Tag Archives: diversity

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…

Cultural Diversity - The Features we love and the story they tell.

The Features We Love and The Story They Tell.

Cultural Diversity - The Features we love and the story they tell.I was standing at the bathroom sink this morning, washing my hands, and I caught a glimpse of them in the mirror. It was strange, seeing them as others do, objectively. I liked them.

Usually, my hands make me feel inadequate – the nails are rarely the same length, never hold polish for more than an hour, and the backs of my hands are always peppered with reminders written in permanent marker. But this morning, for the first time in a very long time, I stopped to look at them, and I liked what I saw.

I like the story they tell. They have scars from old adventures, notes that reflect a life filled to overflowing, and they are hands that have cooked meals, cared for children, given gifts, stroked pets, signed forms, dropped balls, written stories and held many, many other hands. If I could pick the best part of myself, it’s my hands. They may not be beautiful in any traditional sense, but they define who I am.

My sister’s hair has similar properties. It is at once enthusiastic, rebellious, constantly escaping conformity, colorful and irrepressible. It has spirit, humor and power, and it constantly defies every effort to hold it down. It is lives life simply, and thrives when left to it’s own devices. It is hair that doesn’t demand much in the way of maintenance and withstands every activity. It is unbowed by the elements; come wind, hail, sun or snow, it never flattens, simply goes with the flow and springs back when the storm has passed.

Then there are S’s eyes. They are an incredible shade of blue; clear, bright and piercing. They’d be intimidating if it wasn’t for the crinkles at the corners, betraying a love of laughter and enthusiasm for life.  Those little lines are the dead giveaway that their owner has spent life out in the sun, not hiding in the shadows; that she has seen plenty and is still smiling. They were what drew me to her the first time we met – you don’t get eye crinkles from insincere smiles.  You get them from joyful grins, from constant laughter, the kind that is directed at yourself, rather than at others. The ability to constantly see the funny side, wherever and whatever that might be.

With H, it’s shoulders. She has a swimmer’s shoulders: broad, strong and seemingly able to hold up the world. And when I first moved to Kenya, that’s exactly what they did. They supported my world when it was crashing around me, and barely noticed the effort.

With K, it was the lopsided piratical grin, that told me here was someone who laughed in the face of adversity, and would stand shoulder to shoulder with you in a fight.

L, the eye roll, that gave away the irreverent, rebellious streak that I adore.

A, the twinkle in a pair of brown eyes that let you know that even though you may come from different places and speak different languages, you don’t. Not really.

E; eyebrows that dance with laughter, and occasionally draw together in advance warning of an impending storm.

S, a brain that combines klutziness, steely competence and complete naiveté in a hilarious mix.

It’s funny how the things we desperately try to change are often the ones that the people who know us love most. How the parts that are different tell others about who we really are, and what they will love about us. They are the doors to our characters, the invitation to know the real person.



Photo courtesy of the Tyne and Wear Archives and Museum.

Cross cultural communication and the International Dinner Lads. Defining Moves, The Art of Successful Relocation

Duck and Cover – Cross Cultural Communication and the International Dinner Lads

Cross cultural communication and the International Dinner Lads. Defining Moves, The Art of Successful RelocationYou’ve got to love teenage boys. When faced with a challenge, they take a long hard look at the problem, assess what needs to be done, and then choose the most complicated, messy and stressful way to achieve their goals. And then call in their mothers.

The problem of the moment was the latest Mandarin Project. The Wiggy One is lucky enough to have a fabulous Mandarin teacher who rises to the challenge of teaching a mob of reluctant teenagers a seemingly incomprehensible language with a serene smile and an endless supply of engaging teaching strategies. And while I am pitifully grateful to her skill in instilling a formidable array of Chinese words and characters into Wiggy’s somewhat distracted brain, the resultant enthusiasm sometimes backfires.

The latest project was the preparation, filming and sharing of a traditional Chinese dish with the rest of his class. As Wiggy is rather an expert at stir fries,  I was gently relieved. And then the teenage talent for self sabotage and grade suicide kicked in as his group opted for a more challenging culinary route. Peking Duck. From scratch. For 30.

The Other Half may have DIY limitations, but he has the patience of a saint. His after-work activities for the next three days involved sourcing ingredients from obscure locations, scouring the neighborhood for a duck of appropriate lineage and 3 hours spent in a Chinese supermarket desperately trying to decipher the Mandarin character for pancakes wraps.

I was left with the task of transporting three bodies (human), a bicycle and copious amounts of video equipment home from school, whereupon my Mother, the Feisty One and I spent the rest of the evening locked outside in the yard while teenage boys laid waste to the kitchen.

It didn’t get off to a great start. It took them 30 minutes just to remove the plastic bag that the duck was packaged in, a further 10 to recover the giblets, and another 20 to clean up the resultant blood now dripping down the counters and spattering the walls. For a dead duck, it put up a hell of a fight.

Having finally freed the bird, they now turned to YouTube for guidance on further preparation, at which point the strident English tones of Delia Smith filled the kitchen. I was a fan of Delia before, but had never fully appreciated her commanding presence and the power of her teaching skills. Across time, space, cultures and the internet, she successfully instructed Mandarin II’s version of the Three Stooges in the lost art of spatchcocking a duck. The woman is a genius, and should be put in charge of fixing the global economy immediately.

We watched transfixed from our chilly vantage point outside the window as they poked, prodded and skewered, then attached some of Feisty’s lilac knitting wool under it’s now alarmingly protruding wings wings and suspended it from the saucepan rack to dry. The strategy was partly successful; the draughts of air set off a dynamic swinging movement and relocated the moisture from the skin of the duck to the doors of the kitchen cabinets.

It also relocated the previously forgotten giblets from inside the carcass to the conveniently located frying pan below, causing hyperventilation in the surrounding males, and me to sourly suggest they avoid viewing childbirth videos any time soon.

Watching duck skin dry is second only to watching paint in terms of boredom, so after a brisk steaming, the unfortunate bird was slapped onto a roasting tray and stuffed into the oven, along with a pan of glutinous, faintly brown liquid, whose purpose was never fully explained, but was, apparently, vital to authenticity.

Up until now, all the videoing had focused on the action, rather than the words, and so the running commentary from Grandma (still shivering out on the decking) were able to be ignored. Now, however, there were orders for silence and stillness while the serious on camera presentation began.

The thing about Grandmas is that they have learned to ignore the raised voices of children and to carry on regardless. This served us well through the teething, tantrums and tale-telling years, but in the face of videography, it is rather a handicap. No sooner had they got to the final sentence of their monologue, than a face would appear at the window and ask “Have you really learned all those words in class?” or “Are you sure the duck is alright?”, quickly followed by “ooh, ooohh, I am sorry”, and a Fawlty Towers-esque comedy tiptoe out of shot. It was funny the first time; by the fifth the Wiggy One was set to explode and even the dogs were cowering.

Thank God for editing, and the power of practice. By the seventh take, the pressure of impending elder arrival and the need for some dinner had compressed their communication into short, speedy authentic sounding sentences and a confidence with the subject matter that only practice, repetition and frequent consultations with Google translate can foster. The golden brown, roasted to perfection duck that eventually emerged from the oven was a triumph of cross cultural communication.

I’ll say this for them. If they ever get to China, they will be able to impart some very useful culinary tips in flawless Mandarin, and providing the recipients are happy to shop, clean and watch from a distance in utter silence, they will get a mighty nice meal.

The bad news? This was the prerecorded version. We get to do it all again this week..


Everything you need to know about relocation, you learned in your first week of school

Everything you need to know about relocation, you learned in your first week of school..

Everything you need to know about relocation, you learned in your first week of schoolA conversation over coffee last week centered around how we all adapt to any new environment, and I offered up the Feisty One as an example of someone who had it figured out from birth. Watching her walk into every new school leaves me sitting in the school car park in tears, while she sets her shoulders, pastes a smile onto her face, and proceeds to network like a New York socialite.

Somehow, she has decoded the unspoken rules that guide social acceptance, and while her group of friends may change over time, within 15 minutes of setting foot somewhere new she’s worked out the social groups, the codes of behavior, and just who her new friends are going to be.

For the rest of us, here are the relocation lessons that we have learned, lived and long since forgotten..


Everyone is scared, but we all have different ways of showing it. Some get louder, some get quieter, some giggle, some snarl. Don’t let your fear define you, or how you judge others. A little patience goes a very long way.

The sooner you make a friend, the better it will be. Because two heads are better than one when it comes to figuring it all out, facing the world, and sharing the fun.

You’ll miss home and family, but you’ll learn to enjoy the time away and cherish the holidays spent together.

Some days are better than others. Some days, you just have to wait it out.

Some lessons you will love, some you will like, and some you will hate. Having favorites is good, but time and perspective will teach you that the ones you liked the least taught you the most.

People can be mean, but the earlier you learn how to deal with them, the easier your life will be.

Look after your lunch money. Mom won’t always be there to bail you out.

Your behavior affects the whole school, so choose your actions wisely.

Don’t believe all that you are told. Consider the source of your information carefully, and then decide the real story for yourself.

Being prepared feels a great deal better than arriving knowing that you didn’t do your homework.

Not doing your homework is the fastest way into trouble.

Being rude is the second fastest.

Breaking something once and you might be forgiven, break it twice and you’ve lost their trust forever.

You can do anything you set your mind to with practice, patience and help from others.


3 Simple Strategies for More Effective International Relocation - Defining Moves

3 Simple Strategies for More Effective Global Transition

3 Simple Strategies for More Effective International Relocation - Defining Moves
We all need a little point in the right direction..

At Defining Moves we believe that the most crucial parts of successful global transition are a clear assessment of your situation and thoughtful planning. It seems self-evident, but in reality we are often working with inaccurate information, cross cultural confusion and an unrealistic expectations. With that in mind, here are our 3 essential strategies that will make any relocation far, far easier. And yes, you already know you need them, but how many of us take the time to actually DO them..?


1. Before You Go – Cultural Orientation

Many transferring companies provide some cultural orientation training, but it often focuses on the working environment rather than the living one. If you have the chance for professional help, take it, but don’t just stop there – there is a wealth of information out there that can help you better prepare and adapt to your new home.

Guides like the Lonely Planet and Rough Guide both have excellent sections on the local environment, cultures and expected behaviours for visitors, along with a language starter guide. Remember that you are not on vacation, and many other guides assume that many of your basic daily needs will be met by a hotel, so opt for the backpacker and independent travel guides  – they are written for people who have greater contact with locals and are looking after their own living needs.

Blogs, expat websites, forums  and social media networks give you great insight into your new world through the eyes of an expat, and can offer a way to make contacts with like minded local residents without leaving your couch. It’s currently a hugely underutilized resource in terms of cultural orientation, possibly because of the sheer volume and varying quality.

I’ve listed some of my favorites at the bottom (feel free to suggest your own) – many offer local guides for a fee, and a listing of expat blogs by country. Contact the blog authors, read their articles and the comments of others, and build a picture of the day-to day challenges that expat family life will present.

Many expat groups have a Page on Facebook – simply searching the term ‘expat’ and your new location will generate listings. Doing the same search on Twitter will put you in touch with plenty of people willing to share (and probably a few oddballs, so brace yourself), and allows you a less formal method of contact than email. However, remember that with social media, you are also sharing a great deal of information about yourself, so read our guide to using social media before you start.

If you prefer to meet people face to face, Internations is another place to meet a huge variety of expats from across the globe, with monthly meetings in many cities. They also have an excellent online resource and community.


2. As Soon As You Arrive – Find a Mentor.

The Armed Forces, established experts at the task of relocating people, have long been advocates of mentors for transitioning individuals and families, but the corporate world has yet to catch up. The good news is that the expat community is a very supportive one that understands the challenges faced on international assignment, and is always ready to rally to the cause, so don’t be shy about asking for help and finding a mentor.

We’re not talking about finding a friend here –  you don’t even need to like your mentor, as long as you respect their opinion. You are looking for is someone who has a good working knowledge of your new location, has an enviable list of contacts, and has recommendations that they are willing to share. You don’t need to agree with their choices or follow all of their advice, but having a place to start will save you time, money and considerable frustration. It’s about getting the information to get things done in the most effective way possible.

Your mentor provides a number of functions – they can point you in the direction of essential goods and services, help you navigate your first weeks in your new environment, and provide an early warning system for problems that you might face.

Ask your transferring company whether they have anyone locally or in your host country who knows the ropes or look for spouses of work colleagues, PTA members or expat welcome groups. Your relationship might not extend beyond a shared coffee, a phone number and a list of people and places, so try to have a list of what you need already prepared. Here’s our Mentor Checklist to get you started.


Once The Dust Has Settled – Continued Cross Cultural Training / Support.

In her FIGT 2012 presentation, Philippa Erlank of Consider Culture pointed out that most cross cultural learning takes places between the 6th and 12th month of any assignment. Before that, the practicalities of establishing a home, school and work life take priority, and after a year, most people have settled into some sort of daily routine both in terms of tasks and behaviors.

Those who have been through expatriation before will tell you that most corporate cross-cultural provision happens either before the transfer or immediately after – both points at which you are distracted, bewildered and often struggling with the logistical arrangements of family life. By the time you realize that you need help, it has disappeared into the sunset with the rest of your expat life delusions.

There is good news, however. Most cross-cultural training is delivered by independent consultants, many of whom are happy to provide ongoing private services, both in person or via online coaching. They are familiar with the unique demands of temporary life overseas, and can provide a listening ear, sage counsel to help you with day-to-day dilemmas, and a compassionate shoulder if it all becomes too much. So if your relocation package provision has ended, or if you are relocating independently, it’s well worth exploring the idea of a intercultural or expat coach to help you gain understanding and get the answers to that most fundamental of questions..



Expat Arrivals

Expat Exchange



Expat Coach Directory

Friends Beyond Borders

It is hard to move from one city to another, even harder to move to a different country. One of the positive things about this though, is that you tend to make friends wherever you go. Of course, it’s painfully hard to leave them behind when you move again. However, it’s easier these days to keep in touch thanks to the internet.

A good place to make new friends, if you are a trailing spouse with kids, is at your children’s school(s). One of the things I love most about my kids’ School is that it is international; the students hail from all around the globe and back! There are 70+ nationalities (and increasing) represented in my children’s current school. Just walking around in this cosmopolitan environment is like getting a lesson in history, geography and culture.

When I was new in town and trying to get to know people, I made a point of introducing myself to other parents waiting around at pick-up time at school and at various school events. Now, many of my friends are moms and dads at my kids’ school. Of course, like their children, they too come from all over the world.

Today, I decided to sit down and list which countries my friends hail from. Here’s what I came up with (in alphabetical order, and not necessarily in the order of closeness, especially as Wales is at the bottom ;))

Where do your friends come from? How many ‘countries’ have you befriended? And, yes, play fair. I said friends, not acquaintances 🙂

Australia                                   Bangladesh                                    Belgium

Brazil                                        Bulgaria                                        Canada

China                                        Denmark                                       England

Ethiopia                                     Finland                                         Gambia

Germany                                    Greece                                         India

Italy                                          Japan                                           Kenya

Kyrgyzstan                                 Lebanon                                        Lithuania

Nepal                                        Netherlands                                    Pakistan

Philippines                                  Singapore                                      Somalia

South Africa                               Spain                                            Swaziland

Sweden                                      Switzerland                                   Thailand

USA                                           Wales

And as promised, here’s the link to some maps to print off and color in – feel free to take a photo of your to post to our Facebook page!

Printable World Map

Expat Life and Long Drops

Today’s post is from the wonderful Apple Gidley, author of the hilarious, poignant and very, very well observed memoir Expat Life, Slice by Slice. For more of her writing, you can find her blogging at the UK Telegraph. But today, she’s writing for us – hooray!


“You didn’t warn me about the long drops,” my sister admonished on her return from trekking up Machu Picchu all in the name of charity – Great Ormond Street Hospital being the chosen one.

“Would it have helped to know?” I asked.  Never having attempted the climb myself I thought her accusation a tad unfair – how was I to know about the lavatorial facilities on a Peruvian mountain?

“It might have,” she sniffed, “And you know about these things!”

Long drops, dunnies, bogs, loos, privies, ploppen, names that vividly describe those receptacles we all use regardless of race, colour or creed.

Val’s assertion got me thinking about how much we really need to know about a place before we travel to new lands, whether for a few weeks or a few years. Yes we need information about healthcare and schools.  A broad overview of the political climate is helpful and an idea of basic customs and acceptable behaviours is essential, but do we really need to know the intricacies of day-to-day life in a new country before arriving?  Doesn’t that lessen the excitement of discovery; take away from the foreign flavours if we’ve read all about it in Rick Steves’ travel guide?

Maybe it lessens the pitying glances as you ask a seemingly obvious question, like the first time I went to Australia.  I was only seven at the time and my Australian mother had neglected to explain certain differences in Antipodean and English English.  “What’s a dunny?” I remember asking my cousin of the same age as we headed to school on the bus, me just for the day so as to experience a rural bush school.  I got over the shame of ignorance and the smirk that accompanied the explanation, and I never looked back.

Like most people I am sure, I prefer a little privacy when attending to my daily ablutions but it is quite amazing how many places there are in the world where that doesn’t happen.  I’ve squatted in the New Guinea highlands surrounded by soaring eucalypts and ficus, or on in the scrub of seemingly secluded African beaches only to become aware of eyes belonging to the two-legged species watching me through the dripping mist or the sea grapes.

“Hong nam ti nai kha?” was an oft-heard request as my daughter and I raced from an idling car clogged in the Bangkok traffic to burst through the door of many a coffee house during the potty training stage of her life.  She learnt to squat over a hole in the ground with equanimity. “Sawadekha,” she would trill to the occasional head poked through the flimsy curtain providing the barest of privacy, curious at the mad farang using their facilities; she far more at ease than her mother at the same intrusion.

Despite a dislike at these intrusions I used to think us Westerners were probably far too sensitive about discussing our bodily functions but a recent conversation changed my mind.

“I looked everywhere for ploppen loos,” Jo, an English friend renovating a house in Den Haag, mentioned to us over wine at this year’s FIGT conference.

“Why?” asked a Dutch friend.  “Non-ploppen toilets allow you to discern the health of your movements.”

A charming way, I thought as I spluttered inelegantly into my glass, of entreating us to check our crap.

“I don’t want to check it, I want to flush it,” Jo said.

“Oh you English are so puritanical,” Jantje commented.

“Did you find any ploppens?” I asked.

“Eventually!” Jo said.

The wonderfully euphemistic phrase used in the United States for the lavatory, whether ploppen or non-ploppen, is ‘restroom’.  Strange as the experience might produce relief but rarely rest.  Certainly not in America where the whole ordeal is heightened by the need to avoid exposing one’s nether regions, or the acrobatic reengaging of tight tights over round rumps, by staying firmly out of sight.

“Don’t they have doors?” I hear you ask.  Well of course they do, but a great many restrooms also have an inch gap around the stall walls.  I know we have all been confronted at some time by an inquisitive face peering up under the door to be quickly followed by a mother’s voice shrieking, “George, don’t do that!”  That is an accepted part of children in public loos, rather like a face through the curtain was in the less sophisticated eating establishments in Thailand.  But really, having to dodge between the gaps is a bit much.

So no, I didn’t warn my sister about long drops but she didn’t warn me about American restrooms, and really does it matter?  When you’ve got to go, well, you’ve just got to go regardless of where you are and who’s watching, and don’t these little discoveries add to the excitement, and laughter, of life on the global trail?


Apple Gidley has relocated 26 times through 12 countries and has found the amusing side of life in most places.  She is the author of Expat Life Slice by Slice, Summertime Publishing. 



Interfaith calendar - Holy Days, celebrations and Festivals in May 2012

Interfaith Calendar – Holy Days, Celebrations and Festivals in May 2012

Interfaith calendar dates are shown using the Gregorian (Western) calendar. Dates determined by the lunar calendar may vary by region. Jewish festivals usually begin at sunset on the previous day.

Interfaith calendar - Holy Days, celebrations and Festivals in May 2012It’s May already and time for this month’s interfaith calendar of celebrations, festivals and holy days around the globe.

Fittingly, May 1st brings us Beltane, the Pagan fire festival welcoming the Summer and the hopes of  a fertile year. On a more local level, on May 1st the Defining Moves household are welcoming the coming of the Grandmother, complete with chocolate, teabags and crepe production capabilities, so we too will be hoping for a fruitful season..



Beltane (Pagan)

See above. Pagan traditions associated with May 1st (May Day) survive in many Scandinavian and European countries, such as the May Day bank holiday, the May pole and many other practices historically linked with celebrations of fertility and abundance.



End of Ridvan (Bahai)

“This twelve-day period (April 21 – May 2) celebrates the time in 1863 when Bahá’u’lláh proclaimed His Mission as God’s Messenger for this age at a garden in Baghdad, that became known as the Garden of Ridván (Paradise).” Gary Heise

It is celebrated with communal prayers and a day of rest.

Birthday of Guru Arjan (Sikh)

Guru Arjan (the fifth Sikh Guru and first Sikh Martyr) is most remembered for collating the previous four Guru’s teachings into one book – known as the Guru Granth Sahib. In doing so, he included work from Hindu and Muslim saints, and was subsequently martyred when he refuse to remove them.

He is also responsible for laying the foundation of the Golden Temple in Amritsar, creating the idea of  the four doors in a Gurdwara (Sikh place of worship) and for introducing the idea of a ten percent charitable tithe.



Wesak (Buddhist)

Buddhists celebrate Wesak (the Buddha’s Birthday) on the first full moon in May. It is considered the most important date in the Buddhist calendar, and is associated with achieving enlightenment.

It is traditionally celebrated by discarding out the old and welcoming the new, so homes are cleaned and decorated, by leaving offerings at the temple and by praying and bathing the Buddha with water.



Lag B’Omer (Jewish)

Celebrated on the 33rd day of the Counting of the Omer , Lag B’Omer commemorates the death of Shimon bar Yochai, and in modern Jewish tradition, the revolt against the Roman Empire. It is seen as celebrating the strength of the Jewish character.


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Ascension Day (Christian / Catholic Church of England and Wales)

Following Christ’s resurrection on Easter day, Ascension Day / Sunday celebrates the ascent  of Christ into Heaven in the presence of his disciples.



Yom Yerushalayim

Also known as Jerusalem Day, it marks the reunification of the Old City in 1967.



Declaration of the Bab (Bahai)

The Bab was the predecessor to Bahá’u’lláh, and was responsible for paving the latter’s way. He announced the coming of Bahá’u’lláh on this date in 1844.



St Bede the Venerable (Christian)

A 8th century English Christian monk and scholar, Bede wrote the bestselling “Ecclesiastical History” which is still in print, and a definitive Latin Bible edition.



Pentecost (Christian)

Celebrated on the 50th day after Christ’s ascension into heaven, Pentecost celebrates the gift of the Holy Spirit, the third part of the Holy Trinity. Celebrated in Christian churches throughout the world, priests wear red to symbolize the flames accompanying the holy spirit to earth.


Celebrated 50 days after Passover, Shavuot is the second of the Jewish harvest festivals, and also marks the date that Jews were given the Torah on Mount Sinai. It is celebrated with the recitation of prayers, by decorating with flowers and the eating of dairy products.



Ascension of Bahá’u’lláh

Marking the death of Bahá’u’lláh in 1892, followers of Bahai observe a day of rest and prayer.


Further Reading





Fair Play - Rules of Behavior with New Arrivals and Expats. Part of the Defining Moves - The Art of Successful Relocation Series

Fair Play – Rules of Behavior with New Arrivals and Expats.


Fair Play - Rules of Behavior with New Arrivals and Expats. Part of the Defining Moves - The Art of Successful Relocation Series

My sister was recently invited to attend a local badminton club, and to cut a long story short, she wasn’t exactly welcomed with open arms. Thankfully, she is made of pretty stern stuff and like a phoenix from the ashes, rose above adversity to bring us the 8 Noble Truths of playing nice with local newcomers and expats alike..

1. Behave like an adult.

What is it about someone new in the group that makes everyone regress to high school? Seriously, we have all seen new people before, and we promise not to steal your boyfriend, copy your homework or start rumors about you. We may have different clothes, hair, skin or accents, but we are here because we believe that individuality should be celebrated, not castigated. So if you could just treat us like an intelligent, normal human being rather than an alien with three heads, that would be marvelous.

2. Don’t make us look foolish, just because you can.

We are your guests, and are on our best behavior. This makes us easy targets for ridicule, but aggressively smashing feathered objects back across the net to try and intimidate us says far more about you than us.

3. Tell us the rules before you start.

We are new to this, so if you have particular codes of conduct that you would like us to adhere to, we are happy to be told. If your way of deciding who is going to serve first is to tap the shuttlecock in the air and see who it points to when it lands, we can accept that. But if you don’t tell us, and we leap athletically into action to return your ‘serve’, don’t tut, roll your eyes and stomp off. We’re not mind readers, and we’re just trying to play the game, for pity’s sake.

4. Forgive us our trespasses.

The trouble with unspoken rules is that they are, well, unspoken.We are going to make mistakes and step on your toes. So if you have strong feelings about which part of the court is yours, let us know. And use words, please, rather than swiping at us with your racquet.

5. If you invite us to join, include us.

When you put up posters advertising for new club members, implicit in that notice is a certain inclusivity. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with that word, it means that the odd kind word is not only appreciated, it’s pretty much expected. If that’s too much effort for you, don’t put up the damn posters and waste both of our time..

6. Play fair.

We’ve been around the block, and so we know when you are just inventing new rules to make us look bad. We are trying to please, we are turning ourselves inside out to conform, but the fact that we are new doesn’t give you the right to take advantage. So please don’t leave us to pack up the equipment alone while you all head off to the pub.

7. We’re here because we want to meet you.

We may seem standoffish or awkward or unimpressed, but it’s because we feel uncomfortable. However it may seem, we really do want you to talk to us, and any overtures of friendship are greatly appreciated. So please don’t all huddle together in the corner like you’re being invaded – if you think you feel uncomfortable with someone new, imagine how we feel when everyone is new.

8. A smile is all it takes.

We don’t need intellectual dialogue, detailed resumes or witty repartee to make us feel included – simply acknowledging our existence with a smile or a hello is enough. So next time you see someone new walk in the room, make eye contact and smile. It costs you nothing, but to us, it’s priceless.


Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

Savour the Flavour – Attributes and Acquisitions from Around the Globe

I really do love my coffee.

I like it hot and strong and (equally important) the clean up later should not be too complicated. These are my simple rules and this is what I have collected so far in my quest to make a good cup of coffee:

  •   A Cafetiere/French Press (call it what you may) bought from the UK (not France :))
  •   A stovetop Moka Express coffee maker from Italy
  •   An Armenian/Turkish coffee pot (a gift from a friend)
  •   [The electrical filter coffee maker from the US broke, thanks to our packers in NYC :(]

This might make me seem a bit spoilt but it is just a quest for perfection, for the perfect cup of coffee. I have stopped short of buying one of the fancy programmable coffee brewing systems; I prefer things that are easy to transport.

These are some of my treasures that I will carry with me when I move. Sometimes, on one of those rare occasions when I have some time to myself, it’s nice to sit (with a good cup of coffee, of course) and think of what else I may have picked up, knowingly or unknowingly, from different parts of the world.

I am not referring only to those things that I can hold in my hand. Apart from the books, the photographs and the wall hangings, how many of our habits and points-of-view are acquired from the different corners of the globe?

There was a time, long before I ever stepped out of my country, and long before I had children, I met a family where the parents and children had accents differing from each other. I still recall how strange it had seemed to me then. Now, for us, it is the norm.

Living in Kenya, I seem to have picked up the polite habit of saying sorry to others when they get hurt, drop something or even bump into the wall! I am not apologizing for it being my fault but I am expressing my regret that they have been hurt or inconvenienced; I am sorry that they had to go through something unpleasant. It used to sound strange to me when I experienced it as a new comer. I dropped some boxes of tissues in a store, and the salesperson standing near me said ‘Sorry, sorry’. I spent some time explaining that he had nothing to do with it and it was all my fault! It was a long while, and several mistakes later, before I finally got it. And, now, I find myself doing the same thing, without even noticing it. Moreover, I have a feeling this practice will stay with me for a long time to come.

So what have you acquired from the various parts of the world that you have lived in? Where has your quest led you? Do you have the ultimate warm blanket? Or, like me, a jacket bought in NYC which is perfect for every weather? A particular colour or a style of cooking? A habit, some nuances? Do you go around saying ‘sorry’ when it not your fault? Do you kiss friends on one cheek or both or three times? (I still haven’t got the hang of that one and get it wrong EVERY time. Whenever I draw back after the first, I realize my friend is waiting for the second; when I go for the third, she’s already greeting someone else!)

If we don’t acquire anything or learn anything new during our various moves, then where’s the fun in that?