Monthly Archives: January 2009

Totally Belgium

Reciprocal Interview

Following on the ‘5 questions’ interview meme, Almost American has posted her answers to my five questions. Go have a read, and there’s still a chance to “play along” if you leave a comment on my original post!

Happiness is…

My sister visiting AND cheez-its on my birthday 🙂

Sister love

Since my sister lives in China, and Monday was Chinese New Year, she is on her holiday break right now, whereas she had to work much of our Christmas holidays. She has been home in Minnesota for a while, but is about to board a plane for a nearly week long visit to the UK, hoorah! I have to admit, I forgot completely that compared with her last two visits, this time she is gainfully employed–I hope she was not too insulted that I had assumed I’d pay for her car-and-driver transport to my place instead of getting it herself! Really, she insisted. It was so cute. And there’s nothing better after the overnight international flight than not having to fight with tubes and trains.

Having visitors here is really good for me. It’s nice to see my life through someone else’s eyes, always makes me appreciate what I have here. It always causes me to clean my flat. And visit interesting restaurants or cook better than I sometimes do when alone and busy/overworked. And hopefully it will also cause me to start going back to the gym, since I know she is keen to see the place. We have our little adventure planned–last time she came it was a day trip to Dublin, this time we’re Eurostar-ing it for a brief visit to Brussels. We had to agree on someplace that neither of us had seen before, and we seem to have a long list of countries that only one of us has been to. I’ve seen Hungary, Italy, Greece (well, Crete). She’s done Norway and Spain. We thought maybe Scotland, but realized that January might not be the best time of year weather-wise, and I have to go there for work in a few weeks already. Since I have that plus Switzerland both on the horizon, this will be three new countries for me in just a few months, so that’s exciting–I’m soon going to switch over to the list of EU countries I have not visited being shorter than the list of places I have seen, albeit briefly in cases.

She promises she’s bringing work to do, which is good since I really can’t stop and laze around with her as much as I would like to, less than a month post-Australia. But it sounds like that will be okay. And really, in the grand scheme of things, is there anything better than having your fellow-expat baby sister floating around your flat when you get home from work? I think not.

Expat Interview

First (within my regularly read blogs) spotted on Brit Gal’ in the USA and followed up on ExpatMum, was a “meme” on being interviewed which I admit is the first I have participated in as a blogger. So today I answer five interview questions posed by ExpatMum–the questions (chosen by her) largely relate to this crazy foreign life. I then leave you the option to subject yourself to the same treatment at the bottom of the post.

Q1. How long have you been in the UK, and was it supposed to be for a limited duration initially?

I have been here nearly two and a half years already. My job was originally permanent (albeit with a probationary period) so it was always going to be a move for at least a few years but of indefinite length. (Relates to Q5, see below.)

Q2. I noticed you said you had no choice but to stay at the moment, because of the bad exchange rate. Do you like life in the UK?

I do like my life in general, although I also like to have choices. But I’ve been offered the chance to go back to the US several times already and have not done so, so think what you like! (Relates to Q5, see below.)

Q3. What do miss most about the States?

Easy one. (1) Target. (2) Cheez-its. (3) Buying Cheez-its at Target.

Seriously, I get back quite often for work purposes, 3-4 times per year, so the home-sickness is generally not too bad. (Relates again to Q5, see below.)

Q4. How much time (be honest) do you spend blogging?

Not as much as I could, I spend a ridiculous number of hours per week playing “Wordtwist” on Facebook so that’s my other totally useless way to spend time. But I also blog on work-related things and I think the two go together–I never would have started this blog if the work one hadn’t come up, and I started a new work website based on this same general blog platform (thanks, NerdSpawn!) after I had been using WordPress for a while.

Q5. If you could do anything (for a job) what would it be?

I moved here for my dream job. I know that the majority of my peers would say it was an excellent move. And one that was totally unexpected. Some days I still can’t believe how fortunate I am. This move totally changed my life in many ways, and at times I’ve been happier or less happy depending on the details of how things were going. But that’s minutiae. At the end of the day, a job is still a job, and mine comes with as much silly paperwork and administrative BS as many, but I also get to do what I love and have lots of flexibility to pursue my own interests. Yes, it requires hard work (“wicked” hard one might say) and lots and lots of hours. I blog to relax, to get away from my work email and to do something enjoyable and non-technical. But at the end of the day I moved here because I had the opportunity of a lifetime, and since it hasn’t yet broken me to live alone in a foreign country, I’m going to keep at it as long as I still love what I do. (And when tired, I always threaten to leave science and go to school to be a pastry chef, so watch this space!)

There we have it, a little more about me than one could glean from the “About” page.

The instructions if you want to be interviewed by me:

  1. Leave me a comment saying, “Interview me.”
  2. I will respond by emailing you five questions. (I get to pick the

  3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions and let me know when you have posted it, so I can link it.
  4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview
    someone else in the same post.

  5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask
    them five questions.

Expat economics

When I first moved here to England, I tended to convert every amount from pounds into dollars. This worked well at the exchange rate that I arrived at (£1 = 1.87US dollars) and generally life was good. My current salary was, when converted into dollars (at 1.87 or even the high of 2.11 last summer) was approximately equivalent or only somewhat less than what my American colleagues were making. Suddenly the pound has crashed without warning, and I am making a fraction of what my US colleagues are making in dollars. Even with (pound) wage increases that were substantial, my income in dollars has dropped by about 5k US from when I started here nearly 2.5 years ago, and as noted I’ve had several wage increases in that time (again in pounds). Thoughts I have about this situation: Starbucks coffee now looks quite cheap. I have no choice but to stay here for the moment as my savings are worth almost nothing in the US. Should I invest in real estate since the economy is so bad, or wait until it appears to have fully tanked? Thank goodness I have no car and a corporate apartment/flat that is not digging into my savings. Maybe a mortgage is a bad idea. What do I do about charges made on my US credit card in the summer for which I have been lazy about submitting reimbursement requests? (I suspect I’m screwed there!) But in the grand scheme of things, this sort of change in the exchange rate really does make a person wonder about the fundamental meaning of money. I don’t understand how it works, and the dramatic change in exchange rate in such a short time just confuses me. Talk about worries one never has when living and working in a single country (and likely that of one’s birth)… exchange rates only became part of my regular thinking on moving here in better times. Now I don’t know what to do, nor do I understand why Britain seems to be doing worse than the rest of the world when its general problems have been based on the US!!!


My goal in being a blogger is multi-fold. I vent a bit, about the strange and inexplicable things that happen when you move to a foreign country. I try very hard to be amusing if at all possible. I started doing this for the same reasons that many people do, I wanted to document my experiences and thought that it might be fun to turn into a book (even if only a self-published volume like that of the awesome Female Science Professor, which got reviewed favorably in Nature of all places!)

I’ve been pleasantly surprised lately at the whole concept of the “blogging community”–people who read each others’ blogs regularly, and mostly I find myself reading and commenting on those of other expats–primarily but not exclusively Brits in the states and Americans over here. To me, this has formed a little network of cyber-friends, I don’t know these people in real life (i.e. in person) but over time a sort of pseudo-friendship develops that adds something bright and shiny to my average day, especially when I’m having a rough time and looking for someone to “talk” to (or perhaps, more appropriately given the media, to “talk” AT).

I came to blogging through a blog-like web forum for my technical community. When I first arrived here in the UK I would sometimes type notes about my experiences on my computer, but it was not until about 6 months after I moved here that I started writing in this sort of forum for anyone to see. For a short time I even maintained two separate blogs with completely unrelated names and posting pseudonyms; the second version has disappeared now that I got what I wanted to discuss off my chest, so to speak, as it was on a very specific topic.

The thing that motivates this post, and that has been puzzling me, is the tendency for people to post very negative comments on blogs. I don’t really understand the point–why waste the energy going to the trouble of making snarky comments about someone who you don’t even know? I’m all for the spirit of debate, for the discussions to be passionate and enthusiastic, but what does a person get out of extremely negative commentary? If the idea of this type of forum is related to a diary more than anything else, what is the purpose of saying “your opinion is all wet” when it’s just that, an opinion, an impression, a feeling? Investigative journalism may be the realm of many blogs, but it is not in my experience the purpose behind expat blogs or other personal stories that people have opened up their hearts to share with the world at large. It seems to me like it’s a waste of energy sending out so much negativity into cyberspace.

John Stewart on yesterday

OK this made me laugh out loud, much needed! John Stewart deconstructs the inauguration. (Tried to embed but did not succeed…)


I was so wondering WTF when Warren said the Obama girls’ names, not least of which because I’ve had a friend Malia for about 20 years.

And our national anthem is?

I had a meeting with my boss at 4 pm today, and was delighted when he stopped the meeting at precisely 4:16, suggesting it was time to adjourn so we could go home and watch the inaugural festivities. I zipped home to catch the live feed streaming over the interwebs–thank goodness (I don’t have a TV)–and got to witness history, armed with a glass of M&S champers. The proceedings went along but I was mostly just watching as an interested observer until the point after the speech, when the military chorus came out to sing the national anthem and I inexplicably burst into tears!

Checking the BBC immediately post-festivities, I was terribly amused to find the following statement in the article linked here:

which reads, “Aretha Franklin then sang the US national anthem against a backdrop of clear blue skies and light wind.” Those who watched the proceedings might recall that Franklin sang “My Country Tis of Thee” which, although a lovely and patriotic song, is NOT the US national anthem. Although ironically of course it shares a tune with the UK anthem, apparently causing some confusion in the BBC newsroom! I logged a comment stating as much, and within an hour the article had been updated to this:


“Aretha Franklin then sang against a backdrop…” with no mention of the altered content nor my comment posted. Now I am not a big fan of changes to an article being made without it being noted that it was updated for factual inaccuracies; when I’ve come across similar issues on the Economist website they have both updated the article with a note at the end stating the correction, and left the comment in place to demonstrate the reason for the correction. Apparently the Beeb does not have an editorial policy which similarly acknowledges their own fallibility!

Regardless, the swearing in was lovely if slightly inarticulate, the speech was particularly interesting to this person who had not heard Obama deliver a speech previously, and America has a new president to rally behind even as the world economy (and the value of the British pound in particular) continues to crumble. Here’s hoping for a speedy recovery…

Today SHOULD be a holiday

Apparently the Americans have gotten this one TOTALLY right. Today is MLKjr day, a federal holiday in honor of one of America’s lost heros. Today is also apparently “Blue Monday” or the most depressing day of the year. So the Americans have it totally right to have a holiday today, and I sure could have used one! Although I tend not to find January depressing; with a birthday just over a month after Christmas, there’s still something for me to look forward to.