Category Archives: Expat blogs

You can take the girls out of America…

but you can’t take the American out of the girls. I had been i-chatting with Kat this week and we realized that we both had some shopping to do on the weekend–she for shoes for her girls, and me for fall/winter clothes for work. So we made up a plan for her to come gather me, from the outskirts of my market town, and to go into town and do our shopping. I thus got to catch up with Kat in between our shopping missions, which was great because it had been ages since I’d seen her. The funny thing about friends made via blogs and Twitter and the like is that even though I had not seen her in a while, we were not exactly out of date. So hanging out is just fun, not about catching up with details. She also brought her lovely daughters, who are my adopted nieces.

Navigating the English shopping mall’s multi-story car park in Kat’s vehicle is an adventure in and of itself. She has a very brightly colored SUV brought over from America, which means it has the driver on the left (as it bloody well should be!) But this is England so the ticket machines to get into and out of the parking deck are on the right-hand side of the car. This means that I have a little job to do when sitting in the passenger seat, one that prevents Kat from having to crawl across or even around the car to deal with the ticket machines. And that challenge surmounted, we go on to attempt to park an American SUV in a car park optimized for tiny little VW Polos and the like. Amusement all around.

Having finished our shopping, we decided to go to McDonald’s for an early dinner. I know, I know, I already said you can’t take the American out of the girls. And her daughters are particularly big fans. We had intended to go in to eat, but the parking lot was inexplicably full. We thus decided to go through the drive-through and go back to my flat, which is about two blocks from McD’s. (And although I’ve in this strategically located flat since July, I had not been there even once yet, I swear!) And here’s where I become amused: at the McD’s drive-through here in England they did not have one of those microphone things into which you yell your order. No siree. They had two boys, standing outside in the pouring rain in fluorescent jackets, taking your order by walking up to your car window, asking what you wished for and then punching it into one of those little hand-held computers with a stylus. I for one was relieved, because I thought at first that as the passenger person on the right, I would have to relate the entire order into the microphone thingy myself, thus potentially making myself responsible if there was a slight cheeseburger disaster with one of Kat’s girls. In the end, we got back to my place after collecting all the food and the jerks got the kids’ cheeseburgers right and shorted us adults one of our packets of fries. Oh well. All in a fun day out being super American and all of that.

On blogging

I absolutely loved this post on blogging and sponsorship, and I thought it would provide me with a good opportunity to make a related point. Different bloggers have different aims, that I know. But here’s mine. This is supposed to be fun. This is not my job. I sometimes write things late at night and I sometimes write things after I’ve had a glass or two of wine or even just when I’m not concentrating because it’s the weekend and I’m lazing around on a Saturday afternoon in my pajamas. I sometimes mis-spell words and use incorrect grammar because it’s all a bit stream of consciousness. Because it’s for fun. Not my job. I have to write a lot in my job, and I have to proofread and grammar check and spell check and ensure that the sentences are all interesting and that I haven’t used the same word three times in the same line. But I don’t do that here. I tend not to go back and edit even when I do see things that, on re-reading a post the next day, make me roll my eyes at myself. But that’s okay to me, because this is for fun. Not my job. Just my creative outlet, a place to vent a bit, and more importantly of late, a place to interact with other human beings, many of whom have also moved from one country to another.

And I don’t want this to be like a job. I don’t want to have a “blog brand” or to worry about search engine optimization or any of the other things that seem to come up at the “blog conferences” or in blog books. Yes, it makes me happy when people do read what I wrote. Yes, I smiled when the site stats counter passed 100,000 visits in the time it’s existed. Of course I love it when there are comments but if there aren’t, that’s okay too. Because I do this for me. For fun. Not work.

And because of that, I don’t do things that are commercial here. I certainly don’t talk about my real work. I don’t have advertisers or sponsors or anything like that. I don’t solicit free things and then review them here. Those sorts of things, to me, all make it feel like a blog is work. That it’s something other than a person just being themselves, just using a public forum to write about something from their own point of view. Further, this is creative writing. This is not CNN.com. I reserve the right to embellish, to use creative writing devices to tell a story. If you don’t like that, I’d suggest that this is not the blog for you. As I have said before, after years of letting all comments through, no matter what they said, I decided earlier this year that I only let comments through if they are not mean. And I’m okay with that policy and I feel like this makes my blog a good read compared to the days when there were rather vicious exchanges in the comments. But if you’re not, if you want to see me getting beaten up over my little musings, then again–this is not the blog for you.

In addition, I’m not using this blog as a way to advertise my services. I am already a writer in that I write (technical things, mostly) for my job. I know many bloggers who are writers or who want to be writers, and that’s fine with me, but that’s not why this blog exists. If I was trying to launch a writing career from this platform, I would probably be more careful about my grammar and edit my ramblings! But that’s not why I’m here. You’ll not see me participating in blog memes that are associated with creative writing prompts. I know some people do that, and that’s fine for them, but that’s not me. This is purely, 100%, my own little documented (if occasionally ever-so-slightly embellished) story of my life as an American in England, including my travels, my musings, my feelings, my reactions to things I see in the real world or on the web. I write when I have something to say, which can mean twice in a day or no times in two weeks.

I may or may not take the time to put this little “badge” on the sidebar or I might just leave it here in this post, but I do quite like it. It spells out my thoughts and my intentions in a pretty straightforward manner. And now, I must get back to work. Writing, of course.

Scenes from China, part 5

One of the more interesting aspects of being in China for nearly two weeks was in being completely shut out from most conversation. Very few people spoke any English at all. And why should they? I was visiting their country. It was my problem to not speak their language. Thank goodness for my sister’s Chinese fluency, I don’t know how anyone could travel in China without having a fluent guide. For this reason, there were tour groups (both international and domestic tourists) in matching hats everywhere, often affiliated with cruise ships. If you ask me for my own unique definition of hell, it would involve matching hats, organized tour groups on tight schedules, being ferried on and off coach buses, and cruise ships. Not my style at all. So kudos to my ever-patient sister for being an awesome guide and translator and allowing me to see China without having to take part in my own greatest nightmare. Don’t get me wrong, if your only choices are “see China in a tour group” or “don’t see China” I’d go for the former, I just felt fortunate to be able to see China with the flexibility and planning oversight unique to being in a duo with a fluent Chinese speaker involved. Even if I felt like an idiot most of the time just sitting smiling while she had long conversations with the locals.

The younger generations are mostly learning English in school, and it was they who were most bold: especially in the more off-the-beaten-path parts of China, it was not unusual to be the only Caucasians around for miles and for young Chinese people to walk up to us and say “Hello.” If we said anything back, or even smiled in their direction, it caused fits of giggling. The young ones who did speak some English were, in these circumstances, incredibly likely to ask if they could have their photograph taken with us, as though we were some strange foreigners (which we were) but I admit it made me feel sort of like an exotic zoo animal. Our rule of thumb became to say yes to the photo requests from young (University-aged) girls practicing their English, but as two young females we decided that some of the requests for photos from older guys were just a little bit creepy.

Being immersed in this enormous vat of humanity with whom I could not communicate, I became slightly obsessed with learning some rudimentary Chinese. It’s a remarkably difficult language to learn, since the spoken and written languages are essentially independent, and the spoken language is tonal. I got as far as “hello” and “thank you” with the spoken word, and no farther. But I did start to recognize a few of the characters that appeared on many signs, like the names of the cities we visited, the cardinal directions, just simple things. My first character was this one:

China is, of course, the People’s Republic of China, the currency is called the People’s money, and our first hotel in Shanghai was in People’s square. So this one was everywhere, and it was useful for me to remember. After seeing some Bronze-age inscriptions at the Shanghai Museum I became obsessed with understanding how modern Chinese characters evolved from early Pictographs, and I found a few great books to bring home with me. So I can casually indulge in this fascination over the course of the next few months, as I reflect on my trip.

Since I’ve been back in my own bed, my dreams have mostly been set back in China. Clearly there was a lot to see and process, and my brain is still working hard on it. But with the language difference, comes the inevitable funny translations, so I’ll leave you today with one of my favorite giggle-inducers. Hey, I’m sure if I tried to translate something into Chinese the results would be equally hilarious.

Feeling Foreign

It happened again yesterday. I’m sure she meant no harm. And I could have chosen not to react at all.

I bumped into a junior work colleague, a relatively new addition. She asked in a friendly voice about my weekend and what I did, etc. I commented on sleeping in and on the triumph of having made whole wheat bread that was actually edible–a first for me in many years of trying. She said, “You make home-made bread? Oh your kids someday will love you!” Here’s the part where I could have just smiled and nodded and walked on. But I didn’t. I spoke the truth. I said, “Nope, no kids, no plans.” She was stunned. Clearly it had never occurred to this young dear that someone would choose such a path in life. The conversation continued for a bit. I talked about my love for my job and my desire to focus on that and my love for travel and generally did a poor job of explaining all of the many reasons why I made this decision (a very long time ago). I mentioned that I was not alone, in that several other women in our office had made the same choice. In response to the typical “But you might change your mind some day” comment I responded that I’m going to be 35 on my next birthday and have really come to the crossroads on this one and am very comfortable with my decision. She was very unsettled and muttered something about re-thinking her career choice and wandered off.

I say “It happened again” because this conversation has played out for me over and over and over again. I’m usually pretty up-front on this issue and also tend to be on the offensive, letting people know my views when we first start to be friends so I can head off possibly awkward conversations. I’m always slightly mystified that people feel the need to comment on my decision. Or to try to convince me to have kids when I clearly don’t want to. I’ve been called selfish by near-strangers. I’m mystified why my stance would upset others so much but it seems to, perhaps they see it as a value judgement on their own lifestyle which it most certainly is not–it’s just the choice that’s right for me. And I am very close to being the last one standing, I have several pregnant friends at the moment probably because of the age we’re at. I have a few other friends who are professed to be childless by choice, including several peers within my profession and also some wonderful friends of the family who I have known for 25 or so years. I talk to them about this issue a lot, as it’s hard not to worry a bit when conversations such as the above-mentioned one do play out over and over. I know of people who HAVE changed their minds and done IVF at 45 or adoption around the same age. So it’s important to me to feel sure about this now. And I am.

So this whole concept of feeling “foreign” was familiar to me before I moved countries:

foreign (comparative more foreign, superlative most foreign)

1. From a different country. foreign students

2. Belonging to a different culture.
Eating with chopsticks was a foreign concept to him

3. Of an object, etc, in a place where it does not belong.
foreign body

In groups of women who have made choices different from mine (and thank feminism that we all have the right and the option to make our own choices–this I applaud!) sometimes I feel foreign. My culture involves work and travel and not diapers/nappies or schools. But sometimes I don’t feel so foreign. As I’ve started to get to know some of the other expat bloggers over the last year and a bit, I’ve felt very much the opposite of foreign. Here were friends who have had similar experiences to mine and with whom I got along great from the very moment we all met.

And then came Cyber Mummy.

Cyber Mummy is the upcoming blogger conference in London in about a month. It turns out that of all the expat bloggers I know, most of them are going to go to this. Up until the hubbub started, I didn’t think of the expat bloggers as falling into two camps, those who were cybermummies and those who were not. But now I do. And guess which group wins on numbers alone? Not mine.

I think Iota had the most eloquent commentary on this particular event. And the buzz lately hasn’t been only about the conference, there’s also been the MADS. But it’s been an in-my-face, all-parenting, all-the-time few weeks of blogs and twitter and the like. And this weekend my exasperation hit a high point and I sent out a relatively desperate tweet. That I thought I should explain. So here we are.

There’s a deeper layer to this. I think my feelings about Cyber Mummy and the like tie in with my expat experience. The fact that there is a year of maternity leave allowed in this country is something that I am luke-warm on. I see how it’s wonderful from the Mummy perspective but I think it’s a bit of a disaster from the career perspective. My concerns were best summed up by the UK’s Donald Trump (i.e. host of The Apprentice on TV), Sir Alan Sugar, in his comments about not hiring women of child-bearing age. I don’t find the concept of a “Career woman” to be as common here as in the US, so it seems to me that there is a natural progression to an equation where inevitably,

Women = Mummies

So when I look at the Cyber Mummy agenda, and I look at the BlogHer agenda for their upcoming meeting in New York, I feel sad and homesick. In some ways the topics covered at the two meetings are not that different, what’s different is the focus on mummies versus females more inclusively. I, like Iota, don’t know that there are actually that many things of interest to me at either event, but if a big group of my friends was going to something more like BlogHer than like Cyber Mummy I would probably go along for the fun and friendship.

As it happens, it doesn’t matter how I feel about this as I’ll be just flying back from the US while Cyber Mummy is taking place. I’ll be heading up to Norwich the following day for Boudicca’s Feast, run by one of the very few other non-Mummy expat bloggers. And I do hope my bloggy friends have a wonderful time at Cyber Mummy. They are all wonderful people, and as far as I can tell, wonderful mothers. But I really wish this whole thing had never come up and I could continue to feel like one of the gang instead of the outsider. I worry I’ll never quite go back, and I really didn’t need another reason to feel foreign in this country.

Expat blogger meet-up round-up

The posts are now all in, and my comrades from the expat blog meet up have spoken:

Perhaps more interesting than the posts themselves (sorry, gang!) is the comments, including those we wrote to each other after the event. But the best and most thought-provoking was from Michelloui on Mike’s blog:

It was a fun day and I must admit it was only as I was writing my post about the day that I realised how well we all got on immediately. There weren’t any silent awkward moments, and it was all just friendly and fun. Is that because we’re American (Have a Nice Day!) or because we were all just a self selecting group of friendly people?

A very good question. We span quite the age range, we’re in the UK for a range of different reasons, and yet we could chat like we’d all been friends for decades. That is probably the most interesting result of the meet-up. Yes we can talk about American foods that we miss and all of the usual expat stuff, but we’ve also been following each others’ antics for months to years in the strange online world that is the blogosphere. So we meet in person, and we are all fast friends.

I think I was the best placed in this regard, as I had met everyone but Nappy Valley Housewife before the day. And this brings me to my final point. How on earth did I get so bold so as to spend so much time meeting up with bloggers in person? Given my comments in my post about a bad experience in this regard, it’s amazing that I’ve perservered with this live-meeting, risk-of-people-not-liking-me thing. This is probably the biggest change in me due to my move abroad, and it’s still somewhat surprising and shocking when I think about it too much. Perhaps it’s the easy public transport links in the UK. Saying “hey, let’s meet up” is not so stressful. It’s not a big country, so we’re all not that distant when it comes down to it. Perhaps it’s my being somewhat lonely in my job-centered UK existence, that makes me crave the company of other human beings with whom I seem to have at least a chance of a common ground based on blog posts. Whatever it is, I have to say that I’ve been really much more bold than my shy typical self would allow for in this whole blogger meet-up thing. And for that, I thank England. Moving abroad definitely changed me in this way. Before I came here, I moved across the country in the US and did not make the sorts of human connections that have resulted from this silly little late-night time-wasting hobby of mine that is blogging/twitter/whatever. Although my online persona is formally anonymous, I jump at the chance to get to know people and to form more real bonds with people who I have “met” through this medium. (Note to Iota from the last post’s comment: you do know me better than an average blog reader because we’ve ‘talked’ a great deal over email!)

Living abroad has changed me. I think this is a good thing. I hope more people get the chance, in this globalized society, to experience this type of overseas adventure.

In person and in writing

I shall link to the other expat bloggers’ views from our meet-up on Saturday soon. But before I do, I have to stop and think a bit about something that was written this morning by my good friend Michelloui:

NFAH’s sometimes spiky writing about her experiences and observations in the UK might make you think of a cynical, intelligent, workaholic who loves music and jet setting and making friends with other expats. In the tangible world she is a warm, kind, intelligent woman with zero pretentions and a real interest in other people. She also has a genuine enjoyment of her life in Britain. She has a fun sense of humour with a great sense of irony….

It’s always a bit of a wake-up call to see what others say about you when you’ve met. And anyone who has followed this blog from the beginning (and I don’t think there are any commenters left from the early days) would know that there was once upon a time another person with whom I met, and with whom I ended up falling out over a comment about my personality. I was shocked by it at the time, and in retrospect I’m still a bit confused by the whole thing.

Blogs are a funny thing. In my case, I started the blog to write about my observations about living abroad. It was a huge step for me, coming from the midwest of the US, and I was honestly and genuinely surprised by what I found here. I love it here, and I have a wonderful job and a mostly wonderful existence (made even more wonderful by the friendships I have developed with other expat bloggers). I came into this experience with very few pre-conceived notions about what it would be like living abroad, and sometimes I have found it wonderful and sometimes I have found it frustrating. It comes perhaps as no surprise that the frustrations have seen more press in this blog than the positive things. I’m an officially single (divorced) person living alone abroad for work reasons, which (as far as I can tell) is a rather unusual circumstance amongst the greater expat blog community.

My blog posts have, at times, thus really emphasized my frustrations. My credit card woes. My irritation at two tap sinks. It’s been a vent for my irritation and frustration and general snarky-ness. I admit it. I have no problem with admitting it. But I’ve been very surprised to read the responses of others to my views, which have been in general very different from what I intended when I wrote any particular thing.

I hate to think that my blog persona is one of anger or unhappiness. Thus my sensitivity at any comments that even hint at the possibility. I’ll soon be celebrating 4 years in this fine country, and for that I am extremely grateful. I more or less love it here, or I would have moved back to the US when I had the chance (at 1.3 years, for the record). I absolutely hate the idea that people who meet me in person would think that I was negative overall, and not get that my musings were both out of frustration at times but also tongue-firmly-in-cheek at other times. Sure I find Britain to be lacking in certain things, but also I know that America is lacking in many things. I hope that I (as an expat) am open to all of these views and clearly I’m here for a reason.

Every time I’ve been so frustrated that I’ve thought about moving ‘home’ to the US it’s been easy to reason why that was a bad idea. I hope that the locals don’t feel too bad about my staying here and continuing to enjoy the work that I do here. Being an expat is a rough thing that I never considered as a young person, I moved here at 30. And it’s been one hell of a learning experience since I arrived. I’m looking forward to celebrating four years abroad in the fall and somewhat shocked that I’ve made nearly four years. I feel as though, in some ways, I’m clearly established here and I have no real recourse to move in the future.

Brits, I love your country. I’ve been frustrated moving abroad. I’ve found some things about your locals that are like the things I would criticize in my own country if they were there. But don’t read too much into my frustrations. On the whole, this blog is my vent and I’m a relatively happy and healthy person who has a great life on a day-to-day basis. And I really don’t know what I would do if someone made me leave Europe for the US.

On friendship

I can honestly say that when I started this blog, all about my life as an expat in the UK, it never occurred to me that I would end up making real-life friends because of it. For starters, I am semi-anonymous in my writing, for a variety of reasons. For another, I had hoped that I would meet wonderful people through work and other things and end up with a huge network of friends in my immediate vicinity. The latter has been a little bit true, I’ve met some great friends here through work (mostly the trailing spouses of work colleagues, since I am a rare female in a man’s world) and I’ve been so glad for that. But it’s not been nearly enough. And I’ve been so fortunate to meet some amazing people that I would never have met if not for this blog.

Today we had an expat bloggers’ meet-up, thanks to the organizational prowess of Michelloui of Mid-Atlantic English who I’ve met on a couple of occasions now. I got to see, again, my good friend Kat, of 3 bedroom bungalow. I got to see Mike, from Postcards from across the pond, and his lovely wife. I’ve met them once before in a really lovely afternoon spent touring my town. I got to meet a new blogger, Nappy Valley Housewife. It was a really fun afternoon, even though I was half asleep still after my adventures with BA and Switzerland.

The great thing about fellow expat bloggers, and the people that love them, is that we have common ground. It’s the friendship equivalent of e-Harmony, where people are supposedly matched for love by a questionnaire about their lives and preferences. (NB I’ve taken the e-Harmony test and found that I cannot be matched by them, as I am one of the less than 10% of people who are not suited to their algorithm. It makes one think…) We are all from different parts of the US, we are all in the UK for different reasons and we’ve been here for different numbers of years. But there are underlying similarities that come from our background and which give us common ground upon which to establish real friendships.

It’s awesome, from my view. The people that I know in my computer, the virtual friends, have been transitioning into real friends. I have a new social network of people in the UK that I can relate to and with whom I can commiserate on the things that make me both happy and unhappy in this foreign existence. Making new friends as a mid-thirties person is tough. And that’s true even if you’re in your home country. As an expat, it’s even more difficult. Meeting friends is worth a great deal and although I never expected it, the people I’ve met through this blog have been amongst the best friends I’ve had the chance to meet in a long time.

Swiss Cheese

Written from the Basel airport before I got ‘home’ to the UK, thankfully, a few hours ago…

After all of the travel eventfulness of the last few weeks (volcanic ash cloud, BA strike) I was looking forward to a mostly uneventful and brief trip to Switzerland for work. The trip was supposed to happen last month but fell right in the edge of the volcanic ash cloud adventure: it turned out that my flight would have been amongst the first European flights out of the UK if I had taken it, so perhaps I should have just taken the trip last month. But I didn’t, and here I was, hoping for a miracle…

As for my uneventful trip? It sort of happened. The most eventful part, in the end, was the flight out of the UK. I had been scheduled on a 2 pm flight to Geneva, but it (and my return flight) were cancelled. Then the BA strikes were called off, and BA called ME to offer to reinstate my trip. Sure, no problem. They put me on an 11:40 am flight. NB this was Tuesday, the trip was due to be Wed. (the strike was due to start Tuesday before it was called off late Monday). Trek to Heathrow Wed. morning to find that they had overbooked the 11:40 and they wanted me to just wait and see. I was more than mildly annoyed. I called their hotline (the BA toll-free number is now burned on my brain) and they told me to go back up and try again, that there was a snafu in the system. No such luck, actually, but when I asked about the 2 pm flight they said it was not full. I asked if I could just offer to take that one instead of hanging around the Heathrow main doors (outside security, since i had no boarding pass) and it turned out that was not as straightforward as I would have thought. They did, eventually, relent and gave me a boarding pass for 2 pm. I popped through security and went into the lounge to wait a few hours. Now I was on my way, but perhaps understandably nervous about the return flight. They had not been able to get me on anything out of Geneva, so I was due to leave Basel (from where I write this now). They said I should call back on Thursday to see if I could get anything from Geneva, as they were reinstating flights now that the strike was called off.

That would have been fine, except as anyone following this story would know, the courts in Britain upheld a union appeal and the strike was allowed to continue. Fortunately for me, not with immediate effect: it will start Monday. But as a result, no extra Friday evening Geneva flights, although at least they promised me I did have a seat from Basel. I was skeptical, after my arrival at Heathrow Wed. morning but what choice did I have? Regardless, it took over 20 minutes on hold with BA on Thursday night to ascertain all of this, the lines being clogged with the people whose plans for next week were now derailed due to the re-instated strike.

Now I should have known there was a problem with Wednesday’s flight on Tuesday night, when I could not do BA online check-in. Fortunately for me, this morning the online check-in for the Basel flight did work, which gave me confidence to spend two and a bit hours in transit to Basel (instead of the much-closer Geneva). I got to see more of the Swiss countryside from their fabulous, silent, and extremely smooth and comfortable trains, and as far as I can tell a flight intends to take off from here with me on it, in just over an hour.

In the midst of all of this travel chaos, I managed to have a fantastic trip to Switzerland. This country might well, and quickly, take over from Germany as my favorite work travel destination within the continent. As far as I can tell, both have largely excellent public transport and fantastic people working in my field. This was only my second Swiss trip, while I’ve been to Germany on more occasions than I can currently remember. It’s interesting, too–work has never taken me to France, Spain, Belgium, or any part of Scandinavia. Work has once taken me to the Netherlands, Portugal, Greece (Crete), Hungary, Austria and Ireland. (And Scotland, but I never know if that counts.) But work looks likely to take me back to Switzerland again in the future, and I will go enthusiastically.

Part of this enthusiasm can be attributed to my work colleagues here, both of whom worked with me in England for various times (2 years and 6 months) and who returned to Switzerland, where they were before they worked with me. (For completeness, one is Italian, the other is Swiss.) So work with people you know that well (and thus consider ‘professional friends’ as opposed to just colleagues) is always more interesting than work with total strangers or casual work acquaintances. And in this particular case, we’re all close to the same age and stage of career, and thus we have even more in common. This dynamic also means that the work-related socializing is much more fun and relaxing than it would otherwise be when traveling.

So last night we relaxed over a fantastic pot of Gruyere fondue:

and a few interesting beverages, including one that I had never tried before:

We talked about life and careers and immigration and politics and England and Europe and the future and everything else. It was great. These trips, when done right, always leave me with a sense of the possible and of hope for the future. I need this badly, especially when the daily grind is making me lose my perspective on such things. The meetings during the day were extremely productive, my next few weeks are amazingly quiet and I should be able to follow through with the promises I made to get some things done. Which is good for all of us.

So in the end, I leave Basel on a note of great optimism and enthusiasm and with hopes for a return trip to Switzerland in the not-too-distant-future. It was a trip that was good for my soul. But next time, it’s Eurostar and TGV all the way. No more flying to places I can get to by rail. This is supposed to be the beauty of Europe, and I’m not taking advantage of it. It was a close call for a trip this short, but next time I’ll stay a few extra days and see more of this beautiful country.

Silly o’clock

I’m up at 4:30 am, and it’s absolutely light out. Like middle of the morning light out. This is not an hour I normally see. And apparently in England, silly o’clock is associated with total daylight. Who knew. I realized long ago that the far north location here was associated with long daylight hours. It’s sometimes light until 11 pm here, which is quite a bit later than I was accustomed to, even in the far north reaches of Minnesota. But this early morning daylight thing is truly new, especially since I normally work slightly shifted hours, starting at 10 or so am and not leaving the office until 7 or 8 pm, instead of ‘first thing in the morning’ to 5 pm in the truly midwestern sense.

So why am I up today at silly o’clock, you ask? Blame the lethal combination of the volcano gods, who close British airspace periodically these days, and the BA on-again, off-again strike. In this instance, the strike is the culprit for my particular pain. And it’s a hard one to take. There is a quote on the BBC website, from a member of the cabin crew, who says,

“BA is now run by accountants.”

Um, yes, that is because BA is a business. Not a charity, not a social welfare programme, but a business. So when this flight attendant says,

“But we have families, mortgages and bills to pay – we cannot afford to lose £7,000 a year.”

It’s a bit tough for me to take. The British economy is a mess right now. We’re all just holding on by the skin of our teeth. I feel lucky to still have a job, and I can’t guarantee that that will be the case in a few months’ time.

But for the moment, I have a job, and my job involves travel. I have to go places and talk to people about my work in order for me to be viable in my field. I need to fly off to Geneva for an extremely brief but critical visit with a former colleague who is trying to find a permanent job after having worked with me for two years in a non-permanent situation. I will be giving a lecture in exchange for the visit, and I will be spending some time discussing our mutual interests while I’m there. It’s the sort of visit that is de rigueur for my profession, but it’s not always easy or fun.

So here I am at silly o’clock getting ready to leave for the airport. I had a flight booked for mid-afternoon today, but it was cancelled in the prelude to the BA strike. The strike was halted by a court order, and I was re-booked on a flight for the morning instead of mid-afternoon. I have no idea how that works, since my original flight is going still this afternoon. But I’m going early and so I’m up at silly o’clock.

My return flight is not guaranteed. I’m currently booked for a different departure city in Switzerland than the one in which I will arrive, because the availability is limited until the BA schedule is fully announced for the rest of the week. BA is in court with the unions, and a decision is due tomorrow morning and so who knows what will happen when the court decision comes through. I could be stranded on the continent, and I’ve been researching the possibilities in case the flight does not go. The trains will be expensive and take ages, but might be an option. There may be other flights on other airlines but anything I do will be expensive and painful. But perhaps necessary. So we’ll see. It’s a bit of a gamble to go at all, but I’m going. Here goes the adventure.

The worst part of this is that we have a fantastic expat meet-up scheduled for Saturday mid-day, and so if I get stranded I will miss something more important than my usual Saturday deep and intense lie-in (I’m capable of sleeping past 1 pm, which probably seems shocking to the early morning types in the readership of this blog). I can only hope that does not happen, and my weekend will get off to a truly good start with an easy trip back from the continent and a fun gathering with friends.

Dear So-and-So, post-China edition

Dear Chinese taxi drivers,

Some of you were lovely. But overall, riding in your cabs was terrifying. That thing where you swerve into oncoming traffic to try to get ahead a few cars in the queue? Not cool.

Glad to be alive, NFAH


Dear Chinese traffic authorities,

How the heck is it that there is no discernible enforcement of any sort of traffic law in all of China? Speed limits, pedestrian right-of-way, cars driving into oncoming traffic, none of these deserve any attention? Really?

Again, glad to be alive, NFAH


Dear stomach,

We have been back in the UK for nearly 96 hours now. Could you please stop rebelling against this return to normalcy? I know China was full of different and interesting foods and the whole thing was a bit of a shock, but we’re home now. Please start acting like it.

Tired of feeling a bit off, NFAH


Dear Cheese,

After a nearly perfect dairy-free 12 days with my semi-vegan sister in China, I thought I could quit you. It turns out, I was wrong. More mozzarella, please.

I know I’m weak, NFAH


Dear Beijing hotel,

I know I was supposed to be on vacation while I was in China. But the fact that you had no hot water in the shower on the one morning I was to do a half-day or work, that was not cool. Not cool at all.

Still shivering at the memory, NFAH


Dear Chinese silk store,

I can’t help it, I found you irresistible. Now that I’m home, I don’t know where to put all the little silk wallets and iPod cases I bought… any interested readers, speak up! I can bring some to the May expat blogger meet-up!

Drowning in brightly colored prettiness, NFAH