Category Archives: work

The rise of the travel blogger

I probably have just noticed this, because I am a fully employed person who admittedly travels the world, largely for work and occasionally for fun, but there seem to be a large number of bloggers out there who are engaged full time in travel blogging. And I am finding this slightly fascinating. I am not always able to pay my credit card bills in full due to my taking adventurous work trips to interesting places where I can’t quite get my trips fully funded by my work obligations, but where I decide that it’s a good idea to travel regardless because the opportunities are immense in terms of seeing interesting things and traveling to interesting places.

Clearly, there is a sub-set of the (American, or other “western”) population who agrees with me, that travels to interesting places are a mandatory part of our lives and thus this sort of foreign travel needs to be done regardless of the details of the finances. But the people who have no formal jobs and who are virtual nomads, blogging about their adventures? How do they do this? I am not saying that I would give up my day job if offered the opportunity, but I am still fascinated by this phenomenon because there just seems to be so many people out there on this pathway.

I have never made any attempt to “monetize” my blog, nor have I been the type of person who has seeked blog funding or website revenue. But I am truly interested in the stories of those who have. Some of the travel blogs I’ve read have been sadly full of poor grammar and thus clearly not edited by anyone. It’s not like these are words that will make themselves found in future travel guides without substantial effort. Is this still the new frontier for travel writing? Are these blog posts full of grammatical mistakes going to be the edited versions found in the next Lonely Planet edition? Curious bloggers want to know. And those of us with day jobs who happen to be living abroad are remarkably curious (and perhaps slightly jealous?) about those who have made this a nomadic lifestyle.

Christmas carnage

Tonight was my annual Christmas party for my group/team from work. It was the fourth consecutive year that I’ve managed to do this, to invite all of my crew, and their partners, to my home for food, wine, and general festivities. The affair has grown, since its inception, from a simple wine-and-cheese party, with me providing all of the nosh, to a deluxe pot-luck. Thank goodness I’ve moved into a larger flat, because I had 14 adults, plus a baby, plus me, in my living room tonight. My crew is quite international, and it was a delight to have Thai fish cakes cooked by someone from Thailand, along with Gluhwein made by a Brit with a German girlfriend, loads of British classics like mince pies and biscuits and cheese, and my own contribution–Dutch doughnuts according to my late grandmother’s own recipe. In previous years, when I had an Italian in the group, we discovered the beauty of tiramisu packed as a filling into my Norwegian grandmother’s Krumkake. I always make a hot crab dip (not necessarily adhering to this recipe at all!) and the local Brits love it, as they don’t seem to have this sort of recipe in their standard repertoire. I’m now dealing with the kitchen carnage, which is significant, but this annual party reminds me of why I love my life in England so much.

Home, sick

I posted on Facebook yesterday that I was home sick, and one of my friends–a European transplant to California–misread it as “homesick” and said that she felt the same. She figured it out, but I thought it was amusing as it is quite common to feel homesick when you are home, sick, in a foreign country and missing creature comforts associated with being sick back home. For us Americans, that’s things like the magical OTC marvel “NyQuil” for which no UK equivalent exists. Judging by the status updates of fellow sick Americans this week, this is one of those things we all bring back in our luggage. For me another is Aleve, an NSAID that doesn’t seem to be available in Europe and that works much better than ibuprofen for me, for some reason I have never been able to concretely establish (but suspect is because for a time I was on 2.4 gm of the stuff per day during a bad bout of arthritis pain, so I suspect I’ve built up some sort of immunity to the stuff!) A few years back a colleague at work tried to give me “LemSip” which as far as I can tell has a devoted following in the UK not unlike the American devotees of NyQuil, but I’m afraid it made me gag and did not make me feel better in any way, shape or form. Ditto with the remarkably thick, gooey and disgusting “chesty cough” syrup that I found here. It’s Robitussin or nothing for this girl, as it has been for pretty much all 35 of my years on this planet!

Being home, sick is not nearly as much fun as having a day off work. Although you have spare time with the internet and no constraints, you feel like crap and that sort of detracts from the freedom. I also find that it’s the only time I take naps. I could tell I was really sick when I needed a nap yesterday, as it was the first time I can remember since living in England that I have properly called in sick and then gone back to bed. I recall doing so back in Virginia, which would be more than five years ago. So I am lucky, I do not seem to get laid low all that often. The usual seasonal cold, of course, but this was much worse than that. I have a legendary tendency to avoid superfluous medical intervention, so as I am not actually dying I have not been out seeking professional help, but I suspect a mild form of bronchitis from the way that I sound like a baby seal barking unless I am constantly drinking fluids.

Which brought me to the realization that I have stopped drinking tea, except when I am sick. This is terribly un-British behavior, and in stark contrast to the many adaptations I have made to local life after 5 years living here. I used to drink tea quite regularly, back in the US before my arrival here. I was particularly fond of this magical sort:

I happened to find that I still had a few tea bags of this left in my cupboard, from some care package years back, when I was still drinking tea more frequently. In my home, sick state, my homesick self was thrilled to find Constant Comment in the cupboard and it is that which has been keeping my baby seal bark under control, as I try and half-work from my bed with my laptop. It’s never terribly productive, sick working, since the head tends to feel quite fuzzy, but you can sometimes get rather dull things done like answering 10,000 boring emails and doing website updates. I know, my life, the glamour–can’t even take a proper sick day. It’s true. With a 24-7 job, it’s tough to have such a luxury. At least I have tea.

Late Update: apparently I was home sick on a day in June. I know this because I blogged about it. I’m not the only one who goes back and reads their own blog archives and goes “OH YEAH!” right?

Through Fresh Eyes

There is a new member of my group and she happens to be an American and a she. She arrived just over a month ago, and regular meetings with her have really been amusing. See, she is going through the inevitable adjustments of being an American in England, trying to settle in and focus on her day job, while being reminded constantly of the fact that she is not from around here. Interestingly enough, this has made me realize that my blog tag-line is starting to be a little bit less true than it used to be. After more than five years in England, with permanent residency and a permanent job, I am a little bit from around here. And nothing reminds me of that as much as chatting to this new arrival.

I mentioned this to her today when we were meeting, when she was discussing the difficulties of adjusting to separate taps, life without a tumble dryer, with only mini-refrigerators under the counter, with food that seems like it should be familiar (salads and sandwiches) inevitably being different in some unexpected way. Of course, these days I’m fairly well-adjusted, and although I would very much like an American-style washer and dryer, otherwise I’ve managed to find comfortable accommodation with modern conveniences and my daily life is no longer as surprising because I’ve had five years to adjust to the local cuisine. She caught me out big time, saying I was “complaining about having nothing to complain about–how American!” and she was right. I don’t sound angry these days, and if you go back to the blog archives from the first two years, I definitely sounded angry at times. I spent a lot of energy in the early years worrying about my sense of other-ness, something that I hardly notice any more. And this is both being acclimated to being foreign and having adapted–in particular, I’ve adopted more local pronunciation and vocabulary than I care to admit, and she kept reminding me of that while we were speaking.

It sounds stupid to be wistfully sentimental for the early days of being an expat, but strangely enough that was how I felt after speaking to her this afternoon. At times in the early years, I was happy for a day when I went about my daily life without much of a reminder that I was in a foreign country. Now, the country is not so foreign, and I miss the days of remembering that! I suspect part of this is resignation to the fact that the ‘current economic situation’ is such that I am happy to have a good job and the likelihood of me making any big life changes soon is virtually nil. I can’t be the only person who craves change and craves adventure after a number of years of equilibrium! For now, I will stick with being cautious about what I wish for, and try to enjoy the feeling of fitting in.

As the sixth year starts…

I have been terribly busy. My 5-years-in-the-UK anniversary was two weeks ago today, and it already seems like a distant memory. My job has a fiscal year that starts in October, as perhaps could be inferred from the fact that that’s when I started 5 years ago, and that means the first few weeks of October are always absolute madness.

Because of this, I have not really had much time to think and reflect about my five years here. Some things have become quite normal and commonplace, while some things are as surprising to me as the day I arrived. I thought I might try to make a list. We’ll see how that goes. Feel free to chime in with suggestions. And you can tell that I’m a hobby blogger and not someone worried about a “brand” or “numbers” or anything because although there are posts about most of these things on this site, I am too lazy to try and dig up the appropriate links!

Things that still surprise me after 5 years in England.

  • Two tap sinks. Still totally useless IMHO, especially as a hand washing sink in my lab.
  • The way young girls dress. So much skin!
  • Public drunkenness. Which often leads to public violence and bleeding people in the street. And public urination (typically by drunk men in all three cases).
  • Cars parked facing each other. Cars parked half on the sidewalk.
  • Stephen Fry as a National Treasure. Not unrelated to… the existence of the show QI (which I watch regularly, but don’t know how to explain to people back in the states).
  • The school system. It’s so bloody complicated.
  • The fact that I have been here 5 years, am a scientist, and still have a tough time with temperatures Celsius and metric conversions of recipes.
  • The welfare state. I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to it.
  • The food. Try being a non-meat eater in a country whose cheffy chefs are in love with offal…
  • The language. I know from my trips back home that I say lots of utterly British things and sound very foreign to my American friends. But I also still struggle in my day-to-day life with words and accents.
  • Customer service. Or the frequent lack thereof.

Overall, I would say I’m rather well acclimated/acclimatized. Most of my appliances now are British plugged. My transformer for US appliances lives in the bottom of a closet for occasional weekend use with the one thing I have not replaced (my beloved Kitchenaid Stand mixer–I know, I should trade with someone who is heading stateside…) My closet is full of clothes acquired here instead of clothes imported from US shopping malls. Well, nearly on that last one. I still seem to occasionally come up with something that I simply cannot find here and must acquire abroad (Eddie Bauer no-iron button-down shirts, I’m looking at you!) I’m on my 4th UK cell/mobile phone and my third flat. My desktop and laptop computers were both bought here, along with much of my furniture. I love not needing to own a car, although I am seriously considering getting a UK driving license to be able to rent and explore this country that I have adopted.

For all of these reasons, I am seldom filled with the rage and frustration that characterized the early days of this blog. It’s kinda fun to go back and read the early posts, to remember where I was and how I felt back then. Life is not perfect–I am still sorely lacking in the area of good friends in my own town, but I suspect part of that is the fact that it’s quite tricky to find other 35 year olds who are childless and happy and thus share common lifestyles with mine. That would be tricky no matter where in the world I was, as I know from discussions with my fab sister both when she was living in China and now that she has repatriated to the US. I have hope that another few years will find me some improvement in that area. But overall, it’s hard to complain. Life lately really has been about day-to-day existence and rather little about being foreign, now that my residence visa is sorted and my job is in full-on crazy mode. I’m not traveling at all this fall, as I was unclear on the visa thing and so I’ve planned a few months of hanging around and enjoying my British life.

And really, I’m not complaining.

Homesick…

I’m just under a week from my annual return to my home town, Minneapolis, MN, for a visit. And I’m absolutely gutted that I don’t make these visits last as long as I should. I always visit MSP in August or September in conjunction with my annual proper beach holiday, in which I laze on the North Carolinian Outer Banks and hope that hurricanes will not come. Perhaps nearly five years abroad has made me miss home that much more.

One of the things I love about going “home” is the food. The foodie culture in Minneapolis is amazing, and it’s been changing so much since I lived there. So my trip will be filled with awesome eating and I have a brief trip filled with restaurant reservations. I’m still saddened by the loss of my favorite local restaurant, the no longer in existance Bayport Cookery, but I have plans to try and see and taste as much as I can in my short not-quite-a-week in town. I spent tonight, yes, a Saturday evening, reading restaurant reviews in City Pages dreaming of my days to be spent in the Mill City and near my old haunts.

I was, as readers of this blog would know, in the US last week for work, at a conference in Maine during which I worked like crazy and basically exhausted myself. I returned to an England that seems to be in the midst of an immigration crisis that I have a difficult time explaining or understanding. America has an immigration crisis, but it’s one to do with illegal immigration. Legal immigration is not something you see much about in the US press, except in the context of the success stories: immigrants who have settled in the states and started companies and succeeded. Britain, on the other hand, seems to be in a legal migration crisis where the idea that anyone from anywhere outside the EU might want to live here on a relatively permanent basis is toxic. This goes back to the unfortunate refrain of “British jobs for British workers” that has tainted the spirit here for the last few years.

Being American, and being only a third generation American (both of my grandmothers were first generation Americans and spoke European languages, Norwegian and Dutch) I find this rhetoric confusing and, well, hostile. UK immigration rules are tightening all of the time, and it’s been a constant worry in my years living here. Although I am subject to the rules that were in place when I arrived in this country nearly 5 years ago, it’s hard not to notice that people in my position would be discouraged from even entering the country for work purposes in the new rules being drafted. If they were allowed to come here, it would be temporary as the guidance is meant to refuse rights of permanent residency to new immigrants in jobs.

I spent the better part of this afternoon today on the phone with my favorite expat friend, the only person I know from the US who is, like me, a single, working, expat with a less-than-clear plan for the future based on the difficulties of living abroad and the lack of clarity surrounding long-term plans when you are in this situation. And here is where I become rather jaded. Had I married a Brit, the path would be clear. But as a single woman who happens to have a job working outside the US, it’s a bit muddled. The immigration people seem to be far more at ease about spouses than about people who have a job and thus contribute to the tax base and the economy in general (and without being a burden on the welfare system by definition). This mystifies me, and makes me slightly crazy at times.

I’m excited to be going “home” to Minneapolis and then to the beach, as I will spend three happy weeks in the US being less worried about my future as if I was in the UK. Several people have joked that I should apply for jobs equivalent to mine in Canada, as they do not seem to have the skilled immigrant situation sorted as a “problem” the way the UK does. But I have a great job here in England, that is on paper a contract for many years (until “the retirement age” which could mean forever) but that is only if the UKBA allows me to stay here by ratifying my immigration paperwork. I head “home” with a big question mark over my head and a lot of confusion in my heart. It’s hard to plan for forever in a country that is spending so much time making it clear that I am not wanted. But I love my job here and I have no desire to make a change when it really comes down to it. I’m homesick because I miss the days when I spent zero time worrying about these sorts of things. Of all the expat surprises I was not expecting when I moved abroad, the amount of time spent both worrying about and doing extra paperwork that locals don’t have to do is certainly the biggest. I still maintain that more people should do this and should get the experience of living abroad, but I increasingly understand why a temporary stint is more appealing than my sort of long-term situation. Here’s hoping that the time in the US will give me strength to continue with this battle when I return, and have to face the immigration paperwork with my full attention.

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.