Monthly Archives: October 2009

Midwestern Mash-up

It was always going to be a good idea. I had a massive deadline for 4 pm today, probably the most serious deadline I’ve faced in my professional career. Coincidentally, I had been trying to schedule with one of my Minnesotan-in-England friends a pub meet-up with a couple of other midwestern girls. The only trouble for me was going to be staying awake, after the 4 pm deadline and a 4-5 pm meeting, I was dragging at 5:30 and unclear how I would make it to the pub for 8:30. Fortunately I persisted with wakefulness and managed to go. And oh what I would have been missing had I not stayed awake.

The round up is this: I’m native Minnesotan but went to college in Michigan. My Minnesota friend is actually a transplanted southerner. The two new acquaintances were a Michigander who went to college in Wisconsin and a Wisconsinite who moved to Minnesota around age 10. And here we all were doing girls’ night in a British pub. Can you see all the conversation possibilities? Yes, it worked. Awesome. Throw into the mix that I’m having dinner tomorrow with another friend who’s actually from Illinois, and I’ve managed to cover a pretty large proportion of the midwest in a short period of time.

It’s a good question, though, why it’s such fun to hang with fellow midwesterners (I mean, not just other American women but specifically American women from the heartland) in England. Perhaps an even better question is why are so many midwestern American women in my local town? And how is it that they are all such interesting women, with interesting careers, opinions and experiences such that in all cases I’ve definitely wanted to see them again? Soon! Does this reveal something intrinsic about midwesterners, or just about the midwesterners who happen to move to England? And where are the British girls with equivalently interesting careers, opinions and experiences? How have I been here for three years and not met them, but I’ve met a whole gaggle (technical term) of midwesterners in the past few months?

I need a costume for Hallowe’en

I have the most random of Hallowe’en plans, which is that I’m going to a party at the Australian embassy in Paris. Yep. That’s me; Ms. International. But it’s going to be hard to top the costumed performance of my sister last weekend. She lives in China, as some of you may know, and she has a bit of a ‘Mando-pop’ obsession. As do I, now that she’s been feeding me things to listen to. I love music that’s good no matter what the genre, and some Mando-pop certainly qualifies (Leehom anyone?)

Over the weekend, my dear sis went to a concert for the band ‘Sodagreen’ in Shanghai and apparently managed to attract more than just a bit of attention.



Now I can highly recommend Sodagreen as a band, as silly as the name sounds, it’s some of the most innovative music I’ve heard in a while–combining pop music with classical themes, and I’m hooked. Yes, I’m hooked on Chinese pop music. Welcome to expat life. It’s a bit random and global. But you can see the whole lime green hair thing. So then we have my sister at the concert:



These images were taken from a Chinese chat website or similar, where apparently my sister had become famous for wandering around Shanghai as an Anglo wearing a lime green wig. She tells me the comments are on the order of, “I spotted her on the subway” and she also appeared on the jumbo-tron during the bid for an encore, so clearly she became a ’15 minutes of fame’ local celebrity in Shanghai. The full concert story is archived on a blog from her friend here, along with this photo:


Now two things are true. I have never been as creative as my sis, and I absolutely adore that she was wandering around Shanghai in this wig. And using it as part of a greater plan to be the lead singer of Sodagreen for Halloween. Second thing, I still don’t have a costume for Hallowe’en and I need help, being not as creative as my sis I’m a bit baffled at the moment.

Oh and maybe a third thing, I can’t wait until spring break when I’m going to China to see my sister’s life in person! Planning must commence immediately…

Dear so-and-so, autumn edition

Dear British girls with bare arms and bare legs when the rest of us are wearing coats and scarves:

Exactly how much do you have to drink to be that impervious to the cold?

Puzzled, NFAH

Dear little girls,

I saw you on the street wearing shirts that said “(Town) Community College” and realized that “community college” must not mean the same thing here as it does in America. I mean, I know I’m getting older and everything but you could not have been more than ten.

Curious, NFAH

Dear British Shopkeeper,

It was very charming to put a sign on the window of your old shop, when you moved locations around the corner. However, the sign reads:

You are just two minutes away from PROBABLY the best (thing) shop in (town).

Emphasis on “probably” being yours, not mine. Seriously? Could you please stop being so British and drop the “probably” already?

Exasperated, NFAH

Dear Self,

Do try and remember to stop by the market and buy fresh flowers every week. They brighten the place up and are so much better than the ones from the grocery store.

Just saying, Me

Time/Fall Back

UK daylight savings time (a.k.a. British Summer Time) ends this weekend, and I’m delighted. Why? Well, I love an extra hour. I could use one more often. “Fall Back” time has always been a happy time for me. But never so much as when I moved abroad. The first thing that is immediately noticeable is that the US does not switch at the same time, so there is a magical week of decreased time differences: 4 hours to the east coast instead of 5. Five to Minneapolis instead of 6. I love this. We get a few magical weeks each year in the spring and in the fall when this happens. I wish we could maintain the shorter time difference always, and I panic at the thought of the proposals to equalize the UK with European time and permanently move forward an hour, thus increasing the difference to 6 hours UK-east coast. Hopefully the UK-France animosity will prevent such an equalization and the Eurosceptics will prevail in this one small thing.

But this line of argument reflects the overall expat existence in some ways. I don’t live in British time. I live in some strange mid-Atlantic time-zone between here and there. The east coast is normally 5 hours, from me, the midwest 6, my colleagues in Colorado 7. I don’t seem to have many working relationships at 8 hours away in California, but I know it’s there. In general, these time differences are an automatic subtraction when I look at my watch and think about who I need to talk to and what I need to say. Fortunately I have a relatively flexible job in terms of the timing, and as a result I don’t normally book appointments before 10 am. And I often don’t “down tools” until 8 or 10 pm. I don’t religiously work a New York day, but I’m definitely closer to that than to a typical working day for those around me in the UK (although thank goodness 8 am starts are not the norm here, in that I do NOT miss Minnesota!)

That said, I have the intrinsic tendency to be slightly nocturnal, and sometimes this does not help. The time zone shift provides me an excuse for not integrating into UK time as well as I should. When I have to do something at 8:30 am (as early as I’ve been asked to do when not travelling) I’m pissy and resentful, because you can bet I was not in bed before 1 am (8 pm on the east coast!) It’s a delicate balance. And I’m eager to hear from readers–on both sides of the pond–how they accommodate this moderate but not insignificant time difference. Is it a help or a hindrance? Is it better to be in China (as my sister is) and be completely shifted in the US, or is it good to have this evening window both in the US and UK where people can overlap in timing, as long as the US person gets home from work early and the UK person manages to stay awake late?

Clickers, anyone?

England is pushing me back to the 80s. When I was in junior high and high school, it was that transformative time in women’s hair styles where big, tall curled and hair-sprayed bangs and the required associated implements, curling irons, were all the rage. At some point, the “must have” item in my adolescent world became the “clicker” or cordless curling iron. Called a “clicker” because it had fuel cartridges and an ignition mechanism that made a loud clicking sound, it was the thing that defined a girl as cool. I had to have one. I did have one. C’mon ladies, surely you remember?

Fast forward somewhere between 15 and 20 years and I’ve bought one again–that’s right, I have a brand new “clicker” cordless curling iron for my newly shorn tresses. The reason I needed such a device, of course, is the lack of electrical outlets in the bathrooms in the UK–coincidentally the only place in my flat where I have a large mirror, but in which I can’t have electrical tools for styling my hair. Unless I use the webcam on my computer in my living room for styling, I’m sunk and regular use of the webcam is just too silly to admit.

After chopping off my hair yesterday, I realised that at the new length I could do my favorite 40s movie star looks if I had some curling implement. Went to my local Boots and sure enough, the “clicker” is everywhere–available in 3 different sizes and refill fuel cartridges also available aplenty. I now wonder where the thing developed–was it really a portable hair convenience tool in the US, or did it grow out of necessity in the UK due to this strange electrical code that forbids curling irons in the bathroom? I’m sure I’ll never know. But I was sporting fabulous 40s hair at the work dinner I attended this evening, and I’ll be happily using my cordless “clicker” in my UK bathroom in weeks to come.

Expat Haircut Surprise!

First of all, if you live in the UK may I highly recommend the online booking facility available for Toni and Guy and Essensuals salons? This is so cool. You have to have been at the salon and be “in their system” to get registered, but then you can book haircuts online (and thus avoid the inevitable difficulties associated with accents and telephone calls… or is that just me?) So I did this and had my haircut today. Chopped. Hacked back to a chin-length bob from half-way down my back. I was tired of it taking so long to dry. My instructions to the lovely gentleman who cut my hair was to only leave it long enough to get the top half into a ponytail for the gym. Else it was going to have to go, and go it did. I left piles of hair on the floor of my local Essensuals, hooray!

So expat awesome surprise number one was that my randomly-selected hairdresser (that is, the one who was available for a cut after noon on a Saturday!) was an expat, he was from Vancouver. So North American bonding a-plenty. For once I actually enjoyed chatting while my hairs were falling to the ground; there was none of the stilted small-talk that I’ve experienced with the British girls who have cut my hair. And I suspect it’s both things–with one really important exception (Estetica in St. Paul, Minnesota) my best haircutters have always been men. And yes, nearly all of them were gay. And that brings us to expat awesome surprise number two; when chatting with the lovely Canuck about long term plans, he said “Well my husband is British so I’m here for the long haul” and I remembered “Woo-hoo, I live in a country where a gay man can say that!” Yesssssssss. Good things about England indeed. OK, fine, technically it’s civil partnerships but still…

Given this awesome experience (not to mention a pretty good haircut) I followed my lovely readers’ advice and left a generous (a.k.a. American-style) tip. Although the link URL reminds me why I needed a haircut so badly… has it really been seven months since I’ve had my locks shorn? No wonder I was looking such a right mess. Oh well, I’m sure now with the ability to book a haircut online, I’m actually more likely to go back. And look for my good Canadian friend.

Expat Blog links

One of the more visited links on this site is the “Expat Blogs” list, probably because a mini-community has formed whereas some of us in the US-UK group especially tend to “see” each other commenting on the same blogs, commenting on each others’ blogs, and even meeting up in real life (I’ve met three of the “Americans in the UK” on my list.

I’ve just updated the list with a few that I realized were staples in my blog-reader but absent due to my only updating the list every 6 months or so; but here is where I admit that I am not perfect (!) and cannot keep up with the chatter. If you know of a good expat blog, US-UK or otherwise, and particularly if it is something that you comment on and read regularly and think this little community would like, could you please post a link here in the comments section so I can add them accordingly? Thanks!!!

Videos (with apologies to those who have seen them already)

There are several, dare we say “viral videos,” that have given me a good laugh this week and although I thought everyone in the world must have seen them, thanks to multiple facebook appearances, I ended up showing one of these to people twice today so I thought I’d add them here… if nothing else, to make it easier for me to find them to keep showing people!

Everything is amazing right now and nobody’s happy

This one was particularly good for an engineer. One of my team was complaining this week about a piece of equipment not working reliably, and I had to shake her and say “this thing makes measurements with nanometer-scale accuracy… this is amazing!”

Sell the Vatican, Feed the World (NSFW since it’s Sarah Silverman, duh!)

I love Sarah Silverman. Love her. And I’m not a huge fan of the Vatican (just a mention of Catholics and contraception in Africa in the same sentence gets my blood boiling…)

Rachel Maddow on the Obama Nobel Peace Prize

I was originally not so keen on this award but I find Rachel Maddow’s analysis quite compelling. I particularly liked the clips of the Republican media types saying outrageous things near the beginning of the clip. Oh Rush Limbaugh, you manage to make a complete arse of yourself every time you open your mouth!

Tiny children who must come from a circus family, on Ukraine’s Got Talent

I wish my Russian was better so I could catch more then the little performers saying hello and what their names were. But they’ve either been in ballet school or gymnastics school from a tender age with the level of skill (and balance!) that they’ve got. Thanks for this one to my favorite professional friend blogger.

Update: Commercial. Too good to miss.

Thanks to a relatively random facebook friend.


I stumbled on this fantastic website, wordle that makes up to the minute text clouds based on the words you are using most often. I tried it for this blog and was delighted and not surprised to see the huge word “coffee” along with all the others… try it yourself. It’s fun 🙂

blog wordle

There are no bumper stickers here and I just noticed

I have now passed my expativersary and thus have lived here more than three years. I do not own a car and I walk to work, to the gym, to the store, anyplace I need to go within my town. But somehow it had completely escaped my notice that the cars in England aren’t likely to have bumper stickers whereas many cars in America do. I certainly noticed lots of bumper stickers on my drive down towards the beach and back in August. And many of them were political, religious, or both. It was interesting at the time because I had forgotten that aspect of American culture–the proudly displaying one’s views on abortion on the back of one’s vehicle. And it took several weeks back in the UK for it to dawn on me that I don’t remember ever having seen a bumper sticker here. Or car art of any sort. No University stickers in the rear window, none of those silhouettes of barbie-figured girls on the back of trucks. Certainly no “OBX” stickers, which were on most cars heading in that direction. So clearly this is just something that has not caught on in the UK, the sticky things must not be available for sale the way they are in the US, with the end result that I spend very little time in the UK reading someone’s unsolicited views about abortion while stuck in traffic. And I have absolutely no clue if your kid made the junior high honor roll.