Friday, June 26, 2009

This Marriage Thing - Navigating Love Abroad

by guest blogger Suzer from Suzer's Expat Adventures

Since meeting on a backpacker tour of Ireland, my husband and I have lived and loved in four different countries, before we were finally able to settle down in his home country of Australia. Along the way, we have faced challenges particular to a marriage on the move.

Starting on the Road

As I said, my husband and I met in Ireland. At the time we were both living in different parts of England, myself while studying and himself on a working holiday. For 8 months, we met up every 2 or 3 weeks on weekends, and for our last 4 months in the country, after my degree was complete, I moved into his London flat. This involved my husband staying in the UK longer than originally planned. In fact, he was away from home for a couple of years longer than he’d expected to be as a result of meeting me and I ended up permanently moving to a country I had intentionally left off my list of places to ever even visit. We found ourselves talking about marriage 4 months into the relationship, much sooner than we would have if we didn’t have to think about how to avoid living 10,000 miles apart. We went from the UK to a long visit to the US, then on to Australia where I got a working holiday visa for a few months, simply because he wanted me to suss it out before he felt ok with my decision to move there permanently. After that, we were off to New Zealand, where we got married and spent the better part of our time there waiting out a spousal visa. Almost 3 years later, we’ve now been back in Australia for about 9 months, where we are being patient with settling back into our home and marriage...

More here

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Fury at Inconsiderate Dog Owners in Portugal

Interesting discussion going on in the Portugal forum, kicked off by this post:

"I have been reading this forum for sometime and have finally been prompted to join to air my frustrations regarding dogs on beaches and the owners total disrespect for other people.

Am I alone?

Today, I went to the beach and low and behold as always several dogs on the beach DESPITE signs stating NO DOGS…do these owners think the sign does not apply to them and their prized pooch, I ask myself? These dogs roam around poohing and weeing on the soft golden sand their presents awaiting some unsuspecting child to share the same “spot” of soiled sand as they play.

The final straw came today when I sit there minding my own business and low and behold another dog owner arrives the dog heads straight to a families towels and picnic bag and cocks its leg spraying and contaminating the unattended “camp” with urine!! Is this fair??

I chased after the dog and berated the English owner who just shrugged their shoulders and carried on. I was absolutely fuming as the unsuspecting family whose possessions the dog had urinated on had a young child

Who can I report this to as I followed the person back to the car and took their registration details?

If there is no consequence why display signs??. Owners should be responsible for their pets actions…if they were parents they would be or are DOGS held above humans??

Who else has witnessed this total lack of respect?

I look forward to your coments"

Follow up comments can be read here

Are you an expat in Portugal? Are you a dog owner? What is the situation like in other countries? Comments very welcome.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Of Mad Dogs and Expats

Interesting blog post from Peter Foster over at Telegraph Blogs:

"I see from local news-reports that Guangzhou is about to institute a 'one-dog' policy despite the weeping and gnashing from two-dog owners who must now choose which of their best friends they like the most.

Might seem a little cruel, but speaking as a resident of a Beijing tower block where dogs are a complete menace, I'd thoroughly support the idea. In fact if I was emperor for the day (God save us) I'd have a 'zero-dog' policy."

More here

Interesting comments too - I didn't realise dogs (especially those little yappy ones) were seen as status symbols!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Value of Mateship

by guest blogger Suzer from Suzer's Expat Adventures

After I got all of my spousal visa paperwork submitted for my move to Australia, a slim envelope turned up in my mailbox with another form to fill out. It was called an Australian Values Statement, and required my signature as acknowledgement that I would accept certain Australian values as a newcomer to Oz, one of which was the value of mateship. At the time, I thought it was somewhat amusing, and wondered how it came to rank up there with equality, democracy, and respect for the law. Looking back, I should have seen how it struck a certain resonance with my biggest worry about my move to Australia, which was leaving friends behind. Wondering how long it would take to meet and get to know new people, I was concerned about being lonely, and wondering how I would fit in to this new place.

Hoping to do something ahead of time that might alleviate my fears, I started up an online social group for expats in Adelaide. Within no time the numbers of the group soared, and just over a year later, there are over 250 members. Some members have been in Adelaide only a few days, others for many years, and we even have some local Aussies who’ve been here a lifetime but are keen to meet new people. We have a monthly pub meet, and help each other out with information on adjusting to life in a new country. The best outcome of starting up this group, however, has been the new friends I have made. Some are acquaintances that I only see once a month, some are friends that live nearby, and some are mates that I have even had the luck to work with. We meet up for coffee, go on hikes, and often explore new places in Adelaide together for the first time.

Once a month, we have a ladies lunch with members of the group. It’s an informal, relaxed way to meet or catch up with new friends, have a glass of wine and a meal, and share stories about our new lives down under. We talk about what it’s like to be a woman in Australia, how we relate to our Aussie husband’s family and friends, the challenges with meeting new people and settling in. I had a very emotional response to the first ladies lunch, which included a group of women who came from places as far as the US, Canada, China, Colombia and Singapore. One of our main topics of conversation was that of friendship and the feeling of belonging and identity. Three are married to Aussie blokes, and for us, this poses a particular challenge. Not that Aussie lads are flawed in any way, but more so that fitting into their already existing circle of friends can take time. This could be said for anyone moving to their partner's country and trying to find their way into a life already begun. Being a long way from your own friends and family, you are in a position where you not only have to try and fit in, but also find a new identity for yourself, while at the same time maintain who you are. It’s no easy task, but it’s a rewarding one. Hearing these women sitting around me talk about going through the same things was a very validating experience.

I still keep in touch with my friends back home, but I sometimes think my ‘new Australian’ mates understand me better, in some respects. It’s still hard at times to be so far from my best friends who I’ve known the longest, but I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to have new people in my life. I can still vividly remember how lonely I was when I first arrived in Australia, but so much has changed since day one, much of it due to meeting my fellow expat ladies. I've been really lucky that in the short space of time I've been here in Australia I've met some great quality people, and while I miss catching up with my friends back home, I'm not lonely here. I tell newcomers these days that Australia is a place where the earth is red, you can see the stars, and there’s always a mate around to brighten your day.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Bi-Lingual, kinda

by guest blogger Toni Summers Hargis, author of "Rules, Britannia; An Insider’s Guide to Life in the United Kingdom"

Having lived in the States for nineteen years, I like to boast that I’m “bi-lingual”. What? You think there’s no new language to learn? “How different could it be?” you ask. Let’s just say the learning never ceases. Only last week, as we were heading off to an outdoor concert with some friends, one asked if I had the “church key”. I thought he was referring to the front door key, which I proudly produced, to gales of laughter from everyone. Come on – how was I supposed to infer that he was talking about a bottle opener?

For the most part, American English and British English are similar enough for us to be able to communicate; British goose pimples become goose bumps across the Pond, the phrase six and two threes translates to six of one and half a dozen of the other” (or six and one half when pressed for time), and fanny simply means one’s bottom instead of, well, a female front bottom. Some of the differences are hilarious either to Americans or Brits, depending on the situation. For some reason behoove, (which is the American version of “behove”) cracks me up every time I hear it. If you’re trying to warn me that it would “behoove” me to do something, you’ll need to choose a different word to be taken seriously. Similarly, every time I pronounce the word herb with an audible “h”, all the Americans in the room will smile indulgently at each me and then repeat my pronunciation exactly. The most hilarious of all is when Brits come across Americans named Randy. There’s much elbowing, winking and general Monty Python-esque behavior, which falls on utterly deaf ears as Americans don’t use the word “randy” to mean “horny”.

Generally, the differences cause mirth instead of confusion, but when your husband tells you he’s been shagging flies, it’s important to jump for the dictionary rather than jump to conclusions. (The term means to throw and catch baseballs in the outfield when the baseball game isn’t in progress.) Similarly, when your teenagers tell you they’re boning up on something, you should know that they’re studying (or claiming to) rather than getting up to anything more illicit...


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Living the dream - on 1000 euros per month?

Yesterday happened to be a nice day. The sun came out and it was fairly warm. Suddenly, as if by magic, out came all the tables and chairs onto the pavements. Flowers appeared in vases in the windows, birds were chirping away in the trees and everyone seemed to be smiling.

A lot of women decided to declare an end to spring and had their summer togs on, though oddly most of the men seemed to still be hedging their bets and were still wrapped up. I suspect there is something very significant in that difference although I can’t see it (I’m sure every female reader is now screaming at this point “It’s easy - men are all wimps” or the equivalent).

Certainly there was suddenly that ‘continental atmosphere’ around – that thing that one can rarely if ever find in an English speaking country. Felling pretty good and refreshed, I returned home to pick up some expat news. As always at the moment, it was full of doom, gloom and calamity but one item on British expats living in the Algarve caught my eye.

It was talking about how they have suffered a triple whammy this year. Firstly house prices have declined by around 25%, secondly the decline of Sterling has reduced their income levels in Euros, and thirdly they’ve had the wettest winter for 15 years.

Much of this was well-travelled stuff and nothing new. What did surprise me though was that the article happened to mention that one needs 1000 euros per month to have a modest but OK lifestyle. Well, I guess it depends a lot on how one lives, one’s personal circumstances and what one considers ‘modest’ but if you read the article I would caution against taking this as a fact.

Allow me to climb onto my soapbox for a second. In many parts of Europe there is a widespread quoting of this almost holy figure of 1000 euros per month. I have heard accountants in at least three European countries telling their clients that they should be able to have a reasonable lifestyle on that sort of profit per month (assuming they have no mortgage) and I have seen it mentioned in other articles previously.

My message is – be careful! It doesn’t really matter what EU country you’re living in, 250 euros coming in each week is NOT a lot of money to survive on even if you are mortgage free. You can probably rule it out as pure fantasy if you have children. Even if you do not or your kids have flown the nest, when your washing machine breaks down and the repairman wants 150 euros to fix it, can you pay everything else that week with 100 euros? If you have a car repair bill of 500 euros to pay, do you not eat for the next two weeks? What happens when the car repair bill and the broken down washing machine happen in the same week?

Living the dream is possible and I believe in going for it but it is important to keep a level head. Financial trouble and difficulties in making ends meet are the most commonly cited reasons for expats needing to return ‘home’ permanently. Keep a level head and do your sums before heading off to foreign parts and above all, don’t take as gospel this casually thrown-about figure of 1000 euros per month!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

BBC infuriates expat audience

A storm is brewing over at the BBC website about changes made to the BBC news section, in particular the way in which UK news is served to those outside the UK. Further information and comments (scroll down to see the comments) at the following pages:

Returning home for the summer

Great article over at the Telegraph about expats returning home for the holidays:

"It's that time of year again. The suitcases come out, kids get fractious and the dog follows every move with melting eyes and slouching movements that give added meaning to the expression "dogged".

Swarms of expatriate wives and children from all over the globe descend on clogged airports intent on "going home" for the summer. Plans are made for Dad to join the fray, for a couple of weeks, in the middle of this madness of visiting grandparents and living out of suitcases..."


Monday, June 15, 2009

The excitement of expat life (really? where?)

A little while ago an American expat living in Moscow made news with a novel called ‘EXPAT’.

This got attention because

· It was raunchy
· Her publicity site for it included photos of herself in scanty underclothes
· Her name is Deidre Dare
· Perhaps most of all, she is (or was at the time) a senior lawyer for a major British law firm.

The novel and her poetry appeared to suggest that the life of an expat in Moscow consists largely of drink, parties and sexual excesses.

I’ve never lived in Moscow so I can’t speak from personal experience – maybe it is like that there. The key point about her exploits (of the literary and publicity kind) is that it fuels the stereotypical view of the average expat. I’ve commented on this before – that widely held view that all expats everywhere spend all their time by the pool, drinking themselves senseless and engaging in various forms of what I’ll politely term ‘frolics’.

The reality of course is not like that for the vast majority. If you’re considering the expat life, maybe you’re now thinking “oh that’s a pity”! Perhaps so, but in my own humble way I’ve decided to set the record strait and put a few words of my life experience diary down.

Day 1.

Got up. Raining. Went to work. Got hung up due to delays on the trams. Received a phone call at night from someone trying to sell me cheap car insurance.

Day 2.

Lights fused. Repaired quickly. Can’t find my favourite pencil.

Day 3.

Wrote my blog for Expat Focus. Got a phone call in the evening – wrong number. Watched some TV.

OK, a fairly hefty exaggeration for laughs but I hope making the point that while every day as an expat can bring something new and rewarding relating to living overseas, a life of non-stop excitement it isn’t.

Now having made that great and no doubt noble point, I’m starting to wonder if it IS such a life for everyone else and it’s only me that isn’t part of it? Do comment and let me have your opinion. !

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Home and Away – USA, Property and Visas

I don’t normally comment on those “let’s help you find a home overseas” type TV programmes but I’m going to make an exception here. Some of these programmes are well made and some are not at all to my taste. Many people, though, find them great entertainment and a motivation to do something about their overseas living dream.

I have recently watched some of the new series relating to the USA as an expat destination and two things have consistently annoyed me.

For a start, the potential expats are consistently shown a property in the UK and another in the USA and asked which one they like best. Due to differences in house prices and the impact of the recession, this often involves them looking at (e.g.) a one bedroom tiny flat somewhere directly outside a waste disposal tip in the UK, then asking the participants to compare this to a 10 bedroom mansion with swimming pool and private lake in somewhere like Florida.

“Do you know yet which house you prefer?” is usually the inane question.

OK, that’s subjective and moderately (but only moderately) exaggerated I know. The point is that nobody doubts that in many parts of the USA at the moment your money will buy you a lot more in bricks and mortar than it would in many parts of the UK. It may or may not be a good time to invest in US property - that’s a subject for specialist advice - but the key thing is that this programme is meant to be about changing one’s life, not just finding investment opportunities and/or holiday homes.

That leads onto the second point. This programme and others like it rarely discuss in detail the participants’ visa or citizenship status. There are sometimes some passing references and at times one can deduce from the fact that one of the people involved has a US accent that possibly they have residency rights.

The trouble is that programmes like this can mislead people. Buying property in the USA is not at all difficult and it is about 1% of the issue if contemplating lifestyle relocation there. What IS difficult, in some cases insurmountably difficult, for many potential expats is obtaining residency and work permissions. In the USA owning property in itself does NOT guarantee that you will get the right to live in your dream home permanently and there is no such thing as a retirement visa.

You can use various Expat Focus resources to read up more on this, sometimes complicated subject and there are specialist organisations that will help people relocate to the USA, usually for a fee. You can find their details on the Internet – there are many of them.

All in all, you need to do your homework before starting to fly over to the USA to check out properties with or without a TV presenter’s help! Maybe I’m just being grumpy, but I wish this issue were covered a little more realistically in these sorts of TV programmes!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Feeling the strain?

It is a fact that sometimes expats can have need of counselling. The stresses of being an expat can be significant and some studies have shown that this is particularly so for those on work assignments overseas as opposed to family relocations.

In a sense that is unsurprising. If you have moved with your family to start a new life overseas then there is a group around you to share the (hopefully numerous) highs and of course, the odd low from time to time. If on the other hand you are on your own overseas or perhaps you are the partner of someone working long hours in the office while you’re at home alone surrounded by strangers, then it’s fairly easy to start ‘turning in’ on yourself and feeling a bit blue.

In fact, some statistics indicate that about 50% of expats of the overseas work assignment variety actually request re-assignment back home after less than 1 year of what should have been a 2 or three-year contract. Of those cases, about 95% of the time the reason given relates to isolation and loneliness either of the expat or their partner.

Under these circumstances, it may be nice to have someone to chat to just to get some sense of reality. There are usually local expat organisations that can help, although you may have to make the effort to go and find it or other forms of support.

Of course it is possible that the idea of sharing your concerns with your next-door neighbour or the chairman of the local expats’ association isn’t quite what you had in mind. Sometimes it may be beneficial to talk to someone unbiased and impartial.

If that happens, it may be possible to seek some form of counselling. It’s important to note that in this I do not mean psychiatric counselling! It is beyond my sphere of expertise to discuss when those occasional and perfectly normal attacks of ‘expat blues’ may be in danger of turning into clinical depression – a doctor should be able to advise you.

What I am talking about is the counsellor who has been through relocation and understands some of the pressures an expat can be under. The trouble is that for expats living in non-English speaking countries, finding such a person may not be easy. There are some webs sites that claim to offer expat counselling - try Googling for a few minutes and see what you find.

Please note that I am not necessarily recommending these services or advising you to use them – there are several such sites and offerings on the web and you should do your own search and preferably take references. The point is that if you are feeling a little low then there is no reason for you to keep this to yourself. There are people to talk to out there - whether it be your neighbour, new friends on expat forums or a good counsellor.

Don't keep things bottled up, we've all been there at one time or another.