Category Archives: Expat blogs

Dear so-and-so, Rant-y English edition

I’m behind in voicing my rants against the locals…. I love my life in England but I must say there are a few things that make me want to scream…

Dear person in my flat building or visiting my flat building,

That thing where you insist on obstructing access to my front door, by parking with two wheels on the pavement/sidewalk directly in front of my building when there are plenty of spaces available in the actual building car park, is getting rather old. I would do something radical but as a person about to apply for residency in the UK I cannot afford to “key” your car or the like. Which is too bad, because it’s what you deserve.

You drive a Ford Zetec, it’s not actually a fancy car, NFAH

Dear work person visiting my turf who happens to be a “Sir”:

Congratulations to you for having been knighted. That must be nice. But hi-jacking my meeting with your own agenda, and sending me (the only woman in the room and the person who was supposed to be running the meeting) out to make photocopies for you just really sucked rocks and did not actually help the meeting to accomplish anything.

Yours, NFAH

Dear local buses on my number x route,

You advertise quite clearly that you operate “Every ten minutes into the City Centre” so I thought you actually meant that. When I waited at the bus-stop for 30 minutes this morning, I was confused. When the bus number xy that eventually did stop at my stop was a different number and decided to pick us all up at a stop that was not on your route I was confused. When you stopped at all of the normal route x bus stops it became clear that it had adapted the route of the never-was-going-to-come bus. This was confusing.

This is why public transport in England has a bad reputation, NFAH

Dear England,

the daffodils are blooming. The world is ready for spring. Normally in my last few years here you were very nice in April. Why are you persisting with this below freezing thing so late in March?

Would really like to turn the heat off now, NFAH


Let them eat cake!

Birthday cake, that is.

Yesterday was my birthday. For the first time, on my fifth birthday in England, I managed to do something fun on my birthday with new friends that I’ve made since living here. The common theme was Americans: I had both bloggers and work colleagues that just happened to be American, and several of them brought their British partners as well. My dear friend came down on Saturday to help me with the party prep, and that turned out to be both fun and a total Godsend when it came to acquiring all the groceries and cooking. I don’t know how I thought I was going to do it all myself. We made chili and guacamole and the cake and set out a tex-mex feast for my wonderful friends. By last night I was exhausted, a feeling which ran straight through to this morning (at which point I cancelled the few meetings I had and took a much-needed rest day). Having the party at my own place was important to me for several reasons. First, several people travelled quite a distance to attend. Meeting up in a restaurant just didn’t feel like it sufficiently expressed my gratitude at their willingness to attend. Second, I really like my new digs and I was really excited to show off what I’ve done with the place now that I’m unpacked and settled. And third, I had promised myself that I was now going to start acting more adult-like and do some grown-up entertaining now that I AM more settled.

It was great fun and I’m really glad I did it, although it was a hella lot of work. Note to self, perhaps go smaller next time and have a small dinner party instead of throwing a larger bash with numbers in the double digits! But I wouldn’t take a minute of it back–I felt so loved and so grateful to have new friends, friends that are really starting to change my views about my life in England and my longer-term future. But now, back to my regularly scheduled life.

Dear So-and-so, it’s been a while

I’ve been missing out on all the ranty fun but I’m back!!!

Dear Tesco,

Your signs are wrong. You do not need to see “ID” to buy alcohol, you need to see proof of age. The fact that such proof is often on a document that identifies a person is irrelevant, you don’t care what my name is but only when I was born.

Yes I know I’m being picky but still, NFAH

Dear Tesco,

Further to that last message, in your parking lot there is a strange aberration. When the pedestrian/bike path has to cross the vehicular traffic lane, the markings switch from pedestrians-left-bikes-right to pedestrians-right-bikes-left. Crossing over the pedestrians and bikes at a busy store and in the middle of the car lanes seems like a bad idea to me, but whatever.

I still shop there, NFAH

Dear Previous Occupants of my Current Flat,

When I moved in, the landlady gave me two names and forwarding addresses for previous occupants. I was rather confused, as I couldn’t understand why I would have to redirect your mail/post. I came to find out that in the UK, the Royal Mail does not forward your mail for free the way the USPS does, and you have to pay a nominal fee (roughly £40 for a year) for forwarding service. That was interesting in itself. The UK post rules appear even more interesting, in that one is (apparently, I am no lawyer) not allowed to just chuck post for previous occupants in the mail but must forward it or return it to sender. I hadn’t chucked it away but piling it in a corner to deal with later when I got an email forwarded from my landlady several months into my living here, from a previous tenant asking about why some post had not been forwarded. I ended up getting my secretary to help me with making return to sender labels because I was receiving vast amounts of post that was seemingly important, like things from the NHS with “confidential” stamps on it, and I did not want to get into trouble from not having forwarded it. But it has also become clear that there were far more than 2 (more like 5) people living here or receiving post at this address and I only had names and addresses for two.

Fascinated by the vagaries of UK snail-mail laws when surely most important communication is done electronically these days, NFAH

Dear sister,

I can’t wait for you to arrive and for us to have our fun little annual trip together. Will we be able to find Korean food in Spain? And will we be able to find a good weekend brunch with great bloody marys?

Love, NFAH

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 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.