Sunday, 28 April 2013

Sunday Supplements (and Sunday Puppy too)

 It has been a good week (except for the Sunday Puppy who had to get annual shots and peed on the vet). After this bountiful and beautiful spring I'm suddenly excited about what the rest of 2013 will bring. 

I've also sneaked in an expat Q & A at the bottom of this post, it's another expat link up with some other wonderful expat bloggers, so be sure to check them all out!


Wings and Margaritas Honey Chipotle wings washed down with fruity frozen drink makes for a fun Friday evening.

Chicken Chasni - My first attempt at this authentic Glasgow curry was an overwhelming success. I'll share soon, I promise!


The Hour  - completely underrated noir 1950s drama set in the corridors of BBC studios. Totally overshadowed by Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey.


Time Capsule from 1913 - 100 year-old memories and artifacts uncovered in this wonderful series of photos. If there's only one link you follow today, make it this one.


What not to do in England - I love Rhyme and Ribbon's regular expat feature 'What Not To Do' because they're all no-brainers for me and I love seeing an American's perception of British culture. This one is about pub culture.

EXPAT Q & A - Season and Culture changes!

1. What was your favorite season back home and is it the same now; why or why not? 
My favorite season back home (Scotland) is Summer because the sky barely gets dark. Look at Scotland on an atlas and you'll realize it's as north as Canada. During the solstice the sky goes dark blue, but never black.

Here in midatlantic USA though, it has to be Spring. The temperature is perfect, the sun is bright, and the blossoms are beautiful. All for a fleeting moment before the oppressive summer weather sets in!

2. Is there a place you would want to move to based solely on the weather?
I think I'm there! Anywhere New England/Mid-Atlantic is perfect because there are four defined seasons. It sounds nuts but I feel very in tune right now!

3. What is a piece an article of clothing that you had to buy for your new home due to the weather? i.e. galoshes, winter coat, etc
More summer garments, especially professional wear. I had no idea what people in the USA wore to work and meetings when the weather is 90F.

4. Have you found the weather stereotypes of your new home to be true?
Yes. Spring is amazing, summer is stunning, and Sandy was a little frightening.

5. Is there somewhere you would never live based solely on the weather?
I hate to say it, but the Deep South. I don't think I could handle having only one season, where my thick curly hair becomes a hot wet hostage to the humidity.

6. What are you looking forward to most this spring?
Getting stuck into my new job and spending more time outside again.

7. Where you live, what is your go to outfit for spring?
Uuuuh. I'm actually at a bit of a loss because this Spring has swung from 90F - 50F and it's been hard to keep track of what to wear. Jeans/blouse and short dresses with tights have seemed to work so far.

8. What is one thing or event that you miss that happens back home at this time of the year?
I really miss seeing newborn lambs jumping around the fields.

9. If your hubs could bring home a bouquet of any type of flower, what you pick?
I'm not picky! He's traditional though, so it'd be roses or lilies.

10. What does your perfect Saturday look like?
Coffee in my PJs and watching a show with my hubs in a late morning followed by a trip to a local Mennonite plant nursery and flower shop, and a drive through the country. Back home for bread making and curry making. That's actually how we spent yesterday, and it was lovely.  

Bonus:  Are there any special holidays in your new country in the month of May?
Cinco De Mayo (not strictly American of course), and Memorial Day Weekend, which is actually our wedding anniversary, and although it's our second one this year, it's the first we'll spend together. So that's very exciting.
Found Love.  Now What?

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Tea and taxes - a UK expat navigating US taxes (part 2)

A few days ago I discussed the shopping minefield that is US sales tax, and just how bewildering it is for this awkward British expat to try to navigate when taxes on goods seem to change town to town (and in some cases, really do).

But that's not what tax day is really about. Tax day, April 15th is the day when US residents must file their taxes with the IRS.

For a previously salaried Brit, this is a whole new bureaucratic territory.

In the UK, if you are an employee, that is if you are not self-employed, then taxes are deducted and reported to the taxman (HMRC) by your employer through a system known as Pay As You Earn (PAYE). There's often no need to even have any communication with HMRC. Starting a new job you give your employer an earning/tax form (P45/P46) and at the end of the financial year your employer sends you a form that summarizes your earnings and deductions (P60). That's by and large, it.

Sometimes you need to call them to correct your tax deduction, especially if you're under a certain age or you're a full-time student. And occasionally you might find out that you have been on the wrong tax code for several years and then the taxman will send you a check out of the blue. This happened to me several years ago and I was shocked. At first I thought it was a scam (nobody sends me checks for no reason), but it actually helped pay for a good portion of our wedding.

In the USA, starting a new job requires you fill out a form (W4) requesting how much tax to deduct from your paycheck. At the end of the financial year, your employer sends you a summary of your earnings and tax (a W2). Sounds familiar, yes?

But then you have to fill out a whole bunch of forms for the IRS and send them off by April 15th.

As a detail-oriented Brit who managed to navigate the USCIS immigration form jungle, I felt pretty confident about filling out these tax forms. My husband, however, disagreed. Perhaps it was my constant chatter about "So I've got my W-whatever, what do I do now? Why do I need to do this if I'm a salaried employee? What is FICA? Here are all my pay-slips, do we send these too? Why not - I put them in date order!"

So we cheated and went to an accountant. And that was fun. He knew what he was doing. And apparently I'm getting another check from the taxman.

Around about this time Americans start talking about what they'll be using their tax rebate to buy. It's like a check out of the blue, but every year. It's the reverse of what happens at the register in the store. Instead of getting some weird total above the sticker price, you get an undetermined sum back from the checkout. Americans - why is this?

Next year I'm going to have a different kind of fun at tax time because now I'm a self-employed consultant/contractor. This time I'm keeping all my receipts in date order to send to Mr IRS next April, so he can see just how much I spend on Twizzlers (joking…I prefer Jelly Bellies).

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Tea and taxes - a UK expat navigating US taxes (part 1)

I promise this isn't a political rant, it's an expat's observation of the differences between sales tax in the UK and the USA!

Last week was tax day in the USA, and I was going to spend a bit of time talking about my various experiences with the US tax system, until the tragedy in Boston took place and I held off. Most people know that Boston plays a key part in the USA's uneasy relationship with taxation. I had wondered at the time if there was a correlation between tax day and what happened in Boston. I don't actually think that was the reason behind what happened there last week, but I hope you understand my caution nonetheless.

Coming from the UK, tea and taxes are two things with which I'm very familiar. And I'm not talking about US history. Sales tax in the UK (known as Value Added Tax or VAT) is currently an eye-watering 20%, a little fact I often use to stun Americans when they ask me about life in the UK.

To Americans, this is unheard of.

But Brits don't always notice it. Yes, things are expensive, but the minimum wage is higher, the pound is stronger (but only just, I admit), and usually sales tax is included in the sticker price. I call it a WYSIWYG shopping experience: You know straight away how much a basketful of goods will cost when you reach the checkout, and it's only after you leave and glance at your receipt you realize just how much of your bill went to the taxman.

Dry Cleaning in Philly
And this is one of my pet peeves about sales tax in the USA: It's so unpredictable! For a start, sales tax varies from state to state, and sometimes from city to city. I live in the suburbs of Philadelphia, where sales tax is a reasonable 6%. But once I'm inside the city it's 8%.

City-dwellers like to head out of the city to the King of Prussia mall (the biggest on the east coast and a veritable shopping behemoth) to save a few dollars. Some New York state residents also find their way down to suburban PA, because even though NY State sales tax is only 4% it varies widely, reaching almost 9% in NYC. As I've said before, PA's neighbor Delaware has no sales tax, and many Keystone staters are only too happy to hop over the border for liquor, or a car (or both).

That's not all. My biggest peeve is that sales tax is added on top of the sticker price, at the register. If budgeting is key, then you need to be clued into the tax rates for what you're buying, where you are, and how to work out percentages mentally while cruising the shopping aisles. You think that CD is going to cost you 9.99? Wrong, it's 10.59. And two of them? Yeah that's 21.18, thanks. No wonder Americans use their cards for shopping, carrying exact change is a nightmare.

At first I have to confess that I wondered if this was a conspiracy to make American shoppers acutely aware of taxation. After that spat with the Brits over tea (and to be fair, the tax rate on tea was allegedly a ridiculous 119%), the USA has never been an overt fan of heavy taxation. The weird totals at the register are a constant reminder.

But actually, it is probably just easier for nation-wide companies to allow stores in states to change the tax rates on their registers rather than printing out different prices for every city, county and state, and not the conspiracy theory this awkward Brit has concocted!

Incidentally, in the UK there's no sales tax on teabags, but there is if you buy a cup of hot tea. So maybe both systems are just as confusing!

Monday, 22 April 2013

What to get for an expat's birthday

The past month or so was action-packed. 

I was in a car crash, the company I worked for went bankrupt, I got a (very exciting) new job, and I got older. 

I was also originally going to go back to the motherland this month, but decided a short while ago it wouldn't be feasible with everything else going on. 

But even if I can't go back to the UK, I can have the UK sent to me! That's what friends and family will do for an expat's birthday. Here are some goodies that were sent to me by my loved ones…
Remember how I said I wished that The Great British Bake Off would be shown on US television? Well, this book will hopefully improve my terrible baking, plus it's got some of that cheeky innuendo found in the show. I'm still waiting anxiously for the US version, just to see how it'll compare.
And talking of baking: This cute bracelet is a real charm. Not only does the tartan remind me of home, it's made of BISCUIT TINS! It is, in a word, sweet. 

I also promise there will be more biscuits involved in future FOOD FIGHT posts.
This is a paper sheep.

I don't see too many of those any more, which is a shame, because naughty spring lambs springing through fields is a jaunty sight. 

And yes, that's a Marks and Spencer bag at the bottom. What would an expat do without her regular Marks and Sparks care packages? 

And the final thing is a gift from one of my girls, this fabulous Marmite t-shirt. You'll either love it or you'll hate it, and you can't get much more patriotic than a British condiment that makes Americans physically recoil.
All in all, I'm very grateful for my UK themed birthday pieces!

Note: I don't do affiliate advertising, so all of this stuff was really sent to me by friends and family, and I'm just showing it off because it's oh-so-British and I love it.

If you have popped over from Betsy's blog: Hello! I hope you stick around. Sit down, I'll make you a cup of tea. Tell me all about yourself. Do you like Marmite, or do you prefer PBJ?

If you haven't popped over from Betsy's blog, then I have a guest post over there all about emigrating from the land of Marmite to the land of PBJ. You should pop over and have a looksie.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Some beautiful pictures of Spring in the Square

These are some serene images from the early morn last week in Philly. This is Rittenhouse Square, one of the five squares in Philly.

It is a beautiful part of the city, surrounded by Parisian-style bistros with al fresco seating, allowing you to eat oysters and watch people walk their dogs in the park. There are several museums and galleries in this little space: CFEVA, the Print Center, the Philadelphia Art Alliance, and the Curtis Institute to name a few. There is also the friendliest Starbucks in the world.

Philadelphia has an important place in US history, as does Boston. I've only been to Boston once, but it is a fantastic city - it is to Philly what Edinburgh is to Glasgow. And today, while I may be in Philly, my thoughts are with those in Boston affected by yesterday's tragic events, and with the first responders, who always bring back my faith in humanity.

Edit: I since realized that this part of Philly is known as the French Quarter. That certainly explains the European style al fresco dining!

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Sunday Supplements (and Sunday Puppy Too & BONUS Sunday Kitty!)

Forget Spring, she says, roll on Summer.
If you're just here for the bonus Sunday kitty, scroll down. If you're here for interestingness, well here it is…



Sushi - Out here in the suburbs there are some excellent choices for Asian food. There's a decent Vietnamese just a short drive away, and several excellent Japanese Sushi and Hibachi restaurants.

Rice Beer - This stuff was surprisingly tasty.



'That' episode of Blackadder - The final episode, that is. One of the finest moments of British television.



A Picture a Day  - Lost In Travels is one of my favorite blogs at the moment because they link to so many interesting people and posts. This couple's picture a day project is so creative and adorable!

Photo Tips
- Of Corgis and Cocktails is another favorite blog. And here is her first installment of outfit photo tips. Remember when I said I'd do a series of photo tips in April? Yeah, that didn't happen for various reasons. Maybe it will one day. Until then, check out Katherine's!



My Post Secret - The Iota Quota is a fellow expat blogger. This story on not quite loving living in rural USA at first struck a chord with me, and it's beautifully written.

Revelation - And this post from Banana Bread is a great coda to the above blog post about not quite loving your new expat home. To all new expats - this happens eventually. Trust me!

How on earth can she shop so much? - This is one of the best blog posts I've seen recently in the blogging world, from blogger Because of Jackie. She's candid about her household's financial planning. More of this please blogging world!

Useful secrets - This is like one of those "pin now read later" things you see on Pinterest that revolutionizes your life. Only it's a snarky Reddit thread by emergent service workers determined to give you a good deal.

Smart girls are less likely to do science - interesting study from University of Pittsburgh.

And because you were all very good this week, here's a bonus Sunday Kitty! Don't say I'm not good to you.
Let's call him Batman, even though that's not really his name.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Five movies about Thatcher's Britain

Much of this week's UK news has been dominated by the news of Margaret Thatcher passing away. As a Brit, and a child of Maggie's Britain, no less, I have been asked by Americans several times this week why she was such a divisive figure for the UK.

I'm not going to talk about that here, at least not directly. Instead, I'm going to celebrate what I think is one of her greatest legacies: Her (perhaps unwitting) contribution to the arts.

Because she was such a divisive figure, and also because she was not popular amongst artists, this led to a vibrant and highly politicized arts and cultural legacy. If when you think of 'British Cinema' you think of Harry Potter, Love Actually, Monty Python, or even the Carry On movies, then I'm about to change that for you.

Here are five brilliant movies about Thatcher's Britain, listed in order of release.
Links are mostly to UK trailers, so please assume they are all NSFW!

1. Educating Rita (1983) Set in Liverpool

Working class girl does good: A scouse hairdresser decides to better herself by enrolling into the Open University. The OU is a respected UK distance-learning institution which was established in the 1970s and was very innovative for its time. The story revolves around her eagerness to move in new social and economic circles. It was a breakout movie for newcomer Julie Walters, aka Molly Weasley from Harry Potter.

2. My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) Set in London

On the surface, the lead characters in this movie also live according to the entrepreneurial values of the deregulated Thatcher era, by running a successful business. The irony is that they are mixed-race, gay, and loosely involved in trafficking drugs. Huge social commentary on politics, race, and relationships. It was nominated for an Oscar but lost out to Woody Allen.

3. Letter to Brezhnev (1985) Set in Liverpool

Two girls, one unemployed and the other working in a chicken factory, meet two Soviet Russian sailors. The unemployed girl decides that life in Soviet Russia would be better than life in 1980s Liverpool. She writes to the communist leader Brezhnev, asking him if she can move to Russia. There's an ironic message here about a poor girl hoping to 'live the dream' in the USSR, but there's also a frightening close up of a girl's hairy armpit, so be warned.

4. The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, Her Lover (1989)

Michael Gambon, aka Dumbledore, plays the Thief in this lavish movie by Peter Greenaway. He represents the 'nouveau riche' of the 1980s: He's wealthy and provides for his wife (Helen Mirren), who wears Jean Paul Gaultier, eats expensive food… and is having an affair with a lowly academic. Very aesthetic, hugely symbolic, and definitely not for the faint-hearted (trust me, it's more disturbing than the hairy armpit).

5. Billy Elliot (2000) Set in Northumberland circa 1984-5

Part of this movie is a sweet tale about a young boy pursuing a dream, but it's set against the backdrop of the 1980s Miners' Strike. Also starring Julie Walters/Molly Weasley. 

I lived in North East England during the 1980s and there is a part of my family that hails from Northumberland: They were a mining family. Seeing a former miner choke up at this movie's depiction of the political/economic unrest brings a gritty strength to Billy Elliot. 

Also see Brassed Off (1996) and the Full Monty (1997) which star Ewen McGregor and Robert Carlyle respectively. Although these two movies are set during the post-Thatcher 1990s, they capture similar themes to Billy Elliot.

Their US trailers are really funny, because they make these movies seem a lot more corny than they really are. They also have the same typically deep blockbuster voice. The US trailer for Brassed Off even describes it as a 'sexy comedy' as if it's Four Weddings and a Funeral. Warning: It's really not. Check them out: Billy Elliot, Brassed Off, Full Monty.

All of these inspired this Mitchell and Webb British underdog movie sketch. If you love British movies and don't understand the rules of cricket, you'll find this hysterical.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Glad Notes: License to Swill

There's something controversial brewing here in the state of Pennsylvania. And I'm just not talking about my husband's homebrew. I'm talking about new laws that could change how all Pennsylvanians buy and drink alcohol.

The Pennsylvania state House of Representatives recently passed a bill that would privatize the sale of alcohol within the state. The bill currently sits in the PA Senate.

That's right, alcohol in PA is state-controlled. The PA State even produces its own brand of wine, sold in its state owned stores.

In December of 1933, just in time for Christmas, the USA ended its short flirtation with the prohibition of alcohol. But although it's been legal to manufacture, sell and buy alcohol in the USA since then, the long hangover from the prohibition era has resulted in a mind-achingly confusing system of regulating and selling alcohol.

Regulation varies widely from state to state. For example, in Washington DC you can experience the convenience of buying beer and wine from grocery stores, but you won't find liquor in those supermarket aisles. In the neighboring state of Delaware there's no sales tax and the state borders are lined with liquor stores, where state-hopping consumers can look for a duty-free deal. But booze consumers in Delaware won't find any alcohol for sale in grocery stores, and they can't buy booze anywhere on designated holidays.

In the Southern state of Georgia you won't find beer stronger than 14% ABV, but its western neighbor Alabama prohibits beer stronger than 13.9% ABV, and you won't find any beer at all in over a third of Alabama's counties because they are dry, except when they're not dry, because some dry counties have wet cities that do sell booze and that's known as moist.

Confused yet? Sit down, have another drink!

This is Spodee, a drink local to PA. It's chocolate flavored red wine. And this is why America is great.
I got all of that from this one Wikipedia page and I could go on. But let's just focus on Pennsylvania for now.

In Pennsylvania, like its neighbor Delaware, you won't find any alcohol for sale in grocery stores. Except that you will in some branches, such as Wegmans, which has specific licenses to sell beer in some of their stores. Otherwise you can buy beer in a bar or restaurant, or from a distributor, but not in a liquor store.

The liquor stores are all state owned. They sell hard liquor and wine… and nothing else. If you want tonic to go with your state store bought gin, you need to go to the local grocery store or supermarket.

Some places are allowed to sell wine, such as tasting rooms. There's a farm shop and cafe near to us that sells their own locally produced wine. But (as far as I understand, and it's complicated, so bare with me) the wine must be sent to a separate distributor before the farm store can sell it, and it must be sold in a designated tasting room that is a separate entity to the farm shop - they had to build fake walls and can only sell wine from a separate register.

This contrasts hugely to my experiences in the UK, where supermarket sales reduced alcohol prices drastically. When the recession hit both bars and liquor stores suffered due to the buying and selling power supermarkets have. The UK has discussed legislating minimum alcohol prices to curb these problems. I don't think the UK Government is going to start producing its own Westminster branded booze any time soon (although Prince Charles' car does run on wine).

No such problems here in PA. And although that could change soon, there's no guarantee. The bill is actually very controversial, bringing with it fears of job losses, an increase in drink driving violations and other concerns. I, for one, would be concerned if it led to a race to the bottom for drinks prices in stores: The prices for most items in PA's Wine and Spirits stores are already incredibly low compared to the UK.

If you're interested in reading more, The Economist recently covered the PA state liquor privatization issue too.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Five ways Glasgow and Philadelphia are similar

World War Z is a Brad Pitt zombie movie set to attack movie theaters this June. It is set here in Philadelphia, but it was actually filmed in the Scottish city of Glasgow.

Readers will know that both of these cities hold special places in my heart. I lived, studied, worked, danced, drank (and dated my now husband) in Glasgow for a good six years of my life - and now Philly is my home city.

The trailer is hilarious. For anyone who has ever lived in or been to Glasgow and/or Philadelphia, the aerial shots of 'Glasgowdelphia' are so blatant and comedic. George Square looks nothing like any of the five squares in Philly.

BUT, Glasgow and Philadelphia are really similar. I love them both, and I love to compare my home countries, so here's a fun list of the similarities between the two best cities in the world.

Shots of 'Glasgowdelphia' during filming of World War Z. Not mine, but taken by a fantastic photographer friend.
Check out her photos of famous bands and musical artists (including One Direction, Fun. and, er Jedward)

1. Grid System

Glasgow was chosen to represent Philly in the Brad Pitt zombie movie because both cities are built according to a grid system. For US cities that's not unusual at all - even American countryside seems to be laid out in grids. It's really confusing for a British driver like me because everything looks the same.

Old British cities like London and Edinburgh are full of long winding streets and alleyways that change name and turn corners and allow people to get wonderfully lost. Much of Glasgow is the same, but the city center is built in squares. Glasgow doesn't have numbered streets though, which as you can see they had to build into the set.

2. Deco buildings

The first rule of being a local in any city is never look up. But in Glasgow and Philly it is so hard to follow the rules! Both cities are havens for beautiful, beautiful art deco architecture.

Glasgow is known for being the birth place of Charles Rennie Mackingtosh and his works and inspiration are visible all over the city. For example, the Beresford in Glasgow is a gorgeous apartment block that was renovated several years ago. Friends of mine lived there for a while and it was always fun to visit.

But Philadelphia trumps Glasgow for art deco, hands down. For example, The Metropolitan is a luxury art deco apartment block that catches my breath every time I see it. Can't you just imagine Batman standing or hanging from the arches and surveying America's fifth biggest city? It's stunning. There are examples of deco architecture almost everywhere in Philadelphia and I can't get enough of them.

3. Arts and Culture

When I studied Film and Television in Glasgow, I felt like I was in a pocket of creativity. It's full of culture, from the aura of the Art School and its fantastic events and club nights, to the musical creativity that comes from the city (Belle and Sebastian, Franz Ferdinand, Paolo Nutini, Frightened Rabbit, Biffy Clyro…).

And now Philadelphia is where it's at. For arts and culture, it's the place to be. Even the Philadelphia Inquirer had to admit it. Portland? Old news. Brooklyn? That's so 2008. I feel like Philly is a city on the brink of something amazing. Just don't tell everyone, we locals want to keep it a secret.

4. Left-Wing Politics

In last year's Presidential election, parts of Philadelphia cast no votes for the Republican party. It was the same in 2008. It is no secret that Philadelphia is a Democratic stronghold nestled within some fairly conservative suburban/rural counties.

In Glasgow the left-wing Labour Party has controlled the city council for over three decades.

Both cities are incredibly diverse post-industrial cities with great shipbuilding histories, and that feeds into their respective political histories.

5. Not being the capital

Both Philadelphia and Glasgow benefit from not being the capital cities. London, Edinburgh, DC (and New York) frequently overshadow these cities, and Glasgowdelphia residents couldn't be happier about that. Underrated, nothing to prove, no need to be nice to tourists: Culturally they are very similar. They are beautiful, edgy, fun, yet rough around the edges and only friendly in their own quirky ways.

And you should visit both of them. Soak in the atmospheres, visit the museums and the university campuses (Glasgow University is Russell Group and UPenn is Ivy League - dontcha know?). Walk around and visit the plethora of vintage boutiques and thrift stores in Philly's Old City and the Glasgow West End. Catch a sunny day and lay down in the parks and squares and listen to the locals shouting and singing. Eat wonderful cuisine, visit intimidating dive bars, be careful, be streetwise, be inspired, and then try to tell me you don't love these two cities.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Strange things expats do: Always make comparisons between countries

Philadelphia Flower Show 2013 - Cheshire Cat
Being an expat or living in another country can do strange things to your brain.

Even after beginning to craft a life and routine in my new home country, I'm still making comparisons. The comparisons between old and new, between cultures, of "if my life was there, it'd be one way" but "if my life is here, it'll be different in these ways".

These comparisons define an expat's life in many ways. Comparing cultures is what makes living in a different country so fascinating and exciting. If I wasn't comparing life in the USA to life in the UK there'd be no glad blog for a start!

But sometimes comparisons can get in the way. I still find myself getting stuck when there's an element of US society or culture that is very strange to me, or different to how I think it should be. I often have to stop and consider whether I feel that way because it's really something I feel could be improved, or if it's just because the culture is different. I have a go-to assumption that what I experienced back in the UK is right or better, but that's often because it's just what I know.

If I'm always on alert, always comparing elements of US culture to UK culture, am I getting too stuck in thinking about how my life would be if I was still living in the UK? Or am I embracing the differences between the two countries?

One of the best pieces of advice I received from a friend before I made the move was this:
Remember, you're not leaving one continent for another. You're just opening a door on a wider, more vibrant, transcontinental life. Be sure to recognize cultural differences and embrace them for what they are.
I try to remind myself just to go with the flow whenever I'm stuck at an intersection instead of a roundabout or eating pizza instead of meat pie.

Someone beat me to it and started a new expat blog link-up! This post is part of the brand new monthly Expat Diaries, linking up blogs about expattery and travel. It's the first blog link-up I've taken part in and I'm looking forward to finding more expat bloggers this way.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

The other kinds of Long Distance Relationships

source (obviously this is a meme and I didn't do this picture)
A short while back I wrote a full guide on surviving a long distance relationship. This was based on my experiences of being engaged and married while living 3000 miles from my partner.

But there is another kind of long distance relationship, that more readers may be familiar with. That's the relationship(s) nurtured with everyone else left behind once an expat does their expatting.

At first I was terrible with keeping in touch with family and friends back in the motherland, so much so that I recently announced an apology to some of my high school friends. For the first six months of being in the USA I have to admit that I was more focused on spending time with my husband after nearly 3 years of fleeting distance loving, plus trying to adjust to life as a US resident.

In some ways it was easier to be long distance with just one loved one, despite the heartache of missing my husband!

I'm getting better now at keeping in touch with my various British bods, though there's still room for improvement. Over the next few weeks I'll tell you how I maintain my newly overseas relationships. If you're an expat/traveller and have any tips, I'd love to hear them.


As the picture suggests, my grandparents are Skyped up, and even have Facebook for tracking all of their extended family. They pretend they don't know what they're doing but my grandfather was a radio engineer for years so I'm not sure I believe him.

I need to take a leaf out of my grandparents' filofaxes though because they never miss a birthday or special occasion, and always send a card on time. They even send a back-up e-card and Facebook greetings should any other method of communication fail. My grandfather still insists on sending hard cash in the mail, but by some miracle it always arrives.

My other gran (yes, I'm very lucky) sends me regular email forwards and sometimes surprisingly naughty jokes. I like to respond with pictures of baby animals.

The great thing about keeping in touch with my grandparents is they put everything into perspective. They were alive during WW2, experienced the blitz, had their houses bombed, and remember sleeping in London tube stations doubling as air raid shelters. My grandfather was evacuated from London and had to live with a different family that he didn't even know. Whenever I express frustration to them it's like a real life Monty Python sketch:

Me: We totalled the front of the car. It's going to be expensive.
Grandparents: Oh, don't worry, you'll get it fixed. We couldn't afford a car for YEARS so we had an old motorbike, your gran had to hold onto the back and I'd take her to the train station.

Me: We would like to get our own house, but we just aren't in the position right now. House prices are low, but so are wages. When we are in a better position house prices will probably have risen.
Grandparents: Oh don't worry. We used to live in two rooms and share a bathroom with an old lady. We weren't allowed to have baths after 2pm. It took 7 years before we got our own place because back then the mortgage was only based on the man's income. Eventually we bought a plot of land and lived in a shed while we built our own house.

Me: The TV broke.
Grandparents: Don't worry, when we lived in our shed while building our own house, our TV was oil powered and it broke. Your grandfather used oil from the motorbike to keep it going. And our radio was an old shoebox that your grandfather built. We changed channels using a pencil, but of course there were only two channels back then.

Me: I've been sick recently.
Grandparents: Don't worry. I had the flu during the blitz. One time we got bombed and the lights went out. I felt a hot sticky liquid on my arm and thought I was bleeding. Turns out I had just spilled my honey and lemon.

And this totally works! If I'm down I try to imagine building an iPhone from a shoebox and can't help but laugh out loud.

If you're an expat and you're feeling down, Skype the oldest member of your family right RIGHT NOW. They'll probably be able to put it into hilarious perspective for you, and they'll appreciate the call.