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There's No Place Like Home?

People often ask me whether or not I think I will ever live in the U.S. again.

It's not an easy question to answer because as I tell people, in all these years I've lived here, it's just never really come up. There has only been one situation when I pondered moving home. It was the week that the Hub and I broke up, before we were married, after only eight months of dating. I was so angry at him that I was planning to leave the country, like, immediately. I blamed the entire country for our temporary troubles.

In all seriousness, I tell people that it would feel strange to me if I never lived in the U.S. again, and I think I would welcome the opportunity to move to the States for a few years -- to give the Hub a chance to experience life there, and for me to see what it would be like to go back again. However, I always feel like I would need the safety net of thinking I was coming back to the U.K., because at the moment, this is really home to me.

Also, there's the fear of repatriation. You see, I have known many expats over the years who have gone through the repatriation process -- in both directions. Everyone knows about how difficult it is to move away, but no one really anticipates how hard it is to move back. When I tell people about this phenomenon, they are always surprised. But why? they ask.

So I'll tell you why. I've recently talked to a lot of expats about this and thought I'd share what they have to say.

The expectation factor. When you go abroad, you expect it to be hard, but going home, you don't. It's home, after all, the place that felt familiar and you knew so well. How could it possibly be harder than moving to a foreign country? As one of my friends who moved from London to California after five years said to me: "I just wish I had known how hard this was going to be." No one likes to be blindsided.

Everything's different. You've changed. Home has changed. Once you take the plunge and become an expat, there's no taking it back. You'll never be a person anymore with one national identity. Personally, I think this is a very good thing. It makes you more empathetic, and more ego-detached as well. What is nationality anyway? Aren't we all just human beings? Sometimes you're confused about when to serve the cheese course, but I think these sacrifices are worth it. Still, it means when you return home you feel a cultural separation from your former identity that you never thought possible.

Your friends have moved on. When you visit home as an expat your friends are always super happy to see you. They make room in their busy schedules, they come into Manhattan from the suburbs, they cross London when they never would otherwise. But it will never be the same when you are actually living in the same city again. I've had glimpses of this when I stayed in New York over Christmas for lengthy periods of time and friends go back to their "normal lives". It was almost an imperceptible shift, but it was a little like, "oh, you're still here?" They weren't used to having me around for so long and were just back into their normal routines. I've done it to expats too when they repatriated -- I forgot they were even back. You have to re-establish your friendship again, including the routine of when you actually see people.

No one gives a sh*t. I have a friend who moved back to New York, and she perfectly described it this way. It's so true. When you're an expat, no matter for how long, you do get treated specially. I forget I have an accent, but I just bought a piano and the guy threw in the stool for free because I was a "New Yorker". Dude, I'm not a New Yorker. I live in Streatham. I just did the side-return. Still, people are curious, interested. My friend said when she went back home after many years of living here, no one cared. You have had a life-changing experience and no one gives a sh*t. They want you to move on.

So there you go. That's the result of my research. Please let me know if you've repatriated and if you agree with me, or if I got it wrong. The thing is, if you're repatriating or you're going to, you have your reasons. As hard as repatriating might be, I still feel the pangs of jealousy when my friends talk about seeing their parents for lunch over the weekend, or when I think about the fact that the toddler members of my family think that I live in a computer screen. Still, I live by Bill Bryson's eloquent summary of life as an expat: some things are better, some things are worse.

Photo credit: Close to Home twinkle toes: 10 of 365 via photopin (license)

The Artful Jammy Dodger

One thing I love about being an expat is occasionally you come across something completely new -- even when you have lived in your new country for a very long time.

Having watching the movie Oliver when I was a kid, I knew a lot about the Artful Dodger, but not so much about the Jammy Dodger.

In the new role I took on at work -- now not so new as it was almost a year ago -- I am now working in a U.K. team of all Brits (with the exception of me and one other expat from Ireland). These work colleagues -- well actually one particular work colleague -- are really into biscuits and we were discussing my new-found love for jammy dodgers. It then transpired that I had never had a Penguin, a Trio, a Wagon Wheel, a Gold Bar, an Orange Club or a Breakaway. I mean, what have I been doing the past 15 years in the U.K.?


You would think that we lived in a very global world, but the truth is, it really isn't always so global. I often find that the Brits I know here (including the Hub) grew up eating very different food, watching different T.V. shows and now we know, eating very different biscuits!

The first thing we should get clear is exactly what I mean by "biscuit". As my sister-in-law asked me after watching Bake Off from the U.S., "So, what is a biscuit?" (She also asked me why Bake Off takes place in a tent, which I feel is a question that could fill a whole other blog post.*)  

It's very complex, my friends. A biscuit can be either sweet or savory. If it is sweet, it is what an American would call a cookie; or if it is savory, it is what an American would call a cracker. The confusion lies in the fact that Brits will call one kind of biscuit a cookie: a chocolate chip cookie. I think this is because they consider this to be strictly an American thing. 

As for what Americans call a biscuit, they just don't understand this. I have tried to explain what an American biscuit is, but I can't communicate it at all. I think they will just have to go to America and try one. Maybe one with gravy and one with strawberries. 

Anyway... so I got to play guinea pig, and it was fun. The verdict is that I loved the Penguin and thought the Breakaway was O.K., but the rest I didn't really like (caveat: I haven't tried Wagon Wheels yet. I think we still need to secure some). But nothing could compete with the Jammy Dodger. I am pretty picky when it comes to food -- particularly sweet things. We're talking about a child who didn't like cake, only pie, and so had to have a birthday pie. Which really could go some way to explaining why I like Jammy Dodgers so much.

There are many great things about being an expat, as well as some not-so-great ones: you win some, you lose some. But getting to sample a parade of new biscuits in the office is definitely a win.

*The short answer to this question is: it is not a tent. It is a marquee. The Brits just love their marquees. I will write a blog post of this soon. Watch this space.

Done!

I had an editor in the early part of my career who would get things done really fast. You would send him a story for editing, and in a flash it would be back in your inbox, with the body of the text saying "Done!"


Or he may have just used a period (in British English, a full-stop). Or maybe there wasn't any punctuation at all, just: "Done"

But no matter what, that man was efficient. And at the time, the opposite of me -- a chronic procrastinator.

I'm less of a procrastinator now, but I still am constantly looking for ways to motivate myself to just get things done sooner rather than later, a constant challenge for me. And probably part of the reason I've always been a to-do list maker. Far easier to make lists of things to do, than actually do them! But then they would make me depressed about how much I have to do. So instead, I've started keeping a "Done" list.

How much better is it to think about all that you've actually accomplished, instead of all you still have to do? Because the list of things one has to do -- or wants to do -- never really gets shorter, it's much more satisfying to see what you have accomplished during the day. You can also add those things that cropped up which you didn't know you'd have to do, and even better, you can also put fun or really rewarding things on the list that you did.

I really like sitting down at the end of the day and jotting down what got done (although to be fair, I have always been a diarist, so this may not be for everyone). I keep my lists in a nice notebook. It's kind of my version of a bullet journal -- literally -- bullet points about my day. I keep everything together too -- no separation between work and home life, as that would be too complicated.

This also helps me to practice gratitude. We're often so caught up with all we have to do, all there is we haven't done in life, and all that we think we need, or want. There are a million ways to be unhappy and there are a million things to feel inadequate about. But I think that there's only one way to be truly happy: to be grateful for what you have already -- and to feel like you have just enough.

For those who love the nitty gritty detail, I do still have to keep a sort of list of reminders of what does need to get done unfortunately. Just because I can't possibly remember everything I'm working on. I have an ongoing list of projects and reminders and each morning I look at that and jot down what in particularly needs to get done that day on a sticky note. Then I use that note to help me remember everything I did. (So I suppose I technically still have a to-do list. But it doesn't make me feel bad anymore because I know it will eventually become part of my "Done" list.)

I have been meaning to write this post for ages, and was annoyed with myself for not doing it sooner when I found a very similar article on Apartment Therapy recently -- and strangely written by someone called Taryn! And then on Gretchen Rubin's podcast it was also mentioned just this last week -- they called it a "Ta Dah!" list though. That seemed a little grand for me. I guess it's not a bad idea if some other people are doing it too. Either great minds think alike... or fools seldom differ.

Do you use a to-do list or something of the sort? Have you tried making a "Done" list?

Photo credit: Day 092/366 - To Do List via photopin (license)

T.V. Yoga

You haven't heard of T.V. Yoga?

That's probably because I've just created it. Yes, I'm now the kind of person who creates new types of yoga.


This statement could be misleading, however, as it's not an actual yoga series -- but it's something I'm doing that's working for me at the moment, so thought I would share.

I am clearly not a yoga teacher, professional or anything of the sort. But I am a student of yoga, and here is the potted history of my yoga experience:

  • I practiced Bikram yoga (the really hot kind, and the controversial kind) for over 10 years before I gave it up, mainly due the heat and all the sweating, which I don't think was good for some specific health issues I have. But I did really love it and wish there was a studio in London that taught it without the heat. I also wish I was able to exercise regularly at home (I'm not), because I have the CDs and have occasionally done the series without the heat. 
  • I've been to numerous yoga classes at various gyms. And some at studios. I've had one personal yoga class with my friend's sister who is a yoga teacher. That same friend brought me to a yin yoga class in San Francisco. And I even did yoga on the beach last summer (which was amazing). 
  • I've read a few books on yoga. I've edited a book on yoga. 
  • I meditate (most) days (even if it is for very short periods of time!). This is the original yoga, by the way. 

Over the past few years, I have struggled to find a new yoga routine that fits into my life. The yoga studio near our house doesn't have any times that work in my schedule. My gym has so few classes that none of them work for me either. And there's even a free class at my office -- a free class! -- once a week, and although I have been a few times and really liked it, it's just scheduled at a really bad time work-wise for me.

And until I can find my own personal yoga teacher who will come to my house and teach me (this is a dream of mine) and also convince the Hub that this is a good use of our "funds", I am making due with what I like to call T.V. Yoga.

At the end of a long day, after sitting at the office, while the Hub and I watch one of the many gripping T.V. shows we have to choose from in the evening, I roll out my yoga mat and do some postures. I am not saying this is technically exercise, but it is movement, and instead of feeling like a brain in a lump watching the boob tube (as my Dad lovingly refers to it), I do start to feel like I am living in my actual physical body again. Which is after all, the point of yoga (it does technically means "union").

I'm not saying this is a substitute for a real yoga class. Or something a beginner should try (it's not like I'm a yoga expert, but I do know many postures and how to do them safely). But for now, I am making due and I think some yoga is better than no yoga.

While we're on the subject, if you're interested in learning more about yoga, I highly recommend a recent book I've read by Cinnamon Kennedy (an actual yoga teacher), called Why Yoga Works.

On a more hopeful note, there is a new yoga studio in my neighborhood that has opened up, so let's see if that could work better for me. Or maybe someone will read this and offer to come to my house to teach me? Although, chances are, they probably won't let me watch T.V. during class.

Photo credit: wuestenigel Lotus Pose (Padmasana) via photopin (license)

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