Category Archives: Expat Life & Laughter

Expat Life and Laughter – Inspiration, expat stories and shared experiences of Trailing Spouses, Accompanying Partners, and Families in Transition.

Facebook settings.

Birthday Approaching? Change your Facebook Privacy Settings…

Facebook settingsFacebook have replaced Apple as the leaders in constantly changing terms and conditions, but with far greater consequences. Where their privacy settings previously allowed you to limit who saw what, now all bets are off and it only takes an ill-advised tag to have your worst moments immortalized.

So, while we are busy safeguarding our children from the perils of social media, a new challenge has snuck up from behind. Poor eyesight and the Facebook app…

I am now in the ‘of a certain age’ group, and frankly, things are starting to go a little downhill. Along with the anti-aging creams and the increasing reliance on Spanx, we are now seeing (or not) increasing use of reading glasses and the large font setting on your iPhone.

All very well, until you factor in the constantly changing privacy settings. It’s easy to pictorially record a moment for posterity and share it with the world, but when you are doing it on a two inch screen without your glasses on, it’s a recipe for disaster.

Now, when someone tags you in their status updates and adds a particularly awful photo of you, they may think they are only sharing it with their own friends, but they are not. They are sharing it with yours, and everyone else mentioned in that darn update. And as viewers around the globe share their condolences on the loss of your dignity, they just add fuel to the fire. Cos it’s now gone out to their friends, too…

[Tweet “A  new social media challenge has snuck up on the over 40s. Poor eyesight and the Facebook app.”]

You know it’s bad when my sister (also known for her fetching array of dodgy photos) laughs solidly for 10 minutes. On an international phone line. She has grown up with me, and has thus been witness to some blinders, but even she was impressed.

While Facebook is a wonderful tool for staying connected with friends, families and networks, never forget that it’s primarily a profit-driven business. It makes money by leveraging your activity against advertising access, which means it wants as many people as possible to see what you are up to. It then charges businesses to gain access to you, your activity and your network, and the more unrestricted (i.e. tagging, liking and commenting without setting individual privacy limits) interaction you have, the more valuable you are.

[Tweet “Check your Facebook privacy settings now. Once it’s out there, it’s ‘shampooing-the-cat’ difficult to get back”]

Let this be a lesson to you: check your Facebook privacy settings every time you post, comment and like, and while you are at it, consider adding your own internal filter before your fingers hit the keyboard. Because once it’s out there, it’s damn near impossible to get back. (Think shampooing-the-cat difficult…).

For those of you about to embark on a birthday weekend away with friends, here’s my ‘How to Remain Friends and Not Humiliate People” checklist. You might want to print them out and distribute them with the boarding passes…

 

1. Agree a “Posting and Tagging” policy pre-departure. Facebook is a minefield when it comes to offending people whose city you are visiting – especially if you aren’t visiting them.

2. If you post status updates to Facebook, notify anyone pre-tag so that they can have editorial approval. Your friends may find your offbeat humor hilarious, but their co-workers / future employers / elderly relatives may not.

3. Check your privacy settings before you go, and select either ‘just me’ or close friends. This video will take you through the umpteen places you need to do this.

4. If anything untoward creeps through, untag yourself or ask the poster to remove it. Never comment directly on the offending pic/post; doing so triggers a notification to your network and makes it even more visible.

5. If you are over 40, posting photos of people from your iPhone is strictly prohibited… Seriously.

6. As a last resort, temporarily ‘unfriending’ your travel companions will prevent them being able to tag you, so your network will stay blissfully oblivious. The bad news is that you won’t be able to see what’s being posted, but any shared friends will…

 

So off you go. Now. Before Many Happy Returns takes on a whole new meaning…

 

heartbleed: the expat edition

Heartbleed: the expat edition

heartbleed: the expat editionContrary to the mythical serenity of expat life, 2014 has been the year of security breaches in the Defining Moves household. And we don’t seem to be rising to the challenge.

In February, our cars were broken into while they sat in our driveway, under the carport. There are two things of note with this; firstly, the only reason we knew that they had been targeted was that the thieves very kindly left the doors open so as not to wake us. Hence the first conversation was not “we’ve been burgled” but a lengthy, accusation ruled tirade about “who came in last and left the car doors open”..

It continued in the same vein when the Sheriff arrived. Her first question pertained to the ‘break-in’, at which point I squirmed.

” Define the term ‘break’..?”

Predictably, we had all left our car doors unlocked, and the genius in the family (that would be me) had also left a handbag in the car, now noticeably absent. A round of lengthy phone calls to the Department of Motor Vehicles, various card companies and the bank ensued.

By far the most annoying part of all this was the Other Half, who constantly nags me about locking the car when leaving it for more than three seconds, and who correctly predicted that I had left my purse in it. There are few things in life more irritating than the words ‘I told you so’ coming from a smug spouse.

The theme continued last week, with the advent of the HeartBleed virus. It prompted a flutter of panic in my heart, not so much the virus itself, but thought of

  1.  remembering all those passwords in the first place and
  2. having to update all the people who I shared said passwords with.

There is a certain irony when hackers are the only people who actually do know your log in details..

The Other Half came up trumps, with a list of sites affected that narrowed down my workload to a mere sliver. I crafted a new password that would pass even the most convoluted security requirement and set to work. And promptly spent the rest of the evening binging on Hulu’s back catalogue, which according to my list, was one of the sites unaffected. Safety first, I always say.

But the Gods of spousal comeuppance were smiling on me this morning, as the Other Half trudged into the bedroom with a strong waft of Burning Martyr following close behind.

“Why were you so late to bed last night?”

“I was changing all the passwords.” (said with a pious, superior air.) Do you know how many we have for all our expat health insurance? And our credit union accounts? But don’t worry, we’ve got a really strong password now”

At which point he reels off a long string of garbled numbers, letters and symbols that Bletchley Park would struggle to remember. And judging by the number of hesitations, missteps and corrections, so did he.

Cue pregnant pause.

Me: “Please tell me you did only do the ones that were listed on that email you sent me? The sites that actually use Open SSL encryption?”

OH: Silence

OH: “I’ll write the password down for you.”

Good to know that security is a priority. Now anyone who wants to get hold of our passwords has to navigate the enormous stack of unfiled paperwork that the Other Half leaves constantly in his wake.

Sometimes, low tech is the best defense.

 

Expat Success - Make your mistakes quickly. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful Relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global trailing spouse, accompanying partner, international assignment, expat family, expatriate

The Secret to Expat Success… And Why.

Expat Success - Make your mistakes quickly. Defining Moves - The Art of Successful Relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global trailing spouse, accompanying partner, international assignment, expat family, expatriate

 

 

I knew it. Finally, the insanity that is my expat life – and most of the website – has been vindicated, and it’s all thanks to Ellen Mahoney over at Sea Change Mentoring. She introduced me to the groundbreaking advice given by a tech start-up entrepreneur, as a recipe for global success and world domination…

 

Make your mistakes quickly

 

As a person whose family motto is “Disaster soon follows”, I have long been a proponent of this approach, with no idea that I was such thought leader. I had just assumed I was incompetent and (in a rare moment of self-acceptance) decided not to fight it. It’s a phrase that could be part of every expat mission statement, and should probably replace a lot of the well intentioned advice given in the all-too-brief briefing sessions; “learn the language”, “ get out and make friends” and my personal favorite “ join a gym”… Hmmm. Instead, the secret to expat success is familiar and effortlessly achievable – the global gaffe. And here’s why.

 

1. It reminds us that we will make mistakes.

In the assignment planning stage, it’s important to focus on the positive, but in doing so we often forget that expat life is still life. Mistakes happen, and when you are in an environment with unfamiliar language, culture, rules and expectations, they happen a lot. Making your mistakes quickly reminds us to expect – and even plan – for those mistakes. Whether that means working with a destination service provider or an expat coach, doing your own exhaustive research or simply being patient with yourself while you transition (or all of the above), it’s vital to acknowledge that perfection is impossible, and good enough is, well, good enough.

 

2. We focus on ‘right’ as a victory, rather than ‘wrong’ as a failure.

I once did a stint as a sales consultant and one of the job requirements was calling customers to set appointments. It was (and no doubt, still is) a miserable task –  you knew that your cheerful introduction could be greeted with anything from interest, to polite refusal, to a torrent of abuse and a dial tone. Thankfully, I was armed with a secret weapon; the company set targets for calls made, and let the actual results take care of themselves. So every call made was a relief – one less to do, one step closer to reaching the goal. Acknowledging that mistakes are inevitable (and in the early days, we are more likely to get it wrong than get it right) is incredibly freeing. It gives us permission to focus on the actions and let the outcomes take care of themselves. It prepares us for failure, and when things do go right, we get to stop, acknowledge it for the triumph that it is, and celebrate.

 

 3. It gets you out there.

Having taken away the fear of failure, there’s nothing like the element of competition to spur us on. Experienced expats (i.e. those who have been comprehensive in their cock-ups) can entertain for hours with hilarious stories of endless mishaps, miscommunications or general disasters; just visit the bar at any FIGT conference and listen for the raucous laughter if you don’t believe me. It’s the expat version of the Olympic Decathlon, with extra points for speed, style and variety. All that’s missing is the opening ceremony, the national uniforms and the lycra. But don’t let us stop you…

 

4. It helps you to bond.

If there’s one thing that unites the expat world, it’s our inability to watch people struggle without feeling some serious empathy. It’s one of the unwritten laws of expat life; we’re all in this together, and in my mind, there is a special place in Hell for expats who don’t help each other. Putting yourself out there and making mistakes publicly transports us all back to our early days and disasters, and gives us something in common that transcends language, culture or belief. It reminds us that we are human, and we love you for it.

 

5. It makes you brave.

Fear of failure is crippling, and stops us doing so many things that would take ordinary life and make it extraordinary. By contrast, being forced into situations where mistakes are inevitable and accepting them as a mere part of life’s journey gives us the motivation to be creative, to take risks and to try new things constantly. We dream big, and even if it doesn’t work out perfectly, we don’t go home. We learn that it hasn’t killed us, and we are really are stronger.

 

So there you have it – official permission to create chaos and have fun doing it. Providing of course, you follow our lead and share all your finer moments. Now we just need merit badges and an awards ceremony…

Gender, Communication and the Adolescent Male. A Recipe for Disaster.

The years of intercultural miscommunication are finally paying off. Having created chaos and given offense across three continents, I am now the acknowledged expert in the art of the apology, and thanks to Wiggy One, yesterday I got to practice them, Yet again.

For those of you with teenage sons, I know you feel my pain. For those of you who have yet to experience the joy that can only be found in trying to raise an adolescent male, you might want to file this letter away for future reference, because you are going to need it.

Dear Ms X,

I was somewhat alarmed at The Wiggy One’s current English grade, and on close questioning he confessed that after completing what he felt was an inspired essay on the themes contained within The Scarlet Letter, he followed it up with the classic line ” And I didn’t even read the book”. I was unsurprised to see your “Let’s talk” response, and can only congratulate you on your restraint.

I can vouch for the fact that he has in fact read the book in its entirety, mainly because he generously shares his discontent with the writing of Nathaniel Hawthorne on a nightly basis at the dinner table, and has stolen all of my Post It notes. I can only hope that War and Peace is not on the curriculum this year, or I may have to abandon home cooked meals in favor of TV dinners and a locked stationary cabinet.

I have yet to comprehend the inner workings of the teenage male mind, and consider my day a success if no-one died and nobody got pregnant. Low standards, I know, but it’s either that or risk developing an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. What I am looking forward to is that pivotal moment in college when he realizes that all the interest, time and effort that others have invested in him over the years has been because we are all kind, good and caring people, and not because he is the Uncrowned King of the Universe or the Second Coming, both of which seem to be common delusions in adolescent males.

We have had a sustained discussion on the value of knowing the line between off the cuff humour and being a disrespectful arse, and how he has crossed it. I have also pointed out that if he fails to rescue the situation, his dreams of college may be rather closer to home (i.e the local Community College) than he anticipated. You will be delighted to know that not only did you succeed in fostering his understanding of classic literature, but also of the consequences of ill-thought out comments and a newfound respect for the role (and power) of educators in shaping one’s future.

At this point, I should probably be pleading with you to grade him on his written efforts rather than his verbal idiocy. Truthfully, I would rather not have to deal with the repercussions of a 0 grade for the next 18 months, nor his potential extended residence at home, so I do appreciate any clemency that you might offer. However, I must also thank you for teaching him a very valuable lesson about words, actions, consequences and adolescent insanity. I have a feeling that this will be one of his defining High School moments.

Yours sincerely,

Me.

 

(Photo courtesy of The State Library of New South Wales)

expat life

Resilience and the Trailing Spouse. Especially for Gill and Sarah..

It has been echoingly quiet on this blog for the last month, with only the infrequent post and the odd lonely tweet. I’d like to blame this on the increased workload of the impending move (the eternal blight of the trailing spouse), my current role as co-chair of the Teacher Appreciation Committee (those of you who are familiar with my previous comments on volunteering will now be choking on your morning coffee) or my incredible behind-the-scenes productivity on the series of checklists that I am creating. Alas, none would be true.

expat life
Photo courtesy of ana-white.com

The truth is far less glorious. I have lost my perk.

For the last month, I have looked like a wet hen, moping around with a downcast air, a surly temper and absolutely no interest in doing anything but watching reality TV and Downton Abbey reruns. It is the pre-move gloom, biting hard, and it’s crushing my creativity.

Thankfully, this morning, my pecker is back up, all thanks to a couple of wonderful websites that I discovered – none of which have anything to do with relocation, but everything to do with creating a home. Yourself. With tools.

It turned my thoughts to previous partners in DIY crime, Gill and Sarah. Gill, who at 6 months pregnant was heaving up floorboards in our old Vicarage (don’t feel sorry for her – she returned the favor by bestowing on me the dubious honor of spreading 10 tonnes of horse poop on her very large and prickly raspberry patch) and Sarah, who flew 4000 miles to grout my tiles. (Both of these activities sound like euphemisms for something far more fun and frisky, but neither are. They are grotty horrible jobs made only bearable by having good-natured, willing and long-suffering helpers, and copious amounts of alcohol at the end.)

Hence the title of this post. Sadly, Gill has the policy of generally ignoring any blog post with the word relocation in it, because she is happily settled in rural Wales (or, as we refer to it, God’s own country. Not particularly modest, the Welsh..), with a large vegetable garden and a now glaringly absent (and therefore completely useless) gardening assistant, currently writing these words from the comfort of a warm bed, 4000 miles away from the rampant raspberry bushes and piles of manure.Having witnessed so many of my epic disasters, she is only hungry for tales of chaos, knowing that they go hand in hand with a thriving, curious and spontaneous person who relishes making mistake because frankly, they make the best stories.

Which, as you can tell from the crickets chirping in the background, has been the person who got lost for a while there.

But thanks to a morning of excellent internet connection and the wonder of Pinterest, I’m back now, and this is very good news on two fronts.

The first is that in honor of Gill and Sarah, I am including the links for the two of the best DIY websites that I have ever discovered, full of projects that you would actually want to display in your home and very, very detailed instructions.

The second? We have spent the last 2 years in San Francisco in a rented home, so not one of my geographically convenient close friends is familiar with this DIY obsession, nor my complete disregard for life, health, personal commitments and designer clothing in my pursuit of a spare pair of hands.

These unsuspecting dears are coming over to the new place for dinner on Sunday. It’ll be like lambs to the slaughter. I sense some really good inspiration coming on..

 

 The Friendly Home  (Great name, huh?)

Ana White (and here’s a direct link to her chicken coop plans)

 

Expat life according to stock photos

I was inspired by a recent Huffington Post – so much so that I headed over to iStockphoto and Getty Images to see what they had to say about expat life.

Getty images was by far the most prolific in it’s coverage of the subject, going so far was to attach ‘concepts’ to the category,

Relaxation (160)   Togetherness (153)   Choice (145)   Friendship (97)   Cool Attitude (59)

all of which seemed positively perky, but with very little resemblance to my own experience of expat life, unless you put the term ‘long-suffering/accident prone/abandoned at moment’s notice/separated by continents and timezones’ in front of the friendship bit, and bear in mind that togetherness is a euphemism for ‘traveling economy’.

The good news is that I found a lot of hilarious ones – mainly focusing on smiling, attractive immaculately clad couples unloading moving trucks, retired couples with all their teeth wandering through picturesque towns and plenty of  passports with wads of money bulging out. The bad news is that poking gentle fun at this rather photogenic view of expat life was going to cost upwards of $8 a picture, and as this site is currently (and somewhat naively) ‘sponsored’ by the Other Half, I had to reconsider.

So, in place of the Getty Image version of expat life, we have the rather more Gritty Image, Defining Moves version..

 

Traveling with Children

There is a reason you fly Business Class to your new destination. It’s designed to soften you up.

Exotic Expat Locations. Defining Moves - the Art of Successful Relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat partner, trailing spouse, accompanying partner.
No matter how happy they are to get on the plane..
Exotic Expat Locations. Defining Moves - the Art of Successful Relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat partner, trailing spouse, accompanying partner.
Don’t be fooled. Sooner or later, the wheels fall off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Expat Housing.

You get lured by the dream of bright sunlight, arching ceilings and no dusting.

expat housing. Defining Moves - the art of successful relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat accompanying partner trailing spouse.
You spend your entire preview visit searching for the dream house
expat housing. Defining Moves - the art of successful relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat accompanying partner trailing spouse.
…only to discover that there’s much more to a home than walls and windows.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Expat Reinvention.

It’s one of the main reasons we do it – to explore new ways of understanding ourselves, our relationships and our world..

Exotic Expat Locations. Defining Moves - the Art of Successful Relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat partner, trailing spouse, accompanying partner.
Exploring new ways to bond with your children..
Exotic Expat Locations. Defining Moves - the Art of Successful Relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat partner, trailing spouse, accompanying partner.
the joy of the great outdoors..
Exotic Expat Locations. Defining Moves - the Art of Successful Relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat partner, trailing spouse, accompanying partner.
embracing the charm of local celebrations..
Exotic Expat Locations. Defining Moves - the Art of Successful Relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat partner, trailing spouse, accompanying partner.
Or just using the opportunity for a little personal rebranding..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Family Life.

expat housing. Defining Moves - the art of successful relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat accompanying partner trailing spouse.
It’s an opportunity for family to draw closer together in mutual love and understanding…
expat housing. Defining Moves - the art of successful relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat accompanying partner trailing spouse.
..or maybe not.
Exotic Expat Locations. Defining Moves - the Art of Successful Relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat partner, trailing spouse, accompanying partner.
To explore the heights….
Exotic Expat Locations. Defining Moves - the Art of Successful Relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat partner, trailing spouse, accompanying partner.
… and to plumb the depths..
Exotic Expat Locations. Defining Moves - the Art of Successful Relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat partner, trailing spouse, accompanying partner.
… all the while growing in mutual love, understanding and respect..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exotic Locations

But it’s not just about the people – the environment you find yourself in has a huge part to play too. It’s all about challenging stereotypes and  assumptions..

Exotic Expat Locations. Defining Moves - the Art of Successful Relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat partner, trailing spouse, accompanying partner.
You leave the cold, bleak, perpetual rain of the Welsh coast..
Exotic Expat Locations. Defining Moves - the Art of Successful Relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat partner, trailing spouse, accompanying partner.
…to the blistering African sun…
Exotic Expat Locations. Defining Moves - the Art of Successful Relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat partner, trailing spouse, accompanying partner.
…To the legendary sunshine of California..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But at the end of the day, you learn that home is not just where you lay your hat, it’s where you rest your weary head.

Exotic Expat Locations. Defining Moves - the Art of Successful Relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat partner, trailing spouse, accompanying partner.
Whether it’s a water bed..
Exotic Expat Locations. Defining Moves - the Art of Successful Relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat partner, trailing spouse, accompanying partner.
… an air mattress…
Exotic Expat Locations. Defining Moves - the Art of Successful Relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat partner, trailing spouse, accompanying partner.
Or just right there on the floor with someone you love..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Developing Resilience and Expat Life. Defining Moves - Information, Inspiration and resources for the global expat partner, accompanying partner, trailing spouse

Developing Resilience in Expat Life. It’s been one of those days..

Developing Resilience and Expat Life. Defining Moves - Information, Inspiration and resources for the global expat partner, accompanying partner, trailing spouseIt’s been one of these days that we read about under the heading ‘Developing Resilience as an Expat’, and already I am an expert. To be fair, it’s nothing life and death, just a seemingly endless parade of disasters, bloopers and general humiliation that characterizes rather too much of my life. In Global Mobility literature, I believe they are referred to as ‘challenges’ or ‘opportunities for development’. In my world, they come under the heading of ‘oh, sh…ootarabbitdead’.

Current life in my world, involves the attempted purchase of a home while our bank accounts, assets and credit history all languish the wrong continent. Factor in a housing market where any homes not scheduled for immediate demolition are selling within a day of being listed and the impending Relocation Assistance cut-off date and you begin to see how the ‘challenges’ of international currency transfer, non-local residence and 8 hour time difference all begin to fray the nerves.

In amongst all this is my abortive attempt to submit my proposal for FIGT 2013, ending with me managing to apparently delete my entire presentation – predictably without making a copy. It would have been a little less embarrassing if I wasn’t on the selection committee and already in receipt of plenty of obviously glitch-free proposal submissions. It’s not an auspicious start.

So back to today. I got an early start on it all, which with hindsight, only meant that I managed to cram rather more chaos into a day than the average expat.

The morning began bright and early with me attempting to make a payment to an online currency exchange from our UK bank. Predictably, since the global financial meltdown, banks are now somewhat reluctant to part with deposited cash, and years of corporate financial shenanigans are now being remedied by tighter security for those of us who have yet to do anything shady. Perhaps if they applied the same rigor to their own dealings, we wouldn’t be in this mess, but who am I to comment on the morality of banking practices.

So, an hour and two international currency transfer attempts later I was walking the dogs, clutching the mobile phone registered to my account in a rather sweaty hand, lest security need to contact me to verify my inside leg measurement. Sadly, for reasons known only to themselves, they had chosen to make the call not on the painstakingly registered-and-verified-by-fifty-million-security-questions phone, but instead on the never-registered-just-used-once-on-an application-form-somewhere UK line. Not only was my transfer not complete, I was now locked out of internet banking, and all hopes of transferring a home deposit before Halloween were disappearing before my eyes.

Should anyone need to know where every single customer service department in Santander is actually based, I could now tell them. Three hours, and a oft repeated ricochet between Belfast and Liverpool call centres later, my account is now reinstated. Predictably, international banking is now closed, unaware that they have my call to look forward to tomorrow.

So when the email from the delightful Maureen at FIGT came through, complete with a retrieved copy of the proposal, I thought my luck had turned. I had demonstrated resilience, patience and good manners, and my efforts had been rewarded – I had both a functioning bank account (albeit still not he wrong continent, but I was determined to stay positive) and I now had a chance at demonstrating my charm, wit and intelligence on a global stage. All of which demonstrates why I will never earn a living as a psychic.

In my defense, I thought I was being both funny and helpful, neither of which I am ever attempting again. Mrs B had called with a request for more information about tonight’s Open House at the High School, and I felt if was my duty not only to share the official details, but also my behind-the-scenes-for-those-of-you-who-have-never-done-it-before review. It was witty, it was insightful, and if it displayed a somewhat less respectful tone (I believe a hip flask was mentioned), it was at least informative. It was also – thanks to a lack of attention to detail and a unerring skill for the inappropriate for which I am notorious – sent, not to Mrs B, but to the Principal of the aforementioned school..

There is that horrific moment at these times when you are desperately clawing at the computer, willing the laws of Google to suddenly change and allow you to recall something that you know full well is pinging into their inbox at that very moment. You want time to stand still, and then when it does, it finds you replaying in your mind just how that acerbic riposte sounded to someone who might not find your dry humor quite as hilarious as its intended recipient.

As all the literature will tell you, a sense of humor is one of the pivotal characteristics in developing and demonstrating resilience. What you might not know is that it’s even better when the other person has one too. That and the kind of grace under pressure that allows you to work with 12oo teenagers all day and stay sane and smiling. Clearly, the Principal has read all the literature about dealing with unfamiliar language patterns, acceptable behavior and diverse cultural norms and offered the universal gesture of tolerance, acceptance and forgiveness.

She laughed.

Thank God. I thought we were going to have to move schools.. Yet again.

 

Global Expat parenting - Defining moves, the art of successful relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global trailing spouse, accompanying partner or expatriating family.

Expat Parenting. Just how far do you have to go to escape the PTA?

Global Expat parenting - Defining moves, the art of successful relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global trailing spouse, accompanying partner or expatriating family.No matter where in the world we live, there are some things that remain constant. The unwary fall into the trap of thinking that expat life might be different, or that this relocation will be the one where you have freedom to think, space to grow, and finally, a life that looks something like the ones in the glossy magazines. Think again. For those of you who are currently struggling with the school registration vortex, here’s a repost of one of my favorite pieces..  

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there was a life that didn’t revolve around a steering wheel. Life was peaceful, the land was quiet, and the people were happy.

But discontentment snuck in. “Where were the children?” they asked. They could play in the fields, and learn in the schools. They could be polite and cheerful at all times, and help in the house. They could go to college, become professionals, and keep their parents safe and dry in their old age.

So they had children. For four years, everyone in the land was happy. But then the children started school, and the letters began. At first the letters were happy tales of the children’s day, and invitations to meet the kindly teachers. But then, the dark times began.

“Your child” it said ” has headlice, and will need to be kept away from school until you have successfully treated them and been clear for two days.”

And then another. And another.

“Please submit your TB vaccination certificate to the school office by Thursday”

“We require forty-seven volunteers, seventy-three cupcakes and three tubs of glitter for the Halloween party. Please indicate your donation below.”

“Your child has been cast in the class Nativity play. Please send in a cow costume (with detachable udders for hygiene purposes) by tomorrow.”

“We need 6 parents to drive on the field trip next Monday. Please complete attached form, with evidence of public liability insurance, TB vaccination certificate, auto service history to the class teacher by Friday. You will be subject to a background check.”

On and on it went, until  the house was unrecognizable, with papers covering every surface. Soon letters were being lost, the forests disappeared, and the cries from parents all over the land could be heard. And so the search began for a new way, a better way.

At first, email was good. But then the evil force took over, and soon parents’ inboxes were filled with clamorous voices from every side. “Come and support your child in the band recital / mandatory meeting for parents of the drama club students/ volunteer sign-ups for the soccer team / Back to School Night / Halloween Party chaperones and donations /school registration requirements / Orientation days”. It never stopped. Parents knew that if they didn’t keep up, their children would no longer be happy and would never go to college, and so the parents drove and drove, until they no longer spent time in their homes, but simply lived in their cars.  And just when they thought they could take no more, the “Reply All’ button was discovered, and insanity triumphed.

But somewhere, in a hovel in a small corner of the kingdom, an old crone discovered an answer to the chaos that had taken over, robbing her of her family, her life and her health.

It was the delete button. And it was good.

 

Coping with expat homelessness - My Family in Global Transition. Defining Moves - the art of successful relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat trailing spouse / accompanying partner.

Coping with Expat Homelessness – My Family in Global Transition.

Coping with expat homelessness - My Family in Global Transition. Defining Moves - the art of successful relocation. Information, inspiration and resources for the global expat trailing spouse / accompanying partner.It’s the latest expat dilemma in the Defining Moves household, and in answer to our newly homeless state, I’m moving in with my sister. She may be currently unaware of her impending fate, but I’m guessing that she will be the recipient of quite a few panicked phone calls to inform her within minutes of this post being published.

It’s been a tricky few weeks in our family life; a combination of relief/grief that our home (albeit not one we have lived in for the last 7 years) has finally sold. It’s the first home that the OH and I bought together, the one we spent 8 years of blood, sweat and tears (and near financial ruin) renovating, and is the place where Feisty entered the world, prophetically at high speed and interrupting a particularly good Royal Variety Performance.

It’s hosted Millennium parties, expat students, copious numbers of chickens and too many renovation weekend projects to count. Friends and family have been coerced into everything from installing septic tanks, tiling bathrooms and ripping up floorboards, regardless of ability, stage of pregnancy or copious quantities of small children. Ask most of my Facebook friends for their memories of the house and they will cite brambles, dust, chaos, dodgy alcohol, and hopefully, laughter.  But for the last eight years, it’s been rented by a number of tenants ranging from the delightful to the dire, and is beginning to show the strain.

Throughout our expat travels, it’s what we have always called home, so ten days to pack up a household and fifteen years of memories, friendships and roots were all too short. We saw so many friends that we have missed, and missed seeing too many more. All the while, we worried that we would lose our roots, our stability, and our sense of home.

But a funny thing happened as we drove away, en route to my sister’s house. As the house disappeared from the rear view mirror, we didn’t feel sad anymore. We had had a brilliant ten days, surrounded by people who we only get to see every few years, and yet we picked up the threads as if it were only yesterday. We blended back into life without so much as a ripple, and when answering questions about when we would be returning, it was clear that not only would we be coming back, but that we knew how, when and what adventures we are going to have. This particular chapter may be over, but the story is far from finished.

I had imagined that the kids would be sad, saying goodbye to the only home that they had ever known, but I had missed the obvious point. It has not been their only home, and everywhere they have lived, they have been surrounded by people who care for them, whether blood relations or friends. The people at ‘home’ have taught them about friendship, strength of character and what is really important, and those values are what the rest of our gathered global family have in common.

We have gained so much more than we have lost, and it took selling the house to realize it. We were so focused on the safety net below, we had forgotten to look at the view. Somehow, having no house to call our own meant absolutely.. nothing. We still had the laughs, the stories, the catching up and the paintball bruises. We still have friends who find time to spend with us, who tolerate the months of silence followed by hours of chaos and who understand that if we didn’t catch them this time, we will definitely see them next visit. The memories of good times didn’t disappear once the pictures were packed, and we don’t need to be in the same room to share a common ground.

As the miles began to build up between ourselves and our former home, the Wiggy One made a observation, in rather less sombre tones than you might expect.

“Auntie Sarah’s is our home now”. He was smiling when he said it.

I had been thinking the same thing only that morning, when I woke up in her house, on a makeshift Ikea bed, amid the accumulated debris of my (temporarily displaced) nephew’s bedroom. In under two weeks, my physical residence in my home nation has gone from 6000 to 3 square feet. The only things I owned were in the suitcase on the floor and in a top drawer of the dresser – my drawer.

It represented permanence, the expectation that you are returning, and when you do, you will always have a place here. It’s all the things that we treasure about ‘home’, acceptance, love, laughter and a profound sense of stability. What we didn’t realize before was that it was held in bonds not bricks, hearts and not houses and people, rather than simply places.

It’s funny what having your own drawer can do. And a wonderful, kind and incredibly generous global family, who welcome us home; wherever, whenever.

 

 

The Dora’s are Exploring, and it’s Hell on Wheels

Most of you are probably enjoying the resounding silence echoing through the blog this week, and here’s the reason. The Doras are off exploring, and this time it’s New York that’s the victim of choice.

The Doras are a highly inept, haphazard bunch currently consisting of my sister (Dinner Ladies, and Parenting fame) and Ify (who has yet to feature anywhere by the comments section, mainly because she’s bigger than me and has a death stare that could stop a charging rhino at 40 paces). The sole qualification for inclusion into this elite group is the ability to create chaos wherever you go, eat unhealthy food from street vendors without a food hygiene certificate and be able to sustain at least a modicum of good humor on one of my sister’s inevitable bicycle endurance tests.

And you need stamina, because jet lag is ruthlessly ignored. I inadvertently started this tradition when Sarah stumbled off an 11 hour transatlantic flight to be whisked off to Panda Express for takeaway. She may have been in transit for 18 hours, dragged 50 kilos of chocolate across London’s formidable public transport system and then endured close questioning from a surly immigration officer, but it was dinnertime in LA and she was getting Chinese takeaway.

She had her revenge. Six hours on a red eye to New York, an hour and a half on the subway system and no sleep for thirty six hours meant nothing. It was 8 am New York time and a new day was beginning. A tour of Washington Heights, a quick look at the river, deli lunch from Frankies supermarket and then off to walk Brooklyn Bridge. It was only the knowledge of twenty packets of Cadbury’s Giant Chocolate Buttons back at the apartment that kept me from throwing myself off.

Cycling around Golden Gate park was always going to be Ify’s favorite. Not. Last time we were on a bicycle, it was the torturous 30 mile trip from San Francisco to Tiburon, through some of the hilliest terrain that San Francisco has to offer. We learned some new words that day, and it was only Sarah’s superior turn of speed on two wheels that kept her from being throttled, especially  given her habit of shouting loud and cheery encouragement at Ify’s mutinous form.

Yesterday’s bicycle outing was stunning in it’s lack of planning. Alighting from the subway on 5th Ave, we found ourselves swept into the middle of the massive Puerto Rico day parade, complete with thumping salsa music, hoards of scantily dressed women and general chaos that followed us for the entire day. Instead of the leisurely leafy freewheeling seen in all the movies, we spent the entire time pushing our bicycles around throngs of celebrating parties, all of whom seemed intent on poking our eyes out with the national flag.

But we had a great New York day, despite the crowds. The architecture of the buildings overlooking the park was beautiful, the lakes were glistening in the sun, and the mounted police waved cheerily from atop their horses as we labored by. But the cherry on top of the cake came at the very end, as we halted our bicycles ready to push them back up 6th Ave to the hire shop.

Apparently, racing cyclists feel they don’t need to obey red lights, regardless of whether or not there are stroller pushing pedestrians waiting to cross. We amateurs, however, are a far more courteous breed, and so braked gently to a halt, three abreast. It was too much for the speed racer behind us, who failed to slow in time to avoid us. He screeched painfully into the back wheel of Ify’s bicycle, only to find his feet still firmly attached to the pedals. I watched bemused as he toppled gently in slow motion into me, before reaching a fully horizontal position, still in racing crouch.

I don’t think we are intimidating, but the poor man looked terrified by the three women peering down at him. As he struggled to free his feet and extricate himself, he stuttered endless apologies and inquiries as to our welfare – ironic when when were the ones still standing. He wobbled off into the throng of people, disheveled and dusty, and only the little the worse for wear.

It’s incredible to see the full destructive force of the Doras in action. Still, it’s good to see Ify enjoying herself.