Monthly Archives: July 2011

On the other side…

… of the pond. I flew to the states today for a week-long work conference thingy, which is a quite typical thing that I do for my job. What was not typical about this trip was that I had a rather late-in-the-day flight out of the UK (5 pm) which placed me in Boston around 8 pm local time, and I had to clear immigration and get my baggage and pick up my rental car and drive 30 miles to my hotel at what was essentially 2 am in the morning for me. Remind me not to do that one again. I suppose I could have stayed at an airport hotel (and maybe I should have done so) but I am on my way to Maine and it made some sense (at least on the day that I booked it) to stay in a hotel north of Bean-town and on the way to Maine, not to mention the fact that it’s a hotel I’ve stayed in previously when on the same sort of work trip in the past. It all seemed sensible at the time at which I booked it, and it all seemed like madness at the time at which I got off of my flight and had to drive whilst being a zombie. But that’s done. All is well. And the fact that it is a “suites” hotel meant that they had frozen dinners available for purchase in the lobby and a microwave in the room, so I did not have to go out in the car again once I had managed to make it to the hotel, so all good. Hooray for American convenience and Lean Cuisine. (How sad.)

I got on the internet at the hotel only to find that Amy Winehouse had died and Cadel Evans is about to win the Tour de France. I care fare more about the latter than the former, but the former was clearly of more interest to my Facebook and twitter friends than the latter. Hopefully tomorrow a few more people will be as excited as I am about the first ever Australian TdF winner-in-waiting. (I don’t want to jinx it.)

Being, as I am, rather stressed out about immigration matters, I was really dreading my arrival into the US. Two times in the last two years I’ve been harassed by the border guards at the US border about why I live abroad. When I’ve tried to explain about my (pretty awesome) job, they have in both instances tried to volunteer a (roughly) equivalent US job that I should be doing instead. Now this would not be that stressful except for the fact (warning, confession coming) that I did apply for similar jobs in the US about 9 months ago, knowing full well that such a US job would save me from having to go through the stress of the immigration process. And the fact is, no one hired me. There were various reasons for this, I’ve spoken to several people about it and I’ve been reassured that if anything I was too qualified for the jobs I’d applied for, but basically when you’ve just been turned down by US institutions for jobs and you’ve just started to deal with UK residency paperwork, this is not the time that you want to be hassled by US border authorities about why you live and work abroad.

Fortunately the nice man tonight in Boston airport’s border patrol did not bug me about it, although he did make me explain in significant detail what I was doing here (attending a conference related to my work) and that I did not live here and had not been touring around Europe. Which brings me to my point (and I do have one!) that it’s still not that common to be a US citizen who chooses to live and work abroad. And I don’t have the “married to an Englishman” excuse, which seems to me to be far more easily understood by the world compared with the “have a job in England” reality of my life.

Which brings me to my reality. I was never sure that I was moving to England for keeps when I moved there, and I am still struggling with the facts right now: I have a great job in England, I don’t have a job in the US, and I’m stressed out about the paperwork associated with staying in England beyond my 5 year work permit visa (obtained in 2006, which feels like a thousand years ago). I thought of the England experiment as a 3-5 year career move that has turned out to be a bit more complicated. I am now conflicted, as I feel neither English nor American, and my words on the subject have this week managed to piss a number of people off, as evidenced by comments made here and on twitter. I hate the British attitude towards Americanisms as defiling the (British) English language, but I am equally annoyed when overhearing conversations of visiting Americans in Heathrow airport that make me want to defend my adopted country and all of its foibles. A Brit who resides in America and has for a long time recently told me that it would be difficult for me to return to life in the US, and I wholeheartedly believe him. This is the complication that one never thinks about when it sounds glamorous and interesting to go live in Europe for a while. Once you live abroad, your thinking changes and it’s hard to ever go “home” again.

Here we go again: Americanisms

I’m almost out of things to say on the topic of the British obsessions with what they claim to be horrid “Americanisms” and how they are ruining the English language, but there were a few pieces of fantastic commentary out there yesterday debunking this latest, most pathetic effort by the BBC to stir up anti-American sentiment. So here are the links, in a sensible order, for anyone not bored by this and wishing to catch up:

I agreed, and nominated “willy”. I keep meaning to write an entire post on the British male’s obsession with their own genitalia, or at least with talking about their genitalia, but every time I think about sitting down and actually writing such a post I just sigh and move on to do something else. But for the record, “willy” immediately brings to my mind “limp dick”. So British males, when you keep using that word (all over Twitter, for some reason), that’s what you’re making me think about you. You’ve been warned.

In other news, my immigration situation hit a slight snag this week and I’ve spent some time on the phone with two different (British male) immigration lawyers and generally alternating between feeling hopeless about my future and feeling rather Devil-may-care about it. So basically I’m in shock and suffering from crazy visions of the future in rather starkly different scenarios. The bottom line point is a good one, in that the “try to imagine the worst case scenario” involves going back to America (as opposed to some place like Somalia) and perhaps writing that very snarky book about living 5 years in England while living off my savings and trying to find a job. And the best case scenario is that everything goes on just like it is now. So I’m not going to worry. This is not a life-or-death thing, it is a stupid-paperwork-and-bureaucrat thing. And I’m going to just keep telling myself that while I try to get through the next few months with my sanity intact.

Life in the UK

Have you ever been so caught up in the tedium and details of doing something that the full magnitude of what you are doing does not sink in until hours later? Yeah, that’s me today. I took (and fortunately PASSED!) the UK citizenship test this afternoon. Now I am not actually applying to be a subject of the Queen at this point (I can’t yet) but I did have to pass the test for my application for permanent residency in the UK, which has to be submitted soon. This is just sinking in.

Now I know I have made many long blog posts about my 5-year work visa expiring and the fact that I have to do this, so it’s not like it is a big surprise that I am applying for permanent residency in the UK. My job was made permanent a few months ago, and that was important too. But at the moment, a few hours after the test and now that the details are not as important as they were all week, the magnitude of this is just starting to settle in.

I always go back to the fact that I had not been outside North America (and I’ve still not been to Mexico so that’s just the US and Canada) until I was nearly 25, and I’m now relatively established in England, having lived here nearly 5 years, at the ripe old age of 35. I’m on my third flat in the UK, I basically know how to get around and function in daily life (and let’s not dwell on all of the things that I did not anticipate about trying to navigate daily life in England after having lived 30 years in the US, it’s mostly here on this blog in the archives!) and I know that I would have a difficult time if I moved back to the US now, as I’m quite accustomed to (and quite like) my life in the UK.

Which brings us back to today. It was a long day. After a long week. I booked the “Life in the UK” test for today nearly 3 weeks ago. Last Saturday, not quite a week ago, I spent the entire day learning UK trivia, and I then spent parts of Sunday, a few hours each night that I could this week, and then two hours last night and an hour on the train this morning studying. Now I hate to sound smug about this, but it was a lot of hours to spend memorizing UK demographic statistics for someone with a PhD in Physics and who is a native speaker of the English language. I was, thus, quite glad that I passed, because it would have been rather humiliating to have had the opposite result. It would have also been careless. Because no matter how seemingly silly it was that I had to memorize facts like “there are 5.1 million UK citizens in Scotland” and “1% of UK citizens are Hindu” and “45% of ethnic minorities in the UK live in London” (NB this is not giving away any information about the test itself, this is merely a recounting of the facts in the book that you have to study in order to take the test) I had to put a lot of hours into it. This was a serious test, and it required preparation. And taking the test today was a full-day effort, since I had to travel nearly an hour by train to take it, and the fact that the test is formally only 45 minutes long (or much less) does not prevent the process from taking far longer than that. From the time I left my home this morning to the time I was back in my office this afternoon was 6.5 hours. Yes I had time to do some reading for work during the process, but when a friend told me to devote the entire day, she was giving me really good advice. Losing a work day is not something to take un-seriously, so perhaps that was a good lesson.

I’m glad it’s over, because I have a day job to get back to, not to mention some massive forms to fill out to finish this process of residency application now that I have the “pass” certificate. And I’m sure when that’s over I’ll feel another wave of strangeness over the fact that I’ve actually applied to live in the UK permanently, that I have a job here that is permanent and that I have no plans for any other alternative.


One problem with blogging rather anonymously is that sometimes it becomes difficult to impossible for me to have anything to say in this venue, when big things are happening in my job, or in some other aspect of my life about which I have chosen not to talk about here. So that’s the first thing on my mind right now, that big things have been going down, they have taken up a ton of my time in recent months, and there is very little I can say about it without giving away some of the details of my life that I have chosen to keep quiet. Let’s just say that this started with my moving house last summer, the first anniversary of which passed just last week. So 13 months of dealing with this thing has been rather annoying, every time I think I’ve sorted it all out something else happens, and I’m hoping for news later today that will let me see if and how this is going to get resolved in the future. And no, this is not something to do with my day job, which is very lovely and hunky-dory at the moment if a bit madcap busy. So there. The least informative update on the life of NFAH as there ever was.

(And don’t forget in the midst of this all I’m working through my permanent residency paperwork, which is another big thing keeping me busy. That’s something that I never really understood about living abroad until I actually did it: there is far more paperwork than if you lived in your home country. Taxes are complicated. Visas are complicated. Banking is complicated. Things that you would not normally think about living in your home country become huge time and energy sinks in a host country. So free time for blogging becomes a figment of your imagination!)

This does bring up an interesting point. I have, in the wake of the scandalous unveiling of a lesbian Syrian blogger as a married American man residing in Scotland, read various posts against anonymous blogging that have made me think about this quite a bit. I understand the point that if you are saying things that have political impact, it’s important to use your own identity. Similarly with science, medicine, and other such topics for which your background and position matter a great deal to your message. You might notice that, although I have a PhD and a Serious Scientific Job, I don’t often say much about the subject of science or medicine. If you know me and know what I do all day, you will also have noticed that I choose not to write much about the sector of the economy in which I work. Occasionally I can’t help myself, but I do actually try hard not to do so and certainly not to try and claim great expertise or authority in the subject since I am not revealing my face or position.

This makes things interesting. And I know people have varying view points on the subject. I don’t actually have a science or work blog, although I do have two Twitter accounts, one in my blog name and one in my real name. Most of the bloggers with whom I interact are using their own names and faces, although some do suppress some details (kids’ names, especially) in the interests of privacy and protection. I happen to know that if you desperately want to know who I am, there are enough identifying details floating around the four years of archives to figure it out, and I know that at least one person has. But I thought it might be worth revisiting the reasons for my standing behind the NFAH curtain. I wanted to talk about expat things without talking about my job. In my world of science, our names are very google-able and I wanted to keep this little expat blog project separate from that.

(As an aside, in the worst job interview I ever had for what turned out to be the worst job I’ve ever had, the person interviewing me had googled my name and came not just upon my various publications and things, but also on the website of my ex-husband all about pinball machines. At this point we had been divorced for five years and I was appalled to have him brought up in the interview!)

I’ve joked on more than one occasion that I have a grand plan that involves writing memoirs of my life in England at some distant point in the future when I’ve perhaps gone back to America (or not–but the memoirs would still be intended for an American audience). This blog is not actually likely to be much help with that, since there ARE so many things that relate to my job and my life over here that have NOT been recorded in any detail. I have tried hard to keep this about US-UK things and expat things, and other general life things that might interest someone who is interested in expat things (like my travels in interesting places like China and Australia). Yes, there are a few places where there are little hints to myself that may trigger my memory, especially in the very rant-y early years when things were a lot more difficult and lonely than they are now. But I’m quite interested in thoughts and feedback about choosing to be or not to be anonymous and pseudonymed in this context. I’ve clearly made my choice, and I’ve tried to explain why my real name is not plastered all over this blog. But I know lots of people have made the opposite choice, and I know plenty of people have negative views of my type of decision.