Archive | Expat Living

Five Reasons Overseas Ballots Matter

vote

vote
Lisa Gilardi Help Tip the Vote

On occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

2020 is an election year like no other. A global pandemic, domestic unrest and an economic downturn have motivated many voters — and not just those in swing states — to go to the polls.

Experts are predicting record turnout. But what about those Americans living abroad? If you’re an American living overseas, here are five reasons your vote matters:

Read the rest of this post over on the Vote from Abroad blog

My 10 Favorite Examples of British Slang

Union Jack flag
Image: Union Jack British Flag by Pete Linforth via Pixabay

From time to time, I enjoy sharing the wonderful peculiarities of British English I encounter during everyday life over here in the U.K. A few years back, I singled out that inimitable term, trouser tenting, to capture that moment in the morning when a gentleman might be – how to say? – more alert, aroused or otherwise excited.

Having just hit my 14th anniversary living in London, I long ago accustomed myself to the myriad ways in which Britain and America truly are – as George Bernard Shaw once put it – “two countries divided by a language.” The word “quite” for example, which means “very” in the United States, means “not very” when used here. (She’s “quite nice” means she’s just OK.) In a similar vein, if you “table” a motion in the UK, that means you’re opening it up for discussion. In the U.S., to table something is to remove it from consideration.

Still, it is the everyday differences I enjoy most. Here are ten of my favorite examples of British slang you might want to think about incorporating into your linguistic arsenal:

Read the rest of this post over at Better After 50

Creating Holiday Traditions When You Live Abroad

Christmas tree ornament

Christmas tree ornamentI got an email from two of my siblings recently asking my opinion on a family matter. Apparently, one of our aunts used to send a tub of popcorn to each of her grown-up nieces and nephews every Christmas to share with their children. My siblings thought that this year, as our aunt passed away six months ago, my mother should carry on this tradition.

“Huh?” I responded. “What are you talking about? I never got any popcorn…”

The Cost of Living Abroad During the Holidays

I’ve lived abroad or 13 years. While there are many things to recommend expat living, one thing that’s never quite the same is the holiday season. You can institute new traditions within your own family, but you will always feel slightly bereft.

I was reminded of this when reading a delightful account of Thanksgiving traditions by New York Times medical columnist Perri Klass. Klass talks about how, once she had children of her own, she could no longer travel to her parents’ home for Thanksgiving. But she quickly found herself quickly replicating many of her mother’s Thanksgiving traditions, which ranged from singing the hymn “We Gather Together” before eating the meal to preparing the requisite Indian lasagne.

I could relate. Like Klass’s mom, my mother also hails from the so-called  traditionalist generation. On Christmas Eve, our family would light the advent wreath before dinner and recite the Roman Catholic hymn, “Drop Down Dew Ye Heavens From Above,” my mother intoning the refrain. After dinner, we would take turns reading aloud from the Christmas story in the bible. We didn’t read from the Good Book itself, but instead from a yellowed Life Magazine version of the story my mother must have obtained cerca 1947. Beneath each segment of the story, she had carefully inscribed a designated Christmas Carol that matched the text. So at the appropriate junctures, we would sing “Joy the World” or “Silent Night” in unison.

Afterwards, we hung our stockings and one of us read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas aloud to the rest of the family. As we got older and had our own children, the youngest available grandchild became the designated reader.

New Continents, New Traditions

I don’t do any of that with my own family here in London. For starters, my husband is Jewish, so we celebrate Hanukkah with our kids. The 24th is also my son’s birthday, so that has added a new element of tradition into the mix.  On Christmas Day, like all good Jews, we now go out for Chinese food and watch a movie. Plus, in England, you have the whole Boxing Day thing to contend with on the 26th. (Personally? I’ve had enough celebration by then, so I usually stay inside and read.)

I’ve managed to sneak in a few holiday rituals over the years. I’ve amassed a random assortment of dreidels and non-religious Christmas ornaments which I delicately array in a sort of Omnist collage on our dinner table every year throughout the month of December. (As a Jewish boy who attended a Christian high school, my husband is allergic to overly-Christian iconography.)

In keeping with my dual British citizenship, I also dutifully ensure that we have a sufficient supply of Christmas Crackers, so that we can all be a bit silly at the annual Christmas Eve/Hanukkah/Birthday celebration. I also try to attend at least one Carol service a year at a random church of choice. Last year, I went to the local Unitarian Church. The alter featured a chair made entirely of conch shells, while doll-sized toy Unicorns adorned the windows. It all felt oddly appropriate.

Renewal

I don’t think I’ll ever quite recreate the intense holiday traditions of my youth. It wouldn’t suit my family. And and at this point in my life, it probably doesn’t suit me either.

But the virtue of being part of an inter-faith, bi-national family is that you always have a chance to try something new. This year, for example, I’m hosting a “Christmas Drinks” cocktail party at my home for a bunch of friends from my old job. I never host large gatherings, but I’m really excited for this party. I think I’ll wear some reindeer antlers to mark the occasion.

I’m also making a huge batch of Christmas cookies with some Christmas Tree and Santa-shaped cookie cutters I inherited from the previous tenant in this house. He left them when he moved out, whether by choice or by accident, and I feel that I’m carrying on some of his traditions by employing them myself.

The holiday season will still be a patchwork of traditions. At the 11th hour, I’ll need to rush out and buy those special, slender candles you need to place in the Menorah. Hanukkah falls on the 23rd this year, so I’ve invited a friend’s son who enjoys cooking to prepare a special feast for my own son, who’s been away at college in America for four months.

There will always be a bit of sadness mixed in with the merriment. But as the Christmas carol of my youth, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, would have it, “Oh, tidings of comfort and joy…

Perhaps we’ll sing that too.

Image: Happy Holidays! By Michael Levine-Clark via Flickr

Like what you’re reading? Sign up to my “Good Reads for Grownups” newsletter, a monthly round up of books and films I’ve liked, the latest research on aging, and other great resources about the eternal journey of adulthood, plucked from around the web. Subscribe here

Tips for Adulthood: Five Ways to Live Frugally Abroad

espresso machine

espresso machineI’ve been living abroad for twelve and a half years. One of the things I’ve noticed is how frugally our family lives in London compared to when we lived in the United States. Some of that has to do with the fact that I’ve worked freelance for a large chunk of that time period. And some of it has to do with the exorbitant cost of living in London.

But we’ve also made some smart choices about how to cut costs and I thought I’d share some of those with you today:

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50

Image: Espresso by Cahadikin via Flickr

Like what you’re reading? Sign up to my “Good Reads for Grownups” newsletter, a monthly round up of books and films I’ve liked, the latest research on aging, and other great resources about the eternal journey of adulthood, plucked from around the web. Subscribe here

Why I Won’t Be Watching The Royal Wedding

Harry and Meg

Harry and Meg I realize that I’m an outlier on all things royal wedding. Just the other day, a close friend in America texted to ask me what I was doing Saturday afternoon.

“Umm, taking an improv acting class,” I answered. “Like I do every Saturday. Why?”

“Why?” she repeated, three eye-rolling emojis materializing on my screen. “It’s the Royal Wedding!” Like countless others, she plans to wake at 4 a.m. Saturday to take in the entire rigmarole.

When it comes to Prince Harry’s marriage to Meghan Markle, there are those like Sarah Jessica Parker and the entire British press corps, who are over the moon with elation. And then there are the few, the proud, the ones like me who really wish the whole thing would just go away.

Read the rest of this post over on USA Today

Image: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on Christmas Day 2017 via Wikimedia Commons

An American Goes to the Polls in the U.K.

UK voting booth

UK voting boothLONDON – I’m not quite sure what I expected when I showed up at my local polling station in London last Thursday morning to vote – for the very first time – as an ex-pat American in a British General Election. But it certainly wasn’t this: an “open air” voting booth, a single sheet of white paper perhaps seven inches long listing a bunch of political parties with a small box next to their names and – wait for it – a pencil – to fill out said ballot.

It gets better. At a certain point as you stood in line to vote, you were meant to split off into two separate lines based on the name of your street, with all streets in the district divided alphabetically. Fair enough, except that it turned out that most of the larger streets in my district were all clustered in the first half of the alphabet, so while about 18 of us stood waiting in the “Big Street” queue, two lucky souls sprinted ahead to the “Short Street” queue. (Call me crazy but had someone not thought to cross tabulate street size/population with alphabet when they devised this fairly straightforward time-saving device)?

I actually found myself feeling sorry for the volunteers at the “Short Street” queue” table when one person discovered that she actually belonged in the “Big Street” queue and had to rejoin our line. The poor souls looked absolutely heartbroken to have lost a potential customer.

When I finally made it up to the head of the line – which, to be fair, didn’t take very long given the microscopic length of the ballot – one volunteer took my last name, found it on a list and called out my voter registration number to a second individual who then assiduously checked me off a different list. Which was all well and good except that when I glanced down at the sheet of addresses I noticed that myself, my husband *and* the former owner of our house were all registered to vote at our address, even though he now lives in a very different part of the country.

While voter ID controversies here are nothing like they are in the U.S., the British Electoral Commission will be instituting a new law requiring photo ID for all voters starting in 2019, although that photo can come in the form of a free elections ID card. In the meantime, the whole thing was so quaint and – well – English, that I half expected some kindly old lady to rock up with a trolley full of tea and cakes and offer me some while I waited my turn.

Read the rest of this post over on The Broad Side

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Yikes! I’m British! (God Save The Queen?)

“Do you think it’s OK if I wear my bike clothes to the swearing in ceremony?” my husband asked, on our way out the door.

I thought about it for a second. “Um…no?”

We were on our way to the local Town Hall to obtain our British citizenship. Though I don’t usually stand on ceremony, something told me that showing up to pledge your loyalty to Her Majesty the Queen in neon cycling attire might not cut it in our adopted country.

I was right.

I have no idea how they do citizenship ceremonies in the United States, but in the United Kingdom, it’s a big deal. You process into this grandiose chamber that looks like a mini House of Commons – replete with a horseshoe of ornate green chairs centered round a main dais – and then stand – in unison – as the Mayor of your Borough (county) is announced and marches in.

I don’t say “marches” lightly. She was dressed in a bright red cloak with fur lining. Around her shoulders was a Chain of Office covered in silver shields.  The gentleman escorting her into the chamber was carrying an enormous, four-foot long golden mace which he set on a table in front of the Mayor. This over-sized scepter had the curiously menacing effect, as if none of us would-be citizens should dare speak out of turn whilst it was laid before us. A large photo of Queen Elizabeth II sat to the right.

Read the rest of this post over at The Broad Side (“Real Women. Real Opinions.”) where I’m now a contributor…

 

Image: http://www.metro.us/philadelphia/news/2013/05/07/quietly-queen-elizabeth-ii-prepares-for-the-end/

At the Olympics, Proud of the U.S. and the U.K.

As an American living in London during the build-up to the 2012 Olympics, I’ve felt torn for some time now. On the one hand, I knew I’d be rooting for Team USA. But as a permanent resident here, I also found myself hoping the Brits would come together to pull off something  truly spectacular that would impress even the Americans.

Mitt Romney’s gaffe-tastic visit certainly helped unite this complex, multi-cultural country in record time. (My prize for best Romney diss goes to former White House economist Austan Goolsbee, who tweeted “Romney in Gdansk: Lech, thanks for being here. And hey – how about that shipyard there? Is that a rusting pile of crap or what?”)

But it was more than just #romneyshambles that’s pulled this famously standoffish island nation together over the last few days. Personally, I still have no idea what Danny Boyle was after with that opening night extravaganza.

I only drank two Coronas but am I right that there were two countdowns instead of one? And who was that dude strumming the guitar? I know one thing: I’ll never be able to look at Kenneth Branagh with a straight face again.

Read the rest of this post at The Washington Post’s She The People blog

 

Image: Olympics 2012 – Team GB T-Shirt by Daniel Bevis via Flickr under a Creative Commons License

Halloween In London: Why I’ll Never Make It As A Brit

So today is Halloween.

And like all good Americans, I arose early and donned a costume.

Neither of my kids’ schools were dressing up this year. But Halloween is increasingly popular here in London, especially in neighborhoods like mine, which are home to their fair share of Americans. So even though my kids weren’t putting on their costumes, I thought: “What the heck?” and threw mine on for fun.

And that’s  – as we say over here – where it all went a bit pear-shaped.

You see, for the past five years I’ve dressed up as a witch on Halloween. This basically amounted to wearing a large, black, pointy hat, a black sweater and some black jeans and boots. But I was tired of being a witch. Plus, my hat had started to droop. So this year, when browsing for my son’s costume in a local shop, I decided to go crazy and buy a wimple.

For those in the know,  a wimple is that black and white thing that nuns wear around their faces.(Think Maria, pre-Captain, in The Sound of Music.)

From there, it was just a  matter of rummaging around in my closet for a frumpy, over-sized, white turtle neck, a plain, black skirt, some dark tights, a pair of clunky shoes, a semi-gaudy cross and – within minutes  – I looked just like my father’s Irish cousin, good old Sister Claudette.

Needless to say, I was extremely pleased with myself. (It’s amazing what can impress you when you’re unemployed.)

But then I went outside. And that’s when the fun really started.

You see, no one realized that it was a joke. That was fine, when I was walking through my neighborhood at eight a.m. past all manner of  harried parents, construction workers, commuters and shop owners. They could be forgiven for thinking that I was either a real  nun or just…a bit strange. But by the time I hit the school run and – STILL – no one had gotten the joke, I knew I was in trouble.

The first person I ran across was a good friend – (and fellow American, though she’s lived here for 15 years) – who was rushing to catch a train. I greeted her with something on the order of “God Bless you, my child,” at which point she did a double-take and paused to take me in.

“Are you going to wear that all day?” she asked, somewhat aghast.

Then I hit the school gate. After a few odd looks on my way in, I found myself standing in line behind a recent immigrant from Lebanon with the improbable name of  – wait for it – Jihad. It was Jihad’s daughter’s first day of school and he had all sorts of questions for me. I got so caught up in orienting him about the school that I completely forgot that I was dressed as a nun…until, of course, I turned to introduce him to my daughter and I noticed that he looked a bit uneasy.

“Oh! Right!” I chuckled, glancing down at my habit. “This is just a Halloween costume. I’m American,” I added, by way of explanation.

“It’s O.K., Madam,” he answered, smiling politely but looking over his shoulder as if a taxi might miraculously present itself within the school yard.

At line-up time, I ran into another acquaintance. While not American, she’d lived in the U.S. for at least five years. But when her gaze fell upon my costume, she looked positively grief-stricken.

“It’s for Halloween!” I said, clapping her on the shoulder, thinking that she didn’t recognize me and was wondering why my daughter had been escorted to school by a nun.

“Oh, thank goodness,” she said. “I thought that maybe…maybe…” Her voice trailed off.

You thought that maybe I’d gone into the convent over half-term?

I left my daughter’s school, dejected. No one seemed to get the joke. No one seemed amused. They all seemed perplexed…and mildly concerned.

Of course, I should have been prepared for this. I’ve appropriated a lot of things during my five years living in the U.K. – The BBC, The NHS, even a fair bit of British slang. But one thing I’ve never quite internalized is the whole buttoned-down, reticent thing. For better or for worse, I’m loud. I’m chatty. And, no. I’m not afraid to walk around dressed as a nun at nine o’clock on a Monday morning in October. Especially if it’s Halloween.

On my way home, I ran into one of my son’s ten-year-old friends who did recognize me, wimple and all.

“Bless you, my child,” I said, half-heartedly making the sign of the cross.

He studied me carefully, looking me up and down.

“But that’s not scary!” he finally exclaimed.

Oh, my dear, you’d be surprised.

 

Image: Monestario de Santa Catalina/Arequipa by Command Zed via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Studying For The U.K. Citizenship Test

I’m studying for my U.K. citizenship test.

It’s actually not citizenship per se. Rather, it’s what’s known – in an impossibly English formulation – as “Indefinite Leave To Remain” (ILR). But ILR the first step on the road to citizenship, and it allows us to become permanent residents in the UK.

In addition to assembling a shed load of paperwork that would appear to include evidence of everything we’ve ever eaten since moving here five years ago (kidding…barely), we also need to take a test about “Life in the United Kingdom.”

So for the next two weeks, I have set aside a half hour every day to review various facets of British life ranging from historical immigration patterns to the ins and outs of the educational system to how laws get made here.

At first, I was really irritated that I needed to pass an exam to show that I understood life in the U.K. (I mean, seriously, folks. After last week’s working class vacation, how could anyone possibly tell me that I don’t “get” what it’s like to live here?)

Plus, all of my American friends who’ve already taken the test have told me that it’s a complete waste of time and that I’ll forget everything I study as soon as I walk out of the test room.

Much to my surprise, however, I’m finding the whole thing rather useful.

There are, first of all, the things I already know and can take pride in having mastered lo these past five years: things like how the NHS actually works, how one goes about obtaining a driver’s license and, for better or worse,  how one goes about buying a house. (On this last one, I’d like to volunteer to add a segment on getting gazumped.)

Then there are the things that I thought I understood, but actually didn’t. Like the difference between the Council of Europe, the European Union, the European Commission and the European Parliament. (Here’s a handy-dandy primer, in case you’re, um, interested.)

And then, finally, there are the things I had no clue about, may well forget, but am actually really pleased to discover:  like what percentage of the population in the UK is actually Muslim (surprisingly low, given all the anti-Islamic rhetoric…what the heck is a GCSE and when do my kids need to take them?…and how big is the population of Wales vis a vis the rest of the country?).

Above all, however, preparing to take a citizenship test in another country forces you to grapple with your own patriotism. If, as and when we obtain British citizenship, we will still be free to return to live in the U.S. at any point.  Nonetheless, at the end of this whole process and assuming that I can remember that 70% of British citizens belong to the Church of England on test day – we’ll be bonafide citizens of another country.

We’ll be able to vote. We’ll be able to work anywhere in the EU. And our kids can serve in the British military.

Wow.

Image: Union Jack Paper Flag Picks by Amanda *Bake It Pretty* via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.