests in Brazil, via blogs, Facebook and Twitter. Along with other expat friends here in Brazil, I was been trying to make up for the fact that global news outlets were doing little to spread the word about the public demonstrations going on in São Paulo and other large cities.

Like a large percentage of my foreign friends, I have a closer connection to the country than your average expat. I have a Brazilian husband, and though she was born in New York City, a daughter who is a Brazilian national.

Ignorance was bliss

I’ll admit, before June 13, the night when police “lost control,” using rubber bullets against protesters and even journalists covering the events, I had little real knowledge about the injustices occurring in my new home country. I chose not to let such things enter my world.

Being displaced often makes it easy to be removed from your own surroundings.

Being displaced also makes it easy to be in a bit of denial.

But that Thursday night in mid-June, as my husband and I sat in a bar near our apartment and watched as the streets filled with protesters, my perspective on my adopted country changed.

The bar’s manager wasn’t allowing patrons to leave out of fear we would be exposed to the enthusiastic, but angry, crowd—some of whom were attempting to start fires to distract the police from blocking their access to Avenida Paulista, the central thoroughfare of São Paulo.

The protest eventually moved on, and we were able to leave, but my interest in what had initiated this movement lingered.

Not just about 20 centavos

By now, many of you hopefully understand that millions hit the streets of Brazil over more than a bus fare increase. Yes, that act was the catalyst. A 20 centavos increase meant an additional monthly expense of eight reais (R$8 is about US $4). It may not sound like a lot to you and I, but as minimum monthly wage in Brazil is R$675 per month (about US $300), every centavo is accounted for in the household of the working poor (i.e. the emerging middle class).

But the fare increase also speaks to deeper issues concerning the government’s priorities. Many Brazilians are finding it hard to stand by and watch as the government attempts to squeeze them for more, all the while spending millions of dollars on preparing stadiums for the 2014 World Cup—millions more than other countries who have hosted the event. Meanwhile, public services within Brazil remain abominable.

A few examples:

  • Across the country, emergency rooms of public hospitals are filled to the brim with patients hoping to get care, yet doctors have no means to help the majority.
  • Public school teachers often don’t show up to conduct class.
  • Police are untrained and uneducated, often looking to supplement their meager incomes with bribes.
  • Public transportation is decrepit in many cities.

“Its hour come round at last…” W.B. Yeats

As I wrote in my recent book, American Exbrat in São Paulo, one of the more frustrating aspects of living in Brazil can be the Brazilians’ passive attitude on the inefficiencies and transgressions that occurred in their country. Be it that the post office ran out of stamps (again) or the police never showed up when called, a local’s response to this would be some version of, “That’s Brazil.”

So when hundreds of thousands took to the street in protest, with a list of complaints in hand, no one was more surprised than the Brazilians.

The media took it lightly at first, burying the story about a bus far increase in the back of the papers. Then, the focus was on the violence of the demonstrations. But the reality is that when you gather such a large group (everyone was invited by social media), there are bound to be a few who are there to express extreme anger or simply to commit acts of violence.

But as one who sits within the scene, I’ve found the protests mostly peaceful and the intentions positive. The people of Brazil want change and want the world to understand that their country isn’t satisfied with the samba and beach party persona. There are real issues within the nation’s borders that need addressing.

Whither the rest of the world?

As mentioned at the outset of this post, sharing information about the realities of Brazil’s protest movement has become an important objective for me. Friends, both foreign and Brazilian, and I have been passing along videos, news articles and photos that depict the main events as well as the sentiments of the people.

Many of us who have blogs about being in Brazilmine is Born Again Brazilianhave written posts on these topics. For instance, I have just posted on Dilma Vana Rousseff, president of Brazil, who has stood in support of the Brazilian protesters.

Yet many friends and family members in the U.S. were still sharing updates on Facebook about their morning meals, their cats, sports teams, and other notices. These felt like irrelevant nonsense. How could this be? How could they just not care?

But then I recalled that I have friends in Turkey, who are going through the current protests. I have friends with family members who are in Greece and must have lived through the two years of protest in that country. I know little about what is happening in Ethiopia, where the first large-scale protest since 2005 has just broken out. And before June 13th, I was blissfully sharing little more than food photos and trip pics.

It is easy to be self-absorbed, content to contemplate the details of one’s own little world. It is even easier as an expat, when so much of your surroundings are of an unfamiliar nature. You take comfort in that which is close to home.

But now I have a different attitude and think about my power to disseminate information. It’s satisfying to share the details of what goes on in the politics of this country and have people you know respond positively.

But it is as important, especially for those of us who have an audience through blogs and other outlets, to keep tabs on what is happening elsewhere in the world and use our skills to move toward justice and peace.

This episode in Brazilian history has changed me forever.

Or so I hope…

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Readers, any questions or comments for Megan about what she is experiencing? Have you had any similar moments of political (re)awakening—or do you not “do” politics as an expat?

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, a new episode in our Capital Ideas series, by Anthony Windram.

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images: Surrounding Megan Farrell (aka Maggie Foxhole) and her book cover photo are several photos taken by TDN writer Andy Martin. Go to his photo blog to see more.

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!”

RANDOM NOMAD: Christina Ashcroft, British Expat, Australian Citizen, and Writer of Hot Paranormal Romance

Christina Ashcroft Tiara WriterPlace of birth: Croydon*, South London, United Kingdom
Passport: Australia (My UK passport expired a few years ago.)
Overseas history: Australia (just outside Perth, Western Australia): 1998 – present. “I live five minutes from the beach!”
Occupation: Writer of steamy historical and paranormal romance for Penguin and Ellora’s Cave.
Cyberspace coordinates: Christina Ashcroft: Welcome to my dark world of archangelic eroticism (author site) and @ChristinaAsh_ (Twitter handle).
*I always get very excited whenever I see Croydon mentioned in a book (which isn’t very often!)

Before moving to Australia, you lived in England all of your life. What made you take the leap to Down Under?
My husband and I were high school sweethearts — he, too, comes from South London (Upper Norwood). We had talked about moving to Australia off and on for several years. We used to watch the programs on the TV of expats, and it all seemed very exotic and exciting. The decider came when my brother made the move to Perth, WA, in 1994. We visited him in ’96 when he got married (to the girl he’d gone to Uni with in the UK). Despite being chased by the biggest cockroach in the history of cockroaches, we fell in love with the country. We arrived home in early January to ice and snow, and within a couple of weeks we filed our application! We moved out here with our three kids.

So your brother is also “displaced”?
Yes, he, his wife and two daughters live about an hour from us.

In your 15 years in Oz, when have you felt the most displaced — apart from the time when you were literally displaced by that cockroach?
Only when there’s a big family get together in the UK and we know we can’t make it. We used to have great family parties and I really miss them. Apart from that I’ve honestly never felt displaced, except for the first month or so when I did get a bit homesick… 🙂

When have you felt the least displaced?
When I’m spending time in front of my laptop, lost in the mystical worlds of my characters. I’ve made a lot of writer friends online but I’ll never forget the first time I met up with my two critique partners (CPs) in the “real world.” It was just magic. I had found my tribe, and even though I’d had to travel to the other side of the world before we found each other, it was completely worth it. Funnily enough one of my CPs is also an expat from the UK who moved to New Zealand, but now lives in Australia. The other one is an Australian who was living in the UK when we first met online but she has now moved back to Oz.

It sounds as though you credit the move to Australia with your decision to become an author.
I’ve often wondered whether my career would have followed the same route if we’d stayed in the UK. While I’ve always loved writing it wasn’t until we moved to Australia that I decided to to write with the aim of publication. The support, encouragement and friendship I’ve found in the Romance Writers of Australia has been phenomenal. I also don’t think I would have met up with my CPs, and they are the ones who originally suggested I should try writing erotic romance.

ArchangelofMercyCoverAll this talk of erotic romance is helping to put us in the mood for Valentine’s Day. Can you tell us a little more about the plots of your books?
My paranormal romances feature fallen bad ass Archangels and the women who capture their hearts. I’m thrilled that my first Archangel book, Archangel of Mercy, was a finalist in the 2012 Australian Romance Readers Award for Favorite Paranormal Romance.

Wow, congratulations! And don’t you write historical romances as well?
My historical romances are set during the first century when Rome invaded Britain. There are sexy warrior heroes, magical Druid heroines and powerful goddesses.

You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected while living in Australia into The Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase besides your books?
Well, I’ve not brought a suitcase, I’ve brought a traveling basket with my three adorable kitties! 🙂 I’d always had cats in England, but we were here for 12 years before I finally adopted two sisters. One of them had four kittens but unfortunately only one survived. We spoil him terribly!

You are invited to prepare a meal for the Displaced Nation, based on your travels. What’s on the menu?

It would have to be a barbeque, of course! Not only can you cook practically anything on the BBQ but it always tastes a lot better than having to cook it in the kitchen. Plus it means I don’t have to actually do any cooking, since my husband and son take over with tongs and fork — always a bonus!

Since lamb is very popular here, we could have lamb and capsicum kebabs with salad and fresh crusty bread, washed down with a local wine and cold beer. Seeing as I’m from the UK, I should only ever drink warm beer, but I have to confess I’ve joined the Dark Side on that one!

For dessert — what could be yummier than a mango cheesecake?

Can you donate an Aussie word or expression to the Displaced Nation’s argot?
One of the best expressions in Australia is “No worries.” While my children take great delight in telling me I still sound “so British,” I do love saying “no worries.” It’s just so laid back and zen and also rolls off the tongue very easily!

Returning one last time to this month’s Valentine’s Day theme, what’s your idea of a romantic evening for two? Has it changed since the time when you were still living in Britain?
Room service in a fabulous hotel with a gorgeous view of the ocean. We’d eat our meal on the balcony as we watched the sun set and later we’d crack open a bottle of bubbly in the private spa. Although we’ve only managed this romantic getaway a couple of times in recent years, we never did anything like it in Britain.

Readers — yay or nay for letting Christina Ashcroft into The Displaced Nation? She drinks cold beer yet her children accuse her of being “so British.” And, though we might enjoy her erotic tales of fallen archangels and the women who capture their hearts around Valentine’s Day, would we benefit from a steady diet of this out-of-this-displaced-world fare? (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Christina — find amusing!)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, another in our “Capital Ideas” series — focusing on one of the world’s most romantic cities (but of course!).

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: Christina Ashcroft looking a little bit displaced(?) at the Romance Writers of Australia conference held in August 2012. Christina says: “My critique group call ourselves the Tiara Girls, so we take along our tiaras and wear them at the Friday night conference cocktail party. It’s just a bit of fun!”

RANDOM NOMAD: Andy Martin, UK-qualified Social Worker, Football Geek & Now a São Paulo Resident

Andy_MartinPlace of birth: Chatham, Kent, United Kingdom
Passport: UK
Overseas history: Brasil (São Paulo): February 2012 – present. I also had a period of travel around South America between 2007 and 2008.
Occupation: NGO Volunteer, English teacher, blogger
Cyberspace coordinates: The book is on the table: An Englishman’s guide to living in São Paulo (blog) and @andyhpmartin (Twitter handle).

What made you give up London for São Paulo?
For some reason — probably because I’m a massive football geek — I had always wanted to go to South America, and so when I found out that one of my best friends was planning to travel there, it took very little persuasion for me to tag along. Then whilst there I met my future wife, who is Brazilian, and it all got a bit more complicated.

First she moved to live with me in the UK. We got married and stayed in London for three years. However, she had deferred her degree in Brazil to move to London, where I had a job as a social worker. I am a qualified social worker and spent almost nine years working in various social or community work roles. For most of that time I specialized in supporting refugees and asylum seekers. But when my job became uncertain due to government cuts (due to the economic crisis), it seemed like the perfect opportunity to move to Brazil so that my wife could finally get everything finished.

So now you’re a trailing spouse. Does anyone in your immediate family share that fate, or do they all live in the UK?
When I first traveled to South America in 2007, I was pretty much the first person in my entire family who had ever traveled outside of Europe, so I can’t really say there’s any significant history or influence of having the urge to want to explore or become “displaced.”

You haven’t been in São Paulo for long, but can you pinpoint a moment when you have felt displaced?
I had been to São Paulo twice before I moved here and I was already quite familiar with South America as a whole, so was pretty well prepared for what to expect — although there’s no doubting that living somewhere and just visiting are entirely different things.

But if I had to pick one thing, it wouldn’t be a moment but more the constant challenge of living somewhere where you are unable to speak your mother tongue. We Brits are notoriously bad at learning languages, and I can barely remember any of the French or German I learned at school. I did learn some Spanish whilst traveling in 2007, and in some ways this helped because of its similarities with Portuguese, although on the other hand it was also a hindrance because of their very many differences.

Not being able to fully communicate your thoughts is obviously very frustrating and when you’re having a bad day, it just intensifies your sense of displacement and dislocation. Fortunately, Brazilians are pretty intrigued by people (especially those from the “West”) who have moved to Brazil and are trying to learn Portuguese. They’re often very forgiving when you make mistakes. It also helps that many Brazilians themselves tend not to speak grammatically correct Portuguese, so in effect your own mistakes are just contributing towards the evolution of the language (that’s what I like to convince myself, anyway!).

When have you felt the least displaced?
One of the things I love about Brazilians is their general informality. As someone who’s never worked in an office or a suit, I feel right at home. For example, people are often referred to by their nicknames (even the former President was) and rarely, if ever, by their surnames. Also, Brazilians tend not to make a big deal out of social occasions — it’s more about making sure you’re surrounded by the people who matter to you. As long as there’s cold beer, everyone’s happy.

How could you not feel at ease?

You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from the country where you’ve lived into The Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
Again, as a self-confessed football nerd, I think it would have to be my collection of football shirts. I have one from pretty much every country I’ve been to, and I’ve lost count of how many I’ve acquired in South America.

You are invited to prepare a meal for the Displaced Nation, based on your travels. What’s on the menu?

Starter: Salgadinhos (savoury snacks) are fantastic so a platter of these, including:

Main: It’d have to be a churrasco (Brazilian BBQ). That may sound pretty unimaginative, but once you’ve had a Brazilian BBQ, especially those from the south, you’ll forever wonder why it took you so long to do so.
Dessert: A selection of some of Brazil’s finest (and weirdest looking) fruits. Believe me, I’ve seen fruits in the markets here which look like they have been imported from Mars. They taste great, though.
Drinks: Brazil’s most famous cocktail, a caipirinha, which is a hangover-inducing concoction of cachaça (sugar cane rum), lime, sugar and ice. Refreshing, tasty and deceptively lethal.

Now that you are hard at work learning the language, can you donate a Brazilian Portuguese word or expression to the Displaced Nation’s argot?
Tudo bem? This is pretty much said every time you greet someone in Brazil and literally translates as “Is everything okay?” It reflects quite nicely, as I mentioned previously, how Brazilians prefer to keep things simple and informal.

This month, we’ve been focusing on the need for mentors: people who teach us what we need to know, or remind us of things we have buried deep. Have you found discovered any new mentors, whether physically present or not, in your life abroad?
As mentioned in my guest post this month for the Displaced Nation, when I’m going through a period where I’m missing home or things get tough, I often think about some of the kids I worked with back home in London (in my last job I worked with unaccompanied minors from countries such as Afghanistan).

Thinking about the challenges they as young kids faced after fleeing their home countries — but then still being able, on the whole, to go on and make the most of their new lives — always helps me to put into perspective the things I tend to moan or stress about here, in what is fortunately a much easier experience of displacement.

Apart from that, I read as widely as possible. For instance, I recently really enjoyed Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel.

If you had all the money and time in the world, what topic(s) would you choose to study in your adopted country?
I guess, given my pre-existing interest and work experiences with migration, I’d like to study the history of migration to Brazil. Brazil is a country defined by (im)migration — for example, my wife has indigenous, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese heritage, a mix that is is pretty normal for Brazilians. It would be fascinating to piece it all together in order to get a more holistic understanding of who Brazilians really are.

I’ve always wanted to do a PhD, so who knows, maybe this might be my research proposal one day!

Readers — yay or nay for letting Andy Martin into The Displaced Nation? A social worker who is taking lessons from the Brazilians on how to be more social? Who is used to helping the displaced and is now displaced himself — so may be in need of our help? (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Andy — find amusing!)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, an expat take on the muses of Classical Antiquity.

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: Andy Martin travels within his native land (the Norfolk Broads, 2010), a couple of years before his expatriation.

RANDOM NOMAD: Maggie Eriksson, Displaced Californian in Sweden and Student of Swedish

Maggie_pmPlace of birth: Arcadia, California, USA
Passport: USA & Sweden
Overseas history: Sweden (Landskrona, Malmö): 2005 – present.
Occupation: Unemployed and looking for a job. Meanwhile, I’m studying more Swedish since I’m far from fluent.
Cyberspace coordinates: Mag Wheels (Posterous) and @magsinsweden (Twitter handle).

What made you give up California for Sweden?
My husband is Swedish. After working for five years at the California lab for a small pharmaceutical company, he really wanted to go back home. We started the process in 2003, and a couple of years later, in spring 2005, we finally made the move.

How did the pair of you meet?
He was working as a chemist in Sweden and the company transferred him to their lab in California. We met on a Yahoo message board — he was looking for people to meet in California before he moved. I had been online dating a bit, and when I saw his message I replied. We started to exchange e-mails, then letters and phone calls. After six months we met in real life. 🙂 We dated for a few months and got engaged soon after. We have been married for 12 years. We have no children but share of life with our seven-year-old border terrier named Jake.

What things about Sweden did he miss when living in your part of the world?
Besides his family and friends, he missed Swedish Christmas, Swedish candy, the country’s socialized health care, and its four seasons.

So now you’re displaced. Do you share that fate with anyone else in your immediate family?
No! I’m the only one in my family that lives between cultures.

You’re also job searching in a foreign land. Are jobs hard to come by in Sweden?
Without fluent Swedish, finding work is very hard, especially if you want something more than a temp job. I worked in the retail industry in the States. It took me six years to find a job in that field — and then I was laid off last spring.

Since so many Swedes speak better English than us native English speakers, companies will hire the Swede over the expat. That said, even without Swedish, expats who have good IT skills, a university education and are young may find more doors open to them in this market than someone of my background.

Since we live in Malmö, I’ve now extended my search across the Øresund Bridge, to Copenhagen, Denmark. The job market is better over there.

In March of this year you’ll have been in Sweden for eight years. When have you felt the most displaced?
When I first started learning Swedish — and was facing all the challenges that come with learning a new language. For a long time, I didn’t understand anything people were saying around me. And even now, after almost eight years of living here, I don’t feel like myself when attempting to speak the language.

When have you felt the least displaced?
When I became a citizen and went to the lunch for new immigrants, where I was given an official certificate saying that I’m SWEDISH!

You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from the country where you’ve lived into The Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
Difficult… From Sweden I think I would bring this little book of Swedish verbs that I carry around since I always get the verb form wrong! 😉 From California — well, it’s impossible to pick just one thing as there’s so much of everything!

You are invited to prepare a meal for the Displaced Nation, based on your travels. What’s on the menu?

I’ll make you a casual dinner of pyttipanna, similar to bubble and squeak in the UK. It’s a dish made with fried potatoes, onions, and bell peppers. Sometimes you eat it with a fried egg. Most people put ketchup on it.

As you’re such a diligent student of the Swedish language, can you donate a Swedish word or expression to the Displaced Nation’s argot?
Actually, I’ll lend you two:
1) Fika — it refers to a taking a break with a coffee and an open-face sandwich or pastry. Most Swedish people have it once or twice a day. I think you would enjoy it.
2) Farthinder — that means speed bump. I love this word. It makes me laugh every time I see a signpost for one.

This month, we’ve been focusing on the need for mentors: people who teach us what we need to know, or remind us of things we have buried deep. Have you found discovered any new mentors, whether physically present or not, in your life abroad?
I have met people along the way that I would never have been friendly with in my old life in California. Living abroad has given me a new appreciation for people from other cultures whom I’ve gotten to know by having dinner with their families or joining in their celebrations. For instance, I have a friend from Iraq who has been wonderful to me when I was really struggling to fit in and get Sweden. She moved to Sweden with her kids in the 1990s.

If you had all the money and time in the world, what topic(s) would you choose to study in your adopted country?
Well, I’m already studying Swedish, but assuming I were fluent, I would study the history of Scandinavia. I would particularly like to learn more about the people who have come from other places to live in Sweden. How do they adjust to the life here? I love my adopted country but still find it a culture shock in many ways!

Which part of the culture is still shocking?
To be honest, I think it’s the Swedes themselves. Most Swedes are very reserved and it’s hard to befriend them. People don’t talk to each other on the bus or in shops. As a American I have always been very friendly and will chat up a stranger. But now I very rarely do it.

Readers — yay or nay for letting Maggie Eriksson into The Displaced Nation? True, she and her Swedish hubbie have a special chemistry, which must help to alleviate the symptoms of displacement — but could she have picked a more different place to live from California? Doubtful… (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Maggie — find amusing!)

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s thought-provoking guest post by Andy Martin, comparing the forcibly displaced to those of us who’ve made the choice to be displaced.

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: Maggie Eriksson outside her flat in Malmö, Sweden (October 2012).

Catching up with this year’s Random Nomads over the holidays (3/3)

RandomNomadXmasPassportIt’s Christmas Day and the holiday party continues for the expats and other global voyagers who washed up on the Displaced Nation’s shores in 2012. Remember all those Random Nomads who proposed to make us exotic meals based on their far-ranging meanderings? Not to mention their suitcases full of treasures they’d collected and their vocabularies full of strange words… How are they doing these days, and do they have any exciting plans for the holidays? Third in a three-part series (see also Part One and Part Two).

During the final third of 2012, we met some expats and intrepid world travelers who, I think it’s fair to say, have developed some rather unusual hobbies and eating habits. The two are one and the same in the case of Brian MacDuckston, who was featured on our site this past August. He has made a habit of eating ramen in as many Tokyo venues as possible — a hobby that was quirky enough to attract the attention of the New York Times. In addition to Brian — a San Franciscan who originally went to Japan to teach English — we encountered:

  • Liv Gaunt, an Englishwoman who became an expat accidentally, while pursuing her love of scuba diving and underwater photography. Now based in Australia, she told us she has a passion for sharks but would happily do without sea urchins.
  • Mark Wiens, an American third culture kid who now lives in Thailand and travels all over — he feels least displaced when sampling other countries’ street foods.
  • Jessica Festa, an American traveler who loves to venture off the beaten track and eat locally — she did not hesitate to eat cuy in Ecuador (even though it reminded her of her pet guinea pig, Joey, named after a school crush).
  • Larissa Reinhart, a small-town Midwesterner who lived in Japan for several years and, since repatriating, has taken up the pen as a crime novelist. She is now living in small-town Georgia but hopes to go abroad again. She provides recipes for Asian fried chicken, among other delicacies, on her blog about life as an ex-expat.
  • Patricia Winton, an American who responded to 9/11 by giving up her comfortable life in Washington to become an expat crime writer in Rome. She also invested in a pasta-making machine…
  • Bart Schaneman, a Nebraskan who wanted to see the world and has made his home in Seoul, where he is an editor for an English-language newspaper and author of a travelogue on the Trans-Siberian railway. He is a huge fan of kimchi.

Three of this esteemed group are with us today. What have they been up to since a few months ago, and are they cooking up anything special for the holidays, besides chatting with us?

Brian with Ramen_Xmas1) BRIAN MACDUCKSTON

Have there been any big changes in your life since we last spoke?
I’ve been offered a few gigs on Japanese TV shows as a “ramen reporter” and successfully pitched my first magazine article about a best-of-ramen list. A start! I also started a ramen class aimed at non-Japanese speakers. Check it out!

How will you be spending the holidays this year?
A nice staycation in Tokyo.

What’s the thing you most look forward to eating, dare I ask?
I’m trying to eat more high-class sushi, but I’ll probably just stick to a lot of ramen for the next few weeks.

Can you recommend any books or films you came across in 2012 that speak to the displaced life?
I really enjoyed Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a documentary about the most revered sushi chef in the world. [Editor’s note: The film has been available on Netflix since last August.]

Do you have any New Year’s resolutions for 2013?
I want to train myself to stop using double spaces after periods when I write. Not a big goal, but important for someone who has an interest in being paid for my writing.

A worthy goal, imho! (I’ve had to correct quite a few in my time…) So, any upcoming travel plans?
My father will visit Japan, so I am planning a luxury week-long trip of eating and relaxing in hot springs. Two things I’m good at!

LarissaReinhart&Reinhart2) LARISSA REINHART

Any big developments in your life since we last spoke?
My second Cherry Tucker Mystery, Still Life in Brunswick Stew, has a release date of May 21, 2013. [Editor’s note: As mentioned in Larissa’s interview, the first in her Cherry Tucker series, Portrait of a Dead Guy, came out this year.]

How will you be spending the holidays this year?
We travel to visit my family in Illinois and St. Louis after Christmas through New Year’s.

What’s the thing you most look forward to eating?
There’s this Italian grocery, Viviano’s, in the Italian district of St. Louis, called The Hill in St. Louis, that I really look forward to visiting. I’ll stock up on cheap wine and Italian staples for the coming year.

Can you recommend any books or films you came across in 2012 that speak to the displaced life?
Yes, two Japanese films:

  1. The fascinating documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi. I highly recommend — even for non-sushi fans. The film is beautifully shot and reveals what it takes to be a true master at something. Incredible.
  2. The gorgeous The Secret World of Arrietty (aka The Borrower Arrietty), scripted by Hayao Miyazaki. We were excited to see Arrietty because we saw the ads for the movie when we were still living in Japan (and I’m a big fan of Mary Norton’s The Borrowers, on which the film is based, as well as of Miyazaki).

Have you made any New Year’s resolutions for 2013?
To spend less time on social media and more time writing. I love chatting online, but I need to be more disciplined about getting away from the “water cooler” and back to work.

Any upcoming travel plans?
Disney World for spring break! Woot! And we’re hoping to get back overseas soon, but no definite plans yet.

PatriciaWintonwithholly3) PATRICIA WINTON

Any big changes in your life since we last spoke a couple of months ago?
The month after you featured me, I put my long-time WIP in the bottom drawer for a while and started a new one. I’ve written about 30,000 words. This one, also a mystery, is set in Florence. It takes place during the 500th anniversary celebration of the world’s first culinary society.

Meanwhile, my blog partners at Novel Adventurers are working on an anthology of long short stories. We are an adventurous group comprising (besides me):

  • an Australian who has lived in South America
  • an American of Swiss-German origin who is married to a man from Iran, where they frequently travel
  • an American with close family ties in India, where she frequently travels
  • an American specializing in things Russian, who is married to a Kyrgyz
  • a former Peace Corps volunteer who writes about the Caribbean
  • an American who grew up on a sailboat traveling the world and has lived as an adult in many countries.

We’ll be writing about travel and adventure from international perspectives. It will be some time before it sees publication, but I’ll keep you posted. I think it will interest the Displaced Nation!

Where will you be spending the holidays this year?
I’m spending the holidays quietly at home. I plan to visit a friend in the country for New Year’s weekend. The holidays here last almost three weeks, ending on January 6. Nativity scenes are a big deal here, and I plan to visit various churches to view, and photograph, them as I usually do. I’ll write about them on my blog, Italian Intrigues, on January 3rd.

What’s the thing you most look forward to eating?
Christmas Eve in Italy is devoted to eating fish — usually seven fish dishes from antipasto onward. I’m trying out a new recipe for sea bass stuffed with frutta del mare (non-fin fish). I’m using clams, mussels, shrimp, squid and baby octopus, all well laced with garlic. And I always make the holiday custard that comes from my Tennessee childhood.

Can you recommend any books you came across in 2012 that speak to the displaced life?
The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver. While it was published in 2010, I didn’t read it until this year, and I think it’s a masterpiece. It’s about a man with one foot in Mexico and the other in the US — but that’s a vast oversimplification. After the young man’s Mexican mother dies, he works for Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera while Leon Trotsky is staying with them. He later moves to the US to join his American father. He eventually becomes a successful writer caught up in the McCarthy witch hunt. I don’t want to include spoilers here, but it’s fabulous. The boy/man is a foreigner in both countries and speaks both languages with an accent.

Do you have any New Year’s resolutions for 2013?
Not that I want to share.

Last but not least, do you have any upcoming travel plans?
No concrete travel plans at the moment. While composing these answers, I received an email about a tour of Uzbekistan that sounds really alluring. And I will probably go to the US to attend a mystery writers conference.

* * *

Readers, any questions for this rather motley (one former expat and two current ones) but highly creative bunch?

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post — expat Anthony Windram’s musings on spending Boxing Day in a country that associates boxing with punching, not (Christmas) punch.

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: Passport photo from Morguefiles; portrait photos are from the nomads (Larissa Reinhart’s shows her family in front of one of their favorite Japanese manga characters, Shin-chan, a sort of Bart Simpson of Japan — the creator, Yoshito Usui, had recently died).

Catching up with this year’s Random Nomads over the holidays (2/3)

RandomNomadXmasPassportWelcome back to the holiday party we are throwing for the expats and other global voyagers who washed up on our shores in 2012. Remember all those Random Nomads who proposed to make us exotic meals based on their far-ranging meanderings? Not to mention their suitcases full of treasures they’d collected and their vocabularies full of strange words… How are they doing these days, and do they have any exciting plans for the holidays? Second in a three-part series (Part One here).

The second third of 2012 brought quite an intriguing (albeit as random as ever) bunch of nomads our way — intriguing because most of them have had experience with spouses from other cultures, suggesting that the point made by one of their number, Wendy Williams, about the globalization of love has some validity. They are:

  • Wendy Williams, the Canadian who is as happy as Larry living with her Austrian husband and their daughter in Vienna.
  • Suzanne Kamata, an American writer who went to Japan on the JET program, married a Japanese man, and made her home on Shikoku Island.
  • Isabelle Bryer, a French artist who feels as though she’s on a permanent vacation because of landing in LA — she’s lived there for years with her American husband and family.
  • Jeff Jung, formerly of corporate America but now an entrepreneur who promotes career breaks from his new base in Bogotá, Colombia.
  • Lynne Murphy, the lovely lexicologist who landed in — I want to say “London” for the alliteration, but it’s Sussex, UK. And yes, despite not being the marrying type, she now treasures her wedding ring of Welsh gold!
  • Melissa Stoey, the former expat in Britain who, despite no longer living in the UK, has a half-British son and remains passionate about all things British.
  • Antrese Wood, the American artist who is busy painting her way around Argentina, having married into the culture.

I’m happy to say that three of this esteemed group are with us today. What have they been up to since nearly a year ago, and are they cooking up anything special for the holidays?

Wendy_Williams1) WENDY WILLIAMS

Have there been any big changes in your life since we last spoke?
Yes, I’ve spent less time at my desk and more time travelling since the publication of my book, The Globalisation of Love. Given the title, I guess I should have expected it.

Where will you be spending the holidays this year?
Since I have “gone native” in Austria, I will be skiing during the holidays. Yipppeeee!

What do you most look forward to eating?
I most look forward to eating a Germknödel, which is a big ball of dough filled with plum sauce and covered in melted butter. Apparently, it has 1,000 calories and I savour every last one. If no one is looking, I lick the plate.

Can you recommend any books you came across in 2012 that speak to the displaced life?

  1. A Nile Adventure — cruising and other stories, by Kim Molyneaux — a light-hearted story of one family’s journey to and adventures in Egypt, both ancient and modern.
  2. Mint Tea to Maori Tattoo!, by Carolina Veranen-Phillips, an account from a fearless female backpacker — is there anywhere she hasn’t been?!
  3. Secrets of a Summer Village, by Saskia Akyil: an intercultural coming-of-age novel for young adults, but a cute read for adults, too.

Have you made any New Year’s resolutions for 2013?
More time with friends & family and more writing, the two of which are completely counter-productive in my case.

Any upcoming travel plans?
I am only happy when I have a plane ticket in my pocket so there are always trips planned. Didn’t René Descartes write, “I travel, therefore I am” — or something like that? The year will start with Germany, Ukraine, Spain and Canada.

SuzanneKamata_festive2) SUZANNE KAMATA

Have there been any big changes in your life since we last spoke?
I sold my debut YA novel, Gadget Girl: The Art of Being Invisible, about a biracial (Japanese/American) girl who travels to Paris with her sculptor Mom, to GemmaMedia. It will be published in May 2013. I was also honored to receive a grant for my work-in-progress, a mother/daughter travel memoir, from the Sustainable Arts Foundation.

How will you be spending the holidays?
We are planning a little jaunt to Osaka between Christmas and New Year’s, but mostly, we’ll be staying at home.

What’s the thing you most look forward to eating?
I’m looking forward to eating fried chicken and Christmas cake, which is what we traditionally have here in Japan on Christmas Eve. There are all kinds of Christmas cakes, but my family likes the kind made of ice cream.

Can you recommend any books you came across in 2012 that speak to the displaced life?

  1. The Girl with Borrowed Wings is a beautifully written contemporary paranormal novel featuring a biracial Third Culture Kid. The author herself, Rinsai Rossetti, is a TCK. She wrote this book when she was a student at Dartmouth. It’s unique and lovely and captures that in-between feeling of those who live in lots of different countries.
  2. I also enjoyed I Taste Fire, Earth, Rain: Elements of a Life with a Sherpa, by Caryl Sherpa, an American woman who went on a round-the-world trip and fell in love with a Sherpa while trekking in Nepal.
  3. Oh, and Harlot’s Sauce: A Memoir of Food, Family, Love, Loss, and Greece, by Patricia Volonakis Davis.

Do you have any New Year’s resolutions for 2013?
Hmmm. Exercise more (same as last year). Also, I resolve to finish a draft of my next novel.

Last but not least, any upcoming travel plans?
Yes! I’m planning on taking my daughter to Paris.

Jeff at Turkish Embassy3) JEFF JUNG

Have there been any big changes in your life since we last spoke?
Since the interview, I launched my first book, The Career Break Traveler’s Handbook. It’s available online at most major book stores in both print and e-versions. And, we’re on the verge of launching Season 1 of our TV show, The Career Break Travel Show, internationally. It includes adventures in South Africa, Spain, New Zealand and Patagonia. We’re just waiting for the new channel to launch.

How will you be spending the holidays this year?
After spending a quiet Christmas in Bogotá, I’ll head off to Washington, DC for my best friend’s wedding on New Year’s Eve. Then I’m off to Texas to see my parents for about ten days.

What’s the thing you most look forward to eating?
As far as food goes, I’m most looking forward to turkey and my dad’s award-winning BBQ.

Can you recommend any books you came across in 2012 that speak to the displaced life?
This year I read Dream. Save. Do., by Betsy and Warren Talbot. It’s a great book to help people achieve whatever goal they have.

Speaking of goals, any New Year’s resolutions for 2013?
Personally, I need to drop a bit of weight. I spent too much time writing and editing in 2012! Professionally, I want to see The Career Break Travel Show find its audience so we can head out to film Season 2!

Last but not least, any exciting travel plans?
I plan to travel for the filming of our second season (countries still to be determined). I also have the chance to go to Romania to volunteer at a bear rescue with Oyster Worldwide. It’ll be a mini-career break for me. I can’t wait.

* * *

Readers, this lot seems just as productive, if not more so, than the last one! Any questions for them — don’t you want to know their secret?

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post by the Displaced Nation’s agony aunt, Mary-Sue — she wraps up 2012 by paying a visit to several of this year’s questioners: did they take her advice?!

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: Passport photo from Morguefiles; portrait photos are from the nomads.

Catching up with this year’s Random Nomads over the holidays (1/3)

RandomNomadXmasPassportThe holiday season is here — the perfect time for the Displaced Nation to catch up with the expats and other global voyagers who washed up on our shores in 2012. Remember all those Random Nomads who proposed to make us exotic meals based on their far-ranging meanderings? Not to mention their suitcases full of treasures they’d collected and their vocabularies full of strange words… How are they doing these days, and do they have any exciting plans for the holidays? First in a three-part series.

In the first part of 2012, quite an array of Random Nomads arrived at the Displaced Nation’s gates, including:

  • Toni Hargis, a Brit married to an American and living in Chicago (she goes by the moniker “Expat Mum”);
  • Megan Farrell, an American married to a Brazilian and living in São Paulo;
  • Liv Hambrett, an Australian moving cities in Germany to be with her SG (Significant German);
  • Lei Lei Clavey, an Australian working in New York City’s fashion industry; and
  • Annabel Kantaria, an Englishwoman living in Dubai (one of the Telegraph Expat bloggers).

Unfortunately, Liv and Lei Lei cannot be with us today as they’ve both headed back to their native Australia. Lei Lei is living in Perth with her boyfriend — and still feeling somewhat displaced as she’s from Melbourne. (Still, her mum, one of our featured authors, Gabrielle Wang, is glad she’s a little closer.)

Liv — who has moved her blog, A Big Life, over to her portfolio site — says she is “now hopelessly pulled in opposing directions by my home country and adopted home, Germany.” Back with her family in Sydney, she is planning a return to Germany in early 2013. Between now and then, SG will have completed his maiden voyage to Oz to pay her a visit.

But now let’s start the party with the three Random Nomads who still qualify as expats. What have they been up to since nearly a year ago, and are they cooking up anything special for the holidays?

ToniHargis_Xmas1) TONI HARGIS

Have there been any big changes in your life since we last spoke?
Yes, I got a new gig writing for BBC America’s “Mind the Gap” column, which is very exciting. I have also just completed a 55,000-word manuscript for a new expat book which should be coming out late Spring 2013. Can’t give any more details at the moment I’m afraid.

Where will you be spending the holidays this year?
We have been going to Copper Mountain, Colorado for the last few years and this year will be the same.

What do you most look forward to eating?
My husband goes mad cooking “skier’s dinners” as he calls them — gumbo, lasagna, chili etc. He will also probably take care of most of the Xmas dinner. Unfortunately, I usually suffer from mild altitude sickness so food isn’t always at the top of my list!

Can you recommend any books you read in 2012 that speak to the displaced life? 
Yes, I read three great books this year on that theme, all from Summertime Publishers:

  1. Expat Life Slice by Slice, by Apple Gidley, which is memoir style and chronicles her (so far) amazing expat adventures.
  2. Finding Your Feet in Chicago, which is a great book for newly arrived expats to the Windy City, by Veronique Martin-Place.
  3. Sunshine Soup: Nourishing the Global Soul, by Jo Parfitt, which came out in 2011 and is a lovely novel set in Dubai about expat women there. (Jo is the founder of Summertime Publishers.)

Do you have any New Year’s resolutions for 2013?
Hmmm…. I try not to make resolutions because it can just be a set up for failure and bitterness (just kidding). There will be a lot of background work to do on my upcoming book, so I suppose my resolution should be to keep my energy levels up and work hard while not ignoring my children for too long!

Last but not least, do you have any upcoming travel plans?
Other than Colorado, I have no definite plans but there will be the annual summer trip to England and perhaps a trip somewhere else in Europe if we can fit it in.

meganfarrell_xmas2) MEGAN FARRELL

Hi there, Megan. Have you had any big changes since we last spoke?
I am currently writing a book, titled American Exbrat in São Paulo: Advice, Stories, Tips and Tricks to Surviving South America’s Largest City, which will be available via Amazon in the next few weeks. And we moved from Jardim Paulista to Higienópolis. The Higienópolis neighborhood feels much more family friendly to me, without losing options for great restaurants and activities.

How will you be spending the holidays this year?
For the holidays, we will be visiting Petrópolis (Brazil’s “City of Emperors” and a lovely mountain resort) and Búzios (known for its magnificent beaches and crystal-clear water), both towns in the state of Rio de Janeiro. I am looking forward to the beach and mountain time.

What’s the thing you most look forward to eating?
Churrasco (Brazilian style barbecue)!

Can you recommend any books you came across in 2012 that speak to the displaced life?
Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Capetown, by Paul Theroux. I’m also reading Eat, Pray, Love again, but this time in Portuguese (Comer Rezar Amar).

Do you have any New Year’s resolutions for 2013?
I do. My resolutions are to spend more time working on my writing projects and further develop my business. I currently guide executives and managers in their business communications to help them gain advantages in the global market, but I really need to expand my marketing strategy. I also have a large list of São Paulo experiences I have yet to enjoy.

Do you have any upcoming travel plans?
I’m hoping to get back to the States early this year and hit not only Chicago but also Los Angeles and New York City.

AnnabelKantaria_Xmas3) ANNABEL KANTARIA

Have there been any big changes in your life since we last spoke?
None to speak of.

Where will you be spending the holidays this year?
We love to spend Christmas in Dubai as the weather is exactly how a British summer day should be: clear, sunny, blue sky and temperatures of about 28°C (around 82°F).

What’s the thing you most look forward to eating?
We always have a big Christmas lunch in the garden with friends. This year another friend is playing host to us. I feel very lucky as she is practically the “Martha Stewart” of Dubai and I just know the food, decor and company will be divine. I’m vegetarian, so I won’t be eating turkey — I think we’re barbecuing this year.

Can you recommend any books you came across in 2012 that speak to the displaced life?
I read a new book called The Expats, by Chris Pavone, but I was more inspired to revisit old favorites such as White Mischief, by James Fox.

Do you have any New Year’s resolutions for 2013?
To finish writing my book, find an agent and/or publisher and get it published!

Any upcoming travel plans?
We usually go away in the February half-term holidays. Last year we visited family in Kenya before taking a few days in the Seychelles. This year I’m looking East — maybe Thailand, Malaysia (I’ve always wanted to go to Langkawi) or perhaps Bali.

* * *

Readers, before we lose these three Random Nomads to their various holiday (and half-term) adventures, do you have any more questions? Perhaps some of you are wondering, like I am, how they manage to be so productive — each of them has children but also a book to publish in 2013!

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.)

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: Passport photo from Morguefile; portrait photos are from the nomads.

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