Thursday, March 18, 2010

Toni Hargis: Learning the Lingo

Toni Hargis
About the Author

Toni Hargis is the author of the popular expat book "Rules, Britannia; An Insider’s Guide to Life in the United Kingdom" and blogs as Expat Mum

How long do you have to live in a country to feel like you know what on earth everyone’s talking about? In my case, there’s not even a second language involved as we’re all supposed to be speaking English. I’ve written at length about the vocabulary differences between British and American English, but in my experience, the real confusion comes from day to day expressions which bear no relation to their actual meaning.

For example, even though I’ve been in the USA almost twenty years, I apparently have had no idea what “being behind the eight ball” means. It’s a very common phrase here and I always assumed it was a good thing (don’t ask me why but I had really good pool/snooker players in mind), but no, in fact it means quite the opposite. If you’re behind the eight ball, you’re in serious trouble, or in a tricky situation.

OK, what about a getting the “bum’s rush”? No – get your minds out of the gutter, it means to be forcibly ejected from somewhere or told to leave in a hurry. Remember, the American word “bum” means a tramp rather than a posterior, so the bum’s rush derives from wanting to rid a place of undesirable characters.

And what if someone requests your John Hancock? It hardly bears thinking about really does it? John Hancock was one of the founders of the United States and the first man to sign the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Apparently from the late nineteenth century onwards, John Hancock has been slang for one’s signature. A bit like Cockney rhyming slang without the rhyming...

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Victoria Twead: Tales from a Spanish village - Killer Caterpillars

Joe and I are seriously considering building an ark. The rain, which started well before Christmas, is still coming down like stair-rods. The Spanish news speaks of little else and shows us images of flooded towns, collapsed bridges and roads blocked by mudslides and rock falls. Apparently, this is the wettest winter on record.

To get into our village, residents have to zig-zag and slalom past mounds of rocks and mud. The council is doing its best, but as fast as they clear the road, more mud-slides occur. Geronimo, who is a sort of village policeman, battles valiantly with the daily damage, but his efforts are in vain. As fast as he shovels mud aside, more slides down. Water oozes out of every crevice on the hillside, eating away at the mountain. You can’t fight nature, so we’ve given up fretting about our leaky roof; we just keep pots and buckets on standby, ready to catch the drips.

Before Joe starts building his ark, he’s decided we need to get fitter. So we have a new regime. Every day, weather permitting (which isn’t often, so far) we walk the almost perpendicular path to the shrine halfway up the mountain. Our first attempt took us 16 minutes, with frequent rests. We can now do it in 12 minutes, still needing frequent rests. But the pain is worth it for the view from the top, and we see something new every time we take the walk.

Halfway up, we pass Geronimo’s donkey. He watches us with interest but we can’t stop to speak, our mission is to reach the top faster than the last time, or to die in the attempt.

A couple of weeks ago, we arrived at the shrine as usual, panting, heaving and gasping. It’s a kind of look-out post with benches and a few shade trees and we sat down to recover.

‘What’s that?’ I asked, having gained sufficient breath to form words again. I pointed at something a few feet away and Joe walked over, crouching down to examine the curious spectacle I’d spotted...

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Expat Experiences: Ghana - Drew Cosgrove

Who are you?

My name is Drew Cosgrove. I "commute" from Atlanta, GA to Accra, Ghana and I have a wife and daughter who still live in the US.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

Kakoum National Park

I work in the Petroleum Industry and my company received a new contract for one of its rigs to work in Ghana. I've done this for nearly a year starting back in April.

What challenges did you face during the move?

I have not had many challenges as I am a "commuter" but I was the one who was responsible for figuring out what the solutions were for those who did move in. The biggest thing is receiving your household goods. If you do not have an established agent handling the shipment you will be left with lots of fees and a very long "clearance" time.

There are several very good internationals schools. There is an American, British, and French school. There are a fair amount of people who home school their children as well (mostly Americans).

Credit cards are generally accepted at most brick and mortar stores. That being said, Visa is the most widely accepted, MasterCards are accepted at a few places but forget about American Express. It is VERY expensive to shop at the nice stores for food. Generally I would go to the local markets. Be sure to give the produce a disinfectant wash (chlorine bleach and water) before consuming...

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Expat Experiences: Netherlands - Tiffany Jansen

Who are you?

My name is Tiffany Jansen. Originally from the United States of America, I now live in Utrecht, the Netherlands, with my husband and our dog.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

Tiffany Jansen

I moved to Utrecht early December 2008 after marrying my Dutch husband. We were tired of the long-distance relationship and wanted to live together. He had the better job and an apartment, the economy is better here than in the US, and if you think immigrating to the Netherlands is a nightmare, you don't want to mess with trying to get into the US! I had also had quite a lot of experience abroad and jumped at the chance to live in another country.

What challenges did you face during the move?

To be honest, we were more concerned with the wedding than we were with the actual move. Shipping things wasn't necessary as the apartment was already furnished, albeit a year on we're still traveling to the US with an empty suitcase to move the rest of my things. We also had to worry about getting the dog over, which we found surprisingly simple. The wait for my residence permit took much longer than it should have and there was much unnecessary stress in getting our marriage certified in the Netherlands, but all in all it was a pretty seamless transition...

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Friday, March 05, 2010

Expat Experiences: Netherlands - Anne Galloway

My name is Anne Galloway and I’d like to share a small part of my story of becoming an expat for the first time in the hope that it can help and inspire other expat spouses. I am married with two children who were 10 and 7 when we had to move. I gave up a job I really enjoyed and took my kids away from their friends and all because of my husband’s work.

My husband moved to Holland in April 2006 and the children and I followed in the summer. The day after we arrived was the start of 2 weeks of thunder storms and non-stop rain – you might think that I’d be used to it coming from Scotland but honestly we don’t have that much rain!

We didn’t have too much trouble finding a house. My husband looked at a few and then I took the best piece of advice I was given which was to find a house within cycling distance of the school so this really limited our choice as there was not much available to rent in Bergen at that time. I didn’t see the house prior to moving in, apart from photos on the internet, but luckily I knew that I could trust my husband on that one! I have to say that the rental process was nothing like it is in the UK where there are very strict rules for renting out property. The letting agent wasn’t at all helpful and we were basically handed the keys and left to get on with it – the letting agent wasn’t interested in any questions/problems that we had with the property once we had the keys and with the owner living the other side of the world it caused a few problems especially when the heating or the cooker didn’t work and the water tank leaked!

We later approached the owner with an offer and now own the house that we were renting...

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Thursday, March 04, 2010

Expat Experiences: Brigid - Cairo, Egypt

Who are you?

I am a single British woman living on the south-western outskirts of Cairo in a new development near 6th October City.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

Brigid on a desert trek
I moved here just over 2 years ago after visiting for nearly 5 years. I wanted to change my life as I was in the Corporate treadmill and found that for the 3-4 years prior to moving here, I was just existing for work - working, commuting and sleeping - and having no real 'life' at all and actually quite resenting friends and family if they wanted to meet up or something on weekends when I wanted to catch up on precious sleep and just chill out.

I wanted time to kick back, relax, explore new areas of my brain, experience a very different culture (to me Northern European is a homogenous mass - one city indistinguishable from the next), take time out to smell the flowers, and also spend more time on 'people' stuff.

Why Cairo? I fell in love with Cairo right from my first visit - big, brash, noisy, beautiful, ugly, wonderful, chaotic, a surprise round every corner. I'm a big city girl by nature having lived both in rural areas, provincial towns and London in my life I know what I prefer. I missed Cairo every time I left it, and every time I came back, I felt I was home. I met up with an American woman who had been here for a few years on one visit and she said she had had exactly the same feelings about it and whenever she left Cairo she felt 'homesick'. Cairo is somewhere you either love or hate...

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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Expat Experiences: Spain - Fred and Arpi Shively

Who are you?

Fred Shively

Fred Shively - freelance creative director, writer, photographer. Arpi Shively - professional writer.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

2003 from the USA to the Alpujarras in Andalucia because we wanted to get back to Europe.

What challenges did you face during the move?

Being an American citizen made it slightly more difficult until we found out that, because I was married to a British national, I could come in as 'familial'. Otherwise the usual stuff: language, bringing a car into Spain (particularly difficult and expensive from the USA), the culture shock (compounded by moving to a small Andalucian pueblo).

Can you tell us something about your property?

We rent, always will as it obviates a whole load of problems. We have neither the need nor compulsion to own. Also, we're about to take over the management of a totally delightful Finca and casitas which we could never have done had we been tied to a property.

What is the property market like at the moment?

As far as we can make out: dire. Although probably a good time for buyers...

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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Expat Experiences: Paris, France - Sion Dayson

Who are you?

Sion Dayson, an American in Paris. I’m a writer originally from New York and North Carolina

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

Sion Dayson

Unlike a lot of expats here, I had never dreamed of living in Paris. I spoke Spanish, longed for warm weather, and didn’t display any Francophile tendencies.

So wouldn’t you know it? I fell in love with the City of Light one cold, rainy November. I was in Europe for a work conference and had a layover in Paris. Three days of exploring and the city worked its magic. I couldn’t shake the place.

I planned a month-long holiday for the following April. Yes, like that famous song “April in Paris” – wasn’t I just setting myself up for love? And it happened: a gorgeous Frenchman, the coup de foudre (‘lightning bolt,’ as the French say). I never believed that sort of thing possible before.

Only one thing: neither of us spoke the other’s language. No more than the basics. It didn’t stop us, though. We spent the rest of my holiday together.

As I was leaving I wanted to tell him I loved him, but it seemed crazy. How could I when we’d only just met? Could barely speak to each other? I cried when we said goodbye at the airport. Five minutes later my cell phone beeped; I was still standing in the security line. Je t’aime, read his message. I love you.

Well that was it. Upon my return to New York I realized it was one of those moments in life when I just had to leap. After giving notice to my job, a few months of intensive French classes, and trying to come to terms with leaving the city I adored, I got back on a plane (in September 2006) and have been here ever since...

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